For Those Moments {When We Think We are Not Enough}

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When I walked up the narrow staircase one week ago today, darkness had already enveloped our country home. It was night-time, around 10:00 p.m. when I knocked on your closed bedroom door, asking if I might come in. You were reading, a bed-side light shining its sheen across the page. The room was awash in a warm glow. You looked up expectantly. I felt such relief at seeing you there. Such a safe place to be— under our roof, where a body knows they are loved unconditionally. Where a body knows that they will be cherished forever.

I sat on the end of your bed and looked at you. Stared unabashedly at amazing you.

And inside my mother’s heart I felt the need to tell you how much you are loved. Felt the need to tell you how much I believe in you: believing that you have much to offer this world, much to give this circle of influence in which you have been placed.

I felt the need to tell you how incredible are the offerings and talents with which you’ve been gifted. Telling you how valued you are to both your father and I— to our whole family. I felt the need to tell you that who you are is enough for anyone, including yourself. You have much to give. Much to put forward to anyone.

I felt the need to tell you. And so I did.

But more than that.

I wanted you to also know that you, Precious You: You are worth so much more than even what we, your parents, think and feel. You are Loved, with an Eternal Love; loved by the One who knows no boundaries, no limits, no restrictions. Who knows no Shadow of Turning, knows no minute fraction of faltering. You are loved eternally. Wholly, purely, completely.

I wanted you to know.

But Child of Mine, there will be some, who will someday, somewhere cause you to consider whether you are enough. There will be voices that will taunt, will jeer. Will question, will doubt. And there will be niggling worries that will grow into all-out, full-blown fears in your mind. There will come a day when you will give ear to the thought that ‘who you are is not enough’.

Not enough for the crowd.
Not enough for the moment.
Not enough for the situation.
Not enough for the requirements.
Not enough for the job.
Not enough for the part.
Quite simply, not enough.

There will be moments, and these moments will come. For they have come for us all, at one time or another.

God says it differently to us:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love… with loving-kindness I have drawn you.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

There is never a question of whether or not we are enough.
We always were. We always are. And we always will be.

There is nothing that will separate us from that Love.

No crowd’s opinion.
No moment’s worry.
No situational disaster.
No lacking requirements.
No failed attempt nor any missing parts that need be present.

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)

I left your room that night, tears falling freely. For I am so honored to have been given this opportunity to love you. It is my mission, my heart’s desire to impart to you the knowledge of this love.

A love that will endure for always. And forever ever after that.

Notice Me

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Come look at me, they cry out. Little voices calling, tiny hands reaching for my own much larger one. Watch me on the money bars, the slide, the firepole. Watch me! Notice Me! See me!

A little one comes up to me, (I know not who she is), but she has a sweet innocent face and the clearest eyes—it is almost that I can see right through to her soul. And she is calling out to me.

Watch me, she says.

I watch.

I follow her little body as it rounds the Jungle Gym, makes its way up the stairs and ends up at the tippy-top of the Fire Pole. She glances over at me to make sure that my eyes are fixed on her. They are indeed. When she is sure that I will not waver in my gaze, she grasps the pole and wraps her little legs around securely. Woosh. She is down in a second and off and running to a new adventure.

To teach is to examine humanity at its rawest, most unadulterated form. Children are a study in innocence and purity. They are authentic and genuine. And what they want more than anything is for us to notice. They want for us to notice them, notice their antics, their comings and goings. To be attentive. To watch and consider their ways. To be mindful. To be aware of what it is they care about.

Children want us to see them.

We all want this, if we were truthful. We want to be seen. We crave recognition. My own child comes home from school today and says in passing that it is easy to get lost in the sea of bodies.

No one can really notice you for all the people, says the Child.

It takes practice to notice people. I have written the following and I stand by these words today:

“We are not taught to notice, we are taught to do. Told to get out our pencil and pens. Get out our paper, and write. Read. Discuss. Speak. Told to turn to page five and then fashion a paragraph. Told to answer six questions on page 32.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to act. Told to cut and shape. Mold and make. Told to fashion that school bus craft just as we’re told. Told to fold the paper along the crease. Told to colour in the lines.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to perform. Told to sit right, listen up, shut up, straighten up, fly right. Told to mind our manners, watch our tongue, keep it down, watch out.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to produce. To achieve, churn out, give up, construct and generate.
But we are not taught to notice.
Have we ever stopped to consider that noticing precedes doing? And yet, we are not taught that this act in itself is essential. We are encouraged rather to act. To get things done. To carry out both our will as well as that of those in authority over us.”

We must take time to notice. Our children are pleading for us to do them this one humanitarian service. We must notice them with our whole being, eyes and ears wide open. Watching them not with a gaze of half-hearted interest, but with a whole-hearted, complete understanding of the incredible gift of attentiveness and genuine care with which we’ve been vested.

Noticing takes time and practice. It demands our attention. We must be deliberate and intentional in our practice. But the pay off for our children in investing this service is mind-boggling.

Who can even imagine (can conjure up the images) the gifts that even one child could offer to the world someday…and all because we took the seconds, minutes, hours…took the time:

To really notice.

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15 Things I Know About Being a Parent

Parenting is, of course, the most consuming, challenging and exhausting task that I have ever involved myself in. Some days I ask: “what were we thinking???” And on the other days, I just don’t ask. And speaking of “we”, I readily admit that marriage is a very close second in this listing of difficult things known to humankind.

It was fifteen years ago today that I first became a mother. And how well I remember that incredible day—the moments of fear when I faced the unknowns, the moments of elation when I realized what I had gained. Holding that tiny 6 lb. 7 1/2 ounce baby boy swaddled in a receiving blanket, I knew a love I had never known before. I knew a fierce need to shelter and protect that I had heretofore never experienced. I knew so much in that instant I saw his precious baby face.

I knew so little.

Sons are interesting characters. They cling close to their mamas until they reach toddler stage, and then they can’t seem to get enough of their dads. Dads hold the world in the palms of their hands, or so it seems to bright-eyed little boys. I have watched my son and his dad grow closer over the years, and I am so thankful that they have each other. Particularly in light of the fact that they are also outnumbered in our family of six (complete with four girls). This relationship they share is a gift, one not to be taken lightly. I know neither does; never would they.

In honor of my son’s 15th birthday and due to the fact that it is also the anniversary of my 15th year being a mama, here are 15 things I know now that I didn’t know back then…

1.) Every moment is a gift, and of course meant to be cherished; but some moments are meant to just be ‘lived’, and then we move on. We don’t have to make everything special. Everything extraordinary. Sometimes life is just meant to be experienced mundanely, in the everyday ordinary routine of life. This too is precious.

2.) Kids don’t always need entertainment; the more entertainment/amusement, the less imagination/creativity (at least in the world I grew up in—which means it still holds true for my Fearless Four. Because I say so.).

3.) Sincere apologies are best taught through humble parental modeling.

4.) Some things like burps and flatulence and mysterious smells from the bathroom and spilled popcorn on the bed and Vaseline on the couch and chocolate chips all over the floor and canned goods on top of the baby…and the like: these things (while startling) are not worth blowing a gasket/major artery over. Live and learn.

5.) Seeing your child show kindness to others will make your heart swell in ways that temporary academic or sporting accomplishments never could.

6.) Patience is a virtue, but when in short supply, time-outs for mama in the bathroom/quick exits from the scene of disaster also work.

7.) Four kids is a lot of kids. But then again, so was one.

8.) The question “will I love the second (third, fourth) as much” is entirely not worth entertaining for even one little second; the answer is always yes, Yes, YES! : “to the moon and back again.” Every single time.

9.) Sometimes Mamas make mistakes. Moving on…

10.) Screaming is not the most effective form of communication.

11.) Mamas are not meant to be their childrens’ best friends (that is, until said offspring start to pay for their own bills and have an income. When this miracle occurs, the boundaries are redefined).

12.) The crucial life lessons your mama taught you about responsibility, safety, security and common sense (lessons and rules that you loathed back when you were ages 5-19): they will fall from your own tongue like pearls of wisdom to your precious babies AS IF IN YOUR OWN FORMER CHILDISH OPINION THEY WERE ALWAYS GOLDEN.

13.) There is next to nothing you will not do for your child, including acting like an idiot in public on occasion (think: jumping up and down at photo shoots), going to the ends of the earth for them and resorting to begging/bartering on their behalf. Incidentally, these rules do not always apply after fifteen years parenting as you have prioritized your ability to please and thus included yourself in this lottery.

14.) Parenting in year one is very different than parenting in year fifteen. For one thing, where you once were completely trusting and naïve, now you are a bit of a sly old shrew. Also, you are more sarcastic.

15.) You realize that although there are still some days you threaten to jump ship and escape to the nearest available carnival troupe, there is nothing on this beautiful planet you would rather be doing than mothering four of the brightest, most beautiful children God’s Hands ever fashioned. And that is the plain and simple truth.

Parenting has been said to be “one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but in exchange it teaches you the meaning of unconditional love” (Nicholas Sparks). I am thankful for the ways in which my heart has learned to expand and grow in four different directions these past 15 years.

To my Son: I will love you and your three sisters forever and always. I love you all- to the moon and back again.

Precious times, these years…

The other day, I left Alberton with four belligerent children and three others (people who were, incidentally, astonished by the commotion going on in our van). I departed the area absolutely stunned by the severity with which we battle it out over here in the Gard Household: it matters not where we find ourselves. Mill River, Florida, Dominican Republic- you name it. We fought there. Actually, we no sooner hover a toe over the threshold of the van and it is like a switch is turned on inside our brains that releases our inner warrior/dark side. Darth Vader has nothing on this family. We fight about seat positions. Fight about farting. Fight about burping. Fight about whether or not the sun sets in the west and rises in the east (maybe it does/maybe it doesn’t). Fight about music, about books, about universities that ten year olds wish to attend when they are 20.

We fight- and we do so incessantly. And because of this marvelous fun family fact, I can attest to our permanent membership in the infamous FightClub as members in good standing, with our family having the most experience tearing one another’s heads off/emotional collateral.

When I arrived home that particular day of which I write, I literally fell out if the van, a dazed expression on my face and asked my Husband, above the cacophony of noise, if he had missed us all that morning. His reply:

“Like the plague.”

He was not joking. Not even a little bit.

As I was a Kid Vid Cinema leader at DVBS all week, I had the extreme pleasure of waking my children up at what appeared to be twelve hours before daylight (hard to tell as we had no sun at all this week), coaxing them out of their warm, cozy beds (where in sleeping, they could not make any sound of retaliation/noise) and then driving my children plus three to programming at eight (or whenever) every morning- programming which I must admit that I personally enjoyed almost more than the children as I was able to exercise/hone my dance skills each and every day (to the absolute horror/disgust of my two oldest).

The best part of this experience was that this four hour stretch was a glorious time of no fighting. For four hours, my four children were not clawing each other’s eyes out, were not tearing one another apart. And even better, for most of that time, they were someone elses’ responsibility (so even if they did happen to fight, I could feign ignorance and complete unawareness of what was happening). You cannot even imagine what this opportunity meant to a mother like me who has permanent damage in her ear drums from shrill, ear-splitting screams.

DVBS, while similar to real school, is a wonderful opportunity for mothers such as myself to release their precious offspring into the wild, I mean world, for a few brief and precious hours; handing off the responsibility of breaking up their fights, following them around like a hawk, rescuing them from imminent danger, feeding them snacks, protecting them from injury and in general, basking in their presence. They also get to learn, discover and grow spiritually while there. Bonus! And in doing such (that is, releasing them/freeing yourself), they come to find themselves in the extremely competent and capable hands of other adults who do this kind of stuff for free. For any mother, it is a no-brainer.

Next summer, if our numbers haven’t quadrupled by word-of-mouth advertising I will personally sign on for therapy due to stress incurred from shock and surprise.

The fighting unfortunately does resume once the troops have landed back on home soil. I am sorry to say. We have taken to playing a particular hymn called “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love” at meal time. Thankfully there are different versions of the song because for quite a while (until we found an electronic version), Brian just sang it himself. He also has been working on “You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me Lucille” for those days when even the hymn won’t work.

He is learning extra lines of that one.

Interestingly, at bedtime- at the very last possible moment before the kiddos lay their heads on their pillows, there is a brief interlude of peace in which my mind goes blank and I forget any and all bad things that might have happened during the previous fourteen hours. This glorious experience is known as parental amnesia and it is vital to the proper functioning of any mother/father wishing to hang tight for twenty-five or so years of steady parenting and live to talk about it. (Relax: this extended time frame only applies if you have as many kids as me!) Parental amnesia has saved my sanity. It is the reason I poke my head into their rooms each night and say to myself:

“It really wasn’t all that bad of a day”…

…before waking up again the next morning to the precious sounds of kids yelling for their brother/sister to “get out of the bathroom- you’re taking too long!!!!”

Precious times, these years

Failed Parenting

I really don’t know how to say the words tonight. I sense within me, utter failure. It feels that I just cannot ever seem to get it right.

But then again…

We are driving home from an appointment. Husband is away for the night, so I have three in tow, with one at home wondering where we are. As we drive, I field criticism from The Children, for various things that have randomly gone wrong but are quite obviously my fault:

The fact that the appointment ran overtime and now we can no longer join Husband in Summerside for supper and shopping. Parenting fail (because I control the dentist’s schedule and I quite obviously planned it this way).

The fact that I am stopping to get ice cream for everyone’s dessert tonight instead of driving everyone straight home. Parenting fail (because I will have now delayed everyone at least ten minutes from partaking of their favorite activity- sitting on the couch scrolling through ipods/playing X-box).

The fact that I will be making a supper complete with meat, starch and veggies as a source of nourishment. Parenting fail (because if I was a good mom, I’d be serving up Chips ‘N Dip, Pepsi and Hot Dogs, with a side of Skittles every night).

The fact that I have suggested no popcorn should be popped twenty minutes before supper, as I hastily pull together said meal. Parenting fail (because junk food should really come with an IV pole for more discreet fueling up. In the perfect world, it would).

I know, I know. Just let it all go, right?
But I still feel it: parenting failure. Where did I go wrong?

So later, when the words come flying out of me in the early evening hours- words connected to something that irritates me, a thing so incredibly minor and inconsequential, but which bears the weight of a thousand bricks as the frustration comes hurtling out of my mouth. I feel the shame. I cannot re-stack those bricks no matter how hard I try. I said them and now I live with them.

I feel the absolute shame of them. And I am sorry.

It really doesn’t matter how many things our children do or say to us, we can react strongly once to them and we feel we have failed them as parents. Where does this guilt come from? Why can we not have our say and get on with it? Why do the feelings have to linger?

I think it is because we know the expectations of us. What is required. Even tonight, I read about a mother elephant who pulls her baby from a well. The caption reads that a mother’s love is the strongest love known on earth. She works for eleven hours to get her beloved free. On days like this, I am looking at that crazy elephant and hiss-whispering to her, “Leave it in there and make like a bandit… run, Forrest- RUN.” And yet, I know that in spite of everything:

In spite of the frustration
The chaos
The screams and hollers and noise
In spite of The Fighting
The Arguing
The Mean-Spiritedness and Picking

In spite of the fact that I am Sometimes Led to Believe that I Am not Doing This Parenting Thing RIGHT (mainly by the significant four experts that have actually never done this job themselves but have lots to say about the subject)

In spite of the fact that my children drive me crazy (and I them):
They are my children. And I love them. I always will. And that is the one thing I am doing right, even in the midst of all the ‘wrong’. This I know: I will wake up again tomorrow and enter into the same minefields and walk the line anyway, all for love.

I do not wish to excuse bad behavior. Mine or any one elses’. I did apologize for my outburst, and that is the only one over which I have any control. As for the others, we are all a work in progress. Especially Mama.
Thank goodness tomorrow’s a new, fresh beginning.

Mostly Enough

I shouldn’t feel this way.  But I do.

In spite of my best efforts, in spite of all I do, all I say and all I strive to be. In spite of how many braids I plait, clothes I fold, rides I provide, meals I make. In spite of how much I take an interest. In spite of how many emails I have sent concerning them, conversations I have struck up because of them. Tears I have shed over them. In spite of the concerts I have attended. Piano lessons I have paid for. Not to mention hockey and skating lessons, soccer and softball fees. In spite of the board games I have played and bike rides I have participated in. In spite of all the times I have lain in bed at night with them in the dark. In spite of every dose of medication I have administered and days I have taken to be home with them.

In spite of everything.

I still don’t always feel I am doing enough.

So I sat with Husband on a Sunday afternoon on the edge of a bridge, lazily watching a river trout jumping in and out of the water, while minnows swam in a school right underneath our toes. I sat watching the breeze gently rustling the river grass while birds flew gracefully overhead. I sat.  On a perfectly beautiful autumn afternoon in the beauty of nature and the perfection of a gorgeous sunny day. And all I could think in those blissful moments that should have brought me peace and tranquility was how inadequate I felt as a mom.

How “not enough” I was as a parent.

No calling to mind of any of the above list could have really convinced me otherwise in that moment and time. I simply felt that I wasn’t doing enough. Being enough. Showing enough.

Felt I wasn’t enough.

And while it seems I have been succumbing to these feelings more and more lately, I don’t always have a reasons for why I do this to myself.  Why this happens. I know the research. I know what this generation is characterized by- indulgence and lenience. It is an age of tolerance and low expectations.  And I know my own story and personality well- I am an overachiever. A perfectionist. And as usual, somewhere deep in my perfectionist psyche, I am punishing myself for inadequacies that I think are there. That I felt others in my family could see and feel as deeply as could I.

My lack of patience. My quick temper. My exhaustion that affects both my mood and my energy level. My frustration. My intolerance. My tendency to speak without thinking carefully through beforehand. All combining to make me feel shame and despair- and added to that, make me even feel less than “not enough”: more like a complete failure.

Since Sunday, I’ve been thinking about these feelings. Ruminating about them in my head, if not even a bit out loud with Husband and my mom in casual conversation. And coincidentally, I happened to come across this little blurb from Jen Hatmaker’s new book tonight as I scanned her blog. Here’s what she had to say about her beliefs about parenting:

Only our overly-critical, overly-involved generation could possibly engineer such carefully curated childhood environments and still declare ourselves failures. We are loving, capable mothers reading the room all wrong.

Can I tell you my goal for my kids? That childhood was mostly good. People, I declare “mostly good” a raging success. If I was mostly patient and they were mostly obedient, great. If we were mostly nurturing and they were mostly well-adjusted, super. Every childhood needs a percentage of lame, boring, aggravating, and tedious. Good grief, life is not a Nickelodeon set. They need something to gripe about one day.

Mostly good is later remembered as “loved and safe.” I know because I now label my childhood “magical” even though my mom slapped me across the face in 7th grade and never bought me Guess jeans and accidentally left me at church numerous times. Mostly is enough.

You are doing a wonderful job. Parenting is mind-numbingly hard and none of us will be perfect at it and all of us will jack a thousand parts of it, and somehow, against all odds, it will still be enough.

Words like cool water on a parched tongue.

Mostly is enough.

And it’s okay to make a few mistakes along the way. In fact, it’s NORMAL.

Tonight, Daughter and I exchanged a few unpleasant words- mostly from my mouth, not hers. And after we got through most of the ugly, the message that cushioned all that had been said was the fact that we both really did love each other.  A lot. I know I sure do, and she tells me the same still, every night. Sometimes we Two have a funny way of showing it, but through it all, that love is constant in spite of the bad bits that tend to color our relationship. It is there, in spite of everything that makes me feel “not enough”.  Not good enough. And thank heavens for that. Because love remains in spite of the misunderstandings, frustrations, clashes and head-butting that sometimes occurs, I can carry on- with the understanding that love will also carry both me and my family through the good, the bad and the ugly. For love is and always will be a constant in this family: even when the storms roll in.  Even when the bullets fly.  It is and will be the foundation on which our family life is built upon. And although we might fight like it is 1999, we still love each other through it all.  We’ve committed to that.

We love each other. And that love, while imperfect, is never mostly enough.

It’s everything.

The joy of field trips…

Retrieved from Johnston’s Schools website

I came home tonight after watching a killer last set in my daughter’s volleyball game (please do not ask a whole lot of questions about the first four sets, ‘cause that score was kind of private) to which I heard the following anguished cry from Youngest not even five minutes after lighting the home fires:

“Mooooooooommmmmm….(heave, heave, sob, sob)…..I just….(sobbing) burned down my house on Minecraft…accidentally. And it was my favoritest house ever. And I just had made it…..(sobbing).”

It’s interesting how these funny little things follow me around- just begging for me to write about them. We were at the dentist today about a permanent tooth that Daughter had broken two weekends ago on a Saturday afternoon. How do you tell the inquiring dentist that your child broke said tooth playing “Abduct the Baby” with her little sister? It’s just not the normal excuse. And just for the record, the dentist did ask. (I was very vague). I mentioned this all to a friend at the store and she said that her child had also had a similar catastrophe, only to another part of the body while straddling the black bin in their driveway, singing at the top of her lungs.

I could just totally relate- neither one of us thought either occurrence was less than normal. But I guess the average person does not live this way.

So what this story is REALLY about is our school field trip today. Wow, just wow. Where do I begin…? For the record, the above stories were just my warm-up.

How does one frame a blog article about a field trip adventure in which a bus full of three kindergarten classes of children ages 4-5 is pulled off the road for an hour and a half because its crisis exits are screaming “Emergency! Emergency!” in a language all their own? How do you even start discussing bathroom issues? Or temporary bushes with prickles that can serve as the restroom when all else fails? Thank goodness for Kleenex.

All I have to say is this: to those passer-bys that saw a woman jumping up and down, touching her derriere, rubbing her belly and then doing scissors jumps/jumping jacks, you try entertaining 35 youngsters for an hour and a half on the side of the road. I dare you. It’s a game called Simon Says and kids love it. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Okay, seriously. I am just so thankful for the neighbors who saw me (obscurely, I swear) hiding in the bush with one Little Person and then kindly offered their “facilities” to the rest of the kiddos on the bus. Thank you. Words cannot express… I am sure I looked like a wild woman because at the time I was also trying to protect said child from the dog that kept barking at us from across the road. I was sincerely concerned for everyone’s safety, not the least of which was my own.

Back to the woman across the road. She was simply the best. And what she did was humbling, it was simply just too kind. (Now that I think about it, were we doing them a favor by removing ourselves from the bushes on the sides of their road?) At any rate, that woman deserves a Good Neighbor/Good Citizen award- she was amazing. Simply above and beyond amazing. She turned her television on, offered us her washroom (which we paraded in steadily for the better part of an hour, boots, dirt and all) along with water to drink from her kitchen faucet. And she trusted us enough that she left and drove off with all of us still on her lawn. I mean, really: where but the country would this ever happen. We then continued to enjoy the property, playing numerous games of Duck, Duck Goose and the afore-mentioned Simon Says until the Department of Transportation showed up in all their glory after having got lost a time or two on the back-roads of P.E.I. and generously fixed the bus

It was a time. A TIME I say. I sure had fun.

Needless to say, I had planned a full slate of activities for the day. I am nothing if not a glutton for punishment. I had invited a professional chef to come into the school and bake apple pies with each of my students as a surprise for their parents. Boo hoo, ’cause that unfortunately never happened. But then again: the apples were not ‘all there’, shall we say, by the end of the day anyway (became the snack); even if they had been, cooking pies in a half of an hour would have been even an absolute miracle even for her and she’s one of the most amazing chefs I know.

So, it’s been a slice. A slice of every kind of apple I know, including Honeycrisp (which the bus driver ended up finding and picking for me after I had run all over the orchard looking for them during my five minute break (or I could call it my ‘break your neck’ as that’s my kind of luck), I spent my time aimlessly running around the orchard only to find these beauties were growing in the row marked “Jona Gold”. So that’s how they keep ’em a secret. Who knew.

Can’t wait for the next field trip.