Thursday, December 31, 2009
In celebration of resolutions and all things new at the first of the year:
Pregnancy for me was serious business. When I found out a baby was on the way I read the books, consulted the oracle on the world wide web, sifting through the advice and stopped standing in front of the microwave while waiting for frozen burritos. No army of scientists was going to sway my position that standing with your belly facing a box of radiation was a bad idea. The realization that I was subjecting another life to the substance of my everyday was sobering, with the glaring exception made for Hostess Ding-Dongs, their tidy foil-wrappers and consistent chocolate plasticity assuaged some unknown fear.
Hauling another person through every conversation and routine event gave me pause. And it made me realize that I wanted to be a person who laughs. Often. Genuinely. And so I resolved to be a person of light-heart. Resolution eventually gave way to habit as I looked for the places and moments where I was free to giggle. And the more I giggled, the more people expected me to, stopping by my cubicle for the permission to see the world new. And there was momentum. And a steadier pulse. And more sunshine.
I was reminded of this on Saturday as I was squeezed into Row 19 with my three children en route to Grandma’s. Getting everyone out the door with toothbrushes and underpants had left me with a stern face and what appeared to be an irrevocably creased brow. Without any context, that same baby, now wise with her four-and-a-half years turned to me and said, “When I laugh a lot it tickles me heart.”
I turned and looked at her. Really looked. And a small crack in the mean mommy plaster on my face began to zig and zag towards my ear. “I think she means it literally.” I thought. And why not. Hadn’t that been what I was hoping for while she incubated, tagging along for the better part of a year- fingers, toes and neural pathways forming in that protected place? Hadn’t I intended to tickle her newly beating heart with fresh blood and peaceful vibes? Hadn’t I purposed to establish laughter as a familiar and faithful companion?
I closed my eyes a moment and asked for the grace to wiggle out from under the weight of the non-essentials I had heaped into my pack. I poked her playfully in the side, two ribs below her armpit. She threw her head back as a loud laugh rushed out, calling one from my soul as companion. These are the gifts we give each other. Drawn from a deep well. Over lunch. In the car. Behind the curtain of blankets that transform the dining room table into a secret hide-out. Little giggles. Bits of snow loosened from the mountain top, spilling, gaining speed and sound, hoping for an avalanche where all are swept away.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
My mom would say that I was born with an insatiable desire for authority. It is indeed plausible that I came from the womb giving out instructions, which were falsely interpreted as the sweet sounds of a mad baby. And, in retrospect, I can see now that Sarah committed herself to the same course before she took her first breath. The night before she was born I had a dream that the baby was a girl (we had chosen to be surprised) and that as we sat around the hospital room, debating names, the ‘baby’ walked in. Although I was confused as to how she was already an adolescent and we hadn’t even been discharged, I gathered my bearing and told her that we had chosen her name. She replied, “I already have a name. Can I have the keys?” What I have now come to interpret as a prophetic vision was dismissed as a funny dream resulting from a cocktail of pregnancy hormones and the magical combination of trans fats and sugar made with love by the folks from Hostess. It seemed silly. Then we got to know our child.
Recently she was bossing her brother up and down the hall and I felt the need to intervene. “Sarah, why are you talking to your brother that way?” I asked, bent nose-to-nose, proximity accentuating my point. She leaned in, and unflinchingly answered without pause.
“Because I want to be the mom. I want to drive and I want to be the boss.”
She is a woman obsessed, her eyes fixed with razor sharp focus on adulthood and all the marvelous powers it appears to hold. Not a day goes by where she doesn’t inform me of something she plans to do when she is a ‘grown up’. And this obsession cannot be credited to a passing developmental stage. She was barely two when she looked up from her dinner one night to inform us that when she was sixteen she planned to move to Seattle, live with uncle Peter, and “never come back.” My mom loves this aspect of Sarah’s personality, reveling in the sweet path of fate that bent its course the day I informed her that I would not be missing my family or sending any letters from fifth grade camp.
To further prove the point, there was a long stretch of time where Sarah was convinced she would grow into a mermaid. She would practice her siren’s song, ankles pressed together and imaginary tail fin flicking the air. On more that one occasion, other mothers asked Miss Patti, our childcare provider, if ‘that little girl convulsing in the shade’ needed help. Even the mermaid dream culminated in her departure from us. “When I grow up, and I am a mermaid, will you carry me to the sea?” We promised we would. And so from her birth she has been leaving us.
In her focused gaze I see The Garden and feel the pain of God looking at his children, smacking their lips with the desire of power and greener grass. I understand the parental perspective to ‘Go slow’ and ‘Choose wisely’. But since Sarah and I share a prideful appetite for control with all of the fallen creation I also understand the fire in her eyes. It’s the fire I myself stoke with the combustible oxygen of tasks and people that ‘need me’. Our place in community is indeed oxygen. God did make us for communal life. But first he made us for himself- for a rich and righteous relationship with our Heavenly Father. A relationship where we crawl onto his lap, call him Abba and rest, with no concern for all of the things we vainly strain to control.
Today at lunch Moses turned to me unprovoked and said, “Mom, you’re not the boss.” I told him indeed I was. And it was a lie. Whether or not I remember in any given moment, it is still a lie. And the corresponding truth is one I should commit to live by and teach my children to covet: that we are not in control. And have no need to be. For we rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91:1
Monday, December 7, 2009
We all want to know where we stand. It is an ancient human need. Our souls are bound to our bodies and the spiritual realities are wrapped up in the temporal, physical ones. We feel both the hints of eternity and the ache of death in our bones. And so we are driven to anchor ourselves to something solid. We have names. Our first name describes us. Our last name links us to our family and the generations that lead the way like a long afternoon shadow, the setting sun at our back. We have an address where correspondence can find us in cities or towns with postal codes. The concentric circles of county, state, nation and continent build from the center where we eat and sleep and grow. A social security number verifies that we exist in the system. A phone number, uniquely ours, allows others to find us and give us information. There is a certificate of birth, placing our arrival specifically (day, hour, and minute) in the continuum of time- that significant day each year celebrated, giving numerical value to the breaths we take. We want to know where we are.
My son was born in Ethiopia on an unknown day about three years ago. His adoption precipitated the printing of a birth certificate. A birthday was assigned based on his height and weight and the number of teeth he had. If he was going to become American, his birth, significant already in the eyes of God and his family, would need the augmentation of date and time.
The power of place and our hunger for it was reaffirmed the other day when Moses brought me the globe. I had been riding the stationary bike in the playroom while he contentedly exercised his imagination building a train track. He spotted the globe, tipped on its side behind a chair, forsaken in the haste of a different day. He brought it to me. “Show my ‘opia,’” he asked.
“O.k. First we have to find the continent of Africa,” I said in my teacher voice, looking to assess his level of interest. “Africa is a continent made up of all these countries here. Can you see the shape it makes? Once you find Africa, you can look for Ethiopia on this side. See how it is right inside Somalia’s sharp elbow over here? Ethiopia is pink on this globe, so you can find Africa, look for the pointy elbow and the pink one.”
He was captivated, tenderly hugging the globe to his side, keeping a finger on Ethiopia as he found a spot on the carpet to sit and inspect. He sat there a long time, spinning the globe and letting his finger drag across its latitude. In the process he misplaced Ethiopia and asked again. From across the room I coached him back to the place he was looking for. Once again satisfied, he returned his attention to mapping.
And I returned to riding the bike, the prayer I had been praying abandoned for a prayer of place. I asked God to give my son deep roots, here and there. Asked that he would feel his home deeply in his heart and carry the contentedness of place within his chest. I asked also that my son would himself know God and the rich reality of a heavenly home, the promise of which would anchor him in moments when he, like all men, feels alien on this soil.
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8
Thursday, December 3, 2009
In the bewitching space between afternoon nap and dinner, when all is tears and whining, we turn to Michael Franti. His catchy little ditty, Say Hey, is JoJo’s favorite song. At the sound of the intro, she will immediately stop crying, pull the two fingers she sucks on from their pitiful perch between her lips and start waving her arms as if to fly away. And it works every time. In fact, it works so well, that I think is has instigated a communal Pavlovian response. We all stop what we are doing and shake it.
Happy baby noises instigate a venerable avalanche of giggly fun. And the endorphins fly. That song is our family’s reset button. And with three little kids and a grouchy mom, by four o’clock the family dynamic inevitably requires a “control-alt-delete” intervention.
This daily ritual has made me appreciate the power of music, and renewed my admiration for the place of Psalms in the Bible. Psalms takes up a big chuck of the biblical real estate, and for good reason. It is good for us to sing. Songs of praise. Sad songs. Songs that remind us of our shared history. And songs that make us jump up and down and start the day over.
“Again! Again!” The big kids shout.
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.” Psalm 28:7