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January 2005
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talkin' together

I was walking through the kitchen, between tasks #235 and #236 when Raphi’s head popped up on the other side of the counter that separates the kitchen from the family room.

“HEY,” he said in that gentle, unassuming way of his, “JUST HOLD IT A SECOND!” I paused and looked at him.

“What is it, honey?”

“WE are talkin’ together,” he laced his fingers together, rested his hands on the counter in front of him, and grinned at me.

Well, it’s hard to refuse an offer like that. I leaned against my side of the counter and smiled back at him.

“Ok, what are we talking about?”

“That one pointed at the four and now ah am four!”

“No, just because the hand on the clock points to the four doesn’t mean you’re four years old. You’ll be four when you have your birthday in June.” We’ve been having this discussion since…about four o'clock yesterday.“Oh. Well.”

I moved to stand up and he grabbed my sleeve.

“WAIT! We’re STILL talkin’ together.”

“Ok, sorry.”

So we stood there for a few moments. He told me, with wide earnest eyes, about how he’d been fighting dinosaurs just a moment ago, and one of them had bitten him on the elbow. I inspected the “wounded” elbow and soberly agreed he was a very brave dinosaur slayer. He told me he was going to grow up to be an Appa and I reminded him he’d have to be a daddy first. He agreed, but suggested his Appa could be his baby when he was a daddy. He has a ways to go still on figuring out all the family roles.

But at least one role he’s sure of, and he patted my cheek and sighed,

“Yoo are mah Mama.” I put my hand over his and agreed and he continued, “And ah am your son.” He said it with such deep satisfaction that we both just sat for a moment, he patting my cheek, me, patting his sticky little hand.

My number one complaint in life these days is that there isn’t enough time. I may have mentioned this. Too often I rush past the moments with the boys, the small exchanges that make up a relationship with a child. My prayer, my fervent prayer tonight as I remember that hand under mine, is that I stop often enough. That I set aside enough time so my boys and I can talk together.


tooth truth

Tre lost eight teeth, starting when he was six…no, wait, FIVE. I remember this clearly because I was about one million months pregnant with Raphael. And Tre turned six the month after Raphi was born. So. Anyhow. He started flinging baby teeth out of his mouth right before he turned six, and that behavior continued apace until about a year ago, when it stopped. He had two canine teeth on the bottom that were a tad wiggly, but not impressively so. Like, I had to grip them tightly with my fingernails to tell for SURE that they were actually wiggling at all.

Friday Tre and Max were playing in the back yard with some friends, when Tre came tearing inside, leaping and shouting. He dropped a tooth in my hand and yanked down his bottom lip to show me a gaping, bloody hole in his mouth. It seems he’d been opening a squirty water bottle top with his teeth and yanked that slightly loose tooth right out of his jaw. Gah.

“Are you OK?” I muttered, trying to quash the queasy, spinning feeling in my stomach.

“YEAH! Now I’ve lost NINE TEETH! The LAST time I lost a tooth I was EIGHT!”

“Um…does it hurt?” My knees were just a bit weak. Did I mention the bloody, gaping hole? Did I?

“A little. DON’T TELL AMMA AND APPA AND CLAY! I get to tell them!”

And he turned on his heel, leaving me to gaze at the little nubbin of baby Tre in my hand.

Sigh.

Max has two loose teeth now. Every so often I’ll glance at him and I’m alarmed to see that they look slightly askew in his mouth. Before long they’ll be pushed out by the advances of his adult teeth and I’ll be left holding those tiny gleaming bits too.

What do you do with baby teeth? I have Tre’s in a drawer in my jewelry box, and I look at them sometimes, perplexed at my lack of a plan for them. I mean, what use are they? I saw an advertisement once for a company that will take your child’s baby teeth and turn them into jewelry. I think I shall decline such a look. It looked to me like the trophy a baby-killer might make.

My mom has a small stone box containing all of my brother’s and my teeth. There’s no way of telling which ones are mine and which are his, but she’s got them all there, and now she’s helpless. I mean, it’s not like you can just pitch them in the trash, right? Right?

I remember the first time I stuck my finger in Tre’s mouth and felt a tooth graze my fingertip as it pierced his swollen gum. I remember hours spent cajoling Max to open his mouth and leave it open long enough to let me brush his tiny new teeth. So much attention and care, so much celebration each time a new one came along.

Now these kids are done with them, growing past their need for such tiny teeth, and they simply fall away. What am I supposed to do with these teeth? I can barely bring myself to get rid of old baby clothes, so how am I supposed to let these actual literal PARTS OF THEM go?

And yet, what good does a palm full of baby teeth do? It’s no protection against the tumbling toward adulthood my boys are caught in.

Did you keep your children’s teeth? If so, where? If not, how did you get rid of them?

And…um…on an entirely DIFFERENT and utterly HYPOTHETICAL note, did the tooth fairy ever forget to visit your house, leaving your son standing by your bed in the morning, tooth in hand, grinning a rueful and knowing smile at you? Heh heh.


sacred moments

Max has been driving me nuts lately. Just simply nuts. Honestly, I don’t know what to do with the child. The simplest request seems to require the span of a century to complete, along with seventeen hundred reminders to JUST DO IT, ALREADY.

The other day he dumped out the contents of a drawer that he uses to collect his junk. He decided he wanted to go through said junk, so he spilled everything out on the floor. This was ok with me, as he did indeed need to go through it. I found two pairs of his socks in there, for instance. So he started sorting through the miscellaneous papers, rubber bands, macaroni and cheese boxes, and stuff that he tends to collect. Sadly, about two minutes into this task, he decided he was bored, and started to wander off. I corralled him and redirected him BACK to his pile-o-junk. The next THREE AND A HALF HOURS, I KID YOU NOT, were spent with Max sneaking away from his junk, me dragging him back, and the following set of instructions, repeated until my lips bled, “Pick something up. Look at it. If you want to keep it, put it in your drawer. If not, throw it away. Good. Now pick something else up.”

Three and a half hours.

This is what I mean when I say he’s driving me nuts. Sometimes I sneak away to BANG MY HEAD against the wall for a refreshing change of pace.

The other night I was passing his room shortly after bedtime and I glanced in to see him sitting bolt upright in bed, glowering. I went in to see what the heck he was so mad at. I sat down by his bed. He laid back down, I rested my head next to his, and we chatted for a moment.

“What’s wrong, honey?”

“Nothin.”

“You looked upset.”

*shrug*

“What are you thinking about?”

“I wonder if I’ll ever see Daddy again.”

“Oh. Do you wish you could?”

“Yeah.”

“Right now, or when you’re older?”

“Maybe when I’m twelve.”

“Oh. I hope you do get to see him sometime. What do you want to say to him?”

“I don’t want to SAY anything. I just want to LOOK at him.”

“Oh. Do you want to see some pictures of him?”

“No. Maybe. When I’m eleven.”

“Ok. Let me know. Is there anything else?”

He plucked at my sleeve for a moment, then half-smiled.

“I was thinking about if you and Clay get married.” [Max has been suggesting Clay and I get married for a while. We tell him it’s too soon. He’s agreed to wait until he’s seven.]

“What about it?”

“If you marry Clay I don’t want you to get divorced again.”

Without warning two large tears rolled down his cheeks and splashed on the sheet. A sob caught in his throat and he dropped his face down on the mattress and wept. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders as they shook and bent my head over his and whispered the most comforting words I could think of.

Afterward he felt better, if a bit emotionally raw. He sighed and relaxed against his pillow, and I kissed him goodnight and tiptoed out. I stood in the hall, just thinking about that moment. It had been such a naked glimpse inside Max’s complicated self, a flash of his pain and fear and longing. I couldn’t make him whole, but to be there, to see his heart and hold him…such a moment felt sacred.

What I forget sometimes is that all the moments are sacred. Sitting next to him and his pile of junk, sighing, “Pick something up. Look at it…” – that was sacred too. To be here, ushering my kids through this part of their lives, is a rare honor indeed. I wouldn’t be anywhere else. Even if I do occasionally need to bang my head against the wall.


"Electricity" rhymes with "made for me"

Well, first you have to know something about me – a QUIRK, if you will. I have this THING about light switches. Now, when I explain this to you, I expect the internet to nod its collective head and say, “why, that’s not a THING! That’s just right and good,” but I have been assured by others that it is indeed a THING and not all that normal, so stop trying to act as though it is.

Anyhow.

The THING is that the switches should be in their appropriate places. You know, UP if the light is on, DOWN if the light is off. Now, usually this is not a problem, being as how that is how light switches generally work. But in our house there are several lights that are controlled by TWO DIFFERENT SWITCHES. Are you getting the picture here? One on THIS side of the room, one on THAT side of the room, so as to make things nice and CONVENIENT for you, no matter where you are when you decide to employ the switch.

But. But but but. Some of these switches…no, wait, lemme think…MOST of these switches…WAIT WAIT WAIT! ALL of these switches are wired so when they are turned OFF, on of them remains UP! UP! IN THE ON POSITION.

Are you seeing my problem?

I hate this. Hate it hate it hate it. If the light is OFF, all related switches to the light should be DOWN. Please.

The way I’ve made peace with this is to be sure that the light switch nearest my bedroom is in the correct position when I go to bed at night.

Ahem.

Ok, that sounds a bit nuts, so let me clarify. I don’t scurry around at night, fixing the switches. But I do try to get them right on my way past, and if they AREN’T right, I might sigh a small defeated sigh as I sink into bed. That’s all, and that’s not nuts.

Anyhow.

The other night Clay was here, and decided it was time for him to go home. On our way through the kitchen to the long goodbye kissing session at the front door, he paused to turn off the lights. But he was using THE WRONG SWITCHES. The ones on the FAR side of the kitchen, which would leave the ones nearest my room in the WRONG AND BAD POSITION.

“No, WAIT!” I blurted out, “Not those switches! You have to turn the lights over here!” He paused and looked at me, confused.

“But…but then these switches will be WRONG.”

“Yes, I know, but…” I paused, not sure I wanted him to know my reasoning, “…but if you turn off the lights over there, then THESE switches will be wrong, and they’re CLOSER TO MY BEDROOM.”

There was a pause, as he looked from light switch to light switch, pondering this.

“Well. I’m gonna have to rewire those switches.” My heart leapt. He’s an electrician, you know. HE COULD DO THAT.

“I would love that,” I breathed. He gave me a serious look.

“You think I’m kidding, don’t you?”

“NO. I mean I WOULD LOVE THAT.” He grinned, seeing how delighted I actually was at the prospect, and pulled me close in the kind of hug shared by two people who KNOW WHAT’S IMPORTANT.

“OH, I LOVE YOU,” he sighed.

See? He was MADE FOR ME.


Truth

I went to see Hotel Rwanda today with Clay and some friends. By the way, go see it already. Yes, I know it’s brutal and all HISTORIC and stuff, but good LORD, people. Go see it. This happened. Recently. It HAPPENED. You can see Hitch later.

Anyhow, there’s a scene where Paul, the hero, is going to get on a truck and leave Rwanda, and he looks back at the people he’s leaving behind. His family is climbing on the UN truck, but he keeps looking back at the people and reaching out to grasp an arm, pat a cheek, on his way past…and it’s wrenching because you can see the realization dawning in him just how precious these people are. Precious and endangered.

It reminded me of the end of Schindler’s List, when Oskar Schindler is fleeing the oncoming liberators, and he’s looking at the people he’s saved, and he is stricken by the feeling that he could have done more. Just a little more, had he only tried harder.

In times of war, when life and death is so clearly displayed, people tend to realize this truth, this value of humanity more easily. However, I don’t think as human being we can keep that sort of knowledge in our heads. We simply aren’t built for that sort of capacity, to go around holding onto the awareness of the preciousness of life. Those thoughts stop a person, still the heart. One can’t function like that, so we fill our head with thoughts of the mundane. You know, where are my shoes? Why is the dog whining like that? I should eat some toast. Just…stuff.

Yet every so often a moment comes that cuts through the dailyness of life. For a moment the truth of God’s image in humanity reaches out and PINS you down with its weight…then it slides away and life goes on.

There are the obvious moments like that – when you hold your newborn child, or put your arms around someone you love who just survived a car crash. Yes, you tell yourself, this is real. Remember this.

But there are tiny flashes of that truth every day. Tonight I read Raphael one of his favorite books, Are You My Mother? When I was done, he looked at me and grinned, and echoed the last page of the book. “Ah know who you are. You are not a bird or a dog or a cow. You are a people. An you are very big. And YOU ARE MY MOTHER.” Then he threw his arms around me and laid his head down on my chest. I hugged him back and smelled his hair and enjoyed a moment of knowing truth.


I heart Coach

I’ve started taking the boys to a homeschool PE program on Wednesdays. It’s a great program, led by a man (“Coach”), who seems to just love the chaos of having roughly a bazillion kids playing some game or another in an echo-y gym. Tre and Max are in different age groups, which is good because Tre’s class is old enough to really understand the rules of the games and play accordingly, while Max’s class…is still working on it. It’s unfortunate that the two classes, back to back, require me to hang out in said echo-y gym for two hours, trying to keep Raphael from eating anyone out of boredom, but all in all I’d say it’s worth it.

Today they played Dodge ball Doctor, which goes like this: two teams. Each team has three “doctors” who scoot around on bright yellow square things with swiveling wheels underneath. The rest of the players strive mightily to pelt one another with soft foam balls. When a player is hit by a ball they must sit down until a “doctor” comes, puts them on the square scooty thing, and hauls them back to the “hospital” area. Then they can hop up and rejoin the game.

When Max’s class played the game it looked something like this: kids ran, shrieking with bloodlust, flinging balls in random directions, completely and utterly missing their targets a good 99 and 44/100ths of the time. The rest of the time they would hit their fellow team mates, innocent mothers standing by, and their very own selves in the face with the balls. Some children stood, staring in bewildered amazement at the melee. One girl’s shoulder was brushed by a ball and she crumpled to the floor, wailing. Max decided this game was similar enough to soccer to warrant kicking the ball around the floor. The “doctors” morphed their understanding of their duties from “rescuing” to “bowling” for fellow children.

And Coach? Coach was in the middle of it all, grinning and ducking wayward balls. He leaned down to encourage the overwhelmed and clarify the objectives to the misled. He called out things like, “WAY TO GO, ASHLEY! Now, try it with your eyes open!” and “Good job, Max! Why don’t you try using your hands now?” Over and over again he moved through the chaos, gently redirecting children in the right direction. And when the hour was over he gave each and every child a high-five, and congratulated them BY NAME on their awesome effort.

The kids all adore Coach, and it’s clear in his demeanor that he adores them right back. God bless Coach.


speaking as a mother...

This is an old article, discussing how often women, such as Mary Kay Letourneau and Debra Lafave, who molest boys are often not subject to the same outrage as men who molest girls. I saw an interview with Lafave’s soon to be ex husband today. I watched the footage of her walking into court, and it left me thinking about her all day, haunted by that beautiful, horrifically twisted and malevolent woman.

When a man molests a girl, there is often a brutal remedy suggested. Cut it off. It’s crass and horrific, but there is a certain satisfaction in the notion of hacking off the offending organ, leaving the perpetrator hemorrhaging literally - as his victims will emotionally, on and off for the rest of their lives. But when a woman is the offender, what do you cut off? You can’t remove their sexual organs, so what could one slice away to return them for their crime?

I thank God that the decision of how to mete out justice to these women doesn’t lay in my hands. Understand, I have sons of my own, little boys who are speeding into the age these boys were victimized in, that era of having a body that is almost that of a man, while their souls reside within the borders of childhood.

Were it up to me, if I were the one to choose these women’s fate, I would vote to remove their hearts.

Pry open their chests and chisel out their ice cold, coal black hearts.

It’s not like they’re using them anyhow.


a fool's game

When I was a kid we went to the state fair every fall. It was very exciting, and even more exciting was the day I was old enough to wander the fairgrounds BY MYSELF, with just my friend at my side – NO PARENTS. I had my fair money – usually about $20 by the time I was that elderly – and the giddy sense of freedom that can only accompany a 13 year old who just bought a roach clip to wear in her feathered hair even though she has NO IDEA what those clips are used for.

One bright autumn day at the fair I discovered this game on the midway. Now, usually I didn’t have much time for the games, as I was entirely fixated upon trying to make myself throw up with terror on the rides. Ohhh, I loved the rides. But this day I somehow stopped to try this game. It consisted of a flat surface, littered with tokens and prizes. A bulldozer-like contraption moved back and forth, pushing toward the coins. The idea was to roll a token down the little ramp, in front of the bulldozer, causing it to push THAT coin into the OTHER coins, resulting in some of them (and hopefully a nifty prize) falling off the end of the platform. Then you could gather your haul from the compartment below, and life would shine JUST THAT MUCH SWEETER.

I stood there, sending tokens down that ramp, in daze. Time stopped and sweat beaded my (Cover Girl Shine Free-powered) brow as I dropped token after token. Occasionally one or two tokens would fall and I would scoop them up, certain I was on the brink of A BIG FALL. When I had to go buy more tokens I would have my friend Debi stand guard so no one could cash in on my big windfall.

Eventually the moment came when I let a token go, and as it rolled down into the unrelenting game I realized it was my last.

Somehow that shifting sea of coins had managed to adjust to absorb every dime of my $20. I looked at it, bewildered. How could all those coins have found room next to each other? How could that finite space on that platform have somehow accommodated ALL MY MONEY?

These days my life feels like that evil midway game. I stand, vainly feeding effort into my day, trying to gather everything I want into my grasp. And somehow the need, the details and dramas, absorb every effort, yielding little in return.

It SEEMS like there should be time for it all. If I try hard enough, schedule carefully enough, I should be able to fit the important things in. School, housework, writing, time with Clay, time with friends. But one thing pushes another out of my grasp and at the end of the day I’m left looking at what’s left, blinking, and wondering what happened.

I remember reading an article once that added up all the tiny, sane, healthy changes we are always being urged to make in our lives. Things like “floss your teeth – 3 minutes.” And “drink 8 glasses of water – 22 minutes.” They tallied all the time it would take to do all the small, reasonable things, and it came out to something like 41 hours in a day.

The thing that bugs me is that I KNOW this. I mean, it seems I’ve learned this lesson before. It only took me one encounter with the game at the fair to learn not to waste my money there, so why do I perpetually end up here, bleary-eyed from a lack of sleep, cranky and overwhelmed?


thoughts about love on Valentine's Day

So. Valentine’s Day. One might expect me to be EXCITED or something about this one, as I actually have a VALENTINE-Y person in my life this year. I mean, it’s been a while since I’ve been a part of a couple, and even back when I was married, my ex was in the restaurant industry, which meant I never never saw him on Vday until about 11:30 at night, when he would drag himself home, smelling like food and ruing the day anyone ever decided to celebrate love.

Anyhow. You would think now, with this great guy in my life, I’d be all happy and giddy, prancing about, writing messages on construction paper hearts. I should be buying cards and singing love songs, for heaven’s sake.

You wanna know what I have to say about Valentine’s Day?

Eh.

I mean, it’s supposed to be this shining star in the constellation of our love lives. On February 14, everyone is supposed to stop, turn to the one they love, sigh rapturously, and declare love with chocolate and flowers.

Eh.

I mean, I like chocolate as much as the next person, and roses never went wrong with me. But I resent the pressure, the suggestion that love can be – MUST BE – perfectly expressed in this day. That’s just dumb. The most fabulous day ever experienced couldn’t ever encompass love, because love isn’t an event. Love is showing up day after day after day, all the tiny decisions in someone’s life that points them in the direction of someone else’s best interest. Love is, as my mom says, where your feet are planted.

Speaking of feet, Clay taught Max to tie his shoes the other day. A week ago? Two weeks ago? Anyhow, we were standing in church, and Max’s shoes were untied. I’ve tried showing the child how to tie his shoes; Mom’s tried to teach him. But he’s been unable to grasp it. Clay stood next to me, watching Max wrestle unsuccessfully with his laces yet again, and he murmured in my ear, “I remember when I learned to tie my shoes. I was in kindergarten and the teacher sent home a note, asking my parents to teach me how to tie my shoes. My dad sat down with me and taught me.” He watched Max for a few minutes more, then sat down and pulled him onto his lap. While the rest of us sang our hymn, he helped Max through the steps (the many, laborious steps) of the art of shoe tying. When he was done, Max hopped off his lap and sat down on the floor. He took his shoelaces in hand and wrangled them. He twisted and worked them, his brow knit in fierce concentration. Clay and I watched, unmoving, holding our breaths. After a long, tense moment, he leaped up.

His shoe was tied.

He jumped on the chair next to me, waving his foot in the air, beside himself. Clay clapped one hand on his back in an attaboy move, and Max wriggled with joy. He turned to me and grabbed my arm, hardly able to find the words. “Oh, oh, oh, Mama! Oh. Can’t Clay come to lunch at our house? PLEASE?”

I adore Clay. I sit and grin at him foolishly, and we are affectionate enough with one another that at least one family at church suggested we consider giving up physical contact with each other for lent. I am full of all the feelings one associates with Valentine’s Day. The other day I walked into the kitchen and saw Clay had left his watch there the day before. Before I thought about it, I walked over, picked up his watch, and SMELLED IT.

Yeah. There’s lots of romantic feeling there.

But the love? The love is being built, tiny bit by tiny bit, over days and weeks and months of choice. No way could that fit in one sappy day.


Joining the club

I had lunch today with a friend, another friend who is getting divorced. Her divorce was one that has been simmering for at least a year, and in the last few months has erupted. Messy stuff. Cruelty abounds on all sides, and now the girlfriend is living in their home, while my friend visits her kids every other weekend.

The details are complex and dizzying to follow, and yet the same old story again. When I was first separated from my ex, I felt like I’d been admitted to a huge, secret club. Everywhere I went, the pediatrician’s office, the county clerk’s office, the grocery store, a woman would look at me, nod knowingly, and say, “Yeah. I remember when my husband left.”

So now, as a member of this club, I feel duty-bound to sit with my friend and listen to her litany of pain. I can feel in my own gut each blow she’s recounts, but it’s not about me, so I wince and nod and say how sorry I am.

Her kids are eight and six, a girl and a boy, and while I listened to her story they played in the park with my sons. The boy raced around the park, unstoppable in his rage-fueled energy. He took his skateboard out of the car, offered it to Max, then yanked it away when Max reached out for it. He rode it himself, laughing at Max’s anger with a laugh that bordered on sobs.

The girl pranced up to her mother and pulled a tiny bottle of perfume out of her purse. She started spraying it showily on her wrists, then offered it to me. I declined. My friend casually asked her daughter where she got the perfume, and she tossed her head and spit out, “X [the girlfriend] bought it for me. SHE’S nice.” She watched her mother search for words for a moment, then turned and stalked away.

My friend sat, motionless in the afternoon sun. She’s deep in her own grief and shock right now, and entirely unable to cope with her children’s rage.

She’ll be ok, I know she will. One day, not too long from now, she’ll get to the end of her day and realize she hasn’t cried all day, and it will be a great accomplishment. She’s only going up from here.

And her kids will be ok, too. Some things are never the same when a child is that angry and hurt…but they’ll pull it together. Life will go on.

When the boys and I got in the van to go home, both Tre and Max commented that they hadn’t had very much fun with their friends today.

“They’re mean,” Tre said, “maybe we shouldn’t play with them anymore.”

So I told them. I gave them the barest outlines of what’s happening to their friends, and about why they’re so angry. The boys fell silent, remembering their own angry days.

“When I was that mad, I couldn’t talk to people,” Tre said.

“I don’t remember what I did,” said Max, “but I remember feeling like that.”

We drove in silence for a while.

They have their own club membership too.