Friday, September 17, 2010
Tonight I was the waitress at a fancy restaurant. My two pint-sized patrons were celebrating.
“What is the occasion?” I asked.
“Well, this guy here is taking me on a fancy date because I just got married and am back from my honeymoon and he is taking me out for doing a good job and getting married. But he is not my husband. My husband is a real prince who rescued me from the high tower.”
“How did you get there?”
“A witch,” she answered, holding up her knurled hands, barring her teeth, and looking straight at me, as if to say, “I think you know her.”
Just glad to know she is having what all mother’s hope for: a fairytale childhood for their sweet little princess.
I sent the big kids downstairs to play today. There were two really good reasons. First, I needed to have a brief and professional conversation with the person at the door without endless interruptions such as, “Um, do you know what? Ya . . . I can . . . um, I have a . . . Um, do you know what?” or the less audible but ever-present hand sneaking across the periphery, as if I could have forgotten for one moment that five-ish years ago I became a mom. The second, and equally valid reason I sent them downstairs is because downstairs is awesome- a good balance of educational toys, junk from McDonald's hidden behind the educational toys where mom won’t find it and throw it away, and open space to run, jump, yell or pack incessantly for trips to far away lands, as the case may be. But banishment is banishment, even when it is to the Isle of Imagination. So, after useless protests from them and hand gestures from me that confirmed my seriousness, they headed down. On his way by me, Mister gave me the stink-eye and I heard him say to his big sister and he rounded the corner, “Let’s make Mom some Yucky Soup.”
Yucky Soup is something Mister likes to make downstairs in the retro-preschool kitchen, stocked with shiny wooden foods and empty bottles of curry, cumin and celery salt. He likes to make it for me. He likes to make it often.
And I think of all the bubbling caldrons of Yucky Soup I have stood over, sweating to make sure my culinary bitterness was just right for the occasion. Stirring and stirring, investing myself in poisons I inevitable spilled on myself along the way. The tricky thing about Yucky Soup, when served up by my son, is that it looks pretty much the same as all the other tasty wooden treats he brings me. I only know it is Yucky Soup if he tells me. Which he usually does, because isn’t that the point?
For as churning the milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife." Proverbs 30:33
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Summer vacation ended with Mister crying on the couch, an ice pack behind his head and another on his arm. We had stopped at the park on our way home and he had bounded from the van to run the perimeter. When he came screaming and holding his head, I assumed he had slipped. “It bit me! It bit me,” he wailed. I scooped him up and plucked the baby from the sand, where she had just situated herself. She added protest to his agony as I double-timed it back to the van. I buckled him in, ran around and was about to fasten my own seat belt when he became seriously hysterical. “It bit me again! It bit me again!” I ran around, scooped him out of his seat and stripped him down to his unders. A hornet had stung the back of his head and fallen down the back of his shirt, only to crawl out and bite his arm once he was strapped in. I hugged him quickly and got him back in when he started kicking. The hornet was still alive and tangled in his sock. I plucked it off, and it circled my head as I slammed the door and ran around to the other side.
Since then Mister prefers to stay indoors where he is oft heard repeating to himself the mantra of both mom and preschool teacher: “Bees only sting me when they are scared. If I am not scared, they will not be scared.” And I cannot help but think of a beautiful woman I met the autumn before Mister came home.
It was my birthday and my husband had taken me on a weekend getaway in the mountains a few hours from our home. In route to the Bed and Breakfast where we would stay, I read aloud from a gut-wrenching memoir on a list of adoption must-reads we had been given by our agency. It was the story of a Black baby adopted in the 60’s by loving and oblivious white folks living in a very White small town. The experience of this man was articulating questions and apprehensions that my husband and I felt ill equipped to deal with on our own.
By God’s grace, the woman who owned the B & B was an Asian-American immigrant from Canada with a doctorate in Sociology. So when she brought us a beautiful organic breakfast the first morning I asked a question. She sat down and opened up her heart, sitting with us for two mornings, retelling her experiences growing up with immigrant parents from China and moving through the immigration process to the U.S., where she was forced to ‘choose a box’ despite a well-articulated argument about race as a social construct to which she did not want to be tied.
On our last morning she likened racism to bees. “I talk with my children and try to prepare them for what they will experience, but when my children are in a beautiful orchard I don’t want them to focus on the small bee, annoying as it may be. I try to show them the trees and the clouds and the beauty of what is around them.” I thought her answer was awesome until my son was stung twice in a span of five minutes and decided the out-of-doors, his former love, was no longer for him. When he goes outside he only sees bees. He is always looking for them. Because they hurt. Because he remembers last time he was stung. Because he questions whether or not it is worth it. There are some decent toys inside.
I have been thinking about bees a lot lately, especially when I drag my sweet, scared son from the basement into the sunlight. He usually cries at first but is distracted easily enough by the trampoline. But I still think about bees and look for them, too. My credibility cannot afford another run-in with the animal kingdom before the healing months of winter. And I think of what lies ahead- the little stinging things that ruin a perfectly good summer day and send my baby home crying.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
On Thursday evening we met a few families at dusk and walked a mile down the paved bike trail to fetch dirty water from the creek. Then we walked back, spilling as we went. The kids, running and chatting on the way there, scraped the rubber of their shoes against the pavement and began to hunch, passing the water between them and making intermittent attempts to balance it on their heads. There was a lot less talking on the way home. And when we were done, there was not even enough to fill a bathtub.
We have done this activity before, but never because we needed water or planned on drinking it. And I pray that my children are spared from the day when they do not have the things they need to survive. But even as a ‘homework assignment’ walking a mile for water hurts: my feet; the palms of my hands, where the handle rubs; and my heart because this ritual is reality for another mother who will feed her baby with water murky with disease and dirt.
Peanut did not carry any water. But she watched, leaning over the bridge as we filled the buckets. And I wonder what she already knows, and what she sees when she curiously stares, chin tipped slightly towards her sternum in impish grin. I pray: that she uses her life to help others; that she finds joy in sharing; that her arms are strong for the task; and she laughs at all the days to come.
“She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.” Proverbs 31:17
True story. My husband was out of town. We still have three kids. The odds were not good for me, and qualifications mean nothing when the odds are bad. I was determined to have a great day, but locked myself in the car to call my parents a few times before ten o’clock in the morning because I just needed to know that the signal of my cell phone was tethering me to someone else, even if it had to bounce around from tower to tower, picking up static along the way.
After the skate park, Science Center, lunch, nap for the baby and the pet store (only to look) it was time to get groceries. We started at the upscale local co-op where all the well-mannered, fragrance-free organic people quietly wander the isles in Zen-like happiness wearing things made of hemp died with pomegranate. We went there for three items. I buckled the baby into the small, recycled plastic cart and made my way to the fresh bread. We were going to have grass-fed Sloppy Joes on fresh rolls. Even though dad was not home. Even though I knew that eight days of Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese wouldn’t kill them. But I just couldn’t bring myself to make a meal-plan (which we now post on the refrigerator) that said M: Pizza, T: Pizza, W: Pizza: TH: Pizza, F: Pizza. And, admittedly, there has to be something between Little Caesar’s and organic beef, but anyhow . . .
The bread was next to the wine. “Tuck in your elbows!” I called as I turned to select something from the case. Then there was a loud crash and howling. I turned to find the two big kids, pinned side by side under our cart, which they had upturned by both standing on the back and holding the rail, exactly as the picture prohibits. So, they lay pinned and screaming, with the front wheels of the cart spinning in the air and the face of the buckled baby smashed and screaming against their chests. In all my trips to Wal-Mart I had never seen anything like this. Ever.
Consider yourself warned.
Mister's Great Day
"Today I had fun at skate park and today I didn’t fall down. And today I had really fun at the Science Center and they had toys at the Science Center. I played with a rolling dog. Today at the Science Center I saw I mouse and today a kid was trying to catch it. He had some gloves. He got gloves on so he wouldn’t get bit. I had to tell the man that the mouse was out of their office. He was glad that I told him. Today I had really fun scootering and I didn’t fall down. And today I had a super fun everyday. And today we went outside. And today I had fun having sloppy joes. And today I had super fun."
Here's to more super fun everydays.
"This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it." Psalm 118:24
Saturday, August 21, 2010
When we were at Disneyland this summer we took the kids on the Tea Cups. Waiting in line all three were equally excited. Bright spinning cups floated around the sun-lit garden in a dance set to fairytale music. When the gate opened they ran across the platform and jumped in. We smiled at each other, our knees pressed together in a tight circle. The music started and the big kids pushed and pulled with purpose on the wheel that eventually started our little family spinning, faster and faster, each rotation changing the expression on the baby’s face. Anticipation turned to worry which eventually broke into dizzied terror.
Such is life. Glossy carriages and loud music that propel us round and round the same territory with speed that blurs our vision and renders the periphery irrelevant. Speed that forces us to tilt our heads towards center, lest the laws of gravity and force multiply against our weary skulls.
This week Sis starts kindergarten and Momma begins a doctoral program. And I think of us in line for the Tea Cups, eager for our chance to ride. The speed turned our stomachs and the baby cried, but there was lots of laughter and it made for good pictures and memories. So, here’s to the school year. May the God we love be glorified in our minds, even when we are dizzy.
“For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6
Friday, August 20, 2010
This afternoon my children were taking turns crying about bee stings, rug burns and situational injustices. Just when one would stop, the next would produce tears and reasons to claim the sacred space of Mother’s Lap. Mister had just wiggled himself into a comfortable cocoon when Sis spoke up. “I can leave if you want so that you and Mister can have the belly button talk.” I asked her what she meant, knowing that she was flexing her skills of espionage and making a bid for entrance into a conversation that I had previously told her was none of her business. “You know,” she said. “The talk you and Mister had about identical cords and how moms feed their babies when they are in their tummies.” Before I could invest myself in cognitive processes aimed at distilling her true intentions for bringing up the subject, the whole world was once again sucked into the tethered space between biological mother and child: the identical cord. A significant mispronunciation. The first and true tie of identity. Whoever chose ‘umbilical’ may have missed the higher lexical mark.
A few weeks ago, when Mister had asked me if he had a belly button, my heart had broken and bled with the weight of his understanding. “Who cut it? How did it get cut?” These are important questions, albeit detractors from the one question that lays burning under the surface. A belly button is a beautiful scar that reminds us that we passed from the protection of the womb to a place of independence. We breathe with our own lungs and feed ourselves at mealtime. But it is a scar nonetheless. A scar that tells us that before we stood alone, we were part of another; our birth a miracle, but a miracle completely dependent, growing in deep shadow, and requiring sharp scissors of separation. The question is not, “Who cut it?” but “Where did it go?” What happened to the cord of life by which bone and marrow came to be? In it’s absence it feels that things important- no, things essential- have been left behind.
Maybe as he grows I will tell my son that he cannot see the very center of his belly button because it is ever tunneling back to first loves and the rich earth of beginning. I hope that he will grow to see this scar, similar in appearance to that of all his classmates, as his glory. Both because it reminds him that he made it out into this beautiful blue earth to bless both dawn and dusk with his tender touch and seeing eye and because it tells a story, only he knows deep in his soul, of a beautiful love.
Friday, July 30, 2010
For a few minutes today I thought I wanted to be a toddler: long afternoon naps in a dark room with soothing music to drown out big-kid bickering; soft cotton clothes with giant felt flowers; meals that appear magically at regular intervals; bubble baths; and a big box of blocks that still smell of pine. Then I remembered that toddlerhood also means sitting in your poopoo and spending at least 51% of your time red-face-mad and rolling around on the floor in total frustration. Every coin has a backside.
Rock that diaper on your head, Baby. But please do not put the toothbrush back where you found it, under the tennis shoes lined up by the front door. Turns out that is not cool.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The uber-firstborn-almost-Kindergartner smacked her forehead in frustration. “Oh man, I am just always forgetting as soon as I remember!” Me too, I thought. I start walking down the hall, in focused pursuit of something that escapes my mind between the coat closet and the bathroom. I hunt for the cordless phone, only to find, when it is found, that I have forgotten whom I wanted to call. I leave the door of the washing machine open; with things I intend to line dry molding in a wet and abandoned heap. In matters of home, I can be paralyzed by distraction and forgetfulness.
Like Sis, my memory keeps forgetting, and not just the ice cream melting through the grocery bag, abandoned on the countertop by other pressing matters. I find myself is a season of rich blessing. My life and my heart are full to bursting. Sometimes I mistake that fullness for heartburn but even in the frenzied moments, I can see that I stand in the middle of beautiful and wonderful things. But in this season of plenty there is real danger- danger of forgetting that God himself has made provision for everything from the Mac ‘n Cheese to the roof to my very breath. And when I forget, the spaces in my heart and mind reserved for the praise of God are quickly filled with the septic flow of pride and self, churning and emitting gases that cloud my vision and leave me coughing. I fear the admonition of Moses:
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Duet. 8:10-14)
And so I praise, publicly raising my hands to tell what God has done, making sure it is clear to my listener and myself, that although these things are my responsibility, only God himself has placed them in my hands and only God himself can make them grow.
Monday, July 26, 2010
We were driving home from a friend’s house, when Mister spoke up. I turned down the music.
“Remember the picture when Sis was born? She was so messy.”
“That’s right, son. She was so messy when she was first born. And so were you. I know I wasn’t there but it was just the same, I can promise you that.”
Silence confirmed the end of the conversation. I turned the music back up and we kept driving.
The next day I was bathing Mister and looking into the striking almonds of his eyes. I told him that I was so glad I get to be his mom. Without hesitation he asked me plainly, “Did you know someone in my special book had two moms?” I told him that was interesting and asked who he was talking about. He was not really clear, but I did not want to miss the opportunity to talk at a time that felt safe to him. I asked if we could look at his book together so he could explain to me what he was trying to say.
So, fresh and soapy from the tub, he crawled onto my lap and opened the book.
“Not this page. Not this page,” he said casually as he gentle picked up the corners. “This page,” he said, stopping at the picture of his mom and dad with his birthmother. “Did you know I grew in her tummy? And when I came out I was so messy.”
“That is right, sweet Son. You did grow in her tummy and she loved you.”
“But do I have a belly button?”
“Yes, son. Your belly button is right here,” I said giving it a playful poke.
“But nobody cut it. How did it get cut?”
“Baby, the neighbor lady probably cut it, but you had an umbilical cord same as your sister and it attached you to your mother when you were in her tummy. It was the same for you as it is for all babies.”
We continued to look at the book together slowly and I watched his beautiful face as important inquiries bubbled up from his open heart. And I thanked God for this amazing son, his tender questions, and the ways he continues to bravely make sense of his world. And I thanked God, also, for the little bits and pieces that fill the emptiness left by starting over as a toddler, the small and powerful truths that cover, like vernix, new and delicate skin.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Today in church my husband was following along and taking notes until I tapped him on the arm and gave him the look that means, ‘Put your arm around me because the children are all downstairs and you can think about God and snuggle me at the same time. I guarantee he approves.’ Since his writing hand was wrapped around my shoulder when it was time to fill in the blank on point #2 he passed me paper and pen and gave me the look that says, ‘Fill in the blanks on my worksheet, because I was dutifully taking notes until my wife gave me the look.’ Point #2 read: Jesus offers _______ and __________. I filled it in with ‘money’ and ‘stuff I really want’. It was supposed to read, ‘Jesus offers freedom and restoration’, but that was not the answer I was hoping for.
This year my husband and I read The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Sterns and Crazy Love, by Francis Chan. The two texts served as a venerable one-two punch of biblical insight, leaving me a little dizzy with prolonged ringing in the ears. Both authors, supported by lots of evidence from the Old and New Testament spoke boldly about the bondage of our love of things and the beautiful opportunities that await the brave few who shed the insulation of material accumulation in pursuit of higher things, namely service to Christ’s beloved poor. I cried and cried as I read, knowing that it would be difficult to walk away from the very voice of God brought near by these two witnesses. So we prayed and made a few changes.
But instead of feeling content with less, I find myself consumed with consumption. Like Peanut on Spaghetti night, I want more: more of everything pretty and shiny; more of things that smell new; more of everything that makes me sick. And my husband confessed the same just yesterday. We wander around thinking of all the ways we want to spend the money we don’t have. None of this is honoring to God, but it is honest and I also think it is interesting. I hope it goes away, but it just might not. I live in a world that tells me I deserve to have everything I desire. It is my capitalist birthright. That siren sings loudly and right under the window. But the beauty of her voice belies her melody. More of this world won’t satisfy, as artists and thinkers, both ancient and modern, religious and secular have tried to warn. So I am left to choose and re-choose with each breath and each stroll through Wal-Mart whom I will serve. I still hope to put some distance between my vain heart and the image of myself sold to me on the newsstand, but I think it is fair to assume and ready myself for the uneasy reality that choosing to be a stranger in this world will indeed make me strange and rub raw the points of contact between me and the temporal world in which I am ever grateful to live.
And, even though I am a vain and spoiled child, I can still see that what Jesus offers is what I really need; and not only what I need, but also what brings life and the freedom and restoration the pastor was preaching about this morning.
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and espies the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Matthew 6:24
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Peanut can now reach doorknobs. For months I watched her reach and stretch on tiptoe, chubby fingers tickling the air below the brassy knob. Then one day I could not find her in the house, because she had gone into the ‘chokie’ room (where the big kids keep Legos and tiny doll house pieces) and closed the door. While I hunted and called for her, she quietly sat behind the closed door, enjoying the sweet taste of solitude and power. Her height has finally caught up with her insatiable spirit of adventure and nothing is out of bounds. So I find her hiding in the empty tub, or standing on the rocking chair she has scooted up to the closet, or eating the bits of story she has torn from familiar books. And she always remembers to close the door behind her, making space between her mischief and her mama.
This morning I read the words of Christ in Revelation to the church in Philadelphia. He could have told them anything, but what he said was this: “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” He goes on to say that he recognized that they are tired, but praises them for keeping his word and for not being ashamed of their God. An open door is a beautiful thing. It lets in light and allows passage from this place to that. A closed door tells a different story, one of loss, darkness and likely misbehavior. The sound of a closing door pricks the ears of mothers everywhere. It means there will be haircuts or spontaneous murals or both. So when Christ says he has propped the door open permanently for me, my heart sings. Oh, that I would walk through it.
“See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” Revelations 3:8
Friday, July 23, 2010
Grammy was reading a book about fire safety, huddled under a blanket with the big kids. At the prompting of the text she stopped and looked at Mister.
“Do you know your phone number, Mister?” She asked.
“Yep.” He responded assuredly, looking her in the eye.
“Well, what is it?”
“Same as Sis,” he answered with confidence, sure of the accuracy of his answer.
I have thought long about the beauty of his answer and it’s spiritual implications. This summer I was invited by a friend to a 10-week, intensive bible study. It has stretched my understanding of God and shown up in the laundry, dishes and park dates with friends. But it has also helped me to see how little I really see- how little I will probably ever see this side of heaven. There is much that is unknown and like Mister, I want to stake my claim on something other than my own understanding. Granted, the five-year-old big sister has little in common with God Almighty, and he really does need to learn his phone number, but I was grateful nonetheless for the laugh and the lesson.
Acknowledging the mystery of atonement by no means excludes me from struggling with and against real theology, but as I study and pray I want to be ever mindful that God is God and I am not, and at the end of each day and at the dissatisfying end of temporal answers there is Truth that I am unable to comprehend, even when I feel the weight of it in my bones. I agree with I Timothy 3:16: “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: he appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” And so I say with A. W. Tozer, “I am looking for the fellow who will say, ‘I don’t know, but oh Lord God, Thou knowest.’ There’s someone who is spiritually wise.”
“Oh, Lord God, Thou knowest.” Ezekiel 37:3
Monday, July 19, 2010
I unzipped the bag of laundry made dirty by eight days of camping. It smelled of damp fog, sand, smoke and sunscreen, the well-balanced aroma of time spent at the mouth of God’s great ocean. The days leading up to the trip were tearful and heavy with my son’s deepening understanding of the losses of adoption. My husband and I held him while he cried. He looked so small. But then we headed to the beach, and the beautiful thing about the ocean is that it is big- big enough to remind us that we are all indeed small. In the same way that we cannot say for sure where the blue of the water and the blue of the sky really meet or count the grains of sand that peacefully sift between our fingers, the ocean speaks in rhythmic waves of the breadth and breath of God. It was the perfect place for a lost boy and his mama.
I watched him run with abandon and a wide grin through the shallow water away from me with all the confidence of a soul at rest in the arms of his Father, which is where, of course, we were. When we were waiting to adopt Mister I found a quote that spoke to me and just today fell out of its hiding place in Leviticus. Madam Jeanne Guyon says, “If knowing the answers to life’s questions is absolutely necessary to you, then forget about the journey. You will never make it, for this is a journey of unknowables- of unanswered questions, enigmas, incomprehensibles and most of all, things unfair.” And I was reminded of a preacher once who questioned the value of questioning God. He suggested, and I think he may have been right, that we would find the answers to our ‘Why’ questions wholly unsatisfying. In the same way that the pain of an injury is not relieved in the least by the surgeons explanation of anatomy and physiology, our hurts can not be soothed by explanation, but rather by the tender, and often silent, hand of God.
So I watched, with deep, deep satisfaction, as he ran and smiled and splashed. And I was thankful.
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has ever been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.”
Last week a friend sent an e-mail to say that she was praying for me as she painted her house. I had tearfully told her the day before that I wanted to be ground into a fine powder and sucked into the heating vent. A little dramatic, perhaps, but a sentiment shared by many a tired soul, I am sure. She said that as she was praying and painting she noticed a long crack in the door that required repair. So she put down her brush and reached for the sandpaper and putty. If she were to paint over the damaged wood, it may have looked acceptable for a while, but eventually the paint would have bubbled and peeled, widening the circle of damage. There was a quick fix, but it would not have lasted long.
She said she spent more time on that two-inch square than on the rest of the door, wearing herself out getting it right. And she thought of me, at the end of my rope, and took seriously her gifting as Ezer, the biblical word for helper used to describe both God himself and Eve. So she prayed and prayed, standing in the gap for me when I was tired.
And I felt it. All day. And I was grateful.
I want to be someone who stands in the gap: for my husband; for my kids; for friends who I run into at the store and the ones who live in other time zones. I want to pray deeply and often, powerfully bending the ear of my Father. I want to be faithful in this because it pleases the heart of God, makes a difference in the lives of those I love and sets my heart at rest in the hard situations where I find myself powerless to do or say anything of use. I want to do unto others as has been done to me. Besides, most things in life are better with a buddy.
“I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land . . . .” Ezekiel 22:30
Friday, July 9, 2010
Last night I told my son a whopper. And I told him it again this morning. I am sure I will tell it to him tonight when I tuck him in to his bed. I told him I would be his mom forever and that he had nothing to fear. These are promises I do not have the power to keep. And so I beg the Lord, even as I write, to see the broken heart bleeding through the ribs of this little boy I love and let me live to be ninety-nine. Not because I am worthy or qualified, but because I am here and these are the arms he has known.
We came home from celebrating our anniversary last night to find Mister agitated and arguing with the babysitter, with whom he had been sharing his special book. He was showing her the first photo we had of him, wrinkled from its place in my pocket during the months between referral and travel. When he saw us he frowned and started sharing his frustration. “I do not have two moms. I just have one mom. She said I have two moms.” My husband thanked the sitter and I scooped Mister into a tight embrace to discuss what, to him, was more than a semantical disagreement. I have been trying for over a year to facilitate Mister’s understanding of adoption in ways that help him piece together his feelings and his place in our conspicuous family. Our conversations have been slow and sometimes he has simply met my attempts with confident argumentation, assuring me that he did grow in my tummy. But last night, as I rocked him and he looked at me, his face washed in confusion and fear, I knew he finally understood his loss and I watched the dark clouds of that loss roll across his brow, a near eclipse of the security he has felt in the almost two years he has been home. I could visibly see him thinking: if it happened once, it could happen again.
And so I looked him in the eye and told him I would be him mom forever. I told him that it is okay to be sad, but that he had nothing to fear. I pressed his head against my sternum and promised safety. And we rocked. Finally I asked, “Do you want to talk about this anymore?”
“No,” he said. “I just want you to sing me a song.”
“What song would you like?” I asked.
“The Lord Is My Shepard,” he answered.
That is the song that I sang to him first: as we rode the bus to the embassy; after the coffee ceremony at whose end I pried him from the arms of his favorite nanny; as we boarded our flight home. So, last night, as he was nearly drowning in the words I gave him to make sense of his hurt, we began again at our beginning.
This morning I had to wake him up and immediately he was sobbing. And he made it clear he would not be going to science camp, so after we dropped off sister, we went by daddy’s office for some chocolate and reassurance. My husband crawled into the back of the van and covered Mister in a long embrace, whispering in his ear. I pretended not to watch as our son cried and snuggled his daddy, letting the chocolate in his hand melt and run down his fingers.
There have been other times I have oversold myself. In seeking gainful employ I pictured the version of me I hoped I could grow into with the wisdom of years. At the altar of marriage I made promises, in earnest, that I knew only the grace of God could cover. But nothing has brought me to my knees like the fist of my son, clutched tightly to my shirt. And so I ask for the privilege to walk beside him for a long, long time.
“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.” Psalm 116:1
Sunday, July 4, 2010
I left the piles and lists and sat down with the big kids to snuggle and read while our baby tyrannosaurus was napping. Someone chose, No Matter What, by Emma Dodd, a sweet little story about an elephant and his mama. We own it because it was on a ‘good adoptive reads’ list somewhere and while we were waiting for our son I spent most of my anxiety at Amazon.com. The story is not about adoption, but it is about the unconditional love of parents for their children. Both illustrations and rhymed text are simple, exploring the different feelings any kid has throughout the day.
The page that says, “I love you when you are sad” shows the baby elephant on the far left, alone and blending in to the grey rain. After we had turned the page, Mister spoke up. “Turn back, I have to show you something.” We turned back and he explained, “Dat boy’s dad walks too fast. Dat is why his is sad and crying and by himself.” I looked again at the thick line of black pen that outlined the elephant and only vaguely distinguished him from the rain all around. I saw him through the eyes of my son and felt the things Mister knows rend my heart.
He understands getting left. He does not understand the pain of loss or the heavy emptiness in the lap of his first mother. He does not understand her choices, her sacrifice, or her love for him. He cannot. Not yet, maybe never. But he does understand rain and loved ones who get too far ahead.
When we met our son and realized that our very presence caused him tearful anxiety, we agreed that one parent would touch and hold him first, giving him time to get to know us and respecting his fear of us as strangers. The first night we were all together he slept between us in our bed. I woke at one point to feel him crawling onto my chest and patting my face. He sat on my lap on the plane and I carried him through the many airports by which we hop-scotched home. He would not touch or sit with daddy but if we got more than five feet away from my husband in a crowd, Mister would protest. So he clung to my neck and we traversed the crowds, willing my husband with his gaze to stay close. It was weeks before he let daddy rock him to sleep but even in those early moments Mister was fiercely loyal and empathetic, his heart a tender shoot.
And so I pray, as I have since before he came home, that God would grow roots deep down into his fertile soul. Roots that feed a beautiful tree, that may sway but always stands: in wind; in rain; growing good fruit in season; providing shade. I pray that he gets to know his Heavenly Father who will never leave him or forsake him, but walk tall, strong and able a half step ahead all his days.
“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you." Deuteronomy 31:8
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Today Mister walked to and from our destination in his dragon costume. Before we were at the end of the street, Sis was complaining, “Mister, don’t spit on me!” He calmed reminded her that he was only breathing fire and showed her his claws.
A woman we met along the way bent down to meet him eye to eye. “My, you are a scary little dragon,” she cooed. He nodded, blinked and then started spinning in circles. “Ya, and you know what? You know what? You know that I am a dragon and sometimes when it is windy outside, when I look out the window and it is windy I put on my dragon jacket and, and, and,” he stopped spinning and looked her in the eye, “I go outside and I can fly. Yup.” Continuous nodding for emphasis.
I smiled the whole way home, mindful of the breeze at my back, gently lifting my soul off the ground. Tomorrow morning when I pray I am going to ask God for a dragon jacket: soft, padded fleece to keep me warm; hood with googly-eyes and huge nostrils so that I can see and smell danger; felt teeth and claws for nashing, which inevitably happens; and shiny green wings for flying.
“But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles. They run and don't get tired. They walk and don't lag behind.” Isaiah 40:31 (Msg)
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
A week or so ago Mister stepped through a portal, leaving the land of Agreeable Compliance to someplace less convenient to reach. Now every mealtime is fraught with crossed arms, pouting and reminders, “Remember, Mom, I told you I don’t like that?” Every meal, that is, except the ones where I serve him ButterJelly toast and warm milk.
Yesterday for dinner I served Rotini with Parmesan, my quick meal substitute for Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese. “Don’t put anything green in it, Mom. I don’t like the little green things you put in it (referring to finely chopped anything: kale, spinach, broccoli)”. “But, Son, you need vegetables to grow healthy and strong.” He crossed his arms and hung his head halfway, making sure I could still see his puppy dog eyes and their vegetable-induced anguish.
I have a strict one-meal-for-everyone policy, exceptions made only for severe illness or tonsil removal. But one day, in a desperate moment of weakness, I cracked. “Mister, if you do not want this for dinner, what is it that you want?” He answered without hesitation. “Butter.”
Like the Israelites wandering in the desert, my children are provided each day with ample provisions that will sustain them and help them grow. And like the Israelites, they start grumbling around dinnertime about the cuisine, remembering the great smorgasbords laid out for them during their years of slavery in Egypt. They tell me about other children whose moms beg them to eat candy for breakfast. Sis sometimes employs a more subtle approach. “Mom, this spaghetti you made us is so delicious, but you have been making it a lot lately.” Yes, I have. That is because everyone eats it and finely diced greens all but disappear in the sauce.
But, if I am being honest, they are not the only ones who think the menu sometimes stinks, or at least lacks variety. When I wake up in the morning, spiritual manna mingles with the dew outside my window, waiting to be collected. And like the dew, it will evaporate as the sun courses towards noon. So I must gather it early. And eat it gratefully, even if it tastes the same as what I had yesterday. Because if I beg, God will indeed bring quail and rare spices and let me eat until I am sick, while what my body needs dissolves within my reach.
“Each morning everyone gathered as much [manna] as he needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away.” Exodus 16:21
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
I read about the following account this week and the truth and beauty of the story has lingered in my soul, drawing like a magnet the unfettered wounds that had been left to roam and haunt. The famed violinist, Itzhak Perlman, was giving a concert. Having contracted polio at the age of four, Mr. Perlman walks slowly with crutches, leg braces and a signature gait. Audiences expect, yet are still moved by, the strength and integrity Mr. Perlman brings to the stage. On this particular evening, he had set down his crutches, as is his ritual, and arranged himself to play. Early in the first piece one of his violin strings snapped. The conductor halted the concert and the audience held their breath, anticipating the effort it would take for this master to walk off stage and replace the string.
Mr. Perlman was said to have sighed, as a mischievous grin began working from the corner of his mouth. Then he replaced the violin under his chin, signaled the conductor, closed his eyes again and proceeded to play with expert abandon, willing the beauty of four strings from three, drawing the audience into a rapture of skill and passion not previously known. The concert ended in thunderous applause. The palms of the audience burned from clapping their appreciation and awe. When the noise finally settled, Mr. Perlman spoke, with the same genuine smile that had crept across his face as he inspected the broken string. “Sometimes you must find out how much music you can make with what you have left.” The crowd roared again as Mr. Perlman slowly set down his violin, rose from his chair and walked from the stage the same way he had entered.
I often hear adoptive parents talk about how God made their children for them, intending from the beginning, that they be the ones to know, love and nurture the little souls for whom they would walk a thousand miles. I understand and respect the heart behind the words. But as I watch my son’s understanding of the world grow, I also see that he is becoming more and more uncomfortable talking about his adoption. We still talk about it; because I know on the other side of this valley is wholeness, free of shame or mystery. But I cannot accept or tell him that God designed his trauma. I can, however, describe for him the reality of where we find ourselves: hand-made instruments under the chin and in the grip of the Great Musician, capable of make something high and grand out of our days together.
“ . . . for I am the Lord who heals.” Exodus 15:26
Monday, June 28, 2010
The months between the arrivals of child #2 and child #3 are a blurry, sleepy mess. A quick timeline: in May we found out Mister was joining us; in June my husband took a new job and we found out Peanut would be party-crashing sometime in February; in August I turned in my keys at my full-time job and got on an airplane to Ethiopia.
Once home with our son, my every thought was directed towards nurturing the bonds in our new little family. This left me generally incapacitated in regard to pesky household duties like making sure there was food, soap and socks to go around. Since we weren’t entertaining much (citing attachment as our excuse to be reclusive) I don’t think that anyone would have known that I was barely surviving my new post as stay-at-home mom were it not for the unfortunate incident with the velour, maternity tracksuit.
I would remind myself every morning that the Jones mean nothing to me, repeating the mantra of pony-tail-and-baseball-cap moms everywhere as I brushed my teeth. The chant would continue as I fruitlessly searched for a match in the wicker basket of sock purgatory where hundreds of fine socks waited and prayed to be redeemed. On this particular morning we arrived at preschool early enough to sit and chat with the mothers who wear clean clothes. They were always so kind to me, and until the velour-maternity-tracksuit incident I thought it was because they found me clever and refreshing. I now understand that my existence as new-comer/hopeless case mustered up feelings of charity, like a skinny, wet puppy at the back door in November.
We chatted and watched the children, rising at the greeting of the sunny teachers to sign our children in and kiss them good-bye. While waddling around, being clever and refreshing, I was interrupted by the voice of one of the teachers behind me. I could see her pulling on something, arm-over-arm, as if she were an ancient fisherman pulling in a promising catch. “I think you have something on your back,” she said to me. I turned to see a gigantic pair of white, maternity underwear held in front of my face. They had been attached to the back of my black tracksuit. This is because I had pulled the suit in haste from the dryer where it had likely sat for days getting cozy with the hideous unders. I laughed, pretending it was somebody else who had been smiling, chatting and telling stories for twenty minutes with a parachute on their back.
There was only one thing to do: sew up the legs of my panties, and use them for a grocery bag, maybe adding a strap made out of unmatched socks for interest and flair.
“The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor.” Proverbs 15:33
Friday, June 25, 2010
Last Sunday I found myself lunging after the baby, who had wiggled free of the Sumo-acrobatic small-package I employ to dress her every morning. As I reached and wrestled I thought of a parenting book I had read last year where a superior mom had trained her babies, from birth, to hold still while she changed them. She explained how she had strategically taught them patience and obedience through the daily ritual of dressing. If I ever I chance to see that woman, I will leap over hedges and duck tricycles to give her a high-five. I will be able to do this because, while my baby has not learned patience, I have had excellent daily flexibility and speed training.
Mister overheard me as I scolded, “Little baby, you cannot be naked for church.” And he added, “Yes. You can’t be naked at church because nobody wants to see anyone else naked.” Wow. True enough to sting a little, not because our church is exceptionally pious or hypocritical. But it is made up of people, and we are all wary of showing our wrinkles, rolls and scars. And nobody want to be ‘that guy’: you know, the one who steps from the shower at the gym and starts telling you about the fungus he picked up in the war forty years ago that just wont go away. So we clean up, straighten up and head out the door.
And we miss it: the beautiful opportunities to really get to know each other and carry one another over the hills and through the dark valleys. Yes, we want to clothe ourselves with Christ, but before we can put on something new, we have to take off something old, and inevitably that requires showing a little skin. And skin can tell stories. Freckles. Stretch marks. Scars from accidents and scars from surgeries. Rashes. Birthmarks.
And when we really look and listen, peering down into another’s soul, we find versions of ourselves. Our own needs and hurts and dreams offered as gifts by the brave among us who open their scroll. Jewels of intimacy. Glimpses of God. Stories that remind us to link arms as we walk.
“Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.” Romans 12:10 (Msg)
Standard lunchtime conversation:
Mister: "Why didn't the dinosaur cross the road?"
Sis: "I don't know. Why?"
Mister: "He didn't have a tiny shooter gun! Is that a tricky one? Okay, here is a tricky one. Why didn't the quesadilla cross the road?"
Sis: "You say this every time!"
Mister: "Because he didn't have a big shooter gun! Ha!"
The shooter gun is the consistent component in all of Mister's jokes. He is convinced that crossing the road without it is disastrous. In fact, chickens, dinosaurs, quesadillas, dump trucks and ButterJelly toast all refuse to make the trek unless they are armed for what is on the other side.
I often find myself in the chilly dusk without a jacket; or in a waiting room with time to read and no glasses; or far from home with a poopie baby and a diaper bag stocked with extra clothes, wipes, ointment, sunscreen, crackers, toys, a camera, paperwork for last year's picture day, but no diapers. Lots of extras, but no essentials. Adventures on a rainy afternoon are better with a jacket. Reading without glasses gives me a headache. The cuteness of a baby is profoundly dampered when pants that need to be changed aren't.
And so I pray, Lord help me to dress myself properly with the things you have put in my closet. May I see clearly through the lens of your love. Help me to remember the sword of the spirit and the belt of truth. Make me ready for battle, or at least daily life.
"Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Ephesians 6:14-17
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Allen Ginsberg said, “First thought, best thought.” I have been keeping a mental list of some of my ‘first thoughts’ the last few days and I think I disagree. A sampling: I think we should have McDonald’s for dinner; I am leaving; stop talking, you haven’t said anything interesting since before lunch; this isn’t worth it; it matters what that woman who I have never talked to thinks of me, my sweaty gym clothes and my baby who is licking the handle of the cart at Safeway; the toys and whatnot covering the floor make my home inhospitable; my husband can’t really find me attractive; I have no business having a dream; I can’t go a step further.
On many occasions as a writing teacher, I have espoused Mr. Ginsberg’s view with enthusiasm, arms flapping up and down for emphasis. There is something real and best about writing with abandon. But chewing on toxic thoughts is bad for my health. I recently heard a dentist lecture on the link between oral hygiene and heart health. I thought her research was interesting, but did not see the spiritual parallel. The things that are in my mind and in my mouth affect the flow of life-giving blood through that muscle in my chest.
And so I ask for new and better thoughts to replace the ugly, mean ones. Thoughts that are worth thinking and sharing. Thoughts drug out of my tent and into the bright sunlight that help me see and burns away the ominous clouds of doubt, thick with heavy rain.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Mary Poppins is a family favorite. The children and I watch, all wishing that Mom were more cheery and magical, with a mysterious carpetbag and silly songs that ‘make the medicine go down’. One time I found Sis banging on the wall in the hallway and attempting to snap her fingers. “What are you doing?” I asked. Without flinching she told me she was Mary Poppins, using her powers of persuasion and imagination to pick up her mess. One afternoon, as Mary was riding into London on a cumulous chariot, Mister turned to me with wide eyes. “Mary Poppins lives in a whole bunch of clouds. That’s crazy! What does she put her foot on?” The wise little sage was at it again.
I recently read that Matisse, when painting in the natural world, would draw a circle on the ground around the place where he was standing. This way he was able to return to the exact spot to finish the painting. He understood the power and necessity of a fixed point. This fixed point afforded Matisse the opportunity to notice, with exactness, changes in the landscape.
Abraham Lincoln said to “Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” Like Matisse, President Lincoln understood the importance of finding solid ground to stand on and return to in turbulent times. And I think of the spiritual life, rooted in the physical one, and ask for a place to stand. A place I can return to each day in the discipline of prayer and bible study. A fixed vantage point where I can get my bearing and observe, with accuracy, the changes in the world around me. So that I am not confused. Or overwhelmed. So that I can paint something beautiful with a strong and steady hand.
“He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Psalm 1:3
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Sis was thrilling me with the details of The Little Mermaid, one of her all-time favorite movies. “Mom, do you remember when Ariel has a flower and she is taking one petal off at a time?” I nodded and she continued. “Ariel says, ‘He loves me, he loves me not’ and she is trying to figure out if her dad loves her or not, so that is why she was doing that.” I agreed. Of course Ariel in swooning repose picking daisies is thinking of her daddy.
Sis has a great dad, so I do not think she spends much time questioning his love or leaving her estimations of him up to the design of flora and fauna. More likely she is thinking about how he likes to read to her, and take her to ride their razor scooters, or snuggle her on a Saturday morning. There is ample evidence that when he says ‘I love you’ he means it.
And I think of my Heavenly Father. And the times I have questioned his love or at least his good judgment, plucking a daisy, looking for answers. In times of questioning and rebellion I use my ego and ample elbow grease to shake my fist at God. But when I am alone in a well-lit room, looking up-close in a mirror there can be no question. God is good. All the time. And what I receive from him is his unearned grace, lavished as to leave no room for doubt.
“You know me inside and out, you hold me together, you never fail to stand me tall in your presence so I can look you in the eye. Blessed in God, Israel’s God, always, always, always. Yes. Yes. Yes.” Psalm 42:12-13 (Msg)
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Sis loves to give gifts. Just this week she has offered her favorite necklace to me 'for keeps' as soon as she is done using it. She offered to bring her swim teacher copies of photos from her weekend trip to the big city. She gives stuffed animals she is done loving to the baby and even tried to give away her brother to a family friend. With Father's Day coming the big kids both chose 'gifts' for Dad from their toy box. Mister wrapped up one of his favorite cars. Sis decided on her gift weeks ago when I mentioned Father's Day was coming, "Oh! I know what I am going to give Dad. I am going to give him that green book about the tree because I have two of those." And I giggled. She has given away our extra copy of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein at least a dozen times. It is a popular choice primarily because it is a duplicate, which is entertainingly ironic. The tree literally gives everything she has for the love of the boy. In the final scene, the aged boy and tree stump sit together satisfied but clearly diminished by the stuff of life. They find peace in simple companionship, no physical resources left after the selfless love of a myopic child had carried them away.
A perfect gift for Dad on Father's Day, even if it is an extra.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Before my eyes opened Tuesday I was praying. The last stretch of days had been full to overflowing with the ramifications of tired children, harried parents, and clean and dirty laundry underfoot. My days, as of late, have felt like a constant stream of bad manners by Mom inspiring bad manners by the children which required hypocritical disciplining by a guilt-soaked Mom. So on and so on. After putting the baby down for a nap I desperately sat down, intending to heed instructions to "Be still and know that I am God." I immediately fell asleep.
I decided that it counts. Did not Abraham fall asleep after setting out the animals as God instructed? Was it not God alone who walked between the ceremonial scene of covenant-making? Abraham obeyed. But he was tired and it was just as well. The image of God walking alone where two men usually walk in pledge is worth visualizing. God's convenient with Abraham was a promise only God could make and keep. For Abraham to strike his hand in pledge would have been both good intention and folly. So he slept a sweet sleep and was still before his Maker. Which is really all he could do. And like Abraham I woke to a beautiful day and a house, still in disarray, but full of blessing.
"Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Peanut loved Sea World. It was full of all the various permutation of her favorite animals: ducks and dogs. In fact, all animals are either ducks or dogs. Without exception. So when we rode the conveyor belt past the intricate and complicated simulation of the Antarctic where dozens of Emperor Penguins starred at us through the glass, she squealed in delight. "Duck! Duck! Quack quack! Duck! Duck!" Then there was the exhibit where we watched Beluga whales gracefully swim and roll past the high glass wall. The big kids pressed their palms against the glass, gape-mouthed with appropriate awe for the wonder and variety of ways God has expressed himself in the animal kingdom. Peanut was equally enthusiastic. "Dog! Dog! Dog!" The big kids turned and giggled at both the ridiculousness and the volume of their baby. She even attempted to wake a polar bear who was sleeping against the glass, pounding on the window and calling him by his name, "Doggie! Doggie! Night-night Doggie!"
I have thought about her simplified system of classification, separating things with wings from things without. Her language and her knowledge of facts will grow with time. WIth each day she will have new words and ways to describe the things she sees. But her passion, volume and simplicity call into question the prism of my own interpretations. I seldom shout out or even recognize the things that are interesting to me. Neither do I recognize each of the events and objects in my day as what they are: manifestations of two basic elements in life, namely the goodness and mercy of God. All things that pass my way have passed through His hands, and there is truth and growth to be found when I label them as such.
"Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Psalm 23:6
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
My brother graduated last weekend along with 4500 classmates. It was a big deal with faculty parading around in their Harry Potter robes representing the institutions where they wrote their dissertations and took their last student loans. The stage was lined with flowers. Trumpets and banners announced swatches of lawyers, doctors, engineers, scientists, teachers and artists, all smiling and waving to the sea of 40,000 moms, dads, siblings and friends who filled the lower bowl of the outdoor stadium where the event was held. Loved ones proudly watched from a distance, searching the mass of black robes and colored sashes for the child they remember, now officially on the brink of adulthood. Everything about the event was moving.
I spent most of my time on the concourse chasing the kids and people watching. Well-dressed spectators came and went, carrying balloons and buying lemonade, representing at least dozens of countries and languages; all proud of their respective graduates, heads high, even when shoulders sloped under the invisible burden of long hours worked to pay for education and its expensive dreams. My parents were no exception, leaning forward for hours, looking for my brother through the telephoto lens of their digital camera.
Their excitement was beautiful, speaking to me of the importance of seeing a thing through to the end. It is important that we run with perseverance the race set out before us. And on that day, when we break the tape with fists pumped in victory, they will be in the stands- parents, friends, children, watching us proudly, and with tears, even if from a distance. Even if we look like all the others receiving diplomas. Even if it takes us an extra year and costs more than we originally thought.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Hebrews 12:1
Thursday, June 10, 2010
“Mom, ‘member when Mater says, ‘Shoooot, you’re my best friend’ to Lightning McQueen?”
“I do remember. Who is your best friend, Mister?” I asked, truly curious.
“You are my best friend, Mom,” he answered in a tone that suggested the obvious.
Tomorrow’s breakfast menu:
Treasures from the Dollar Store
Just kidding. Maybe.
Yesterday after swim practice, Mister and I had our daily tug-o-war over the importance of dry clothes. He does not mind being wet and will stay in soggy trunks all day if allowed. Once we let him wade in the lake in long pants. He happily played for hours until we finally pulled him out. And last week at Disneyland, Dad watched him hold his tootsies under a waterfall on Tom Sawyer’s Island. When we finally undressed him half a day later his toes were completely wrinkled. So yesterday I got out my script for another round of ‘the usual’.
“Mister, please take off your wet suit in the bathroom.”
“I dun’t want to.”
“It is cold, and we are going to track practice soon. You need to put on dry clothes.”
“It is not wet.” He said, looking me in the eye with water running in little streams down his legs.
“I will not ask you again.”
“O-tay. I am going to hide my bathing suit somewhere no one will find it.”
Today was busy and I warned the kids that we would have to make a quick change to make it to lessons at 2:30. At 2:29 I found Mister standing naked in his room.
“Where is your suit?” I yelled. “I told you we were in a hurry today!”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I tan’t find it.”
Suddenly I remembered our conversation from the previous day. I stomped around his room to no avail. He was successful, and had to wear last year’s trunks to the pool.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
There is a mirror at my parent’s house that is six feet by four feet. It is oriented horizontally a few feet off the ground so that a person using the rowing machine could see the full length of themselves and refine their technique. Its size and placement also make it attractive to little people who are able to view themselves and their antics in panorama. On multiple occasions during our visit I found all three of them perfecting their look and talking to themselves.
One morning between pajamas and cargo shorts Mister caught sight of himself in all his naked glory. I watched amused as he flexed his twiggy arms and made aggressive warrior faces at himself. He may have stayed all day were it not for the promise of pancakes.
Peanut stopped to talk to the baby in the mirror every time she passed by. The conversations were long, with lots of laughter and wet kisses. “Baby!” she would yell. “Baby!” Then, when she tired of the company she would say to reflection, with the same authoritative tone that she had heard Mister talk to the dog, “Baby, go! Go away!” She would point a stern finger off stage left, repeating herself and increasing the volume. The baby in the mirror never listened and eventually she would walk off shaking her head.
I can relate. I much prefer scripture as a window to the heart of God, but sometimes it does function as a mirror, to show me what I really look like. And in those moments the lighting is more department store dressing room than romantic restaurant, with amply evidence of age and cookie consumption. And I find myself frustrated and impatient with the versions of myself that do not listen and follow their high calling.
And I pray that each new day brings a little more Christ and a little less self. Not that I am going to grow out my hair and start sewing burlap dresses. I don’t think I could pull off the docile airiness of Jesus from the movies. But I do desire the mind of Christ; his ability to get to the heart of a matter, his healing touch and tireless compassion. I want to see undertones of grace and life behind the wrinkles, dated clothing and no-shower-today-for-Mama hair.
“So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin . . . Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God- through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:21-25
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
I had my head resting on the kitchen table in a low blood sugar funk, reviewing the events of the day and studying the cereal bowls precariously perched on piles of art supplies and half-hearted drawings of rainbows.
“Today felt like a good balance of work and community but, man, I’m tired and there is so much left to do,” I said to my husband.
“But you got to snuggle your kids,” Sis said.
“Yes, that is true,” I responded, wanted to affirm her after a long day of instruction and correction. “And that is the most important thing.”
“Not more important-er than to pray.”
Little Miss Sunday School rarely misses an opportunity. I agreed, of course and we eventually ate dinner.
But yesterday her words returned. I found myself bent and gasping for air as I prayed for a sister who was under bright lights in a paper gown with careful surgeons hovering over her body looking to remove significant parts that had gone to the dark side. I do not pray because I am good at it, or even because Christ said we should. Most days I pray because life really is that desperate and it is the only thing to do. This was true yesterday.
I opened my bible to the place I had left off, not terribly excited to be approaching the story of the birth of Christ just as the summer sun was thinking about peeking through the clouds. But I read about Simeon, who shows up briefly in the gospel of Luke to recognize Jesus as the Christ and say so. As an introduction, Luke describes him as “righteous and devout”. The Message says that he was “a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel”. I stopped and reread. Prayerful expectancy of help: that is something I could understand. I thought of the people I knew who, at that moment, were gathered in the waiting room, praying away the hours.
Then I turned to Psalm 31. King David sang: “Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God to get here soon.” I pictured this sister raised toward heaven by the prayerful hands of her friends. And I asked Jesus to sing to her while her body and mind slept. Songs of bravery and strength and promise. And I asked him to sing to those waiting. And I thought of my son, terrified in our first meetings, clutching my breast as I sang to reassure him. When I thought of this sister and her family held tightly to God’s own heart, listening to his song, I wept. And pedaled my bike with all my might. And made the awkward whimpering noises that whistle through a constricted throat.
In the late afternoon Facebook reported that things went well. Thank you, Lord.
“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalm 31:24
Monday, June 7, 2010
Twelve days ago my dad was joking on the phone about his upcoming gallbladder extraction and the importance of jettisoning parts off the side of a sinking ship. Twenty-five pounds and four nights in the hospital later, he is still twinkle-eyed although the laughter around the house has a serious undertone. Everyone is aware that the tentative moments in ICU nearly changed the end of this story. I was in Disneyland for the most grim days and burst back in the door with three kids and some dance music as he was contemplating solid foods and walking around.
“It is amazing how 120 pounds of kid can change a morgue into a party,” he said, smiling.
“Glad you feel that way,” I responded in between threats as to what would happen if Sis squeezed the baby one more time. “She screams every time you do that! You need to listen to her! Take two giant steps back or else.”
I turned up the music before the retort.
On the last night of my visit we sat in the semi-dark discussing the ailments and pending procedures that are part of mid-life, even for those who like to ride their bikes and eat whole grains. “Dad, it sounds like you are in that awkward phase of routine maintenance that hits somewhere around 90 thousand miles. And the question is always the same: do I go ahead with expensive repairs or start shopping around for something new?” My mom laughed out loud, so I kept on with my irreverent word picture. “Out of warranty but not yet a classic. It is a tough spot.” Insolence is one of my unspoken family roles, but even as I sat there making light of a scary situation I prayed and prayed that my dad would live to be 100. I wanted to cite for God, as if he did not know, all the things that my Dad has been doing that are making a difference with the least of these. But I thought better of it, remembering other amazing souls in our circle that are fighting to stay a little longer or are already home. When it comes to the big ‘Whys’ there is no point evoking logic. So I just prayed. Prayers of thanks and prayers for healthy days.
“You did it: you changed wild lament into whirling dance;
You ripped off my black mourning band and decking me with wildflowers.
I’m about to burst with song;
I can’t keep quiet about you.
God, my God, I can’t thank you enough.
Psalm 30:11-12 (Msg)
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Mister has added some swagger to his stride lately and the parents, if not the siblings, are amused. After two years under his mother’s apron, he is showing his face and evidence of his Ethiopian name, which means Dominator. His first father gave it to him at birth and we have been waiting to see the blessing of his name manifest.
And like food and wine, swagger has a perfect pairing: trash talk. Ever since the melanin experiment and Mister’s realization that he was the undisputed owner of a ‘most’ his speech has been dominated by comparisons. Almost everyday I pour a glass of milk for his lunch and he guzzles it like a co-ed in a bar. “I’m a big drinker. Sis is a tiny drinker.” It is not enough that he is great. His daily efforts at greatness are focused on chipping away at the legs of the pedestal on which she sits. He shows us his muscles and points to the places on his arms and legs where he stores the proteins and vitamins of foods recently digested.
“Mister, all that healthy food is making you so strong!” I comment. He tips he head and shrugs.
“Ya, I am detting so big and tall. And Sis is so short.”
“But she is still taller than you.”
“Ya, but I am older dan Sis and taller dan Sis because I can touch her neck.”
In matters of comparison, the scientific methods, which he otherwise employs, are tossed aside. The tree we planted for him is growing faster than hers. His scooter is bigger. So are his feet. And his bed. And his burger from McDonalds. He runs faster even when he comes in second.
Yesterday, in a scaled-down replay of The New Deal, Papi asked Mister to help move some five pound weights from here to there. I helped him with his shoes. “I see why Papi asked you to help since you are so strong,” I said as I tied. “Ya, I am very strong and I have big hands,” he said spreading his little fingers in front of my face. Later I heard him talking to his great-grandma, who had stooped to see what he was working on. “Dranma, you tan not do dis job. I am helping Papi. Your hands are too tiny.” I smiled and thought about her hands, which have scrubbed and volunteered on multiple continents.
And tonight, during a casual game of Saber-Tooth Tiger on the trampoline he scratched Sis. “Mister! You scratched me and it hurt.”
“Sorry, Sis,” he offered with appropriate remorse. Then he added, “My hands are so big.”
And most comparisons circle back to the original topic. “Ya, I am a big drinker. And I have the most melanin.” Brown skin is his trump card. His secret weapon. A positive part of his budding identity and a diamond in his pocket. And I smile hoping that next time the kids on the playground tell him he has to be the bad guy because he is Black, he will use the tools of confidence and voice that he has been sharpening at home.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Suitcases were crammed sideways into the back of the wagon to accommodate a child in the pint-sized optional third row. We were headed to the airport with plenty of wiggle room for traffic and a donut stop. I double checked the itinerary and panicked when the departure time was a half hour earlier than I had remembered. I sped to the airport imagining missing my flight and having to unpack the dirty clothes now soggy from commingling with wet swimsuits and sandy shoes. Lines were long. I scooted the duffle along the ground, fighting with the roller bags as I zigged and zagged my way towards the friendly agents. A quick kiss for grandma and grandpa and the three kids and I were up the escalator towards the single-parent circus show that is security with preschoolers and a runaway toddler.
We huffed and puffed our way to the gate where people were queued and waiting. The man ahead of me handed the gate agent his ticket, which beeped in protest under the barcode scanner. “Sir, do you have a different ticket? This one is for Sacramento.” He mumbled. She repeated herself and I studied the back of his head for clues about his age, situation and cognitive capacity. It was finally decided that Sacramento was his destination and she pointed him towards the baggage claim with questions about whether or not he was meeting anyone who could help him.
I smiled sympathetically, with only traces of condescension at the corners. He turned and stepped out of line and I handed the agent my wad of tickets. She ran my ticket under the scanner and then I heard the beep of rejection. There must be some mistake, I thought. Clearly I know where I am going. “Ma’am, this flight is to Seattle.” I smiled and nodded my head, pleased to be getting closer to home. “Ma’am, you are not on this flight. Your flight is at the next gate.” I blinked. Frowned. She handed back the wad of tickets. My little ducklings fell in line. I looked for the first time at my ticket and its corresponding gate, extracted myself from the line and commenced with the walk of shame. I kept my eyes down to avoid the pursed lips and shaking heads of those traveling without children. Like my husband says, people with small children do not go on vacation. They take trips.