Monday, March 29, 2010

Jesus and Fire Dog

Mister has his own room, but prefers “chumber” parties with the sisters. In his room there is a custom-Papi-made Fire Truck bed, complete with working lights and a steering wheel. Papi delivered the Red and White behemoth the week Peanut was born. It had to be assembled in Mister’s room and faces the door (which no longer opens all the way) posed and ready for duty. For weeks Mister would fall asleep with outstretched arms, hands tightly gripping the steering wheel. The fire bed was coveted real estate until Peanut moved upstairs. Suddenly the party was next door and Mister was not to be left out. And so he claimed the top bunk and the “chumber” party became standard sleeping arrangement. Except for naptime. When the big kids require naps, all must sleep separately, lest the otherwise napping babe stand at the rail to smile and trade a volley of dinosaur noises with the giggling preschoolers. Sis appreciates a little time alone in the guest room. It helps that the spare room is full of all the big kid’s choke-y toys. Sometimes it sounds as if she is playing dollhouse in her sleep. Or dreaming of dressing paper dolls. Every once in a while I hear the pitter-patter of sleepwalking.

But the mention of naptime brings tears and protest from the son. Immediately his saddest-thing-I-ever-heard face hijacks his beautiful smile and a steady string of whiney notes dribble from his lip. Paramount is his protest against being alone. “I don’t like to be by myself. I will be so sad. I will be so lonely.” I tuck him in anyway and remind him that God is always with him.

Sniffles and growth spurs have precipitated more frequent napping lately and Mister has gotten wise to my rebuttal. On Thursday, as I leaned in to kiss his pouting lip, he blinked his curly lashes and told me, “But Jesus and I will be so sad.” Turns out he finds his spiritual company lacking. In fact, he has been describing the presence of God in many of his stories these days. Stories of sunny skies and victories usually involve “Jesus and I” doing this or that. But retellings about the dark of night and the lurking mongoose begin with a significant character omission. “Last night when there was “flashes” (lightning) and I was so scared and Jesus wasn’t with me . . .” God gets credit for the good, but feels absent in times of trouble.

And I ponder the perspective of my little old soul. And his feelings about the things that go bump. And his honest disappointment with God for not looming larger with a sword to vanquish. In his short years there has been at least one defining moment when he needed rescue and it did not come. My prayers for a son were answered. His birth mother’s prayer for a surrogate were answered. But his prayer appeared to meet the ceiling of an unfamiliar room in an orphanage and dissipate, the water spots on the ceiling left from tears rising, not the steady rain seeping in.

I love this boy and I love the God of healing who is working in our family, tenderly walking with us even when we don’t feel his presence or find the rescue we had reached out for. So I tuck him in. Promise that God is worthy of his trust. And Sis, who is always listening adds from across the hall, “Don’t forget you also have Fire Dog!” Fire Dog joined our family shortly after Mister; chosen after a stranger at the arcade bestowed a small fortune of tickets into the laps of my children, who stood on tiptoe to stuff them, wide-eyed with frenzied greed into the counting machine. Sis squandered her half on shiny princess plastic. But Mister, after careful survey chose Fire Dog, a soft Dalmatian that fits just right under his arm to snuggle against his chest while he sleeps. And he sleeps deeply. He always has. In the arms of Jesus and Fire Dog, the God who he is unsure of and the gift of a stranger, who quite possibly could have been acting as his proxy to deliver real, tangible comfort to a little boy.

“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Remember Before

Turns out even little people long for the good old days. Being able to tie your own shoes and brush your own hair are not prerequisites for looking backwards. This week, with a little brother feeling his oats and a baby sister on the move, Sis has been watching ‘Happy Days’ reruns in her mind.

“Mom, remember before I had a brother and sister and I was so lonely and I got to choose all the movies?”
“Mom, remember before I had a brother and sister and I was so sad and lonely and got to snuggle you by myself every time?”
“Mom, remember before I had a brother and sister and I only had a boring mom and dad and we were all so lonely and nobody would ruin my projects?”

I suppress a giggle. She is trying to share her feelings without offending, framing in her loss with a healthy dose of reality. It really was sad and lonely around here with just one kiddo. It definitely felt like there was more love to go around. And Sis would admit, even as Peanut chews the corner off the picture for Grandma she worked on all morning, that she loves being a big sister.

A year and a half in, sibling-hood defines her as much or more than any other aspect of her life. And brings her more joy and companionship than heartache and frustration. When she thinks Mister is funny, she throws her head back and her whole body laughs. When Peanut sees her coming and starts flapping hello, Sis smiles in proud and contented satisfaction. Without a brother, there would not be anyone to do her bidding. And without a baby sister, there would be no one to blame for a messy room and lost socks. More mom and dad. Less wrestling and giggling at the table.

And so it is. In moments of weakness, we pull up the rosy bits of days lost and indulge ourselves in a memory. We rub it against our face like the worn satin corner of a favorite blankie. And we wish the blankie were new again, even though going back would forfeit the good of today and the road of adventure that tattered the blankie in the first place. So we look for balance. A healthy appreciation for where we have been, a quiet spirit in the midst of today and bright and hopeful eyes looking for tomorrow.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Mister and I were snuggling in the rocking chair last Tuesday. It was a rare moment without sisters hovering and squeezing out the silence with a constant stream of shared feelings and authoritative concessions. “Brother, it is o.k. that you are snuggling Mom right now. I had a turn before breakfast so it is o.k. that you are having a turn right now, even though it looks like your turn is longer than mine turn and when I was snuggling, Peanut was also on Mom’s lap, so I didn’t get to snuggle Mom by myself the way you are right now. But it is o.k. because I know I will have more turns. It is no big deal. Even if things don’t seem fair every single time, I am o.k. with it. It is no big deal."

This Tuesday there were no sisters, so we rocked in silence. And when we tired of that, we flexed our muscles and inspected our hands to see whose were bigger. “I grow every night while I am sleeping. My hands are probably bigger now,” Mister informed. We checked. Palm to palm. I curled my fingertips down over his and smiled.
“I’m still bigger, Son. You better keep eating healthy foods.”
“Maybe my thumb is bigger. Put you thumb like this,” he said, giving a thumbs up. I obliged and we silently rocked. “I think you should change your skin to be like my skin,” he said plainly.
“I would like that,” I replied, dipping my head down to meet his. “It would be fun to have our skin match,” I agreed. And kept rocking.

I appreciated his honesty. And was glad both that he is aware of his beautiful brown skin and able to talk comfortably about his feelings. I did not want to stuff down his comment with lots of words, dismissive or comforting. So we rocked.

Mister mentioned skin color again at lunch yesterday, between bites, waving his fork in the air and teetering near the edge of his seat. “Who has brown skin like me?” He asked, then stuffed a bite in his mouth.
“Good question. You tell me, Son. Who had brown skin like you?”
“The President.” Anther bite and a long pause. “And Dr. King.”
“Anybody we know?” I asked.
Everyone participated. We went through a long list of famous people. A short list of friends. Our favorite characters from the books we like to read. We talked about Ethiopia. Mister slid off his chair and returned with a picture of the two of us from our first day together. We are smiling in profile, watching something in the distance.
“What about the kids in your favorite book?” I asked.
“They have brown skin too!” He jumped up and down.

While I was putting lotion in his hair this morning, he wanted to review again.
“I have golden brown skin, same as President Obama. And Jesus.”
“That is right,” I agreed, smiling. The only representations we have of Christ in our home are the ones I purchased in Addis. They are framed and hang in the dining room. Jesus, donning the meticulously cut Afro of Ethiopian folk art in three separate and famous biblical scenes, presides over our meals. Sometimes the kids talk to him. Sometimes they count the disciples, touching the glass with their sticky fingers. Sometimes they forget he is there and set him a place at the table.

In support of my son’s curiosity we did a little science over lunch today. The big kids knew something was up when I got down clear glasses, in lieu of kiddy plastic, and set them at their places. I poured the milk and we talked about its color. Then we added a drop of food coloring. Stirred. Repeated, discussing the change and strength of the color. Then they tasted the milk, which of course still tasted like milk. And we talked about skin and melanin. We touched each other’s hands, noting temperature. We pinched and stretched the skin. Talked about what happens to each of us when we get a scrape. We democratically decided that our skin is actually the same, with different amounts of melanin. Just like milk is milk, even when it has one, two or ten drops of Yellow #5. I explained that more melanin means more skin color. “And I have the most!” Mister said, puffing out his chest.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


It was cloudy with a light breeze. We were headed to the grocery store. Mister yelled, “Mom! Look at the clouds. They are going over there to the sunny part!” Indeed the wind was moving the ominous mass of fluffy grey across from West to East, where the sun was shining bright and clear. I dipped my head close to the steering wheel, for a wider view out of the windshield. And watched. Sure enough the cumulous mounds seemed to be piled up in a jumbled race towards the blue sky. They were making real, observable progress and soon all was under their shadow.

I had never thought of clouds moving with purpose. Never considered that like the rest of us, they seek the warm and clear sky. The open spaces where all are able to breath and think with steady rays warming cold bones. Never thought of them racing and piling up like crazed soccer fans at the end of the game, tripping over each other, the slow ones being flattened in the chaos.

But racing or not, the clouds inevitably move into the wide blue, blocking our access to the life-giving sun and raising goose bumps, chilling skin. We look up. Wonder aloud at the change in circumstance. Grab a sweatshirt. Check for rain. Maybe we tough it out, maybe we head indoors.

Some clouds are gone by lunchtime. Others hang suspended for weeks. We drink more coffee. Call a friend to complain about the weather. Dream of baking ourselves on an equatorial beach where the home clouds can’t find us. But no matter what we do, the clouds come and go as they please. Like us, they move around the globe looking for the sunny places, which always seem just out of reach. They are temporal. Ethereal. Holding thunder and rain without rigid shape. They captivate. Turn into the figures of our dreams, but dissipate into mist before we are sure of what we saw.

But no so our God. Giver of gifts. Father of light. Unchanging and able to guide through days with thick cloud cover.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Saying Yes

When my husband got home yesterday I met him at the door with my tennis shoes on. A quick kiss and a baby hand-off and I headed up the road for a quick run. Usually I don’t run at the end of the day. I don’t like having to shuffle along with a day’s worth of poor food choices sloshing around inside. But it was 55 degrees and sunny and I had depleted all stores of loving kindness so it was in everyone’s best interest that I take a spin around the block. Endorphins kicked in early, supplemented by the shear joy of solitude and the daily mid-afternoon re-caffeine. I sped along in my mind, Chariots of Fire playing and the wind at my back. It was glorious.

Huffing and puffing and satisfied I walked from the ‘finish line’ at the bottom of our hill towards the house, singing praises and swinging my arms from side to side. As I rounded the corner I saw Sis, in her bathing suit on the sidewalk under the kitchen window. She was grinning ear to ear, water running off her head and the sparkling Tinkerbelle tutu of her suit to pool in water shoes three sized too big. I stopped to take in the scene. The weather was nice but it surely wasn’t summer. I would have expected a soggy child outside to be crying. “Aren’t you freezing, Sis?” I asked, confused. Then I noticed the water spraying out of the kitchen window. “No, Dad is spraying me with warm water.” Indeed, a steady stream of warm water was cascading out through the screen and I could make out the silhouette of a man with a baby on his back.

I know for a fact Sis would never dare to ask me to stand at the window and shoot water through the wall on a crisp Spring day. Just like she wouldn’t ask me if she could take a bath in the kitchen sink after the baby. Or wear her pajamas to the park. I am the parent who says no. But her dad, who still is semi-serious about being a Rally Car racer, is the parent who says yes. In fact, he would say that ‘Yes’ is one of his official parenting philosophies. He heard someone of merit speak on the topic before she was even a twinkle in his eye and he decided then and there that he was going to be a ‘Yes’ man. The speaker had suggested that ‘No’ is generally overused, because parents are busy or tired, imagination and adventure squeezed out of them the day they were measured for their first tailored suit. He suggested that ‘No’ needs to be reserved for the big stuff. That we should answer our children as our Heavenly Father answers us. With a wide grin and a ‘Yes’ every time we can. Giving good gifts and memories that last. And using the small, spontaneous moments to tell our children that we can be trusted when we actually say ‘No’.

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Experiential Learning

Most hours I am running interference between danger and a curious one year old. And I can see that language and learning are built on tangible experience. Experience tasting the door knobs, opening and closing cupboards, banging pots together, squeezing lotion from the bottle and hiding the same shoe under a blankie over and over and over. Things sharp and shiny spark interest. If there is a good chance it can fall on her or she can fall off it, Peanut will fake left and duck right. Like Shackleton on his quest to the icy edge of the earth, she cannot be deterred. She is filling her mind by the work of her busy little hands, deepening meaning with each experiment, moving from concrete to abstract.

So it is getting to know God. I desire to understand my maker. To speak about his presence in my life and season my thoughts with sound theology. But this work involves my hands. Before I can speak, I must experience. Experience the cool, refreshing waters of obedience and the blisters on my heel from the steep and craggy decent into the valley of the shadow.

And like my daughter, sometimes those experiences turn my mouth inky black. The evidence of my learning dripping off my chin and staining my shirt. Those days I pray that the markers I color with are washable. But there are also the days when my heavenly father hands me a juicy orange. As I peel, citrus pith works its way under my nails and juice runs down my shirt sleeve to pool at the elbow. The fruit is sweet. The memory of taste lingers, the fragrance is registered in the ancient olfactory files. This I will remember. Even in the dark. Even after considerable time has passed.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Boy's Team

Mister likes to match his daddy. The Boy’s Team wear their striped shirts whenever there is reason to ‘dress fancy’. I love it. Love it. Love it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Sis brought out hand-me-down dance shoes this afternoon. She asked me to help her get them on since they were so “smiggily” (translated as hard to slip on with the tongue stuck inside). These special shoes used to belong to a dreamy ballerina a few years older than Sis who passes her clothes on as she grows. Huge bags of cute things arrive covered in pixie dust and Sis rolls up the cuffs and stands on tiptoe to convince me that they fit. She was twinkle-eyed as I laced up the black leather slippers, planning her performance. Once double knotted, she leaped off towards the stage between the couch and dining room table. I remarked, “These special shoes are awesome! Now you won’t slip!” Crashing chairs and knees skidding across the wood floor muffled the end of my statement. Gravity had won again.

Later, as we drove around town, Sis inspected her legs in the backseat. “Mom, I have six bruises! Bruises tell about good stories.” She was parroting back a statement I make repeatedly. Every time she falls of her scooter and whacks her shin. Or rides her bike into the gravel. Or slips on a hike. She moves at full speed with gusto. It is a gift of her personality. So we talk, in positive terms, of the wounds that naturally and frequently come.

But her remark struck a discordant note in the light of news I had heard recently. A family in California had adopted three beautiful little girls from Liberia. They made the news when the adoptive parents beat the older two daughters: one all the way to heaven and the other into a hospital bed where she hung on to her life by a thin and straining thread. I cried over the news. I almost was sick. I was angry. It was impossible to conceive of children hurt at the hand of their parents. But I know that this unspeakable reality is silently and fearfully lived out for children all over the planet. I cannot wrap my brain around statistics about child trafficking or domestic abuse. I don’t know what my role is in defending their cause, but I do know that bruises don’t always tell good stories.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Proverbs 31:8