Friday, February 26, 2010

Priority Seating

Priority seating in the van has been a constant point of contention for the preschoolers as of late. Sis, in keeping with time honored airline policy, thinks that she should be seated first since she is in the rear. Mister, in his primary roll as ‘little brother’ has taken up the opposing cause with matched passion, ducking and elbowing to scramble in first only to block the isle with his legs and luggage. Realizing, after weeks of high-pitched protest from sister, that he was indeed impeding our departure, he compromised by standing in his car seat so as to let Sis pass before arranging himself and his belongings. I considered it a workable solution and pretend not to hear them discussing the finer points of sibling power negotiations.

Tonight we made our way to the van for the day’s tenth errand. As we waited for the garage door to open I heard Sis sigh loudly, “Oh, man, here comes something I do not like.” Then she turned to her brother and in a forced soprano singsong said, “Brother, would you like to get in first?”

I was so proud. She had discovered the secret of happiness. She had offered the olive branch with grace, even if begrudgingly and added the sweetness of enthusiasm, even if forced. I think she is ready for Mommihood.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Sun

I was rummaging through the cavernous depth of my purse one-handed at the stoplight. Mister had requested gum and I was feeling generous and carefree, memories of gum in hair, clothes and the carpet all forgotten in the blinding winter sunlight. “Sorry, Buddy, I can’t find any.” I said, the van inching forward in the queue waiting to turn left.
“Ya, you can find it!” He retorted with some indignation. “The sun is looking in there with you.”

The old soul had spoken. So I redoubled my efforts and pondered the gift of sunlight. It warms. It grows the grass. Magically makes my bones stronger in a process with Vitamin D I will never understand. It drives away the fear and hyenas that rule at night. It tells me when I should rise and begin my work again. And it illuminates the contents of my purse so that the items that have gone missing can be found.
A friend recently relayed a story of a young girl that had wandered from her family in the mountains. Search and rescue workers combed the alpine slope all night. The morning light cut through the trees, to show a cold and tired child shivering on a rock mere feet from the trail. She had been there all along. But no one had seen her in the darkness and she had been too frightened to answer their call. But daylight changed everything. It gave the rescuers sight and emboldened the little girl to respond.

Someone recently said, “a little sunlight is a fabulous disinfectant.” I immediately thought of the pillows and duvet covers draped across the lawn chairs of my parent’s backyard, soaking up the hot, California sun and driving out winter’s bed bugs. Or the times I have rolled up my pant cuffs and stretched out my toes at the park, eager for the sun to warm and bake my little piggies. I also thought of the times I have sidestepped the bright light, either in vain shame over wrinkles and shabby clothes or things more serious and difficult to talk about. Either way, if Mister is correct, the sun is ready and willing to look with me in the darker places to find the things that I have lost. It was no accident that Christ cast a vision for his followers as salt and light. Light helps us see. Helps us find things or be found. Helps us grow.

“You are the light of the world.” Matthew 5:14

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mess-Free Painting

Santa stopped by Grandma's house and left ‘mess-free’ paint pens for the little darlings. Tubes of primary and secondary colors neatly boxed in rainbow order with plastic brush tips conveniently attached and capped on one end. I do not doubt that children in other households have successfully painted with these ‘pens’, creating beautiful works of art that stayed on the paper. My brood, especially the scientific son, cannot be confined to 8 ½ by 11. First it was experiments with Van Gogh, but who can leave orange chunks of paint to dry and crack? Paint has its own siren song and the larger the glop, the louder she sings. More red. More yellow. More blue. Soon all is delicious chocolate brown, mixed with care under the slippery palm of a preschooler.

Mess-free painting. Its like fat-free cheese. It doesn’t live up to one’s expectation. Doesn’t satisfy. I should know by now that when they paint, they will need bathing. So will the floor and table. And the baby, who stood on tip-toe when no one was looking and reached a chubby hand up onto the tabletop like a periscope, patting around until it found the blue tube. No one missed it. So she painted comic blue clown lips on herself that parted in a grin of satisfaction to reveal matching blue teeth.

If I squinted I could image that the ring around the tub was a rainbow. Some kind of promise.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


This morning Sis approached my husband in the wee hours with a request to watch 101 Dalmatians. “Can we watch this movie, Dad? The real one comes out next Thanksgiving, but we could just watch the DVD for now.” He laughed. Our children live in a perpetual Disney time warp, watching previews for things that already happened. They often make comments like, “I can’t wait until summer. That is when The Little Mermaid is coming.” I try to reason with them, citing the compelling evidence that they have already watched Ariel make a deal with the Sea Witch 217 times. It is no use. Repeatedly, while holding the genuine article in her hand, Sis announces her anticipation of its debut.

And I am reminded. Looking backwards can be very confusing. And disorienting. Grace covers yesterday. And there is grace enough for this day too. Grace to lift my chin and move forward, dimming the haunting ‘previews’ of the movies I have already made.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

Monday, February 22, 2010


I had never participated in the practice of Lent. I am not apposed. Rather I have been apathetic. But this spring I have been praying and reading much about Christ’s commitment to the poor and pondering what that really means for my family. So, in the context of the real needs of others and motivated by a honest spiritual desire to let God speak to me, I decided to relinquish to the Lord (for a season) two primary spaces that I usually fill with creature comforts, namely sugary snacks and movie rentals. I have been disappointed to find that in adulthood I still have the culinary palette of a junior higher and readily snap up ‘little treats’ wherever they are to be found. For forty days I committed, in earnest, to give God the chance to satisfy. And to remember, when I am tempted to rummage through cupboards, that other moms are also looking for food- for their children’s only meal that day. But already, in the first week, the road of Lent has already been paved with crumbs and evidence of my weakness.

During preschool today I took the baby to the doctor. Her commitment to growth and good health was rewarded with stabbing peeks at her eardrums and four vaccinations. Leaving the office with Peanut shaking and sniffling on my left hip, I looked at my watch. We had twenty minutes before preschool pick-up. That is enough time to start a load of laundry. It is also enough time to eat a cheese bagel and order hot chocolate from the coffee stand at Safeway. We agreed on plan B. As I walked to the counter to order the mid-morning yummies, Jiminy Cricket whispered in my ear, “Hot chocolate is a sugary snack.”
“Not true,” I shot back. “It is a beverage. And when made with soy it is full of antioxidants.”

So I ordered. Peanut and I smiled at each other and partook of our relatively inexpensive and harmless treats. No lightening bolts. Any potential guilt washed down with cancer-repelling isoflavones.

Home again, my preschoolers, covered in paint, talked over each other about the day’s discoveries as I made lunch and all was forgotten. I set the baby and her trusty blankie in the crib and padded downstairs to ride the stationary bike. I was looking forward to a few endorphins and some time to pray and read. I put in my favorite CD, clipped into the pedals, leaned over the handlebars and took a deep breath. Almost immediately an acidic tide bubbled up my throat, searing the back of my mouth. Twice. I was forced to swallow the sour evidence of my broken promise. My shoulders sagged under the weight of realization and disappointment. And then I heard the voice of Fernando Ortega. He said:
“Sing to Jesus, Lord of our shame
Lord of our sinful hearts.
He is our great Redeemer.”

I closed my eyes and took a breath. Then I joined Mr. Ortega, truth and healing rolling out, past my soured tongue. As usual, my broken promises spoken in earnest and halitosis, the plaque-like build-up of my choices flavoring my song. But I sang anyway. Which is what Lent was intending to remind me. That God came near. Because of my great need.

“For he has rescued us from darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves in whom we have redemption…” Colossians 1:13-14

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Only A Pigeon

We recently acquired, Only a Pigeon, by Jane Kurtz. It is a story of an Ethiopian boy and his bird. The watercolor illustrations bring to life the streets of towns made familiar on our drive through the land of my son’s birth. The other night the big kids and I sank our weight into the worn and splitting cushions of our couch, covered our toes with special blankies and read the book together for the first time. “In Ethiopia, a land of ancient churches and castles” it began. Sis gasped. Mister grinned. “This book is about ‘Opia!”

They were like stones resting against my ribs, soaking up the story and the watercolors with silent reverence, broken periodically by astute, old-soul observations. “That lady is in my special book!” Mister pointed to the white-shawled figure in the distance on page two. I have read repeatedly that adopted children often feel driven in an endless, primal search for their birth relatives. The ‘How-To’ manuals mention this as explanation and defense against the hurt feelings of the adoptive parents. And in my heart I understand the insatiable desire for biological connectivity. I, too, look for representations of myself in the wider world. I, too, want to be connected in ways unexplainable by obligation.

He found her. Immediately. In the background of the second page. He recognized the ceremonial white shawl from our only photo. “That does like her, doesn’t it?” I affirmed. And we kept reading. He also noticed that the cobblestone wall on page six looked distinctly like a crocodile. In fact, I finally had to turn the page after lengthy speculation on the part of my wee scientist as to why “dat man” was sitting on a sleeping Croc.

As I was closing the book, Mister sighed contentedly and asked to look at his special book. We poured over the pictures together, taking turns telling the story. We talked about trees and Haile Gebrselassie. We spoke again the names of important people and discussed the process of hand-roasting coffee beans. It was only a pigeon. But it gave us one more chance to talk about our life and looped one more thread through the patchwork we’ve been stitching together.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The End

Toddler language mix-ups can be cute. Sometimes they are profound. This year Mister has been teaching me much about the world as I ride along on his rapid and sometimes bumpy road to language proficiency.

A long-lost favorite CD was rescued from one of the deep, dark and sticky corners of the van. We popped it in last Tuesday and have been rocking out ever since. For songs he especially likes, Mister requests a repeat. And then a repeat of the repeat. This goes on until Sis begins to groan and hold her forehead. Despite her protests, he will ask again, “Mom, can we start from the end?”

I image if that were true. I choose a happy ending and work backwards. And I wonder. What would be different if I lived my life in reverse, in permanent retrospect. Would I be more relaxed with proof in hand that the things I fretted over never came to pass? Would I move through my day with gentle patience, feeling the truth of the oft-mentioned admonishment of fleeting moments? Would I be unencumbered, images of the future having tipped fate’s hand, blessing me with razor sharp focus and purpose towards higher goals? Or would I be a tired shadow, the magic of youth and the surprises of time drained prematurely of their brilliance?

Can we start from the end? I thank the Lord that we cannot. That my little family and I are bound to the sequence of time, that we have no choice but to walk together up the path. In darkness. In daylight. Slowly, I pray, towards the other end.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Magic Finger

Sis came clomping down the hall waving her arms. Without sound, I would have thought she was warning of a fast approaching fire. “Look at this! Look at this! I have a magic finger!” She stopped, with Mr. Pointer centimeters from my nose to demonstrate her new found powers. “Watch! First it is red, then I push on it like this. It TURNS WHITE, then, magically, it is red again!” Sure enough. The evidence was compelling. Magic indeed. I showed her that I could do it too. “Mom! You have a magic finger, too! Just like me!”
The human body is a wonder, warranting the enthusiasm of preschoolers and tired adults alike. Chambers in the heart. Eyelashes. Bone marrow. Articulating joints. Synapses that somehow store olfactory memories half a century old. All of it amazing. A beautiful, breathing canvas demonstrating the skill of a divine artist.
I clearly remember early elementary years, sitting quietly on my parent’s couch, tracing the veins in the hand of an elderly friend who had come to visit my mother. I could drag my finger along the raised blue line from knuckles towards the wrist and watch it disappear until I released the pressure, eager blood rushing back, in duty, towards the tips. Now I wonder if she noticed, knew that her paper skin was a gift of discovery. That even today her hand reminds me of the wonder of God in the details of life.
Aching bones distract. Muscles, sore from use in outdoor play, distract. But always, whether I praise or not, I am fearfully made.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Sadly, this is not the first time I have had this conversation with Sis:
“Who’s coming over today?”
“No one, Sis. It is just us today.”
“Then why are you cleaning?”
Busted. Ninety-nine out of one hundred days we wouldn’t pass a ‘white glove’ test around here. I am always frustrated by my children's honest and innocent inquiry. It points out weakness. Rubs salt in a wound. Shines a bright light into a dark corner full of evidence of a lesson I am steadily teaching my daughter. We polish it up when other people are coming around. In fact, we calculate our ability to offer hospitality to friends and strangers alike based on whether or not our material possessions and family artifacts have been dusted and organized. We place a high value on what others think.
Maybe that is taking it too far. Of course we prepare for guests. It is a sign of respect and an appropriate gesture. And even though I have seen ample evidence that everyone is happier when we aren’t stepping on Legos, I still choose to invest my time in ways that feel right and important, leaving the home as the great casualty of my parenting philosophy and philanthropic interests. So, I say to the critical devil on my shoulder, let it go. Be kind to yourself.
But still I am unnerved by the undercurrent of my daughter’s question, the wee-bitty truth that she is taking notes on. We don’t offer each other our best. We save that for others. Like the fine china. Or special soap. Last week I had the annual opportunity to see my health care provider and drape myself awkwardly in the paper gowns that allegedly tie in the back. I had been wanted to paint my toenails for weeks, but finally made time that morning, as a defense against the humility of the doctor’s office. “Wow, you must really like Nancy,” my husband teased. Painted toes for the nurse practitioner. Fresh towels for the guests. Clean toilets for the repair man. Leftovers for dinner.

“And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 4:4

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Birthday Flowers

Mister celebrated his birthday last week. There was breakfast in bed, the opening of gifts, a party at the local science center and some tulips I purchased to remember his birthmother. He chose red. His favorite color. I hadn’t decided if I would mention their significance this year, but rather begin a tradition of remembering the beautiful thing she did when she brought this amazing boy into the world.
But then we were having lunch and talking about the flowers and it just seemed right. “Mister, these flowers are for your birthday. We bought them to remember that your birthday is special to someone else too. “ I spoke her name and asked if he remembered who she was.
“Ya, she is in my special book.” He said
“That’s right,” I coaxed. “Do you remember why she is important to our family?”
“I grew in her tummy,” he answered plainly.
“That’s right.” I smiled. “And the day you were born was special to her, too. Since she can’t be here with us, we have flowers to remember.”
“If I use my imagination I can see her sitting right there,” Sis offered as entry to the conversation.
“Wow, Sis. That’s neat. What is she doing?” I asked.
“She is just sitting there. Not moving. She doesn’t say anything.” She answered.
“Interesting. Mister, what do you think she would say if she was with us today?” I asked.
Without hesitation he looked at me, raised his eyebrows and quickly sucked in his breath, just the way his mother had in the few moments when we sat together looking at pictures of our son. It caught me off guard. “That’s what she would say,” he repeated. Time stopped as I looked at his face and tried to understand the depth of what he was communicating to me. “She would say that about the cupcakes”. Cupcakes were the highlight of his birthday. He was pretty sure they would be the first things she noticed.
It was sacred space. Maybe deep down he remembers her voice, her expression. Or maybe he drew from his biology and experiences a response to fit the moment. Either way, for a blink, she was with us. On his special day. And I was grateful.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


My parents have a Meyer Lemon tree. It is prolific, weighted down with little globes of liquid sunshine. It wasn’t always a great producer. The tree was transplanted from my grandparent’s house after my grandpa passed away at sixty-five. He left suddenly in early December after he had made all the Christmas gifts and signed the cards. In the age before cell phones we heard the word as we walked in from my elementary school Christmas musical. We immediately got back in the car and sped silently towards the bad news. The house was sold and my mom took the lemon tree. The transplant was tenuous the first few seasons. The tree, in shock and mourning, rebelled; folded its dry, wilted arms in protest. But, when it looked like the tree would add insult to tragedy, leaves appeared. Then lemons. A few at first. Then more the following year, time and distance bringing strength and fruit. Enough for lemon bread, lemon zest, Christmas baskets. Sliced into water. Squeezed into tea. Full grocery bags delivered to a friend-owner of a gourmet bakery. So many this year, they fell forlorn and rolled around the yard.

I asked for a few to come by mail. I was hosting tea in honor of an out of town friend. A few Meyers in the water would say, “Hey, this is a special occasion. This person is worth celebrating with a bit of color.” A little summer freshness to distract from grey skies and northern temperatures. Tea was at two o’clock. Lemons arrived behind the first guest. Just in time. First-class, flat rate meant that after I had filled a glass bowl, there were still enough for sharing. The children happily carried one in each hand to their teachers on Monday. Six went into Mike’s couscous recipe, which Miss Patti shared with us. One was delivered to cheer a friend who had said good-bye to her dog the day before. Mid-day iced lemon water reminded my husband at work that we appreciate him.

My mom says it is as if her dad gives her lemons each year, at just the time his absence hurts the worst. Only God could have known that lemon juice in a wound would be a salve.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Baby Dinosaurs

Today I watched all three of my children playing together. Its something all mothers of multiple children dream about. A bright and sunny playroom filled with the beautiful noises of children working together, the energetic buzz of imagination like a collective halo above their rosy, cherubic cheeks. Our first foray into group play was a spontaneous game of ‘baby dinosaur’, a simple drama of which all three were equally capable. They crawled around on all fours, scream-growling in each other’s faces. Giggles and grins all around. I had to leave the room.

It was loud. It was annoying. Worse than fingers on a chalkboard. Worse than being sea sick. With ear plugs I may have been able to stay and watch. But it was still beautiful. Beautiful because the children who can do puzzles and kick soccer balls got on their knees to engage the younger member in the two activities she spends most of her time practicing: crawling and screaming. The satisfaction of making their baby smile and laugh was worth setting aside cognitive abilities and sophisticated interests. And isn’t that was it right about good community? We look for a common denominator and jump in. It might be loud, it might not be fun to watch, but we play with each other in ways that everyone can enjoy. We revel in the connection.

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4