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.