Monday, April 26, 2010

What I Learned This Afternoon...

That when your friend offers to drive you to pick up a car you've left somewhere else, it's most efficient to remember the key the first time.

That when your daughter says her tummy hurts, it's best not to give her red juice, for this makes cleaning the carpet after she throws up infinitely more challenging.

That a little boy can minister to one's soul far more profoundly than any pastor, musician, or artist could ever aspire to.

That love does, indeed, conquer all.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Home Again

We’re headed home now—a bit more tan than before, a lot more relaxed.  The kids eyes are heavy with the happy exhaustion of hours spent splashing in the pool and combing the beach for crabs and seashells.  I spent the first half of the plane ride downloading and labeling the five hundred photos I took and thinking about how to organize them into an album.  It was a good trip, a sweet week marked by far more giggles and smiles and games and adventures than meltdowns.

Coming home is always bittersweet.  It’s hard to leave paradise and unlimited time together and family we only get to see every few months (not to mention amazing food and gorgeous vistas and the sound of the ocean ‘round the clock).  A few days ago, Ben asked why we can’t live in Mexico--a good question indicative of the fun we’ve all had.  We agreed that it would be nice to stay before reminding him of our responsibilities to work and school and friends and home. 

“And we have to take care of Merlot,” he added seriously. 

As much as we’ve enjoyed our vacation, though, there’s comfort in returning to our own space and routines and daily life.  The night before we came home, Ben, who’s been staying up well past eight every night in order to enjoy time with his older cousin, asked when he could start going to bed at seven again.  Both kids are ready to get home for their weekend treat of chocolate milk.  And we’re all excited to see Merlot again, who has probably grown another ten pounds since we left.  Vacation is wonderful, but it’s also nice to know we’re returning to a place we love.  To the familiar and comfortable.  To responsibility and productivity.  Even if, at times, it feels crazy. 

It’s the break in routine that makes vacation so enjoyable—and helps us appreciate home, too.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Family. Vacation.

My eyes burn.  Sting with the blur of over-exposure.  Sun, so much glorious sun.  Shining off the aquamarine sea.  Reflecting from the white surface of our boat.  Twinkling back from Ben's eyes.  "My favorite part," he said as he watched the water splash in great, white droplets off the boat's sides, "is seeing the boat make waves in the water."  His face unintentionally communicated his genuine delight with that smile--the one that barely turns the corners of his mouth up in amusement and focus and sheer joy.

We saw dolphins today.  Three of them arching and slinking through the waves in magical synchrony.  And manta rays.  Dozens of manta rays flapping their triangle fins through the water and then under our boat and, further off, leaping out of the water in a frenzy of bird-imitation.  We watched fish swarm our tidbits of bread and exclaimed at the blue-footed boobies perching on the rocks above our boat.

On the way back to the marina, I held a sleepy but contented Abby on my lap--her lax body wrapped in a warm yellow towel in my arms, her eyes open just enough to not miss anything.

The opposite of craziness and over-commitment is vacation, and we're enjoying every minute we have to play with the kids and catch up with Josh's family and observe the birds eating the papaya in the surrounding trees and note the changing intensity of the waves beating the shore just below our villa.

The kids adore their cousins and the ability to spend most of the day in their bathing suits.  We grown-ups adore the pool-time and the casual conversation accompanied by fresh guacamole and salsa and margaritas and Grandma's limitless capacity for games of Go Fish with the grandkids.  And we all enjoy the break in routine and the time to simply exist, together.

Family vacation is a gift of time and of sharing each other and of walking a few days of the journey together.

Thanks, Grandpa & Grandma.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing

The craziness creeped up on us.  We agreed to this.  Signed up for that.  Accepted new responsibility here.  Stepped up our commitment there.  We made a few small changes over many months, but the cumulative effect is significant.  Suddenly, I can no longer remember all our commitments in my brain (I know there are folks for whom this is always the case, but generally I can keep track with amazing accuracy).  Currently, the number of evenings we're committed in a week doubles the number we have free.  Now, I require a calendar that can come with me wherever I go rather than being able to rely on the weekly one I keep on the fridge.  "I need to check my calendar," I say.  And I do.

Because between the kids' activities and the pup's vet appointments and kindergarten classes and training sessions and teaching spin and volunteering at school and keeping up with certifications in the fire department and helping out in myriad roles at church and the dozens of meetings each good thing requires in the process, we're suddenly swamped.   They're all good and we enjoy them all individually, but it has become glaringly clear that we are now over-committed: that seemingly innocent yet frantic place that makes us scratch our heads and wonder how--and more importantly, why--we allowed it to happen.

Part of it is the season, the countdown-to-summer-freedom that causes most organizations to go into end-of-school-year-squeeze-it-all-in activity and event mode.  But regardless, something's gotta give. Soon.

The question is what?  And when?  And how?

I suppose it's time to re-evaluate our priorities and hopes and dreams for our family to determine which commitments bring us closer to each other and to those things that are most important and which commitments are simply distractions.  This is not to say that any of them are unimportant.  But in a world that offers so much opportunity to serve and learn and play and build relationship, a discerning eye matched by a resolve to engage in a few things fully rather than in a smorgasbord shallowly is nearly as important to one's quality of life as education, resources, and time.

We've actually guarded our family's time quite effectively for several years.  When the kids were babies, in fact, I would have enjoyed a little more involvement in life beyond the domestic front.  But now that the kids are older and more adaptable, we've gotten carried away in our newfound freedom.  This isn't a new plight.  We've been here before and watched lots of others struggle, too.  However, we know better than to keep grinding away complacently.  It's time to make a change.  

Big decisions forthcoming...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Heard 'Round Here Lately

Benjamin: "Jeeps can drive off-road."
Mommy: "You're right: they can drive off-road."
Benjamin: "When are we going to get a Jeep?"
Mommy: "I don't know if we will.  We've never been off-roading, though it sounds fun."
Benjamin: "Well, when I grow up I'm going to buy a Jeep.  And then you and Daddy will have to get two more kids because we won't be your kids anymore."
Mommy: "Well, you'll always be our kids, even when you're grown up.  But do you think someday I could go for a ride with you in your Jeep?"
Benjamin: (Big Smile). "Yeah, and you can bring Daddy and Abby, too.  Then you can get a little car like the [Corvette] we saw yesterday because you won't need a row for our car seats.  But you won't be able to drive that to the airport because the luggage wouldn't fit.  You could probably take the silver car instead."


Abigail: "I yike my fower barrettes thah I goht fuhr Eee-stir."
Mommy: "I'm so glad! Why do you like them?"
Abigail: "Be-cohs they're so, so pink."


Benjamin: "The sun is like a towel for the snow."


Abigail: "Mommy, I very yuhv Mehr-yoh."  


(Before his haircut at the new barber shop yesterday where he's been once before)

Benjamin: "Mommy, why doesn't Ms. Carolyn talk very much when she's cutting my hair?"
Mommy: "I don't know, Sugar.  Some people like to be quiet, but you could always ask her questions if you want to talk."

(After haircut)

Mommy: "I see what you mean about Ms. Carolyn not talking very much.  Which do you prefer: having your hair cut by someone who asks a lot of questions or having it cut by someone who's quiet?"
Benjamin: "I like people who ask a lot of questions, like Mr. Irv."


Abigail to Merlot upon sitting (sounding most Italian): "Whaht uh guh-duh gihhhhrl!"

Monday, April 5, 2010

Go, Baby, Go

She runs.
She prances.
She hops.
She flits.
She tiptoes.
She twirls.
She jumps.
She skips.
She bear crawls.
She butter-flies.
She donkey-kicks.

But she does not walk.
(And rarely sits.)

Abby smiles and careens and laughs and falls with a heart that's light and bright and full.  And while we catch our breath and shake our heads and occasionally pull our hair, we acknowledge that she was designed to move, to do, to go places.  So we bite our tongues as much as we can and pray that she reaches the finish line in one piece.

Go, Baby, Go.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

In Memoriam

When Ben's hair began to grow in as a baby, it became clear that the poor kid would have a life-long wrestling match on his hands.  With two cowlicks swirling into each other on the back of his head, his mane was destined to defy gravity.  We began using product on his hair long before his first birthday, but I'm pleased to report that, after four years of gelling and brushing and plying, his hair will generally succumb to our demands.

This reluctant cooperation of his locks is only feasible with the right haircut, however, and we knew this would be the case early on.  We took Ben to see Josh's barber when Ben was just 10 months old, and  "Mr. Irv" pronounced immediately how unfortunate it was that Ben got Josh's hair.  He did manage to cut it in such a way that we had some ability to control it, putting Ben's soft baby fuzz in an envelope for us to save.  And so Josh and Ben have been visiting Mr. Irv every four to six weeks since.  I think Irv has had a quip about the unfortunate display of genetics every time.

Seeing Mr. Irv was the first tradition that belonged to Daddy alone.  On the Saturday mornings they had an appointment, Josh and Ben would eat a quick breakfast and then hop into the Mini to drive down the mountain to his shop in Lakewood.  They'd chat with Irv once there, taking turns in the barber's chair.  With Ben, Irv was quick, patient, engaging, and kind.  With Irv, Ben was comfortable, chatty, patient, and still.  Folks often commented on how well behaved Ben was in the chair, and Josh and I gave silent thanks for the way Irv made our son feel at ease and welcome.  After haircuts, Daddy and son got doughnuts to celebrate their time together before meeting me and, eventually, Abby wherever our adventures had taken us.

Going to see Mr. Irv became an event, an outing, special "guy time" for Ben to enjoy with his daddy and Mr. Irv--a ritual embodying the quintessential community and male mystique of the proverbial barber shop.

Toward the end of February, Josh called Irv to make an appointment and couldn't get ahold of him.  Josh tried calling all week to no avail and finally gave up, assuming Irv had gone out of town to care for his mother, whom he visits often.  Josh and Ben had their haircuts elsewhere, and we assumed that whatever had taken Irv out of town would be resolved by the next appointment.  Yesterday, however, Josh tried calling again to make appointments for Saturday, and the number had been disconnected.  This strange turn of events prompted Josh to run a search on-line, where he discovered Irv's obituary.

Our beloved Mr. Irv passed away on January 30th, 2010.  There was no mention of cause, so we are left wondering what happened.  Josh sent me the link to his obituary yesterday afternoon with a short note that said, "This makes me sad."

It makes me sad, too.  It's not that Irv was an integral part of our family, but he was a consistent one, a kind one, a friendly and familiar fixture in our family's life.  Josh has been visiting him for over seven years, and there are few other people outside of family and close friends who have participated in Ben's life so regularly since the beginning.  Ben loves Mr. Irv.  Irv loved Ben well.

I'm sure Josh and Ben will find another barber shop to visit on Saturday mornings, and I'm certain they'll continue their doughnut tradition.  But it will be different.  There aren't as many places in the world where people care to know, really know, a man and his son.

Josh asked to be the one to tell Ben about this loss, but after getting home late last night, he hasn't yet had an opportunity to have the conversation.  I wonder how Ben will receive the news.  He'll have a dozen questions, I'm sure; unfortunately, we won't have many answers.  This will be his first experience with the death of a person, and while he will probably make lots of connections to our cat Kashmir's death, this is bound to be different.  I imagine he'll have some profoundly simple insights into this sudden absence.  I can't help but wonder if he'll cry.

I'm struck by how wide a person's circle of influence is, how deep the impact of one's goodness runs.  Several times over the last twenty-four hours, I have grown teary at the thought that this man is gone from us.  I suppose that is the beauty of a life well-lived and genuinely shared, no matter the capacity: you occupy a place in another's heart that cannot be otherwise filled.

We'll miss you, Mr. Irv.  
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