Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Establishing a Family Code of Conduct

Last Tuesday was the worst day we have had in a long time.

Last Wednesday was the best.

Since then we have swung wildly from one extreme to the other, learning and forgetting and learning again.

Owlet has been developing an out-of-control side that generally only flares up when she is triggered by being tired, hungry, needing to go to the bathroom, or not getting her usual amount of parental attention. Most of the time Thor and I do a decent job discovering and addressing the underlying cause, but occasionally her needs pile up and explode out. Not a big deal, this stuff happens with kids, right?

Yeah, except that, for a month or two prior to last week, the triggers were getting to be increasingly minor complaints. And Platypup was trying on more and more of her behaviors. Thor’s and my tempers were fraying, and much shouting was becoming the norm.

It was far from peaceful.

We tried drawing up a contract a few days before the worst day. Yes. I am serious. A written contract, where we all agreed to a few basic things, such as no hitting, no grabbing out of people’s hands, etc. We all signed it, even Platypup. And it made a slight impact, certainly. But it was not enough; just a bandaid where a splint was needed.

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(Yes, this has our names on it. No, I am not super concerned about that. Just keep Thor, Owlet, and Platypup’s names out of the comments, please, and I’m sure it’ll be fine.)

I can’t even remember all of what made the worst day so bad. A bunch of run-of-the-mill fights and boundary-testing without respite, mostly. Plus a frightening moment when a fun game rapidly soured and Owlet started to push down on Platypup’s head which was buried under a blanket.

Thor had to work that evening and it was certainly a great relief for me to reach bedtime without great trauma.

I brainstormed furiously while nursing their exhausted little bodies to sleep. Thor brainstormed furiously while working. We talked it over, untangled one another’s emotions from the grip of irrational fear, and assessed what our true concerns ought to be. In the end, we agreed a more formal set of rules was needed, and ones that focused on what TO do rather than what NOT to do. We began to weed them down to the most vital ones and tried to find the simplest words possible for easy repetition.

The next day, I talked it over with Owlet, and she wrote them down for us in her (almost) four-year-old scrawl.

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Her version says:

1. Stop, step back, breathe, talk
2. Want it? Ask, wait
3. Don’t want share? Put away

What they mean is:

1. Stop when someone says no/stop/gets upset. Take a step back right away to give them some space. If you are feeling angry or upset, take three deep breaths to help yourself calm down. Then you can talk about what happened.

2. If you want something someone else is using, ask, then wait. (We try to emphasize that it might make sense to find something else to do while you are waiting.)

3. If you own something (in our house, most toys and other items are common property, but the kids own their clothes and a few special toys, and Fiona owns her violin) and you don’t want anyone else to use it, you need to keep it in a drawer/cupboard/higher shelf. If it is left out and someone finds it and begins to use it, they can, and you need to follow rule #2 (ask and wait). This was my genius idea to help us navigate the ownership vs. turn-taking grey area while getting a cleaner house in the bargain.

The rules were a smashing success that first day. Even though Thor was working the entire day, Owlet, Platypup, and I had a game plan and we stuck to it.

It was magical.

Of course, in subsequent days we have slacked off from time to time. The difference in using the rules is striking when compared with relying on our old habits. We’ve learned a few things:

- We simply cannot doze off on the couch in the mornings anymore. They definitely are more prone to disagreements when we are not watching, but even when they manage to play well together the whole time, it seems to use up their reserves and they are fussier and clingier the remainder of the day. This is a shame, because Thor and I really would prefer ten hours of uninterrupted sleep and, failing that, could use a bit of catnapping. Ce la vie.

- Despite how it may seem, the rules are mainly for Thor and I. We no longer have to search for the right words, creating rules on the fly that are only tailored for a particular fleeting situation. We are required to stop and take deep breaths to demonstrate how one does such a thing. Consequently, we are far calmer, far less likely to yell, and instead of our tension feeding theirs feeding ours times infinity, the feedback loop stops cold.

- Thor and I also need more rules than the kids do. For the kids, those three rules cover most important situations, and my personal refrain “if you make a mess, clean it up” takes care of pretty much everything else. Of course we have other minor rules (no spitting in the house except the sink or shower, no eating in mommy’s studio, etc.) but those are neither hugely important in the grand scheme of things nor a major source of conflict.

But Thor and I need more rules, rules that are lengthy, nuanced, and constantly in flux based on the specific situation and people involved. Rules about when shouting is ok, how much adult supervision is required, whether special treats (less healthy food/screen time) are permitted, so forth and so on. One I use to help myself determine if a limit needs setting is the “it’s ok if it isn’t hurting people or property” maxim from It’s Ok Not to Share by Heather Shumaker. That one clears out a lot of potential sources of conflict by establishing a benchmark between “big deal” and “let it go.”

- As long as we maintain a clear idea in our heads about what is acceptable and what is not, things go fairly smoothly. If we waffle, fail to follow through on our rules, or are not paying attention, things get out of hand, sometimes in a matter of seconds!

- The three rules Owlet wrote down are still useful even after a situation has disintegrated. We can use them to help heal hurts and soothe our own tempestuous nerves in the process, even when grownups and kids alike have begun to tantrum.

- The calmer and more matter-of-fact the of delivery is, the better. If we can squeeze a little empathy in, the effect is big.

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The Garden Gnome of Change

Sometimes change pounces like a tempestuous feline.

Sometimes it comes in waves as the moon first ripens, then slims.

It can be as gradual as the darkening chill of night.

And once in a while you open your front door and boldly issue an open invitation to whatever change might be lurking like garden gnomes amongst the shrubbery.

Three mornings ago, I woke up before dawn with a bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed Platypup.

This is usually Thor’s domain while I live it up and sleep till 8:30. In my defense, I have been taking the lead night shift since Platypup was born, first with all the nursing, then bathroom voyages after both kids simultaneously nighttime potty-trained. But I realize sleeping in is a huge gift and am grateful even if I forget to show it when my alarm clock usually rings in the form of two wild half-naked beasties catapulting onto my head.

Anyway, that morning three days ago Owlet slept in until at least an hour after dawn (daylight savings having rendered clock time meaningless), woke up, came out to the living room where Platypup and I were hanging out, and did not ask for her morning milk.

That has happened a handful of times before, but not very lately, and she would always remember before long. This time, she simply skipped it and went a full 24 hours till bedtime milk.

The same day Platypup skipped his nap milk. I was flabbergasted.

Seizing a grand opportunity, I voluntarily took early-rising Platypup again the following (pitch-black) “morning.”

This time, however, Owlet did ask for her morning milk when she awakened in the actual morning, and instead of either capitulating or drawing a firm limit, I decided to describe to her the situation as I saw it.

I told her I was thinking of dropping morning milk for her, since she was getting big and was mostly replacing milk with food and water and cuddles. I mentioned that she hadn’t noticed that we skipped it the previous day. And then I waited to see what she’d say.

I expected she would simply refuse. I was not planning to insist should that be the case.

But instead she accepted the idea with a wistful grace, lifted her brave little chin, and countered with, “but… we’re going to have morning milk one last time… right now… right?”

Of course, child of mine.

So we woke up Daddy, explained the situation so as to hustle him out of bed earlier than was planned without protest, and curled up together in the glow of One Last Time.

It was a challenge to keep my heavy eyelids open, but well worth it as daylight and I both kissed her sweet face. I shed a few quiet tears, let her nurse as long as was comfortable for me, longer than our typical morning milk, and then gently asked her to have a few last sips and stop when she was ready, which she cheerfully did. And for some time afterward, we snuggled and talked, kissed and giggled, the better to demonstrate how future mornings might not be so bad.

I knew I was going to like snuggling better than nursing, because my milk is slowing down and also simply because to me nursing is mostly a one way street, which is blissfully essential for a baby and toddler but does not necessarily put the mother in a similar state of mind, no matter all the books blathering on about oxytocin.

But I didn’t know just how striking the contrast would be for me. It was like going from a long elevator ride — with nice music, definitely, and plenty of time for contemplation but still, you know, frequently boring and occasionally tedious — to what? A balloon ride? A jet pack? A water slide with lots of twists and turns? I really can’t think of an analogy better than the reality: a morning of joy with a dear cuddly child in your arms.

If I had been able to write that day, how the prose would have run purple!

But in real life, change is seldom the work of a single morning.

That night, as Platypup, Owlet, and I snuggled down for bedtime milk, she said, unprompted, that she wouldn’t be having milk the next morning, but we would snuggle instead. True, she also said she was a little sad about it, with a little quaver in her small voice. Still, I was euphoric. Triumphant! Nostalgic, even.

Then we woke up yesterday morning. Platypup slept in till a nearly-respectable hour and Owlet awakened as we crept out of the bedroom. Daddy got up to be with Platypup and I crawled into bed with Owlet, a big hug at the ready.

And she wanted her morning milk.

And she cuddled, and fussed, and squirmed, and started to cry a little. I kissed and soothed and rubbed her back and mentally set an indescribable but specific limit for the amount of crying that would mean this was not going to work out and I would agree to go back to doing morning milk.

I do not have a problem changing my mind in the face of a legitimately distressed child. Preschoolers are not very good actors; I can easily distinguish between serious upset and an innocent attempt at manipulation.

But she soon quieted, and while it was not the glorious morning previous, it was wonderful nonetheless.

The behavior time bomb I have been bracing for has not transpired. And even more amazingly, not only was Thor able to put Owlet to sleep last night while I was out of the house, which is noteworthy because it meant a whole day without any milk in it for her (and assuming we make it till bedtime today, a whole 48 hours between nursing sessions), but he said they spent over an hour that afternoon while I was teaching and Platypup was napping just curled up on the couch together hugging and chatting.

This morning Platypup and I rose at dawn. Owlet appeared an hour later and said she had been a little upset when she first woke up, but had snuggled some with Daddy and didn’t want to go back to bed with me right away. Perhaps a half hour later she changed her mind, we woke up Thor, and had a very cozy time together before she bounced up and went off to play.

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I am over the moon.

It gives Owlet and I the daily mother-daughter time we desperately need. Platypup benefits from my renewed patience with his nursing. And Thor finally gets the elevated status he deserves as equally capable of delivering comfort.

So is this what it feels like to nail perfect timing? Huh. I like it!

My Baby’s Baby (Carrier)

I don’t like to refuse my kids’ requests to drag their favorite stuffies around town.

I also don’t like dragging them back into the store, library, or place of worship trying to track down a missing stuffed friend.

Enter: my baby’s baby carrier.

Couldn’t find even a photo, let alone a pattern, of the Ergo/Mei Tai style I was after, so I made one up as I went along. (Important note: Mei Tai = baby carrier. Mai Tai = beverage. Cue song: The More You Know…)

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We were visiting my inlaws and I knew they would come in handy for the trip. Except then my Lil Sew’n Sew broke. So I made them on my MIL’s sewing machine instead, just in time for the plane ride home! They are reversible and more or less identical other than the strap sizing so no one complains about preferring their sibling’s carrier.

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NSLB, my friends. No stuffie left behind.

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(And as you can see, it works equally well for a back or front carry.)

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How do you know something exists?

Recently this photo caught my fancy:

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I love that something presumably created out of closedmindedness can be so… Oddly universally appealing.

The original intent is clear: theist says this, atheist says, but here I am, theist says aha! now ya see what I’m saying, atheist is either slinks away or converts on the spot.

But an atheist sees it in an identical/opposite way.

Namely, that you don’t just believe something without reason. (Especially not in the face of solid evidence to the contrary, as with the atheist still existing contrary to the above meme.)

Because the issue here is about what really convinces a person that something is true.

The average, relatively mentally sound person, theist or atheist, believes something when there is either a) evidence, or b) someone or something they trust says it is true.

So when I say I don’t believe in any deities, I mean I have been given no proof, no reason, and no one whose authority is unquestionable to me has said it is so.

And when a theist says they do believe in one or more deities, they mean they either have personal experience (I specify “personal” not to be derogatory but because we have no scientific evidence of deity existence) that has proven their deity(deities) to exist, or someone they trust implicitly has said it is so.

So. How do YOU know something exists?

On forging a healthier relationship with screen-based diversions

It was not love at first sight.

No, when I first met Facebook, I was unimpressed by such things. Friendster and My Space had done little to contribute to my daily experience of the world and while I had a token page on each, I rather neglected them. I was in college and living on campus, so going and finding the face I wanted to see in person made a heckuva lot more sense than hearing what a photo had had for lunch. I called the lot of them “Face Spacesters,” shrugged, and went out to play Ultimate.

I transferred schools and warmed toward Facebook only marginally. Oh, it was a nice way to maintain a database of acquaintances, since people cycled through email addresses more often in those days, but email and phone were far superior; I’ve always been a novel-over-sentence-fragment kind of a gal.

All in all, Facebook and I had a genial casual relationship… until about four and a half years ago when I became pregnant shortly after Thor and I launched ourselves across the country from the Bay State to the Bay Area without so much as a job between us and only a handful of friends and family in the area, none of whom were procreating. I needed a mama tribe, and I needed one fast. Enter Facebook.

The pregnancy and parenting pages I found led me from the OB’s office to the birth center, from vague leanings like, “I’d like to cloth diaper,” or “I want to breastfeed,” to the arsenal of information needed to achieve such things in this culture. Always an avid reader, while pregnant I devoured book after article after blog, almost too much, and following real discussions on Facebook provided the ballast I needed to begin to organize my scattered thoughts into a fledgling parental philosophy. And at the birth center I hit jackpot: a real live mama tribe. They were on Facebook, too, not just as individuals but also as a group.

For awhile it was a blessing. My Owlet arrived and I was pinned to the chair for huge stretches of time nursing, followed by the lethargy of a second pregnancy and then more of the same while nursing Platypup. Facebook was happy to keep me sane and sated, taking the edge off my thirst for community.

Gradually nursing sessions became briefer and less frequent, yet my usage did not. And while I endeavored to update from pregnancy and birth pages to toddler and bigger kid pages, overall I was emerging from Facebook’s clutches dazed and drained rather than connected and refreshed.

But this is not science fiction. I control the iPad, not the other way around. Changes were needed, and changes I eventually made.

I began by whittling down the multitudes I was following to the ones that made me happy, challenged my thinking, educated me in various ways, or were simply people close to my heart. I added a few new ones and unfriended, unliked, or simply hid a whole bunch. I made sure to have notifications set up tracking my nearest and dearest and then challenged myself not to bother getting “caught up” every day.

It was better, but still not enough. I no longer felt like my life was being vacuumed up by the Facebook monster but I needed something to fill those many awkwardly empty minutes in a parent’s life, the times when you should be doing laundry but the kids are peacefully entertaining themselves for a moment and you’re looking for a way to properly enjoy it. Blogging would fit the bill except it generally requires sustained attention and therefore must vie for time with the other leisure activities relegated to evenings or spouse-sanctioned time outs.

Then, in a stroke of genius, I put Duolingo, an amazing free language-learning app, in the same folder as Facebook, WordPress, Kindle, and the various apps I use for work. Suddenly my automatic Facebook checking had an extra step, and one in which I was consistently confronted with healthier pursuits.

I began to cast around for other life-enriching apps to fill my folder and box Facebook back into a more respectable portion of my electronic life. One of my favorites is Transform Your Life: A Year of Awareness Practice by Cheri Huber, an app which presents you with a nugget for contemplation each day.

Another I am fond of is Ninja Fitness, an amusing way to make sure you are balancing different kinds of exercise. Sometimes I do the workouts outlined in each section (strength, agility, endurance, and zen) but sometimes I use it as a logbook for my own workouts in each category. For example, they specify intervals to walk vs. run, and I am more inclined to just go run unless I’ve got both kids, in which case I have successfully done the walk-run thing in our backyard with a giggling entourage in tow. The zen section is kind of goofy so mostly I just do yoga on my own. Call me crazy but I kind of like that “logging it in” really means just starting the workout and letting it run its course, during which time I cannot use the iPad to do anything else.

I enjoy the thought process a good tarot reading gives, and The Tarot Sampler is a great way to try a bunch of decks out for free to find the one you like best. It works just fine as a deck in and of itself, but I think I will eventually get sick of seeing the one I don’t like very well pop up.

I’m on the lookout for a yoga app and a meditation app, so if you have one to recommend, I’d love to hear about it! I’ve tried a few free ones but am not crazy about any so far, though one guided meditation app, Breathe, is one I would highly recommend for beginners or kids.

It is difficult to overstate the value in taking a step back from Facebook. If any of this resonates with you, the blogger Hands Free Mama (who ironically can be followed via FB) is a great place to begin.

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Beyond

Beyond juries
Beyond bridges
Beyond buses
Beyond laws

Beyond hoodies
Beyond candy
Beyond loud music
Beyond cars

Is a child
Is a child
Is a child
Done no wrong

And a cold
Abomination
With a gun.

Knots

Owlet is learning to tie knots.

This means my rolling desk chair is now often lashed to my desk drawer handles (or occasionally I guess it makes a run for it, only to eventually be tethered to the linen cupboard handles down the hall).

Luckily, she isn’t all that successful at tying real whoppers yet… mostly just twists and loops and the occasional easily undone, almost accidental knot. I’ve gotten a sneak preview of what life is like with a successful knot-master — you see, Owlet is apprenticing in knots with her six-year-old friend — and I am ever so happy to see this less-effective stage last awhile.

Her efforts remind me of my own.

Like many a parent, I am pretending I can anchor her and Platypup with bands of Good Healthy Food and No TV and Lots of Reading and No Toxic Cleaning Supplies and Music Aplenty and No Yelling and Lots of Time Outdoors. I am wrapping lines of beautiful silken chord around them, creating a lovely nest and likely doing them more good than harm.

But it is, in the end, mostly illusion, and a big bad something could tug them from me quick as anything.

We all know that, we parents. Truly, deep down, when the house is quiet and we miss their wriggly selves but daren’t check on them for fear of creaking a loose floorboard. We know our control over their livelihood is more that of a child “driving” its stroller than that of the parent pushing it along.

Owlet had a febrile seizure last week. It was our first time, and it was terrifying despite being a completely normal (terrible/mostly harmless) thing for a child’s body to do.

Were we at home, where we live within ten minutes of the nearest hospital and within 20 min of two more? Where the world’s awesomest ER nurse is practically family?

No. We were on vacation. Quite a distance from the nearest hospital.

Ce la vie.

It turned out alright, particularly since 20 month old Platypup had the good sense to call his beloved uncle, a firefighter and former EMT, on the phone moments before it began (no joke), and Owlet has recovered from whatever caused it and is mostly over the trauma of having things done to her against her will (rectal thermometer, medicine, throat and nose cultures, etc.) although a few lingering behavioral issues tell us she is not quite done processing. But we knew it might not have been. And despite being as coolcalmandcollected as we knew how to be, Thor and I certainly were rocked.

A year and a half ago my friends were similarly rocked. But instead of a tame febrile seizure, they were dealt leukemia. Their glowing light of a child, Caemon, died a year ago. Their knots were some of the best I’ve seen.

These lines are all we have. Lines of joy and healthy habits and loving limits. Teeth brushing and seat belts and vegan nail polish and goodnight kisses.

Lines that wither with one precise tug.

And grappling with that unresolvable vulnerability is a parent’s largest battle. To walk precariously between the windswept plains of errant disregard and the fetid bog of gnawing anxiety. To see clearly the limits of our influence and courageously tie our ineffective knots anyway. To live each moment as if there will be another.

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Babyhood Banished

Not long ago I realized babyhood was fast becoming a thing of the past.

Today Platypup put the stamp on babyhood and mailed that sucker off.

You see, Platypup is now, dare I say it? Is there any wood to knock on out there in the interwebs?

Platypup

Is

Potty trained.

(Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!)

Tomorrow I will rouse myself to do the laundry as long as it takes to wash all the cloth diapers so we can banish them to the garage. Nothing but training pants and underpants for big kid Platypup!

Except we are flying across the country to visit my inlaws soon, so we will use diapers for the plane trip there and back and for nighttime just in case. But other than that, we are so very done.

Yesterday he told my dad, who was babysitting, every time he had to go to the loo, and today he ventured out of the house in underpants for the first time (armed with a bag containing two backup pairs of pants and underpants and a travel loo) and was all kinds of successful.

Lazy, half-assed, way part-time EC for the win!

And here’s the icing on the cake — the night-weaning has stuck, and more than that, Platypup has realized there are other delightful cuddly things to do in place of nursing when one awakens in the middle of the night — hugs (“Hugk!”) and kisses (“Giss!”) — and will demand them with vigor. Which helps make up for the fact that his potty trained self sometimes wakes up several times at night to visit the loo…

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Platypup loves the cello… Almost as much as the drums! (Don’t mind the mess in the background; we are removing wallpaper.)

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Enjoying the one day of rainy season we’ve had so far this winter… (Rain, Rain, Go Away is not a song for Californians.)

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Baby wearing master. (Kid sling by Lydi-bug.)

Grief at the Loss of the Grief of Loss

The anniversary of my mother’s death always swings quietly around the corner from the bauble-clad glow of Christmas and New Years.

Here’s the routine from years recently past: I feel fine most of the day, but some moment overtakes me and breaks open a cavern of sadness, a few minutes wide and as deep as the Earth.

Not this year.

This year, I could see from a mile away, is built differently.

Possibly because with the loss of my friends’ son, I’ve been in a holding pattern of grief-adjacent for eleven months.

Possibly because healing claims its own right time, wanted or not.

Possibly it’s just an off year and we’ll return to our regularly scheduled soul-torn crevice dive in 2015.

Whatever the reason, this year I crave but cannot reach the taste of grief, salty and bitter and ever so slightly sticky with unexpected honey. This year I prod my scars, scrabbling in vain for scabs to raze bloody. This year I wear out my welcome on a handful of closely guarded memories.

I cannot feel loss clinging to my protagonist’s boots anymore. Now I’m merely leafing through it, sidelined as “dear reader.”

A shadow of a feeling.

Grief at the loss of the grief of loss.

Good thing love and laughter and the best damn moral compass around remain.

My souvenirs from mom.

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Owlet’s first intentional complete alphabet.

How’s my December going, you ask?

On the first night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
A reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the second night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Two cranberry chains and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the third night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Three silver bells, two cranberry chains, and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the fourth night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the fifth night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the sixth night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Six paper penguins
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the seventh night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Seven drummer boys, six paper penguins
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the eighth night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Eight ceramic apples, seven drummer boys, six paper penguins
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the ninth night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Nine santa beards, eight ceramic apples
Seven drummer boys, six paper penguins
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the tenth night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Ten crystal birds, nine santa beards, eight ceramic apples
Seven drummer boys, six paper penguins
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the eleventh night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Eleven wooden sleds, ten crystal birds,
Nine santa beards, eight ceramic apples
Seven drummer boys, six paper penguins
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the twelfth night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Twelve broken light bulbs, eleven wooden sleds, ten crystal birds,
Nine santa beards, eight ceramic apples
Seven drummer boys, six paper penguins
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks!

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