Friday, December 24, 2010

The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Care...

Last night, Josh and I sat on the family room floor in the light of the Christmas tree and wrapped and wrapped and wrapped.  We lifted each gift out of its shopping bag, all carefully chosen for a three-year-old girl delighted by puppies and princesses and pink and and a five-year-old boy discovering the wonders of reading and enthralled by toys he can construct, engineer.

Tonight, the kids made an extra-chocolatey glass of milk and chose two of the cookies they decorated to leave out for Santa.  As we headed upstairs for bed, the doorbell rang, and we opened it to neighbors serenading us with carols.  We read 'Twas The Night Before Christmas and the final page of our advent book, which ends, of course, at the manger.

And so, with the kids tucked soundly in bed, Josh and I descended to the family room to make our final preparations for morning.  We brought up all the gifts and placed them around the tree.   We wrapped the last few gifts we remembered we'd stashed in closets and drawers months ago.  And we filled the stockings with their presents from Santa.

The  North Pole contributions were more difficult to find this year.  Abby asked for a "reindeer she could sleep with," and while most years, I feel like I see reindeer everywhere, I must have been in the wrong places this year.  Yesterday, I finally saw a darling, girly reindeer with a red and white polk-a-dotted bow between her antlers: Clarice from the movie Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  It's soft and snuggly and perfect.

Ben, to our chagrin, asked Santa for a Santa costume.  I knew as soon as he said it we'd have trouble finding the big red suit for a child.  We saw some options online, but they were either expensive or huge, so I managed to pull together a makeshift suit comprised of 1 Santa hat, 2 Santa slippers, and cute Santa pajamas--or so I thought until we pulled the pajamas out of their packaging tonight and found they said, "What Santa doesn't bring me Grandma will."  This little tiding of joy was invisible when I bought them.  Argh.

So in an effort to save the costume, Josh spent part of the evening in the kitchen sewing a patch over these tacky words (I know, I know: domestic diva I am not; Josh is the one who sews in this family).  When he finished, the patch actually looked like Santa's sack, like it could have been part of the original design.  On the patch, we wrote "To Ben, From Santa"--a personalized touch.  How many kids get that?  It's impromptu and imperfect, but I hope the gift is received as wonderful because it's from "Santa."

And this is what it means to be Mommy and Daddy.  We get to create the magic of the season.  We set the tone.  In every aspect, we get to wow and surprise and delight.  And it is our joy to do so.

While wrapping presents last night, I felt such excitement to see the kids open their gifts--a grown-up giddiness not unlike the childlike anticipation I felt when I was little and couldn't wait to open my own presents.  I thought of the verse in James that says, "every good and perfect gift is from above" and gratefully acknowledged that these gifts come not just from me and Josh.  I considered the verse that reminds us that if we on earth know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more the Father in heaven delights in giving good gifts.  And I reveled in the knowledge that tomorrow morning is but a taste of God...not in the tangible items that will be unwrapped and played with but in the Love that accompanies each gift.

It's nearly midnight, nearly Christmas: the stockings are hung with care, we've left the plate of cookie crumbs and the empty milk cup by the fireplace with notes for each of them from Santa, and now we'll head to bed with visions of giggles and laughter and the wonder of our precious little ones in our heads.  In the morning, we'll open stockings, we'll sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus with candles in our coffee cake, and we'll begin the exchange of so much more than commercialism.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Is Anything Too Wonderful for God?"

I discovered Sara Groves last Christmas on the radio and downloaded her holiday album, Oh Holy Night, to enjoy this season.  I love her folksy voice and her original arrangements for the traditional hymns I've sung since childhood.  In the last several years, the words of songs like "Oh Holy Night" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" have held new, poignant meaning anyway.  But somehow, listening to the lyrics in a different rhythm, with a different melody, invites yet another, new reflection.

This song, "It's True," which begins and ends with Groves' young son narrating the encounter between the angel Gabriel and Mary, nearly brings me to tears every time.  The incarnation itself is miraculous.  But the idea that God would send a baby--not an army, not a natural disaster, not a political powerhouse--to save the world leaves me reeling in wonder.

"But this is too wonderful," Mary says.

"Is anything too wonderful for God?" the angel replies.

...No.  For nothing is impossible with God.  And if God is love, and if nothing is impossible, then we are in for some wonders.

At the end of the song, the young boy describes the star shining above the stable in Bethlehem, "like a spotlight" on the baby Jesus "showing people the way to him," because, he says, "God was like a new dad.  He couldn't keep the good news to himself.  He'd been waiting all these long years for this moment.  And now, he couldn't wait to tell...everyone."

In the world, often those who believe this story muck it up, convolute it, add their own interpretations and regulations and conditions, stripping it of it's glory.  But at it's heart, this is a love story.  It's good news.  God saved the world with a baby: helpless, defenseless, needy, intimate--subject to all the injustices and failures of those around him that the rest of us face every day, bearing it all to destruction on the cross, in his body broken, blood shed.

In this story, there are no uzis, there is no fire from the sky.  Just a baby God, lying humbly in a food trough, for the love of us.

It is too wonderful.

It's True 

(featuring Toby Groves)

by Sara Groves

In your heart you
know it's true
though you hold no expectation
in the deepest part of you
there's an open hesitation

but it's true
kingdoms and crowns
a God who came down to find you
it's true
Angels on high
sing through the night alleluya

heard it told you
think it's odd
the whole thing fraught with complication
the play begins with
baby God
and all His blessed implications

but it's true
kingdoms and crowns
a God who came down to find you
it's true
Angels on high
sing through the night alleluia
alleluia, alleluia

Oh it's true
kingdoms and crowns
a God who came down to find you
it's true
Angels on high
sing through the night alleluia

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"I Wuv Mrs. Kwoz!"

We attended the annual Fire Department Christmas party last Sunday with the best Santa and Mrs. Claus in the history of St. Nick.  Ben couldn't wait to see Santa.  Abby couldn't wait to wear her Christmas clothes.  Several days before, she said, "Mommy, I'm worried my feet will grow too much before Christmas and my Christmas shoes won't fit."  I assured her it was highly unlikely her feet would grow that much over the course of the next few weeks, but she was much relieved to put them on for the party and finally wear them.

All week the kids discussed what they would ask Santa for this year.  They also had detailed conversations about how Santa would know which stocking is Abby's since she decided she wanted hers to be the reindeer stocking that's usually mine instead of the angel one she's used the last few years. Ben, very pragmatically, brought up this point when she decided to trade.  He also suggested the solution: let Santa know at the party.  She agreed.  

At the party, the kids waited patiently in line to see the beloved North Pole residents.  When their turn came, both kids happily sat on their laps: Ben on Santa's, Abby on Mrs. Claus's.  Since we've seen this same Santa and Mrs. Claus since Ben was a baby, Santa & Mrs. Claus remembered the kids, and Mrs. Claus, who seems to have a special fondness for Abby, delighted in giving her lots of squeezes and kisses.  Abby seemed to soak in every second of time with her.  

Santa chatted with Ben for a minute while Mrs. Claus talked to Abby about her pretty red dress (did you know red is Santa's favorite color?), and when the time came, Ben asked for a Santa costume (where am I going to find that?), Abby asked for a reindeer she could have in her bed (a reindeer stuffed animal), and then she shyly informed Santa of the new stocking arrangement here in Ben-and-Abby land.  With this explanation, the kids said goodbye to the costumed couple, who've infused their roles with a very real kindness and gentleness.  We gathered our coats and headed home.

When we got to the car, Abby said, "I wuv Mrs. Kwoz."  

I think the feeling is mutual.


Hoping this season brings the same merriment and magic to you and yours.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Somewhere in the middle of Utah, on the second day of our twenty-plus hour drive from California to Colorado, after a week of staying up past midnight playing games with family and then waking up with the kids bright and early in the morning, following an all-night drive to California the weekend before, Josh decided he needed some sleep.

We traded places at a rest stop overlooking miles of untouched land so I could drive, throwing out the sack from our most recent fast-food meal and giving Merlot a chance to use the natural facilities in the course of two minutes.  In order to get over the Rocky Mountain passes before the snow and darkness conspired against our journey homeward, we made our stops absolutely efficient.

We chose to swap about an hour after lunch when the kids would normally rest so, presumably, the car would be quiet.  I pulled back onto the highway, set the car's cruise control to 80 on our 75 mph course, selected music conducive to nap time, and settled in for my portion of the drive, absorbing the vast expanse of flat land punctuated by massive bluffs in every shade of pink and orange.  Josh let the kids know it was rest time, telling them he needed to sleep, too, so he could drive the difficult sections of snowy roads we knew we'd meet later in the day.  In the back seat, Ben and Abby grabbed their stuffed animals to settle in, and Ben picked up a quiet activity to occupy his time now that he no longer needs the daily afternoon sleep.

What ensued within minutes, however, was riotous laughter--the kind that only grows more exuberant with each new request for quiet.  As much as Josh tried to position himself comfortably, no matter how mellow or melodic the music I chose, regardless of how sternly we insisted it was rest time, the kids simply could not contain their giggles.  One would start and the other would join and after an hour passed this way, Josh sat up in his seat, conceding the battle for sleep.

As dire as the exhaustion was, though, we caught the twinkle in each other's eye.   Whatever the circumstance, the laughter of our kids reveling in each other's company is impossible to scorn.  We couldn't help but enjoy their childishness, even if it was at the expense of much-needed shut-eye.

Not surprisingly, the kids quieted after we gave up our effort to induce slumber.  Abby's eyes grew at first stare-y and then drooped ever further until they finally closed.  Ben's attention was drawn by the activity in his lap.  Josh finally had the quiet--and sleep--he so desperately sought earlier.  While he dozed, I drank in the vistas and the music, meditating on the miraculous world outside the car--and within.

It's funny how often parenting teaches this lesson.  Thou shalt not get what thou seeks in the moment.  But thou shalt often get something better, and eventually, when all seems for nought, thou shalt receive a miracle of grace--and rest.

About a year and a half ago, I wrestled some mighty demons--critical and condemning voices I met at the crossroads where my expectations of who my children should be met the reality of who they were in the moment.  And in that meeting of the twains, I had to confront who my children are, who I am, what my role as a mother is, and more importantly, what my role is not.  That struggle was a significant impetus for starting this blog, where I would have a space to process and navigate this murky territory of parenthood requiring the absolute surrender of self to what seems an impossible job but that, in reality, is the glorious gift of getting to know a person created wonderfully and fearfully, and shepherding this most precious creation through a world at once wondrous and cruel.

It has been this recognition that Ben and Abby are not my creation, not mine to "make," not mine to control but, rather, mine to love and discipline and forgive--over and over and over--that finally brought freedom from the whispers of doubt and failure that had plagued me.  Over the course of this trip, I got to live in this new reality: not fretting about the childish mistakes and misbehaviors of my children, regardless of who was present to witness their imperfection, but accepting it all as an invitation to love more, to forgive more, to trust in Someone outside myself more.

Because I've come to believe, somehow, that my children's behavior isn't always a reflection on me.  That he who is forgiven much loves much.  That maybe God even set it up this way.  That the opportunities I have to love my children through their imperfection actually increase their ability to love those around them.  We love because we were first loved, but love based on performance is not love at all.  To the contrary, I'm beginning to think the more we know we are loved apart from performance, the more we begin to perform.  So we actually had very few frustration-inducing moments during the week, probably because I wasn't trying so very hard to prevent them out of fear that I or they would look bad, wouldn't perform adequately.

Anyway, all these thoughts swirled while I navigated the windy highway up and down the rocky bluffs standing between us and home, the kids' laughter from the previous hour a soundtrack for these reflections on grace and freedom.  In the end, their levity, unwelcome at first, amplified my own.

And we all rested after all.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Today's Heart Attack

Merlot networks with the local, oblivious to her obvious size disadvantage.  As far as she's concerned, this may be her new backwoods playmate.  She's deaf to my voice, to squeaky toys, to the kids calling her name from the front door.

She actually follows this buck up the street and into the neighbor's yard, creeping as close as she can before the buck moves a few steps away, hoping to shake her off like a pesky fly.  I know she means no harm, and somehow, it seems the elk does, too.  In fact, the elk looks at her with something like amusement, affection even.  It's me, the lady hollering "Merlot" from across the street with traces of panic in her voice, that captures his attention.

When she realizes the elk is not going to play, Merlot walks past him to graze on goodies further into the yard.  There they stand in nonchalance--pup and buck--mocking my desperation (if only I had that photo).  I decide to make my way to the backside of the house from another street, and I catch Merlot's eye, which is when I take off running the opposite direction.  Dogs are powerless against running away: they're compelled to follow.  She sprints, nearly running off the ledge next to me in her haste to reach me.  And so I leash her, walk her back to the house, and shut the door in relief.

Just another day in Evergreen.

Monday, November 8, 2010

"License, Insurance, & Registration, Please"

The learning opportunity was mine Friday.

We drove over a bump in the road as we coasted down the hill, and the car felt like it was sailing.  I knew immediately I was going too fast.  So did the policeman driving the opposite direction.  I watched in my side view mirror as the patrol car pulled over to the side of the road, waited for the cars behind him to pass, and then turned around into my lane.  It was no surprise when the lights flashed behind me, so I pulled over and waited for my doom.

In the meantime, the kids noticed everything.

"Mommy, why did you say 'uh-oh'?" Ben asked.

I figured this was a good time to model the concepts I'm trying to teach them: owning up to your mistakes, accepting the consequences, and moving on.  So I answered honestly:  "I was going too fast down that hill, and the policeman noticed.  I'm probably going to get a ticket for going too fast."

This was a good exercise for me in taking responsibility, since I tend to blame all my tickets on the (obviously) ridiculous and unfair cops on the other side of the window.  But as I've had to explain the  job and role of policemen to Ben and Abby over the years, I've also had to concede that they do, in fact, exist to maintain the safety and well-being of the general public and that they aren't just driving around looking for opportunities to ruin people's days (the glaring exception here is, of course, the Morrison cops, who gleefully stalk the worst speed trap in the country... And maybe a young officer in Idaho, but that's another story).

It may sound strange, but I was actually a wee bit grateful for this incident.  Over the years, Ben has grown irate at the idea of a policemen giving people tickets.  He used to give long soliloquies about how he would drive away fast if a policeman pulled him over or how he'd tear up the ticket if he got one.  I've tried explaining that this response would simply make things worse, resulting in an arrest or in losing his license, but he just comes up with more grandiose methods of escaping the punishment.

I'll admit to fretting at times about his attitude toward authority: it's clearly not the policeman's fault if someone breaks the law, and people who follow the rules have no reason to fear cops.  Police really do have the public's interests at heart, even the dreaded highway patrol: there are fewer accidents in the areas that cops patrol regularly.  People really are safer when cops regulate speed.  But it had seemed much of this rationale fell on deaf, or defensive, ears.

To my relief, this attitude of his has subsided lately, and he's actually talked about wanting to be a policeman when he grows up.  He even wanted to be one for Halloween, but we did our costume shopping too late, so there weren't any officer costumes left in his size.

Still, there were times I thought it might be valuable if Ben saw me get a ticket so he could see that getting one does not come from a policeman's meanness but as a natural consequence to breaking the rules.   Police officers are generally nice, normal people--not bad guys out to get us.  Here was Ben's opportunity to witness this truth first hand, and I was well aware of it.

The two officers came to the passenger side window and asked for my license, insurance, and registration.  They asked if I knew why I was being pulled over, and I answered honestly: I was going too fast.  When they left, the kids asked why they needed all those papers, so I explained they needed that information to make sure there wasn't a record of any other laws I had broken.  "What happens if they found something wrong?" they asked.  "Well, I'd have to pay the consequence for that, too.  But I know I haven't broken any laws, so I don't have anything to worry about."

When the officers returned, they handed me the ticket and the rest of my documents, explaining the details of when and where I could go to court and contest the ticket before a judge if I wanted.  I nodded as they spoke, and when they finished, I apologized.

"I am sorry," I said, hoping I sounded sincere.  "I didn't realize how fast I got going there."

"That's okay, Ma'am," the officer said.  "I don't take it personally, and I hope you don't either.  Try not to let this ruin your day."  With that encouragement, they walked back to their car.

His response was perfect, and I was glad the kids heard it.  It reminded me of how discipline should be implemented: calmly, objectively, without the impassioned reaction of a personal affront.  I want to carry out my children's consequences with this same kind, calm, detached perspective.  I'm not taking this personally.  I hope you don't either.  Try not to let this ruin your day, Pumpkins.  

We drove away but continued discussing Mommy's grand mistake.

"Why do you have to go to a judge?" they asked.

"Well, if I felt the ticket they gave me was unfair or that I wasn't doing anything wrong, I could go talk to a judge and tell him my story, and the judge would decide who is right.  But since I know it was my fault, I'm just going to pay the ticket.  There's no need to go to court." We talked about how I'd write a check when I got home and put it in the mail.

"Wasn't the policeman nice?" I asked.  I saw the kids nod in my rearview mirror.  "They're just doing their job.  Even though it's frustrating to get a ticket and have to pay some allowance, it's my fault I got it, not theirs."

We finished our errands, the kids occasionally reminding me not to go too fast as we drove.  "Don't worry.  I'm being very careful about my speed now," I told them.

"I'm going to be a policeman when I grow up," Ben said.  "I'm going to keep people safe."

"And I bet you'll be a nice policeman like those guys," I said.

I learned something.  I hope the kids did, too.  And so, this is the only ticket I've ever been grateful for.

But I sure hope it's the last.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Monumental (Revised)

We've been taking the kids to swim lessons on Saturday mornings for the last several weeks.  This morning, Josh and I decided Abby and I would stay home in hopes of protecting her already stressed lungs from suffering further irritation in the chlorine, so Josh took Ben.  The phone rang about an hour and a half after they left, and when I answered, Josh said Ben wanted to talk to me.


"Hi, Mommy!  Guess what?"

"What, Bug?"

"I have something really exciting to tell you, and I'm really proud of myself for doing it."

"What is it?  I can't wait to hear!"

"Well, I was in the water, and [the instructor] kept moving backwards and I was doing those ice cream scoop things with my arms and I was kicking my legs and my face was in the water for like...about, um, 20 seconds, and Meg didn't even help me!"

"You did it all by yourself?!?!"

"Yeah, I swam all by myself!"

Enter orchestral overtures and fireworks and streaming lights from heaven.

This is a moment that has been years in the making...hoping.  There are some milestones with some kids that feel like summiting Everest.  Swimming was one of Ben's Everests, but I think we've finally made it.  

Okay, so Josh tells me I may have overstated Ben's accomplishment here--though I've accurately reported Ben's perception.  Regardless, Ben is closer to swimming than he's ever been, and his ability to go further for longer, now, is clearly just a matter of time, whereas before it was not certain how he'd get to the point where he could put his head in the water, let alone swim.  Maybe it was only a few seconds this morning, but it was the breakthrough that matters.  Proficiency will come.  

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Language of Abigail

At the breakfast table this morning, Abby and I were playing some word games.  This started when Abby got her yogurt from the refrigerator and asked me what flavor it was.

"Boysenberry," I told her.

"Does ih haf poison ih-nit?" she asked.

"No, Abby, it's not 'poisonberry.' It's 'boysenberry'--with a 'buh' not a 'puh.'"

"Oh.  'Boy-sen-bew-wy.'  Whah else stahrts wif 'buh'?" she asked.

And so the game continued.  At some point, I asked, "What sound does 'teeth' start with?"

She thought for a minute and mouthed it silently: "'Tuh,'" she said. "Teef stahrts wif 'tuh.'"

"That's right!"

"And 'teef' wymes wif 'beef,'" she added.

Hmmm...I couldn't argue with that.  

Thursday, October 21, 2010

In the Shadow of the Polka-Dotted Nightlight

I held my baby (can I still call her that at three?) in the dim glow of her nightlight tonight, waiting for the medicinal mist to work its magic on her lungs.  The shallow cough has been hovering for a day or two, and then the tell-tale rattling began this afternoon.

Unfortunately, Abby now realizes the inconvenience of the nebulizer.  She protested both treatments earlier today, whereas before she simply resigned herself to this fact of life.  After all, this machine has coexisted with her since she was nine months old.

When I went in to treat her late tonight, I mistakenly thought she would snuggle into my arms and accept the nebulizer without protest since I had to lift her out of a sound sleep to rest upright on my lap.  But even in her sleepy stupor, she cried, "I dohn wahn-uh do dat.  I dohn wahn iht," clearly communicating her strong opposition.  I don't blame her, but I also know her body needs this help, so I braced us both and continued.

When she realized the situation was not negotiable, she gave up her fight and resumed her slumber in my arms.  We sat together for several minutes: me leaning against her bed; her leaning against me--body still and heavy, eyes closed.   I held her largely to keep her positioned properly for the meds, but also to feel the weight of her, to see that she still fits on my lap though her legs spill far over where they used to fit neatly, to enjoy her presence while it's still mine to enjoy, to will my love out of my heart--out of my very being--and into her still small but ever-growing body.

These late-night moments with Abby and the nebulizer have always been sweet because she's always accepted them with peace and a seeming awareness that this is what had to be done.  We've passed these stolen minutes in mutual reverie, savoring the snuggly togetherness.  It was painful tonight to share this closeness against her will, to insist upon her rest in my arms.  I felt a twinge of sadness at her attempt to squirm away.

But this is my job: to have arms strong enough to contain any protest or rebellion or railing against her best interest.  And it is a sacred job.  I know her lungs need the freedom to expand and fill.  I know her body needs to be able to breathe.  She sees sacrifice.  I see life.  I see it on her behalf.

There is divinity in it, I think, to sit on the omniscient side of another's pain, to recognize the profound disappointment and frustration of one I would die for and yet to will it anyway for her benefit, so that she might live life to the fullest.  All of it--every intention and motivation and action--is wrapped up in love.  Deep, unstoppable love.  Love that is willing to insist in spite of herself.

Equally spiritual is her willingness to submit, to surrender her will to mine--trusting that I know, or at the very least, trusting that I love.

I held my Abby tonight, though she would have preferred I left her sleeping, and I learned something about our Father in heaven who loves perfectly and wills all things for our good.  I pray that I will have the faith to surrender even when I feel like going back to bed.  And I pray someday that Abby will see and understand why I held her tight so the vapor could reach her lungs in spite of her sorrow.  It's so she could breathe.  And live.

It shouldn't surprise me anymore when I find myself on holy ground in the most everyday places, but it still does: burning bushes, baby's breaths, my daughter's room in the shadow of her polka-dotted nightlight...

All hallowed by Love.  

Friday, October 15, 2010

Theology 101: From the Mouths of Babes

In the car, we listen to the kids' favorite album du jour: a collection of worship songs sung by kids.  We've been listening to it over and over (and over and over), so now the kids know most of the words and sing along, announcing which song is which when the music begins playing.  They also ask dozens of questions about what the words mean.

Today Abby asked, "Why do dey say, 'Open duh eyes of my hahrt, Ward, I wahn to see youh?"

I thought for a moment and said, "I think because sometimes it's easier to live our lives when we can see where Jesus is and what he has made and the work he is doing around us.  So they're asking for eyes that can see him everywhere."

"Jesus wohrks in evwee-one," Abby said.

"I know what Jesus's work is," Ben added.  "Do you want to know what Jesus's work is?"

"Yes," I answered, wondering what he would say.

"Jesus's work is to tell us he loves us.  That's the work Jesus does," he explained.

I thought for a second and realized that was as pure and accurate an explanation of God's work in this world as anyone could possibly articulate.

"You're right, Ben.  Jesus is always working to show us he loves us."


Friday, October 1, 2010

Man Does Not Live By Bread Alone

In the group of friends with whom we meet weekly, the men have taken up the craft of bread-making.  It is a serious endeavor with discussion of yeast and starters and stones and technique.  They have books filled with recipes and baking secrets.  They exchange discoveries with each other as they mix their dough and knead their loaves, forming them into perfect, symmetrical shapes.  Several of the men in our group are scientists or engineers or both: all are smart men, strong men, confident men, and this wild frontier of bread, both science and art, calls to them like a siren.

Our group went away to the mountains for the weekend, and by the middle of our first day, the house was filled with the warm, slightly sour aroma of fresh bread: focaccia, oatmeal wheat, sourdough.  As they worked, I looked on in wonder at the dough rising out of its bowl; I peeked at the bread baking in the oven, marveling at the ministry of heat.  Bread-making is a process, a labor of love executed in multiple steps over many hours and days.

Perhaps because the process is so long, so involved, so passionately rendered, the breaking of the bread in our time together becomes sacred, sacramental.  We eat this bread, made by hands in our midst, with wine over conversation of glory and failure and hope and fear.  We taste it fully, savor its richness.  The bread brings us firmly into the present and transforms our time into communion: we sustain our bodies together, and this shared rite allows us to also sustain our spirits: we confess, we speak truth and hope into each other's lives, and we do it all in remembrance of Him.

I used to think people who made their own bread were crazy, but I'm being converted to the fellowship of the real thing.  It takes time, yes, and energy, but it yields so much more than carbohydrates.  Faith, hope, and love; comfort in small miracles; the hard-earned joy of labor and its fruit.  Freshly-baked bread speaks to something in the soul about goodness, unadulterated goodness.  Jesus called himself the bread of life.  He told the disciples to think of him anytime they broke bread together, drank wine together.  We taste the mystery anytime we share a meal, but its significance seems somehow magnified in the simplicity of bread.

In our temporary home in the mountains, I breathed deep the fresh, yeasty smells, and I sensed my spirit rising, my heart growing with quiet gratitude: for the bread, for these friends, and for yet another glimpse of divinity.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Take Me Out to the Ballpark

Around 7:45, sometime in the bottom of the 6th inning, after hot dogs and M&M's and talk about strikes and outs and runs, he says, "I'm tired, Mama."  He climbs into my lap and lays his head against my chest, content to take in the game's sights and sounds from the comfort of my heart.  He is first a child and then an observer of the world.  For now, baseball is secondary to Mommy.

He alternates between snuggling, yielding to his five-year-old circadian rhythms that typically have him deep in dreamland by this time, and looking up and around when the crowd cheers or when the zealous fans around us coach the batters at maximum volume.

I soak in his closeness.  Josh and I exchange smiles.  We are parents: proud, in-love with our family.

Later, he reaches for Josh to hold him during the seventh-inning stretch.  Perched in Daddy's arms, he can see everything.  When the masses begin to sing, his eyes twinkle, and he sings along: "Take me out to the ballgame...".  He forgets a few words, but this momentary lapse is okay--it gives him time to smile, to grin wildly at the joy of it, to feel the way he belongs to this world because he knows the song, can participate in the tradition with the grown people.  Until the fireworks, this brief musical interlude is his favorite part of the night.

I've never had a better time at a ballgame.  

Monday, September 20, 2010

Portrait of a Future Lady as a Young Girl

I had to pull together photos of Abby for her birthday celebration at school—one from her birth and for each birthday thereafter.  With the help of a teacher, she will glue them to a timeline with her own narration of the photos’ events to share with her classmates as she holds a small globe and walks around the “sun”—a small, lit candle—once for each year she celebrates.  There will be three revolutions this year, and for me, each trip represents universes of meaning and love and growth.

There are so many pictures to choose from, and the looking, the remembering, is, in itself, a gift.  Captured by camera, these moments--small, simple, seemingly insignificant moments--bring back the fullness of that time, of the person in that time, and have the power to make me ache with gratitude and wistfulness and satisfaction all at once. 

As an infant, she lies sleeping on a blanket, her small body requiring the support, the structure, of my arms and hands to do anything more; her baby head leans to one side, revealing soft wisps of dark hair; her tiny hands curl into fists as though grasping invisible fingers—perhaps they do. 

As a one-year old, she sits unaided in the fall leaves, rapt, holding one of these papery crackles between two fingers and studying, with a trace of uncertainty, the remnant’s meaning. 

At two, she stands in the knee-high grass and peeks at me through strands of golden hair aglow in the fall sun; her face hints at laughter, at joy; she is radiant.  

At nearly three, she half runs, half skips through the trees, her face a wide, open smile, her long hair bouncing behind her.  She plays, and in the playing, lives.

With every year, with every day, she grows and changes, becomes ever less dependent upon my arms and hands and ever more dependent upon her own.  Her own two feet propel her through a world of wonder, her own fingers grasp at discovery.  Though I am convinced that everywhere her foot falls and her hands search, she encounters traces of an invisible God, she does this now of her own volition with her own spirit at the helm.  I stand by and watch in awe at the mysteries of the universe unfolding before her. 

I feel both nostalgia and anticipation.  As an infant, she felt like a present that would unwrap herself, revealing more and more of who she is with time.  I know three years of her now.  I miss the baby body that fit softly in the security of my arms.  I marvel that her once-baby arms now wrap themselves around me for love rather than dependency. I wait expectantly to see how her grown arms will embrace the wide world.  All in the same breath.
Autonomy is its own miracle, more staggering than even sunshine and fallen leaves, for in giving birth to choice, this self-determination gives birth to the possibility of real love.  And so my nostalgia is tempered by joy in the tenderness she now freely shares.    

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What If--And the Mystery of Family

Somehow over lunch, the topic of fire came up, as in "What would happen if there were a fire?"  We hadn't had a detailed conversation with the kids about the various "what if's," so it was good to talk about what we would do, how we would get out, and how we would keep ourselves safe.  We talked first about the idea of a forest fire and what it would mean to evacuate, taking only the most important things we couldn't replace--Mommy's computer with all our pictures, Teddy and Froggy, Merlot and Jasmine, etc.--and then driving to safety.  With the huge wildfire in Boulder, I've been thinking about this concept a lot recently.  Then we talked about what we would do if there were a fire in our house.  

The kids asked question after question about the possible variations on a scenario, so occasionally Josh or I would bring it back to the main point: "If there's a fire in the house, you need to get out of the house as quickly as possible."  Bottom line: keep yourself safe.  At some point, Ben mentioned grabbing our important things before we got out, and so we quickly clarified that if there's a fire in the house, we just get ourselves out as fast as we can without stopping for anything.  In a house fire, we emphasized, we just get ourselves and, hopefully, Merlot out.  I think I said something like, "But you guys don't need to worry about Merlot.  Your job is to get out of the house right away, and Daddy or I will figure out if we can safely get Merlot."

The tenor of the conversation changed here.  Most concerned, Ben asked, "But what would happen if the fire got Merlot?"

We couldn't avoid the question at this point, so treading carefully, we said, "Well, Merlot would probably die."

And then I watched Ben attempt to control the emotion that flooded his face as he tried bravely to form the words, "Why would she die?"  But he couldn't get past the first word before his lip trembled and his eyes filled with tears and the sadness spilled over onto his cheeks, finishing the sentence in heaving breaths.  In seconds, he was completely overcome with sorrow at the thought of losing his beloved puppy, and Josh and I found ourselves crying, too--though for us, the tears came from deepest empathy for our tender son imagining such a loss.  

Josh immediately grabbed him and held him close, and we both comforted him with assurances that this would probably never happen.  We assured him that once we knew all four of us could get out safely, our next priority would be to get Merlot, too.  And Jasmine.

"But Jasmine's not an outdoor cat," he reminded us, wiping his eyes.

And so the conversation moved into other hypotheticals.  After we finished our lunch, we walked outside all together and pointed out their windows and the best way to get out of each one if they couldn't get down the stairs and out the front door.  And we made plans to go get ladders this afternoon for each of their rooms in case they ever did need to escape out a window.

The conversation was good and necessary on so many levels.  We made our escape plans, determined a meeting place outside the house, and gave the kids clear instruction on how to proceed in case of a fire.  And we navigated new territory that brought gravity to the idea of this emergency that, I think, underscored why we have some of the rules we have and the severity of the consequences when something goes wrong.  But it also touched on bigger issues of ethics and morality and philosophy: the weight of a human life versus an animal life and how to prioritize those lives when resources, such as time, are limited.  Mostly, though, it gave us a glimpse of how important this four-legged friend has grown to our family and especially to Ben, who grieved deeply the mere thought of her loss.

I'll admit, though, I was taken aback by how quickly my own emotion rose to meet Ben's, as immediately and instinctually as a fight or flight response, as though it were my own grief.  In a profound way, Benjamin is an extension of me and Josh, our love combined in one body.  He is bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh.  And so we saw our son's emotion, and it became ours--not in some unhealthy, codependent way, but in Love: in the identification and recognition of our own painful humanity passed down to him.  It's hard to articulate, but today at the lunch table, the layer of reality lurking just below the surface revealed itself through these unanticipated tears.  We are family, and that small truth means so much more than coexisting under the same roof.      

Saturday, September 11, 2010

No Judgement

We just got home from church and tucked the kids in bed.  This is the first time we've attended the actual service (as opposed to helping in the nursery or attending our "home church" which takes place the last Sunday of the month in lieu of the regular service) in months--and months and months.  It is so good to sit and listen to truth.

Tonight, our pastor continued talking about John 8--the second of three sermons.  He's been teaching through the book of John for nearly a year, I think.  And tonight, he spoke of God's judgement, which is actually no judgement, contrary to the popular notion of fiery judgment propagated in most religious circles.  "Neither do I condemn you," says Jesus to the woman caught in adultery after the religious folks dropped the stones they were ready to launch moments before Jesus said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."  He encounters her in her sin--and offers grace.  

In fact, he bears the judgement for her sin--for our sin--on the cross and then offers us Love in its place.  Love becomes the judgement.  So he invites us to surrender our judgement of ourselves in order that we would live in the freedom of his judgement, which is no judgement, which is Love.  Are we willing to receive Love, in spite of what we know of ourselves?

It's crazy.  We spend so much time trying to hide ourselves or make ourselves or create some version of ourselves that can be considered good, and all God asks is that we surrender our efforts and live in the truth of who we are: people who are trapped in self-focus and self-determination and self-awareness and self-consciousness but who are invited to rest in His goodness, to sacrifice the idol we make of ourselves in an attempt to be good, allowing Him to make us good through Jesus, through Love--the way, the truth, and the life.  Actually, love is the ability to forget ourselves for even just a second in order to focus on someone else.  Love is the gift of seeing beyond ourselves--not in some martyr-ish, put-everyone- else's-needs-above-my own kind of way, but in a freeing, I'm-not-so consumed-with-my-own-insecurity- or-shame-or-sense-of-needing-to-prove-myself-that-I'm-incapable-of-living-beyond-my-own-daily-drama.  What a relief to be free of me.

God's invitation is almost the antithesis of what any "good Christian" would tell you.

Stop trying.  Stop striving.  Stop worrying about yourself.  Rest.  Receive my love, and in turn, without even realizing it, you will love, too.  Gospel.

Anyway, God is so much better than I ever thought.  What separates deity from humanity is not that God has some penultimate knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, that allows him to punish appropriately and justly but that God loved us so much, he chose to endure our punishment for us and give us his righteousness.  In effect, he traded judgments with us.  So we are no longer judged.  We are only loved.  And when we receive that, understand that, it changes everything.

That understanding helps me surrender my kids, my efforts at being a good mom, my fears that I am not doing well enough, my sense that I need to always be doing something better, and trust that He who loves and made my kids will be faithful to redeem them, to redeem my messes, and to love them through me far better than I could ever hope to love them on my own.  Somehow.  Through some divine mystery that I can only begin to glimpse.

So I pray for the faith to believe it--and rest.  

Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's Been a While

And I can't say why except that the longer my little blog sits unattended, the harder it is to dive in again.  So here I am, putting something down to at least alleviate the, albeit false, perception of pressure.

I think to some degree I'm dizzy with my newfound freedom.  Both kids are in school now: Ben everyday until 1:15 and Abby three mornings a week.  This time alone without the soundtrack of questions and needs and observations still feels novel, and there's so much I want to squeeze into that time, it's hard to know where to start.

Perhaps more significant is my confusion over what this blog is about, or more precisely, who it's for.  When I began writing a little over a year ago, I wrote what I felt compelled to write.  I wrote about the moments and thoughts and incidents that grabbed my heart, and I wrote it as truly as I could, without regard for what someone on the other side of the screen might think.  What is true about this? I would ask myself--and then sit down to make sense of it in words, the writing and the discovery one in the same.

The fact that others could identify or find encouragement in this space left me giddy, though.  Writing is infinitely more satisfying when shared.  But I realized that satisfaction had to be secondary to the process in order for me to remain honest, or at least as honest as I know how to be in this season.  I knew if I thought too much about who might be reading, I might be tempted to censor or omit ideas or thoughts.  

Lately, though, as I think about trying to "earn some allowance" writing for magazines or other venues, I find myself conflicted.  I have no clips--no official record of my writing as commodity--and so I wonder if I should send editors or folks interested in my work here.  But here, I do not write commercial pieces about how to be a better mom in ten easy steps.  Here I delve into matters of my heart, and my kids' hearts, in light of the Grace I've come to know, and while I certainly have no problem with people reading these thoughts, it's not exactly the kind of subject matter you throw at people in a professional context.

So then I find myself torn--between working towards an allowance, which is probably poor motivation indeed, and sharing my heart.  And then I wonder if there has to be a difference between the two.  Maybe.  Probably.  I don't know.

What I do know is that thinking about the hypothetical editor on the other side of this screen stymies the muse.  Traps me in self-consciousness.  I know for a fact that the times I write best are the times when I can't help but string words into sentences into paragraphs into stories for the love of the process, the craft, and the Meaning that begs me to find it.  

Paradoxically, though, when I'm not worried about an allowance, the thought of someone on the other side of this screen motivates me to continue. Last night, in my confusion and frustration, I shared with friends that I hadn't written here in weeks and wasn't sure how to spend my time--and I asked them to pray.  This afternoon, I received an email from a mom who reads my blog over her brief lunch break on the one day a week she works, and she shared that these words mean something to her.  It's funny--I've actually had several people mention my blog in the last week or so as I've wrestled with what I'm doing and say that they've shared it with someone or mentioned it to a friend.  So I'll take it as a sign.

She, you, gave me the impetus to sit down this afternoon while the kids rest and write something.  This.  Me.  Today.  Unsolved, in process, without the trimmings of lessons learned.  Her words helped me to get over myself, really, and write--in remembrance of who I am and why I'm here and what I love.

Thanks for being patient while I figure it all out.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Power of Contrition

Tonight before dinner, while they were supposed to be washing their hands, the kids squirted hand soap in the toilet.

Why?  I'm sure I couldn't tell you.  I'm sure they couldn't either.  I'll chalk it up to the irresistible call of science.  What would happen if...

Our toilet seems no worse for the soapy wear.  My tired body and frazzled nerves were, though.  It wasn't so much this particular incident as the series of thoughtless acts that have littered our last few days--each insignificant in itself yet culminating in a roar of frustration.  Arghhhhh!  Enough already.

We talked about their decisions over the last few days at bedtime in lieu of reading books.  Not in the "mommy's-really-angry-and-lecturing-in-a crisp-cool-voice" but in a "mommy's-really-weary-and-wondering-why-we-can't-just-make-life-easier-for each-other" kind of way.  I laid out my feelings, we prayed as we do every night, and after we said, "Amen," Ben seemed to get it, expressing genuine repentance a few times: "I feel sad about my decisions, Mommy...I'm wondering why I did that, like Pickles the Cat...I'm sorry for making you feel that way."  (Pickles the Fire Cat, in the book of the same name, begins his life chasing small cats from his yard, but when he becomes the fire cat and learns to help, he feels remorseful for his previous behavior, wondering why he treated others so poorly.)  

Ben's contrite spirit is everything on a day when I've wondered if anything I'm doing as a mommy is effective.  And it makes me wonder about parenting.  In the end, it seems the most effective parenting moments I have are based on relationship.  Mommy is a person.  Ben is a person.  Abby is a person.  We all have to get along in this house and in this world.  How can we best do that?  

I'm sure childishness will strike again, but hearing even just one sincere apology renews my patience one hundred-fold.  I apologized tonight, too, for lacking patience and for channeling my frustration into my voice.  We all confessed.  Then we all forgave each other.  And we all went to bed at peace with each other.

Confession.  Forgiveness.  They are oft-neglected but powerful antidotes to all that is ugly within us.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bad Guys

"But Mommy, why don't they want people driving on their road?" Ben asked as we turned the car away from the street with the "No Trespassing" sign.

"Well, maybe they want to make sure no one drives up there who might want to cause trouble," I suggest, not entirely sure why the "No Trespassing" sign would be necessary on a road so far from civilization.

"But Mommy, a bad guy could still just drive up there," Ben reasons, the boy who always looks for the way around the obstacle.  Someday he'll win a chess tournament.  Or cure cancer.

"Yes, a bad guy could just drive up there, but probably there aren't too many bad guys around who want to drive up there.  Probably there are just people like us who are hoping to get a closer view of the buffalo," I reason back.

"But what if a bad guy just drove up there?"he presses.

"Well, then the people who live there would probably call the police, and the police would come protect them,"I say.

"Do the police have ropes to tie him up?" he asks.

"No, but they have handcuffs," I say.

"Would they use their guns to shoot the bad guy?" Ben asks.

"Not unless they feel someone is in danger.  The best police officers are the ones who hope they never have to use their gun," I say, my stomach turning over at the thought of guns and violence and destruction, even in defense of the innocent.

It's a new phenomenon, this stomach-turning response to pain in the world, whether "deserved" or not--a product of motherhood and the unsettling realization that all bad guys are people; that all villains came from someone, somewhere; that there are always miles leading to a particular outcome.

In the car a few days earlier, I listened to a segment on NPR about how the children of Iraq are faring the war.  Early in the piece, a young boy is interviewed about the death of his parents: he says his mother was kidnapped one day when she went out for a walk.  He overheard the call his father received, asking whether the family was Sunni or Shiite, then threatening to "blow her up with the other Shiites." They did just that, strapping a vest of explosives to her body and detonating her life.  The boy's father cried so hard at the news, his asthma was triggered--and even after being taken to the hospital, he died, leaving the boy without parents.  Later in the piece, Dr. Haidar Al-Maliki, a child psychiatrist at the Central Hospital for Children in Iraq, describes his observations from working with orphans and traumatized children.  These children, he says, have grown accustomed to violence, many of whom witnessed their parents or others close to them killed in cruel and gruesome ways.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is common among children like this.  Her fears that when this generation grows up, the country will be full of traumatized adults who will turn to violence themselves.  He ended the interview with a prophecy: "I've said it before and I'll say it again, we killed one Saddam, but we've created a million Saddams."

Mileage.  Trauma.  Bad guys.  Who is the bad guy?  This world view of motherhood does not happily coexist in a culture that exults "survival of the fittest" and "kill or be killed" as its modus operandi.  And it's certainly not easily explained to a five-year-old fascinated with guns, bad guys, superheroes, and self-defense.  I remind myself that his world view is black and white, that it's supposed to be at his age.  But internally, I wrestle, wondering how to raise a child who values both justice and mercy, who knows right from wrong but does not judge, who Loves.

From the backseat, I hear, "But Jesus loves bad guys.  If I caught a bad guy, I would treat him respectfully because that helps him learn how to treat people."

My breath catches.  I hear Love.

"Yes, Baby, Jesus does love bad guys, and you're right: we teach people how to treat us by the way we treat them."  This revision of the golden rule has become a mantra in our household as the kids navigate the territory of sibling-hood and friendship and bump up against selfishness, their own and each other's.  We've also talked often about how Jesus loves good guys and bad guys--and thank goodness, because the line between the two is so thin sometimes.  Jesus draws no distinction between hate and murder.  But even as I marvel at the truth that is rooting itself in Ben's soul, I wonder about the practicality of such a "philosophy," worrying he might neglect to defend himself if faced with someone who wishes him harm.  And then I think of Jesus again and wonder where this model of self-defense came from.  Certainly not from the cross.  I drive, perplexed--yet grateful for a God who is far better than any authority I know on this earth.

I can't remember how the conversation ended.  We arrived at the pizza restaurant, and the kids dissolved into tears over who would get the drawing board at the table.  Abby had an accident in her chair while I was at the salad bar trying unsuccessfully to quiet her repeated, insistent requests for cheese pizza from across the restaurant.  When finally I had both kids at the table, happy, dry, and with food, I managed to eat a few bites before Ben said, "Mommy, I need to go potty."  And so, weary, I got up and walked him to the bathroom, trying not to feel frustrated at nature's call.

"Mommy, I love you.  I love you more than I love myself," Ben said from the stall.

The bathroom trip was redeemed.

"Oh, Sunshine, that means you love me like Jesus," I said.  "And I love you, too."

Redemption is everywhere.  In the bathroom of the pizza restaurant after a harried half hour.  In Iraq.  In the hearts of good guys and bad guys, however the distinction is drawn.  It is a hope I cling to in a world ravaged by brokenness and "bad guys."  All things are being made new.  That's a "philosophy" I can believe in.  


Friday, August 13, 2010

Car Seat Tale

From the backseat as we drove home from the rec center this sunny afternoon:

Ben: "Abigail Grace Taylor, I would love to play with you."
Abby: "Benjowmin Davih Taywor, I wouh yuv to pay wif you."

Sacred sibling vows--all sincerity and sweetness.


Monday, August 2, 2010

(Un)Sleeping Beauty

The kids grow more and more amazing (and stupefying) by the day.  We took them camping over the weekend, our first attempt since our camping trip two summers ago was cut short by freezing temperatures, and it was a success.  The kids loved the tent, the sleeping bags, the campfire, and the novelty of living outdoors.  They ran around the site finding sticks and playing games in the tent and asking questions.  The day was so full, Abby asked to go to bed before we'd even had dinner and s'mores.  Her eyes drooped, and she gladly put on her fuzzy winter pajamas so I could tuck her into her sleeping bag.  She said she didn't even want to read books or sing--she was too tired.  So I kissed her and left the tent to return to the activity outside.

In spite of her exhaustion, however, Abby talked and sang and jabbered for nearly an hour.  She finally grew quiet as we settled in to roast our marshmallows, and we relaxed in the knowledge our baby was sleeping.  Not twenty minutes later, though, we heard a loud, panicked cry, and Josh ran to the tent to see what woke her.  We heard him ask, "Abby, what happened?" in a voice that triggered my worry, and then he stepped out of the tent with Abby in his arms where we saw her right eye completely blackened.

Half a dozen possibilities came to mind.  I didn't see blood but didn't know if it was there and just covered in dirt.  Had she found some ash?  Had she found a pen?  Was there something in her sleeping bag?  Nothing made sense--until I entered the tent and found my makeup bag out and its contents strewn all over the tent.  As I picked up blush and lip gloss, I heard Abby say "mascara" as she explained what had happened, and I looked down to find the mascara wand and the tube on the tent floor.  Then I noticed black mascara on the floor, the side of the tent, and the air mattress.  Abby's quiet had not been due to sleep but rather due to her focused exploration of Mama's things.

The pieces came together, and we couldn't help but chuckle.  Here we are in the mountains having rustic adventures, and Abby is playing beauty parlor in the tent when she should be sleeping.  It was too funny, and too cute.  We cleaned her up with my face wipes--a time-consuming endeavor.  Her attempts to apply mascara to her own eyelashes resulted in black gook covering the top and bottom of her eye, the top of her cheek, and some of her nose.  Her hands had black streaks, and I think this must have prompted her cry: seeing her hand covered in a mess she couldn't fix.

We wiped her off gently, intermittently crooning consolation and hiding our giggles.  As we returned her to her natural skin color, she asked, "Mama, how do you get it on your eye?"  I explained my technique and then said, "Abby, I'll teach you how to put mascara on in about ten years, okay?"  She seemed to accept this timeline and also indicated she wouldn't be playing with my makeup in the meantime.  We'll see if the trauma of her black eye is enough to deter further experimentation.

They're learning the world--at times too slowly for my liking, at times sooner than is appropriate.  Josh and I step in to navigate, encouraging them along or slowing them down, equipping them to face greater responsibility and freedom in some areas while reserving other privileges for later.  But in the midst of this swirling sea of life stand two little people who love us like we hung the sun, moon, and stars.  

When I pulled into the garage tonight after teaching my spin class, I saw the door from the house open so Abby could peer out.  She beamed--a huge, sincere smile--as she stood there in her little pink pajamas, her tan legs bouncing and tick-tocking and swinging in perpetual motion.  I waved at her, and she rolled her wrist in circles, her best attempt at an enthusiastic wave.  She waited for me to get out of the car: half big girl, half baby, all charm and cuteness.  And I couldn't help but freeze the moment in my mind to remember when she's applying her own mascara someday.  These are precious days.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Happiest Birthday

Some days in parenting are just magical.  The air is clear of conflict, the kids’ spirits shine brightly, and the atmosphere hums with joy.  Ben’s birthday was one of those days—the excitement over his graduation from four-year-old to five-year-old was practically palpable.  Even Abby, whose own birthday is still months away, resonated with anticipation.  In fact, her sincere and heartfelt celebration of Ben throughout the day made this birthday the best yet.

Josh and I woke to Abby’s voice that morning sometime after 7:00.  From her crib, she called loudly to Ben through their shared bathroom door, “Ben, Ih’m soh happy ihs your birfday today!  Ben, Ih’m soh happy you were bohrn today!”  Ben, king of accuracy and precision, clarified with the patience of a wise, old sage, “No, Abby, I wasn’t born today!” but clearly enjoyed her excitement.  Abby, undeterred by his correction, shifted into a rousing version of “Happy Birthday,” her exuberant two-year-old voice leaving Josh and I in silent giggles next door. 

These are the moments parents dream of, the exchanges that sometimes feel like the stuff of parental fairy tales--until we wake one morning to find the fantasy has, in fact, invaded reality, that Love does exist on earth as it does in heaven.

The day continued as sweetly as it began.  Over lunch at the kids’ favorite pizza restaurant, Ben leaned over and kissed my head, saying, “Thank you that it’s my birthday.” Josh and I could only smile at each other.  It felt like we spent the whole day enjoying our children’s purest selves and glancing at each other in delight.

The highlight of the day, however, was taking Ben to see his first movie in a movie theater: Toy Story 3.  I had previewed it a few weeks ago and decided it would be appropriate for Ben, who we knew would love the story and characters and play and with whom we could discuss the darker characters and themes.  Abby, though disappointed she couldn’t join us, seemed to understand why she was staying home with a sitter to take her nap.  And so the three of us drove to the theater, bought our tickets, bought a box of candy of Ben’s choosing, and settled into our seats with our 3-D glasses in place. 

When the movie began, he sat on the edge of his seat, attending to every detail with absolute focus and concentration.  He laughed out loud in the funny spots; he whispered questions (“What does ‘selfish’ mean?”); occasionally, he reacted in his normal voice (“Is that the real Buzz Lightyear, the one with the real laser?!”), which we figured added to the authentic viewing experience of the grown-ups around us.  And when it was over, he asked, “Can we watch it again?”, his love of the experience clear.  As we walked back to the car, he said, “Buzz Lightyear is my favorite superhero ever, and he’s always going to be my favorite no matter what, even when I die and am under the ground and not alive anymore.  He’ll always be my very favorite.” 

He’s there, he’s arrived at boyhood—a lover of stories and adventures and daring rescues and bad guys brought to justice or demise, with enough understanding of the world to appreciate conflict and plot but with enough naivete, still, to adore a superhero, to believe in an unstoppable force of good and strength capable of vanquishing any evil.  Five-years-old ushers us out of preschool days and into the era of true boyhood.  And this new age sparkles with wonder.

Ben wanted to keep his 3-D glasses rather than recycle them and asked to take one of our pairs home for Abby.  He gave them to her as soon as we got home.  And though, by the end of the night after dinner and cake, both kids had reached the edge of their self-control, Ben still offered to let Abby open one of his presents as he had promised earlier in the week, “because I love her.”  

It was a magical day, full of everything good and right and true: love, gratitude, selflessness, innocence, joy, and enchantment.  Not everyday is like this. But this day existed, without contrivance or reminders or promptings or any other intervention. 

And I'm pretty sure I'll remember it for a long, long time.       

Monday, July 19, 2010

Don't Freak Out

...but I'm going to share the most important information I just learned about keeping our children safe from sexual abuse.

***Because the statistics show that a third of women and fifteen percent of men are survivors of sexual abuse, it is possible that some of you reading this blog are survivors. I want to acknowledge that though this material is sensitive, there is information here you can use to keep your own children safe.***

(For more information, please visit Feather Berkower's website:  There you'll find statistics, resources, articles, and information on upcoming workshops.  She also coauthored a book that will be published in the next few months: Off Limits: A Parent's Guide to Keeping Children Safe from Sexual Abuse).

In high school, I learned that sexual abuse happened to people I know.  In college, I became aware that it was not a rare exception but an alarmingly prevalent issue for countless children.  Ten years later, I look around my life and find it hard to know off the top of my head which list would be longer: that of friends who escaped childhood unaffected by sexual abuse or that of survivors I know.  Child sexual abuse is real.  It happens every day to kids all around us.  And it is not selective: socioeconomics, degrees, Pottery Barn homes, and loving parents do not make a child immune.

Yesterday, however, I learned information and skills that will increase the odds that my children will reach their eighteenth birthday without experiencing it.  And I feel compelled to share this resource and just a few of the things we took away yesterday with anyone who will listen in hopes that more children will become "off limits" to sexual offenders.

After two years of missing this parenting workshop due to scheduling conflicts, I finally had the opportunity to attend Feather Berkower's "Parenting Safe Children" class on Saturday, a workshop designed to educate and empower parents--and other adults or caregivers--to keep kids safe from sexual abuse.  I'd heard amazing reviews about Feather's presentation from everyone who had attended previously, and I knew I needed to invest this time for the sake of my kids.

This is not your average parenting workshop.  Feather addressed with tact and empathy and poise and clear, thorough information an issue many people are afraid to even acknowledge.  Though the content, by nature, is difficult and, at times, uncomfortable, Feather managed to lead us through our time together without leaving us queasy or paranoid.  Rather, Josh and I left confident, feeling empowered that we had the information and skills we need both to empower our kids and also to "filter" the people and places in their lives to give them the best possible opportunity to be safe, to become "off limits" to sexual offenders.

The statistics around child sexual abuse are staggering--I'll share just a few of many. From her thorough presentation we learned:

*1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys are sexually abused by the time they're 18
*40-50% of offenders are juveniles (this includes teenagers as well as young children sexually offending other children)
*of adult offenders, 95% are married men with children
*by an overwhelming percentage (80-95%, depending on the study), most offenders are known to children: offenders are relatives, neighbors, family friends, babysitters, coaches, etc.
*these statistics are based on incidents that are reported: imagine how many more go unreported...

Though most child sexual abuse is committed by males, the stereotype of the dirty old man lurking in the playground bushes is a far cry from reality.  It is far more likely that our children will encounter offenders on a play date or at school or in their very own homes in the form of friends or loved ones.  Remarkably, Feather described the types of individuals likely to offend with compassion, many of whom learned their behaviors when they themselves were abused (it should be stated clearly, though, that not all who offend were abused and not all who are abused go on to offend).  Still, the familiarity of most offenders is what makes this problem so insidious.

But we are not powerless against it.  Feather reminded us several times that we can equip our children to make them significantly less vulnerable to abusers.

After leading us through the statistics around the incidence of child sexual abuse and the characteristics of abusers, she outlined the qualities of children who are vulnerable.  She described the "grooming" process most offenders use to gain the trust of children and their parents so that we could recognize warning signs or red flags, and she described the qualities of safe kids and safe homes.  Did you know that one quality that makes a child more vulnerable to sexual abuse is not knowing the anatomically correct terms of their "private parts"?  We've chosen to teach our kids the names of all their body parts, but I'd occasionally had nightmares that they would blurt these terms out in the middle of the grocery store or school or a dinner party, embarrassing all of us.  Now, I realize that this knowledge, whether it leaks out in public or not, is a gift and may even communicate to the ill-intentioned around us, "I'm off limits.  Someone's talking to me about things that matter."

Feather also discussed helpful and unhelpful responses we could provide to our children should they ever disclose that they have experienced abuse.  In this case, calm, loving reassurance is key: "Thank you so much for telling me.  I love you no matter what.  This isn't your fault.  I'll do whatever I can to keep you safe and get help."  In fact, the mantra of the afternoon, whatever the situation, seemed to be, "Thank you so much for telling me.  Let's talk about it" or "Thank you for asking--that's a great question.  Let's talk about it."  Though the thought of facing this situation has always terrified me--creates a pit in my stomach that just aches when I think about it--I now feel  better prepared to handle it in a way that would allow the healing process to begin right there and hopefully not exacerbate an already difficult situation.

In giving us tools to protect our children, Feather gave us tools to be better parents in general.  She encouraged us to really listen to our kids, to hear beyond the words they use to what they might be trying to communicate, to ask questions that invite discussion and to respond in ways that show our children we are available to talk about whatever they may be processing in their worlds.  She gave us permission to be truly honest with our kids--at age appropriate levels--when asked difficult questions about sexuality, our bodies, and other topics we may be tempted to put off until later.  And she gave us principles, "Body-Safety Rules," that we could take home and begin using with our kids immediately.

We had our first conversation with Ben about "body safety" that night at dinner (Abby had gone to bed early, but we will share with her as the opportunities arise).  We shared with Ben where we had been and told him we had learned some important things about keeping him and Abby safe.  Over the course of dinner, we reinforced concepts he already knew ("You are the boss of your body," "You are allowed to have privacy when using the bathroom or getting dressed"), clarified rules we've implied or assumed he knew by talking about them openly ("No one is allowed to touch your private parts unless they are helping you get clean or unless your private parts are sick or hurt and a doctor needs to help them," "You are not allowed to touch anyone else's private parts," "You have our permission to say 'No' and disobey if a grown up ever breaks a body safety rule"), changed some rules in order to make our home safer ("We don't have any secrets in our family, ever.  We may have surprises like birthday gifts or special events, but if anyone ever tells you not to tell Mommy or Daddy something, then you need to tell us right away.  There shouldn't be anything you can't tell us"), and assured him as much as we could in one setting that we will always love him no matter what, that he will never get in trouble for telling us something related to body-safety rules, and that he can talk to us about anything.

Ben, our rules- and boundary-lover, embraced these new tenets.  "If someone ever tells me not to tell you something, I'll say, 'No, we don't have secrets in our family,'" he told me.  We began playing "What if" games as we got ready for bed.

"What if a babysitter tells you you can stay up and watch a movie way past your bedtime but only if you don't tell Mommy and Daddy?" I'd ask.

"I'd say, 'No, I can't do that,' or I'll say, 'Okay,' but then tell you the next day," Ben said.

I don't harbor illusions that he is now immune to the grooming ploys of an offender, but if we continue to have these kinds of conversations; if we continue to talk openly about our bodies and these body-safety rules; if we take advantage of the "teachable moments" in a day related to privacy, secrets, and body safety; if we foster closeness and provide plenty of attention and affection within our family--I am hopeful that if a situation arises--and I pray it doesn't--but if it does, our kids will have a gut reaction that tells them something isn't right and will feel empowered and entitled to say no, to communicate overtly or perhaps even unknowingly that they are "off limits."

I highly recommend Feather's workshop.  There was so much more information than I could possibly include here.  If you are local, I will be hosting one of her workshops sometime in the next few months for neighbors and friends and would love for you to join us.  If you do not have the opportunity to attend, you can find more information and resources at her website or you can order her book, which we will be adding to our collection of parenting materials as soon as it's out.

We spend so much time teaching our children about safety: to stay away from hot stoves, to wear helmets when riding bikes, to wash their hands before eating, to be aware of "stranger danger."  But the body-safety principles we learned yesterday may be the most valuable "safety"instruction we ever provide them.  At one point, Feather asked, "What if every parent, every adult engaged in a child's life, had access to this information?"  It's a fascinating question.  Could we virtually eliminate child sexual abuse?  Even if we didn't eliminate it, how many more children could be protected?

It's a worthy goal.  Will you join me?

(To find sources for this information, please visit Feather Berkower's website:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Today is hiking narrow trails through tall grass,
holding little hands and kissing scraped knees.
Today is wildflowers of purple and yellow,
 inviting small voices to say,
"Look at this, Mama!  Do you see this one?"
Today is hot sun and quiet shade,
chuckling creek and hushing pines.

Today is growing boy wielding sticks,
protector-child fending off invisible bears.
Today is little sister following brother's footsteps,
scaling slopes too steep with resolve to keep up.
Today is puppy legs climbing hills,
bounding ahead and coming back.
Today is muscle and exuberance,
finding strength and receiving joy.

Today is fresh air and a mother's brand of tranquility:
small bodies, big smiles, excited voices, and time to stop or go
or breathe deep or look around,
all around.
Today is nowhere to be and no one to see.  

Today is summer.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Small Town Story

Da Kind Soups here in Evergreen is small town business at its best.  Sample any of their two hundred homemade soups and you'll know: they're here to provide excellent food to the community they live in and love.  In their first year, Denver's premier magazine, 5280, named them "Top of the Town" in Soup, an accolade not easily won but clearly deserved.

Their menu is simple: each day, they offer ten of their homemade soups alongside five sandwich choices.  Dustin and Ariane Speck, the owners and chefs, are warm and welcoming, greeting their customers by name and providing limitless samples of the day's soups to aid the impossible decision.  They are careful to offer soup options that are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or dairy free for those patrons on restricted diets, though taste never suffers from the omission.  In the spirit of small town warmth, they celebrate the store's anniversary by giving away their soup and bread for free all day.

Above all, they value their customers.  They once forgot to give me a sandwich in my to-go order, and  when I returned the next week for another meal, they gave me the entire meal for free: soup and sandwiches for three on the house to make up for an innocent (and rare) mistake.  I hadn't said a word about the missing sandwich.

Though I was never a soup person before, I've converted.  The kids and I frequent Da Kind almost weekly.  It has heart and soul, ingredients missing from many enterprises these days, even other places in Evergreen.  They operate by their motto, "Live a kind life."

This is a place you crave for the flavor but return to for the community.

It was crushing, then, to learn that Dustin, who creates every recipe and makes every batch of soup himself, suffered from subarachnoid hemorrhaging (bleeding on the brain) a few weeks ago.  Beyond the  chef at the store, he is the father to the couple's two elementary-age boys.  I looked up the term on-line and found the statistics grim: in half of cases, the bleeding results in death.  Of the half who survive, many suffer significant loss in physical or cognitive facility.  When I heard the news, he was still in ICU and though his prognosis looked good, things were still touch and go.  Risks of additional bleeding or other complications kept him under the close eye of doctors and staff.  My heart was heavy--for him, for his family, for the store, for the town.  They are at the heart of Evergreen.  Their loss is everyone's loss.

The shop closed for a few days around the event, but then reopened with a message on their billboard announcing, "Soup man's down but spirits are high."  The shop's employees, who are loyal to the shop and its customers, worked hard to carry the extra burden of work while Dustin remained in ICU and Ariane attempted to take care of him and her boys and the store's responsibilities.  The billboard was updated occasionally with messages indicating Dustin was doing well or offering gratitude for people's support.

When I went in yesterday to get dinner, I'll admit it was as much to find out how he was doing as to bring home a tasty meal.  Before I could ask, Ariane, who seemed to have stopped in briefly but been roped in to help with the dinner rush, told me Dustin is coming home today.  More remarkably, he returns home without a single deficit.  There will be no physical therapy, no occupational therapy.  He has no memory loss, no mental compromise.  He comes home as healthy as he last left.  It is the very best news.

They'll have to keep his activity-level low for a while as his body continues to heal and recover, but it sounds like he'll be back behind the counter, every bit himself, in time.  I left overjoyed for them, for their family, for the store, and for our town.

In two short years, they have become fixtures here.  We feel that we know them, that they know us--to the extent that it's possible over the exchange of warm soup and a smile.  We have come to depend on them not only to feed our bodies but to feed our souls in their simple, kind way.  By all accounts, they have experienced a miracle.  And their miracle is everyone's miracle.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sunday Morning Reverie

You get up with the sun on a Sunday morning. Normally, you'd put on something nice for church. Instead, you get dressed in bike shorts and a jersey with pockets on the back.  You pack up your things and load into the car with a few friends to drive to the start.  You eat breakfast, wondering if this food will provide enough fuel for the day ahead.  You fill your water bottles.  You rub in your sunscreen.  You fasten your helmet, adjust your sunglasses, secure your iPod, and check your bike.  Then you clip in.  And you ride.

Your muscles feel tight from the day before.  You wonder how long it will take your body to warm up and find its rhythm.  You smile at the volunteers on the corner cheering you along the course and pointing out turns.  You thank the officers directing traffic at the busier intersections.  You make note of every sensation in your body, wondering if it is a temporary ache or an all-day companion.  You see other cyclists.  You pass some.  Some pass you.  You read the jerseys of the folks near you and wonder where the teams come from, who started them, how they got their names.  You think how nice it would be if the seventy-five miles you rode the day before were it.

You reach the end of town and see the long line of cyclists stretched out before you like ants, ascending the mountain.  You grab a drink.  You shift once, pedal.  Shift again, pedal.  You shift, shift, shift until there's nothing left to do but grind.  You hear your breathing become shallower, faster.  You find a rhythm for your pedals and hang onto it, pushing one, then the other, and again.  You pass some.  Some pass you.  You feel strong.  You wonder how to become stronger.  You hear a man thirty years your senior say, "Do it for Dannette," as he passes, having read the tag on your back that says, "Riding for:".  And you think, It is a gift to push my body like this.  You feel grateful for this second seventy-five miles.

You feel the morning sun, already high, blazing on your shoulders.  You watch the city stretch out behind you, the mountains before you.  You wipe the sweat from your lip.  You inhale.  You exhale.  You push one leg, then the other.  You near the top and you hear someone say, "It's a beautiful morning," and you think, Yes, it's glorious.

You enter the cool shadow of the mountain as you pick up speed on the back side.  You shift, shift, shift, pedaling, and then you coast.  You grip the handlebars tightly, searching the road for any tiny rock or seam or crack that would take your velocity and redirect it skyward--and then ground you.  You get a chill from the wind as you reach the bottom.  You appreciate it, knowing it won't last long.

You round the bend and shift once, pedal.  Shift again, pedal.  Shift, shift, shift until there's nothing left to do but grind.  You settle in again for another climb.  You move your hands down into the drops of your handelbars.  You bend closer to your legs, willing them to work harder.  You find your rhythm: push, push, push, push.  You feel your lungs begin to fill.  You feel your lungs empty.  You wish you could breathe deeper, wish you could satisfy their demands for oxygen.  You inhale again.  You exhale.  You pass some riders.  Some pass you.  You grab a sip of water.  You feel strong.  You wish you were stronger.

You near the top and see a young woman walking her bike the rest of the way to the top.  You notice her gait is uneven.  You look more closely and see that her right leg is prosthetic.  You glance up and notice her jersey: "I ride with MS."  You inhale.  You feel more reverence and respect for her than you can hold.  You exhale.  You think, It is miraculous what the human spirit can overcome.  You breathe. You pedal.  You swell with gratitude for the blessing of your own health.  You wish you could do more than just ride a bike.  You wonder how much closer this ride moves the world toward a cure.

You reach the top and grab your water bottle.  You drink long.  You shift, shift, shift, pedal.  Shift, shift, shift some more until your speed exceeds your ability to pedal in your highest gear.  You begin to coast.  You straighten one leg on your pedal and bend over the bars, lifting yourself slightly from the seat.  You enjoy the momentary relief.  You watch the road carefully as your speed increases.  You see the rest stop ahead, full of bikes and riders and volunteers.  You see hundreds.  You know there are thousands.  You think, This is better than church.  You revise your thought: This is church.

No stained glass.  No pastors.  No sermons.  Just three thousand people riding their bikes.  In love.

You pull your brake handle toward you.  You slow down.  You unclip your right foot from the pedal and continue braking.  You guide your bike into a gap in the crowd.  You hear someone singing show tunes.  You stop, put your foot down.  You unclip your other foot and get off.  You set your bike in the gravel and grab your empty water bottle.  You head toward the line of people waiting for the port-a-potties.

And you think, There is much good in the world.
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