Tuesday, May 29, 2012


While visiting the Entomology Museum, the youngest asked, "Can I hold it?"

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Confusing Cause and Effect

Peanut is experimenting with language and the ways she gets it “wrong” are always funny, sometimes profound. Cause and effect is convoluted, as in “Its my birthday because I am having a cupcake” or “We are at church because I ate a donut.” But maybe she’s right and we do go to church because there are donuts. Maybe frosting and sprinkles does turn a normal days into an elaborate celebration.

Last week she kept telling me, over and over, that she was so exciting: “I am so exciting we are going to the park,” “I am so exciting we are having lunch,” “I am so exciting to go to Sis’s school.” I didn’t correct her. She is so exciting.

Her lips have been chapped, so she keeps asking me for Gasoline.

She wants to visit the Space Noodle.

Finding the right word for the right time and using it well is tricky business. Sometimes we don't know that it doesn’t quite work until after we have already said it. And sometime we know the words that are lining up in our minds are wrong, mean, hurtful, unproductive – but we say them anyway. Like yesterday when I very, very loudly told Peanut that I could-not-would-not listen to anymore crying. I might as well have been yelling about how I wasn’t going to give her any more Band-Aids without stopping to investigate why it was that she kept skinning her knee.

Yesterday my words were all wrong. I kept confusing cause and effect and spent all my energy mopping up the toxic verbal mess I was making. I yelled a lot. Then apologized. Then yelled some more. Today needs to be better, and so I ask for the grace to choose my words wisely. Lord, when I am talking to the babies, please give me words of peace, wisdom, and above all, grace. Because words matter.

“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24

In Your Eyes

I was gone overnight this weekend, getting home after bedtime the second evening. It wasn’t a long trip. The first grader did the math and reminded me as I was doling out good-byes and kisses, “You are only going to be gone for 30 hours.” And I was only gone for 30 hours. But Mister, sweet old soul that he is, missed me anyway and came down to my bed early in the morning, cupping his hands around my face and telling me so. I had only been asleep for four hours, but had the presence of mind to tuck, deep into my heart, his sweet little voice and gentle hands. I know these tender days of little-boy-ness are numbered.

But while they last he and I like to have staring contests to see who will smile first. The other day, as we were staring and fake-frowning, Mister leaned in an extra inch. “Hey, I can see myself in your eye.” Its true. When we stop moving and really look at each other, we see a little bit of ourselves. I really like the me I see when I look into my little boy’s eye. In the glow of his rich brown eyes I seem smart, fun, strong, and present. And I think he likes the him he sees in me. Mister reminds me, when we crawls into my lap – heavy and all elbows – of my own need for connection, recognition, reflection in the eyes of those I love.

By some combination of personality flaw and the endless mountain of laundry forever waiting to be washed or folder or put away, I move too fast, yell too much, waste my passion and attention in tasks with eyes averted. And the tasks do need to be done. It’s not okay to send my children back to school in yesterday’s shirt, sleeve cuffs starched by snot. Neither is it okay to leave the lunch box I found under a pile of jackets growing yogurt cultures until June. But maybe there is a chance I can do, do, do while still making eye contact, still bending in stillness long enough to see the me I want to be in his eyes.

I love Psalm 131. It reminds me that I unnecessarily put extra rocks in my pack. It also reminds me of the peace I can bring to my heart and home when I remember to slow down.

Psalm 131:1-2 “Lord, I have given up my pride and turned away from my arrogance. I am not concerned with great matters or with subjects too difficult for me. Instead, I am content and at peace. As a child lies quietly in its mother's arms, so my heart is quiet within me.”

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Control, Power, Secrets and Lies: Tales of a 1st Grade Chef

Sis is a gift-giver. She loves to make things, grow things, wrap things and give them away. It’s beautiful to watch. Just this morning, she met me with two homemade pin cushions (in case I ever learn to sew) and a color-penciled mandala.

We have some mint in our yard that has somehow survived my neglect and is growing again. And since the weather turned towards Summer, Sis has been harvesting the little crop and making Mint Water for us. I love her industrious spirit and leave her alone in the kitchen to create. Her siblings love the amount of sugar she puts in, and drink tall glasses of the stuff with their dinner, offering amply praise. Grandpa and Grandma were here last weekend and were thus treated to this seasonal show of hospitality. They graciously drank and made over the little Miss as she poured them second glassfuls through a strainer, catching the mint leaves and stirring them back into the pitcher.

“This is lovely, Sis.”
“So refreshing.”
“What a good cook you are!”
“Can I have the recipe?”

At first Sis was flattered, and asked me in a very official voice if I could text Grandma the recipe for Mint Water once she had time to write it down. I agreed. But later in the afternoon, after Sis had been playing over in her mind the tapes of gratitude from her throng of parched and withered customers, she had a change of heart.

“I am not going to give Grandma the recipe after all,” she announced. “I am going to keep it a secret.”

I called Grandma to break the bad news and mulled over in my mind the situation that was unfolding. Children have such little real power over the daily lives, and my daughter had stumbled – by way of her impulse to give – into a bit of control and the distinct opportunity to withhold.

This afternoon, while honoring the living room with a much-overdue cleaning, I came across the recipe. It had been a few days since I had heard anything from Sis on the matter of her secret recipe, and I wondered if the sweetness of power and control had ebbed. Grandpa and Grandma had gone, taking with them the pomp and shining glory of the multigenerational audience. The siblings had stopped begging for a fix. I figured maybe the show was over and tested the waters with a casual passing word: “Sis, I found your recipe for Mint Water under the couch. Do you just want me to put in the recipe box?”

She was quick, unflinching. “You can if you want. I don’t mind that you found that old recipe. I have changed it. There is a new ingredient. It’s still a secret.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Rainbow Brain

I did not know, until a few minutes ago, that butterflies take swim lessons. And they always wear goggles.

A few days ago Peanut came upon her brother and his friends stretching a rubbery, pink, textured ball over their heads, yelling, "Look at me! My brain is showing! I have a pink brain." Without stopping she turned her head over her shoulder and said, "I have a rainbow brain." They put down the ball and went to do something else, totally one-uped by the baby sis.

Rainbow brain. I think she was telling the truth.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I'm Sorry That Happened to You

My Grandma Jeanne turned ninety this Spring. I didn’t think I could manage the mid-semester trip but my mom made it clear that the only cousin not coming was having a baby, something I was not willing to do. So we went. And I am so glad we did. The family all met in the redwood grove where we had mixed my grandpa’s ashes into the soil some 24 years ago. The grove, a favorite picnicking spot before his unexpected death, has become sacred. My sister chose to spend her sixteenth birthday there. That day my grandma shared some of her toasting cider with the soil and laughed from her belly, a hard-earned moment of joy, eight years into widowhood.

Grandma Jeanne lives with my parent’s, has Alzheimer’s, has to be reminded every night that there is a bed for her. At some point she announced that she wanted a family reunion so it was arranged, bringing four extended families from four different states together to celebrate her ninety years. When we got to the grove, Grandma Jeanne asked from the backseat, “Why are we here?”

Its hard to know, at any moment, what she knows. Sometimes she cries with frustration about wanting to go home. Sometimes that home is in Iowa. Sometimes she means she wants to go to heaven. Sometimes she packs a bag and walks out the door without a plan or jacket. But in the grove she seemed satisfied. Quiet. Peaceful. Full. Even if she did not know our names, she seemed happy to be with us.

My aunt gathered everyone around and said a few words of honor. When she acknowledged that my grandma had been abandoned by her parents before she could tie her shoes, living with aunts, grandparents and friends until she was married, my grandma tipped her chin up, closed her eyes and let a little tear roll down her cheek.

My aunt praised her for her bravery, her fortitude, her quiet reliance on Jesus. My aunt thanked her for giving her children something altogether other than what she had been given. We sang into the damp, green stillness, mixing the chords of a favorite hymn with tears and smiling. I bit my lip and took pictures.

A friend of mine recently welcomed some foster children into her home. She says they talk about things that kids should not have to know about. They speak, without flinching, about things I can’t imagine. She says it’s hard to hear. She says it breaks her heart. And she told me what she tells them when they share with her: “I am sorry that happened to you. That must have been scary. You didn’t deserve that.”

I keep thinking about those simple sentences. No false pretense of understanding. No Band-Aid. No clich├ęs or empty promises. Just a few words that say, “I hear you. I see you. You have worth.” Simple, beautiful sentences that speak the heart of a God who tells us that he has engraved our names into the palm of his hand. I know he knows the names of children whose homes are not places of safety. I know he knows the names of children whose parents pack up and drive away. He cries when they cry and listens when they pray. And sometimes he sees them all the way to ninety, to be sung over by three generations of grateful hearts in a grove of redwoods.

“Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” Isaiah 49:15-16