Monday, October 29, 2012

The Village

I often say that I believe in the raising of children in community. I believe in the village and feel deeply grateful for it. In the last few years, it seems that the village has been one of our greatest blessings. I can't even talk about the people who love and care for us without stringing together worn our cliches and sing-songy Hallmark sentences about warm chocolate chip cookies and puppy dogs with red ribbons. The tape runs in my mind by every unoriginal thing said about teachers and caregivers and selfless souls who invest themselves in little people. I write sentences then delete them, and eventually stop trying to say how I feel on the matter, resorting instead to the posting of pictures sent to us by one of our village favorites.

A few weekends ago the babies were able to meet up with the beautiful woman who was our childcare provider the first year I went back to school. She is awesome. And they love her. She moved away a year and a half ago and so we don't see her very often, but other obligations had us in the big city, and so she met up with the kids for a quick hello, bringing bright plastic bags with new notebooks and individual boxes of crayons. Then she sent us these pictures:

Last night Peanut sat down with her fresh notebook and decided to draw a caterpillar like unto the Hungry one made famous by Eric Carle. Then she drew a butterfly. It was the first time I had seen her little hands pull the zig-zags and huge looping O's of toddler art into a composition. It was fun to watch. Because she is getting big. And because I knew her desire to draw was born, in large part, from the gift of new crayons from a grown-up who thinks she just might be the next big thing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Becoming A Jedi

At some point in the last few months, the boy child was introduced to Star Wars. I think my husband may have brought home the 1977 original. For Mister, it was love at first sight. Space ships. Bad guys. Weapons that light up and make eerie sweeping noises. So it came to pass that the epic battle between subversive good and dominant evil came to roost in his brain, filling the dinner conversation, and car conversation, and bedtime conversation with talk of Darth Vader, X-Wing Fighters and the Dagobah system.

And since he watched Episode I a few weeks ago, there has been almost no room in his engineer brain for anything other than pod racing. He asked me with a straight face if I could give him any wires I find around. I asked him about his interest. “I am going to build a pod racer, so I will need lots of parts,” he said. By the next day he was suggesting that I remodel the downstairs bathroom (which needed to be remodeled some 30 years ago) so that he could have the materials for his pod racer. I let him know there were no plans for remodeling. He wasn’t happy about what that meant for the progress of his project.

Finally I convinced him that all engineers start by drawing their designs. So he has been drawing. Pod racers in yellow crayon with big buttons, little buttons, sliding buttons, metal buttons. Pod racers in ballpoint pen. Pod racers in pencil. And in each drawing he is in the cockpit, driving a powerful machine through harrowing courses in two dimension.

The other day I asked him to show me how much of his brain had been taken over by his pod racing plans. He used both hands, and covered everything but his left eye.

And then today, on the way to school, he yelled from the back of the van, “Mom! I can already use the force!” He had been blowing bubbles, which he was able to direct (via air current) by moving his leg. He tried to take the bubbles into school to show his friends. He told his dad all about it at dinner.

So young, yet already able to harness the power of the universe, able to move things with his mind.

All this discovery of power makes me think of the Marianne Williamson quote, made famous by its alleged connection to Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Inauguration Speech. In the context of Mandela’s election, the words take on particular power:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

The argument goes on to remind the listener that they are made in the image of God Almighty, that their “playing small does not serve,” that their light will inspire more light, will gift others in the circle with permission to shine. The first time I saw this quote it stopped me in my tracks. And I think deep down I knew that something about it was true and deeply spiritual.

I often joke about what I call “Ouija board Jesus.” And I guess I mostly do that to play down what I see as the real role of the real Holy Spirit in the daily events of life. Somehow I have come to a place where I couch the power of God in the terms of teen-Halloween movies. Not cool. Does the bible not say that he will come with power? Does the bible not say that mountains can be moved with a word? Does not the faith of the blind man, stretching out his arm and voice in the direction of God himself, not bring real healing?

It does.

So, I watch my baby boy – made in the image of God – playing with the possibilities of a life lived with real power. I do want him to know that God has made him strong. And able. With a powerful mind, and steady heartbeat. And like the Jedi before him, he will have to learn to look and listen for the source of life, and bend to the difficult training which will ready both mind and body for a life attuned to the Spirit.

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:2

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Love Notes

The other morning, as I was standing, barefoot on the cold tile, making kid lunches I came across a pink, heart-shaped sticky note with the following words written in my daughter's script: "I love you. Love, Mommy"

It completely undid me. Before the sun was even up. It undid me because I feel like I have been trying really hard to make our home a place of peace, which means (among other things) that I have all the laundry washed and folded and back where it goes by Monday morning so the tactically-challenged girl children can dress themselves without seizure. And food purchased and meals planned. And all the other stuff moms before me have already complained about having to do. And then there is all the energy I expend swallowing unkind words at dinner every night when the children appear to be making-out with their mugs of milk, and telling painfully long stories about who-knows-what with mouths full of food. But my relationship with my parental duties is not my daughter’s concern.

My sweet daughter wants a mom who leaves her notes in her lunchbox, and since her mom wasn’t meeting this need, she wrote the note herself. I showed my husband. He laughed, but then again he would. To him it didn’t seem like a personal critique – just another example of her go-get-it-ness. I took it out and wrote a note that was actually from me on pretty white paper with art deco cherry blossoms zig-zagging up the side. I taped it to the inside of her lunchbox lid, so that she would find it right away.

I got everybody where they needed to go.
Went for a run and felt sorry for myself.
Came home and had a good cry about my failure as a parent.
Then I called a few wise moms I know and all of them said nice things about “us” and “kids” and “girls” and “trying again.” But I couldn’t quite shake it.

By way of spilling my soul all around the town I figured out which of my lovely mom friends leaves little notes for her babies. Her daughter and my daughter often sit together at lunch, and my daughter is not a fan of being left out. I can now see, seven days past my pity party, that the note was probably 50% real need for affection, 50% real need to not be outdone in the cafeteria. So, I decided to accept that and move forward with the day-to-day work of doing my best, which isn’t always enough.

Then yesterday I had the chance to have lunch at school with Sis. I sat at one end of those long school tables that mysteriously fold into the wall of the gymnasium. But by the time Sis got back from buying chocolate milk I had been swarmed by her lunch buddies. So, there I sat, with my knees bumping the underside of the table, totally surrounded by elementary-aged girls, facing my lunch date across the table. It was really fun. I like the group of girls that Sis hangs with and they were all eager to tell me random stuff about themselves. Somewhere between the news of the 94-year old grandpa and the new baby cousin who is bottle-fed, I heard the girl whose mom writes notes say, “I wish my mom would come to lunch. I ask and ask, but she says she is too busy.”

That is when I knew for certain that the wise women who I called after my pity party last week were right. Kids are insatiable. They want everything, and then a little more. If I made it my sole quest to give my children all the attention they could possibly want in all the modes they want it, I would dead by Friday.

I looked up (again) the oft-quoted-at-weddings section of I Corinthians 13 that talks about the attributes of love. The first in the list: patience. The second is kindness. Followed by a purposeful turning away from envy, boasting and pride. Followed by much else of importance, but that it where I stopped reading this time, since my brain and my heart were already full. Love for my kid must include patience for her AND patience for myself. And kindness for both of us. And a purposeful turning away from envy, boasting and pride, since nothing good can come from those weeds that grow quickly, sending out shoots underground.

So, I tell myself again –for the seventy-seventh time – “It’s okay to pace yourself.”

And it’s also okay to leave a little stack of sticky notes by the phone in the kitchen, expressly for the purpose of reminding my babies at lunchtime that they are loved. Not because I want to “keep up.” But because it is a good idea that I learned (ungracefully) from another mom whose doing what she can with what she’s got.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” I Cor. 13:4

Library Books

The boy child often pouts and makes comments about general unfairness. This is the primary job of the middle child, I think. But his cry of foul play regarding his mother's lack of enthusiasm about his selections from the public library is justifiable. Here is this week's cohort:

I haven't been keeping exact records, but I think I could recreate a list of the books he has checked out so far this year:

Fact book about snakes with too many words per page
Pact book about rattlesnakes with too many words per page
Fact book about dinosaurs
Fact book about spiders
Fast book about natural disasters
Sharks with bloody teeth
Fresh water sharks
The snake book with the big photo of a python eating an antelope
The snake book with the big photo of a snake with mouse legs hanging out of its mouth
Another snake book
A snake chapter book
Fact book about earthquakes
The snake book with the big photo of a python eating an antelope, again
How-to-draw snakes
Fact book about spiders in South America with too many words per page
Star Wars Early reader book
A slightly different Star Wars Early reader book
The snake book with the big photo of a snake with mouse legs hanging out of its mouth, again
Fact book about bats
Fact book about fruit bats
Fact book about Asian bats
Another Star Wars Early reader book
An Early Reader book about WWF wrestling
Diamondback snake chapter book
The one with the mouse legs, again

In my heart of hearts I really love that this boy likes snakes and spiders and Star Wars and Early reading. But I also wouldn't be totally sad if the one with the mouse legs got lost or damaged.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Soccer Day = Bath Night

This is what the big kids look like playing soccer:

This is what Peanut looks like while the big kids are playing soccer:

When she runs around, the dirt flys off her in whatever direction the wind is blowing. Today my husband said, "I always thought that character in Peanuts, Pig Pen, was so dumb. No one gets that dirty. Or so I thought."

Soccer day = Bath night.