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November 2004
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January 2005

Bus, Train, Ice Skating Trip

Mom and Dad and I took the boys ice skating the other day. Actually, we took them on a “bus, train, ice skating” trip, wherein we indulged their passion for public transportation as well as ice skating. We’ve also done a “bus, train, chicken” trip that ended up at KFC, and a “bus, train, Chuck-E-Cheese” trip that ended up at hell. It’s a THING we do occasionally. It seems like there was a “bus, train, Christmas tree ornament” trip once, but I may be hallucinating that one. Mom? Do you remember that one?

Anyhow.

We got to the rink, strapped skates on everyone except Mom (who claimed to know better, and watched from the sidelines), and hit the ice.

Literally, some of us. Tre did really well, striding out across the rink. He expected to be as surefooted as he is on rollerblades, and his occasional wobbles surprised and mildly irritated him. But he kept at it, pestering Mom to time his every circuit around the ice. For the record, his best time was 26 seconds, and he’s certain he could halve that if everyone would simply get out of his way.

Max, on the other hand, WAS as surefooted as he is on rollerblades, which is to say NOT AT ALL. He’s an ice skater of random trajectories, and his feet, arms, and legs are given to veering off wildly. At first he managed about half a second with his feet underneath him, and this was WITH his hand clutching mine. Then his right foot would sail out behind him, his left foot would dart over to smack me in the shin, his butt would drop like a stone to the ice and his hand would give a good YANK at my arm. But with many steadying assists back upright he eventually managed to master a skating style of sorts. It was still entirely random, with direction, speed, and stopping point completely left up to the whim of the fates. But he stayed upright for SECONDS at a time, and throughout the entire session he remained in a good mood about the whole thing. No amount of butt-banging on the ice could dampen his enthusiasm.

Raphael started out in a weeeeee little pair of standard ice skates, but these soon proved too slick for him, so Dad took him in to swap for a pair of those double skates that strap onto kids’ shoes. Those are less like actual SKATING devices than crampons, the way they grip the ice. Raphael found that to be to his liking and after a few tentative steps on the ice he TOOK OFF, running across the rink with flailing arms and legs, ice shavings flying every direction.

The sun was warm, even on the ice, the crowd was jovial, my boys had each found their place on the skating rink, and the day would not end before we’d stopped for some excellent green chile.

It’s not hard to be content when I remember that today is really all I have.

Oh yeah. Today I can deal with.


Plot twist

Sorry to have been gone so long. I was run over by Christmas.

It was lovely, by the way. Christmas. The week before Christmas Clay’s 12 year old daughter, Jenny, came to visit. This was the first time I’d met her, so I was a bit nervous. She’s lovely, just a gorgeous girl, teetering on the edge of teenagedness. She and the boys had a fabulous time, rampaging around together. She adored Raphael and yearned to mother him (he has that affect on 12 year old girls), but he would have none of it. Tre and Max, on the other hand, thought she was very cool, and followed her around like Carmi chasing Claire. She must not have minded, because she said spending time with the boys was the best part of her trip. She went home Christmas Eve.

When Clay got back from driving Jenny home he and I managed to sneak away for Christmas Eve service all alone, and sat huddled together in the candlelight glow, feeling very…content about everything. Grateful and content.

Christmas dawned in a flurry of bikes. Tre, Max, Mom, and I all got fabulous new bikes for Christmas. We’ve already tried them out, and can’t wait for the long rides we’ll go on this summer.

After Christmas Clay, and his parents, and brother, Dan, came to visit. We played a board game and had a very nice evening. It wasn’t even dimmed by the fact that Tre nearly set the house on fire. He pulled a tissue out of the box, across a lit candle. There’s a scorched mark on the carpet, and Tre was fairly well freaked out for a while, but no one was hurt, which just makes the mark look like grace to me.

That night as I said goodbye to everyone, with hugs all around, I paused for a moment in Clay’s arms. He squeezed me and I squeezed back, as tightly as we could. Wordless gratitude and joy.

Can anyone hear it? The whine of an incoming plot twist?

Sunday night I picked up the phone to hear my ex’s voice.

Things have changed, it seems.

After three years of absence, things have changed, and he wants to start rebuilding his relationship with the boys.

I know, I know that there is a process to this. There are things that must be done, steps that must be taken. As I said when he asked me to forgive him, “I forgave you years ago. But I don’t trust you.”

It’s true, I did forgive him. It was an intellectual exercise, a spiritual discipline. I chose not to live under the weight of rage over what he’d done. I chose to remember the good and mourn the bad and not let it own me, not let it turn me into a bitter woman, whose main identity is how horrible her ex is.

I chose forgiveness and today I can think my way through whatever lies ahead. The burden is on him to earn passage back into their world. I know the boys and I are not nearly as vulnerable as we once were. That God did not fail us then, and He will not fail us today. I know I have rights and forces behind me. I know that I am stronger by far than I was then, so strong that I spoke to him Sunday with a calm tone and measured words. I did not weaken, even when he cried.

I know all that.

None of that even touches the pit in my stomach. The tangle of feelings that leaves me wanting to claw my way to escape, to throw things and scream until my voice falters, to sit under a table, rocking and keening like a wounded child. None of my knowledge stops the snarl in defense of my children from rising up in my throat, hair bristling on my neck at the thought of him hurting them again.

I don’t know what happens next. He may forge ahead and work his way back into the boys’ lives, or he may disappear again. Whatever happens, I need to move forward in what I know, not in what I feel.

But I have to carry the feelings too.


Do you ever feel like you're just not being heard?

We were driving along on our endless route to…somewhere or another, when Raphael turned to Max and said, “Way to GO, chicken.”

I may have mentioned that it’s NOT my job to understand them.

Anyhow, Max reacted with predictable furor.

“HE CALLED ME A CHICKEN! HE SAID WAY TO GO CHICKEN! MAMA!”

Because you know how searing to one’s self esteem a moniker like that can be.

“Raphi,” I said, “knock it off. Don’t call your brother a chicken.”

“Ok,” he sighed, “ah’m sorry. Max, ah’m sorry ah called yoo a chicken. Ah’m sorry ah said, ‘way to go, chicken.’ Ah’m sorry ah said chicken to yoo.”

Max reacted with predictable furor.

“HE DID IT AGAIN. HE CALLED ME A CHICKEN!” I was only half listening, as I was trying to puzzle out the lanes under a new layer of snow on the road.

“Raphi, I said don’t call him a chicken,” I muttered back.

Raphael was INFURIATED at being misunderstood.

“AH WAS SAYIN’ SORRY! AH DIDN’T CALL HIM CHICKEN! AH SAID SORRY FOR SAYING CHICKEN!”

“Oh, right. Sorry, baby.”

He was writhing in his car seat, contorted with rage.

“AH SAID SORRY! AH AM SOOOO MAD AT YOOOOOO! AN’ AH AM NOT A BABYYYYYY!”

“Ok, Raphi, settle down. It’s ok.”

“NOO ISSS NOT! AH’M SO MAD AT YOOO!”

“Yeah, you mentioned that.”

“Ah’m DONE WITH THIS.”

And he proceeded to glower out the window for the rest of the car ride.

More Christmas cookies, anyone?


Winter break

You know, sometimes I hear parents bemoaning the fact that their children will be home during the day from school for the winter break, and they don’t know WHAT THEY WILL DO WITH THEM. And I smile to myself and think, “Yeah, well, my kids are ALWAYS HOME. I won’t be TEACHING over the break, and so it will be an actual BREAK for me.”

Yes, it’s a touch smug, but that’s ok, because I GET WHAT I DESERVE.

Because even though I’m not teaching, which theoretically clears up several hours in the middle of my day, the boys are suffering from SCHEDULE CHANGE SYNDROME, and as a result nothing gets done.

See, when we have our routine in place the boys expect to entertain themselves when they’re home and not doing school. As a matter of fact, they have so much fun in the morning between chores being finished and school starting that I sometimes stretch that time out for an hour or more. I sit at the table, sipping my tea, and watch them as they build things with Legos, play hide-n-seek, construct forts out of pillows, and generally enjoy themselves as little boys should. Little boys who’ve had a GameBoyectomty, that is. They are creative and joyful and cooperative.

Well.

Take away the imminent threat of school, and you know what you’re left with? Three bored, listless entertainment sponges.

Now, we’ve been running around enough to keep them marginally satisfied, but today I spent the day at home, baking like a madwoman. I was sliding back and forth on the kitchen floor in my stocking feet, singing Christmas carols with Charlotte Church, and making obscene amounts of toffee, divinity, and Kira cookies (If I keep calling them that, do you think it’ll catch on? Maybe?). The boys were FREE – free to run and play and enjoy their day.

Do you THINK that’s what they did?

No, of course not. They were RELENTLESS in their boredom.

Tre wandered in seven trillion times to ask if he could play on the computer/watch TV/play GameBoy. That was in the first hour. Max followed him, sullenly poking him in the back in an attempt to work up an interesting battle to the death. At one point Raphael walked in, planted one fist on his hip and said - I swear this is a quote - “Mama? Yoo are SO early 90’s.” I was busy pouring hot sugar syrup over beaten egg whites, so I didn’t realize what he’d said at first.

“Is that so, Honey? I…WAIT A MINUTE. What do YOU know about the early 90’s? You DIDN’T EXIST.”

This went on ALL DAY LONG. I tried the judicious application of extra chores (What’s THAT? You’re BORED? Well, let me HELP YOU.”), I tried flinging various art supplies in their direction, I tried turning the music up loud enough to cover the whining. None of it helped.

However, I do have an advantage that non-homeschoolers don’t have.

Oh yeah, I feel a math lesson coming on.


An Open Letter To the World on the Occasion of Christmas

Ok ok, YES, I’m just starting my Christmas shopping. Yeah, tomorrow. And I KNOW I’m not the only one, that the stores are FULL of people and most of them are not happy to be there, and you, YOU the people staffing the stores are the ones who take the brunt of their bad attitude and poor planning. But. When I walk up to a McD’s counter and place a perfectly normal order for three cheeseburger happy meals, two ketchup only, one plain, and you look at me like I’ve just demanded an essay on the meaning of life, WELL, no one is getting anywhere then. FOCUS, dear. YOU CAN DO IT. And if you CAN’T? And it takes you SEVENTEEN MINUTES to NOT get my order right? Don’t yell at me for still standing at your counter. I’ve got three hungry little boys.

I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU.

Dear radio station! You simply HAVE TO STOP with the tear-jerking Christmas songs. I can NOT TAKE IT. That one? About the kid, buying shoes for his dying mother? You can’t DO that to me! I simply don’t have the emotional fortitude for that. The part where the kid says he just wants his mom to look pretty if she should meet Jesus tonight? GOOD LORD, PEOPLE! I’ll drive right off a bridge from the crying! YES, YES, I’m a sap. So what? THIS IS AN ISSUE OF PUBLIC SAFETY. So STOP IT. Stick with the STUPID songs about Santa. Please.

Oh, hey, SPEAKING of Jesus! I know - I understand - that Christmas has become for most people a secular celebration. Fine, fine, whatever. The Christians borrowed the date from the Pagans first, so I don’t suppose I can complain too much. But if you’re going to SANITIZE the holiday of all RELIGIOUS MEANING, kindly STOP TALKING about the “real meaning” or “true spirit” of the season. Gah. Without GOD, the REAL MEANING is STUFF. Ok, to be FAIR, the real meaning is STUFF and SPENDING TIME WITH FAMILY who drive you nuts.

Oh, and BY THE WAY, when the Christians borrowed the date from the Pagans? It was NOT, as it’s often portrayed, a situation wherein the jack-booted Christians marched in and snatched the holiday feasts out of the hands of the innocent Pagans, kicked over their happy solstice decorations, and proceeded to usurp their happy day. The REASON the Christians decided to celebrate Jesus’ birth during the winter solstice is so they could fly under the radar of people who were already celebrating something. This WAS, after all, during the era when we were LION FOOD.

Ok, I think that covers everything. With all that out of my system I'm sure I can face the mall with the boys tomorrow. I may even hum a song or two.

Thank you, everyone, and may you all have a wonderful Christmas.


I got a call this afternoon, and the name on the caller ID stopped my heart, as it always does. My former mother-in-law, Abby. She was calling with news, huge news. After almost five years on the transplant list, she will be receiving a new kidney tomorrow morning.

I remember being pregnant with Max and seeing his internal organs on the ultrasound. They can delicately highlight each tiny piece within the unborn baby, show you cross sections, and give you millimeter-fine measurements. I saw his kidneys, little buds of flesh in his abdomen. And someone else’s baby, who had his own tiny perfect kidneys, grew up to be someone who died unexpectedly right before Christmas. While his or her family begins the grieving process, another family tonight is trying to believe that the thing they’ve wanted for so long is here.

Just like that.

Tomorrow someone else’s kidney will be stitched into Abby’s body and, God willing, spring into life. From then on it will hopefully function as her own. Blood vessels attached to blood vessels, and it’s hers.

It’s incredible, when you think about it. Like magic. This is well within the ability of the medical profession.

I wish they could do a miracle on me. That they could excise the part that freezes up at the mention of his family. That they could change that part of me that takes this tremendous gift in Abby’s life and changes it into a problem for me (so…does this mean my ex will be coming to town to see his mom? Will I have to see him?). Cut out this heart and substitute one that doesn’t flinch when his mom says his name. They can take a dead person’s kidney and make it live on in someone else, can’t they make me impervious to him?

Then again, that failing really isn’t anyone’s but mine.


Three moments in time

I suspect Max may have outgrown Blue's Clues. This morning Joe asked, "Now, how many chocolate chips do we need?" Max responded with an exasperated, "TEN. I TOLD you already. TEN. SHEESH, how many times do I have to SAY IT? TEN TEN TEN." Well. Alrighty then, Honey.

Max spotted a spider on the floor in the basement. This required much intense scrutiny of said spider. Mom fetched a cup and paper and I corralled the wily spider. We don't kill spiders willy-nilly around here. As a matter of fact, if you kill a spider unnecessarily around Max, you will earn yourself a lecture about "killing nature." So. I held the cup and spider out for inspection and Raphi screeched, "LET'S FLUSH IT!"                                                                       "No, let's let it go outside," I responded, although there IS snow on the ground, so how humane that is, I'm not sure. Raphi scowled, but assented, so we trooped upstairs to release our little bit of nature. I set the paper down and Raphi lifted the cup off the spider. It staggered away, already slowing in the cold. Raphael watched its progress, then sighed in frustration. "Can't Ah jus STEP ON IT NOW?"    Saint Frances he's not.

I was pulling laundry out of the dryer and kept finding little rubbery nuggets of gum. Several of them. "HEY!" I snarked at the boys, "WHO left gum in their pocket?" Tre looked up for a moment from Monopoly Tycoon. "Um....was it CHEWED GUM?" Just then I found the package of gum, still containing a few intact sticks. "No," I said, "not chewed gum."

"Oh," he replied, "WHEW. Not me!"


Sooo, how do you like the new look? Sheryl, over at Papernapkin, did this for me. She rocks. She was so patient with me as she put this together, despite my UTTER LACK of knowledge or helpful input. I suspect she may have been reading my mind, which would give me the creeps if I had anything interesting to hide in there. I love it. Isn’t it girly? I knew she’d nailed it when I showed the boys and they fell to the floor, gagging.

Oh yeah, it’s girly enough.

She actually finished it on…what, Saturday? But I was away from the computer all weekend, and when I came back it was with the news about Craig James. It didn’t seem the right time for an unveiling.

But today? Today seems like a much more appropriate occasion. Craig isn’t awake yet, but he’s moving his arms and legs some, and even responding to some stimuli. I guess today a nurse put a tube in his mouth and he turned his head away. For a kid as broken as he was a few days ago, that’s huge.

So yadda yadda, disclaimer about a very long road ahead of him, but he’s making progress. I passed his house this morning and his mom’s boyfriend was standing outside. I stopped and rolled down the window.

“How is he?”

He walked over to the car, smiling almost shyly.

“He moved his head today. On his own!”

“Wow, that’s great!”

He laughed.

“It’s…people are using the word “miraculous” a lot.”

I don’t mean to make it sound like Craig is going to walk out of his hospital room tomorrow. They still don’t know what’s going to happen. But he’s alive.

You know, before I had children, I would hear about stories of kids who were severely, permanently hurt. Brain damage, broken backs, emotional wounds that left them changed forever. And the moms who devoted their days and nights to caretaking what was left of their child.

I would read these stories and wonder, even though I couldn’t speak it aloud, if those moms didn’t sort of…a little…wish their child had died in that accident or illness.

Just a little.

That was, of course, before I had children.

I’m sure moms who live with that kind of caretaking burden sometimes wish they could be free of the demands. Sometimes they may even long for their child’s release from his or her pain.

But to wish your child dead?

Oh no.

No no no.

There are no words for the gut response to that thought. The stomach clenches, the chest tightens, the heart stops.

A world without your child? Not an option. That can never, never be ok. The alternative of facing a lifetime of caretaking has to seem like an obvious choice. Let me change his diapers, suction his breathing tube, flex his legs for him, but just let me touch my son again and watch him breathe.

It’s irrational. It’s like Amanda said in the comments, it’s the worst kind of love.

I’m so grateful that Sue, Craig’s mom, gets to sit by his bed and touch her son and watch him breathe. May God grant her the grace to bear this love.


Christmas Theatre

Tre and Max had their Christmas program this evening. Max took the stage with the rest of the Kindergarteners and sang three songs with all the requisite glee and tunelessness. I was proud to see that unlike last year he’d kept his clothes on the whole time, until I got home and reviewed the pictures Dad took. One of the pictures showed Max reaching high above his head as he did the motions with the song. His shirt rode up a bit on his belly, exposing the waistband of his pants. The unbuttoned, wide open waistband.

So DARN. And he almost made it through the ENTIRE program clothed. Nonetheless, he was fabulous up there. I have high hopes for him for next year’s program. Now that we seem to have defeated the onstage belly rubbing drive, all I have to do is remember to check his pants button. It’ll be good.

Tre had a speaking part this year, a fact he was very proud of. In true Tre style he took his task very seriously, and memorized his lines carefully. Throughout the program, I could see when he thought about his upcoming lines, because his joy at being onstage would be temporarily dimmed by anxiety. Mid-song he’d pause and bite down on the corner of his mouth. He was enjoying being up there, as long as he wasn’t thinking about his two big lines coming up.

But the time to march to the front of the stage and deliver those lines came soon enough. I’m proud to report that he stepped up, spoke up, and said his lines with a minimum of lip chewing. He looked a touch somber, but he said the words flawlessly AND audibly. When the show was over and I went to collect him from the room with the rest of the kids, he came barreling out and straight into my arms for a quick hug.

“I was scared at first, but by the end I wished it wasn’t over!”

He couldn’t have been prouder, and neither could I.

They did such a good - mostly dignified – job. It was downright sedate. But fear not, because next year? Raphael will be up there in the pre-K class. All three of them onstage, in all their imaginative glory.

I can hardly wait.

Just to let you know what little I know, Craig James’ condition has stabilized today. He didn’t need another brain surgery, which is excellent news. Neither has he regained consciousness, however. There’s no way to know the extent of the brain injury at this point. But he’s still alive, so there’s still hope.


Remember me talking about Craig James, the boy who lives across the street? Tre’s friend?

Last night he was in a car with his brother, Zach, who turned 13 today. Their teenaged brother, Scott, was driving. They were on their way to have a birthday dinner of pizza, when someone ran a red light and blindsided them.

Zach and Scott are ok. Some broken bones and cuts, but they’re going to be all right.

Craig is not ok.

I spoke to his mom today and she said brightly, “Well, he just got out of surgery a half hour ago, and he’s still alive!” There was a pause while we both tried to think of some way to understand what she was saying. Craig is alive right now, but that’s no longer a given, moment to moment. They don’t know if he’ll survive, if he’ll ever regain consciousness.

My mom says children are terrorists, from the moment they’re conceived. Once they exist there is born within you the knowledge that they could die. Somehow, for some reason, God saw fit to make our children mortal.

Mortal.

How do you live with that? How do you walk around and love someone that much and know that somebody who didn’t realize the light was red – RED, for GOD’S SAKE – could snuff that person out?

Tonight we took the boys to the zoo, to see the Wild Lights exhibit. The zoo has been draped in a million Christmas lights, and Clay, his niece Katie, the boys and I wandered through the cold and dazzling display for a few hours tonight. At one point we rode the carousel. Raphael, being less than 42 inches tall, needed me to stand next to him as he rode a wooden elephant. I stood there, one hand resting casually behind him on the elephant; not letting on that my job was to watch him, to guard against him falling. He gripped the brass pole tightly and looked around, his brown eyes glowing under his blue knit cap. He was thrilled when the carousel lurched to life and the music played. After a few moments he realized I was still standing there, protectively next to him. He scowled at me and waved a hand.

“Yoo go stand over there. On dat sidewalk. Ah’ll be RIGHT HERE. Yoo go away.” I shook my head at him and watched him bob up and down above me. He is certain he is invincible, that the world is safely within his grasp. The worry of grownups is beyond him. Even Tre, my sturdy 9 year old boy, understands better than Raphi the concept of danger. Today Tre climbed into my lap and cried for his friend Craig. Huge tears rolled down his cheeks, unchecked, even though Tre is usually certain he is too old to cry. Even Tre has tasted loss in a way that Raphi remains untouched by.

Raphael was annoyed by me, by my hand that stayed resolutely behind him. But I wasn’t leaving his side. There is so much that is outside of my control. I will stand at the ready, grateful to do what I can.

Please pray for Craig James, for his mom Sue, for their whole family. Although this is small in comparison, please pray for Tre, whose heart already carries wounds that cry out, “DON’T LEAVE ME.”

Pray for all of us who love children who are so irrationally mortal.