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.
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