Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday

Never in my life did I pay attention to Black Friday. In fact, I mildly pitied the people who set alarms to sound in the dark and ventured to malls across America to wrestle crowds and stand in winding lines. I pitied them, that is, until I married into Ben's family where 5AM Black Friday shopping is a yearly event. I reluctantly went with them a few years ago in the cold dark of night with clipped coupons in my pockets (also a tradition -- to hit up every 7-11 in the area, amass newspapers on the dining room table, and comb them for coupons) to Macy's. And, if I must admit it, quite despite myself, I loved it. I knocked out almost all of my Christmas shopping on one morning and spent practically nothing.

So this year, though Macy's did not cough up the free money $10 passes in the paper (which made shopping more like trading torn newspaper scraps for lovely gifts), Silas and I went Black Friday shopping at 5:40AM. And we loved it. Or I loved it, and he was a great sport. Ben and Eden even met up with us around 7:30, and Ben, who shops for small armies when he hits even the grocery store (who doesn't need a 10 lb box of pancake mix?), began piling all sorts of toys and electronics into his cart that "someone would really like" because they were only $10. ... (Fortunately, he and Silas were outside when I checked out, so I did a little weeding out...)

And I must say, I even did a little shopping fine tuning this morning on grey Saturday, when stores were still open at dawn and no one was in them. I have yet to discover Cyber Monday, but I have a feeling I could get hooked. Any tips?

We just watched WALL-E in two installments. Silas was in heaven!

Monday, November 24, 2008

our mothers: solitude

Ben's mom is sick. She has been sick for two years, but last night on the phone she sounded sick. She just started a new chemo. Her life is full of so much fighting -- fighting the body, fighting tumors, fighting numbers, fighting against odds, fighting to hope, fighting with insurance, fighting out of fear, fighting for comfort. Exhausting.

My grandmother broke her hip about a month ago. My mom's been in Florida visiting her and told me today that Nana will have to stay at the nursing home where she's been recovering indefinitely. The trauma of breaking her hip seems to have rocked her memory even more, and she gets disoriented even in the task of getting dressed. Caring for a parent looks h a r d -- what is enough? is caring for parents or caring for children a priority? what is right vs American way of life? where do loyalties lie? where do you lie sandwiched between caring for the generations on either side of you? I never knew about the "sandwich generation" until now. There are such demands on your care-- you may as well be a fountain...
(psalm 36:9)

Both of our mothers are in stages that emphasize solitude. For Cindy, no matter how many people rally around her, no matter how closely someone listens or can relate, no matter how much compassion one shares for her, no one can feel what she feels. No one can understand the incessant pain, the hell of chemo, the burning in her abdomen. For my mom, as much as we (her kids) try to understand and listen, we don't know the feeling of watching one's own mother's record of her life and yours slip away, the responsibility of making decisions of how to care for her, the strains of living far and trying to be present, the weight of caring, the sadness, the anger (?) -- all of the history that's brought both of them to this place.

How to love, how to have compassion, how to journey with people --- these are the lifelong questions we fumble with.

I feel like I am fumbling especially now, balancing the phone with my shoulder, arms up to the elbows in the batter of two little kids.

It finally feels like fall here after weeks of 90 degree wildfire weather. Last night while I was falling asleep it rained. Rain here is usually quiet mist (that causes people to baton down the hatches), but last night it rained -- water beating against the windows, puddles in the morning, and a wide morning sky of clouds. Tonight our mothers are across the country. Maybe when they wake up tomorrow, the sky will be striking and the air sharp and clean.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Right Now (and coffee in my purse)

Today started as a seemingly normal day. Except when we were getting in the car -- running late -- I yelled at Silas "DON'T MAKE ME TELL YOU TWICE!" -- a real yell that surprised even me and immediately sounded ridiculous. He responded with a patient, if not cheerful, "Yes, Mama." And then after a few moments followed up, in a thoughtful voice: "Mama? I - I - I sorry... I sorry that I -- I sorry that you -- I sorry that you not nice, Mama." At which point I conceded that I was sorry too, and we talked about the sneak-attack-yell and agreed I should not do that again.

An hour or so later, I was standing with a friend who casually asked how I was doing, at which point tears sprang out of my eyes and wouldn't stop. And so she hugged me and while I was gratefully being hugged, I somehow poured my cup of coffee into my bag. Nice one. (Thanks, Hailey)

It is hard to juggle two kids -- who wants to fling tiny people you love through the air in hopes that you'll catch one just as you hurl the other one back up? In 4th grade gym class Mr. Sears taught us juggling with beanbags and tennis balls. After about two throw-pass-catch-throw's I dropped both balls and looked for something else to do.

What I am finding is that I tell Silas to be quiet a lot so Eden won't wake up, to go out while I try to get her to sleep, to wait here while I put her to bed, to please please be quiet and walk on your tiptoes for heaven sakes. What I'm finding is that I feel my patience pulled taught along with the corners of my mouth that are smiling less. What I'm finding is that the feeling of not providing what my children need (a nap, some soothing, to play, eye contact, a calm mother) makes me tense through all my muscles and into my bones, like a jolt of electricity that keeps reverberating. Right now my hair is slightly on end and you'd probably get shocked if you touched my arm. Eden is screaming downstairs, and Silas is refusing to nap.

But Eden did giggle an hour ago. And Silas -- despite our car ride earlier -- did race over, thrilled to show me the hand-print turkey he made in class. And somehow, we will, once again, make it to dinnertime, to bedtime, through mid-night walks to the bathroom and a night feeding, will make it to another morning, a fresh day --but I don't need to think about that yet. All I need to do is to hold Eden on my lap right now (I had to get her) and listen to Silas talking to himself in his room. That's all. That's right now. I think I can do right now. Who knows about a while from now -- we'll have to see about that -- but yes, right now is ok.

Especially when I look down at this:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Both children are in bed. Walking downstairs after turning off their lights, I thought I either should face plant and not get up, or be met by a massive crowd holding out icy cups of Gatorade and slapping me on the back -- yes, yes, against all odds, you MADE it.

Instead I was greeted by a small mountain of sweatshirts and jackets piled on the couch from our walk.

I spent literally hours of the day crouched next to a crib trying to help a 5 month old fall asleep. She never did. Until now, after I snuck in with a laptop playing lullabies, held down her little flailing hands (for a long time!) while trying not to make eye contact, and popped a pacfier in her slippery little mouth too many times to count, she FINALLY fell asleep.

In the middle of the day, --after a wakeful night, after both my kids were rejected from the church nursery at separate times (one for a runny nose, the other because she refused to nap and was hungrily chewing on everyone's hands), after Eden again refused to sleep at home, after Silas woke up an hour early from his nap in a bad mood -- I sat on the couch nursing Eden the Resister while Silas sabotaged the train track we (I) had just built saying "Oh no! Oh NO!" with great passion as he threw each piece, and I felt pretty sure I couldn't possibly make it to dinner. Every ounce of patience and creativity in my body was spent, and I closed my eyes and sank into the couch (2 year olds are lucky that they disappear when they close their eyes-- that would have been ideal).

What do you do when you can't go on and the two other people in the room can't survive in a living room without you? I remembered reading that smiling when you feel awful does something to your brain to make you feel better. So sitting there with my eyes closed, nursing squirmy Eden, listening to Silas insist I rebuild his track that "broke," I smiled. It was such a tiny smile that I'm pretty sure anyone looking at me would have missed it. But it was there. And I remembered that thankfulness creates contentment and counters anxiety. So I started being listing any reason I was thankful for this spot on the couch. Thank you for this fat baby who isn't asleep but is well. Thank you for Silas who for this teeny moment adores me and wants nothing more than for me to tackle him and play trains and pretend I can't find him when he sits behind me. Thank you that I'm home with them, that we have this brief time of together before school years kick in. Thank you...

And you know, the skies didn't part and a shaft of sunlight didn't cut into my living room. But, 20 minutes later I caught myself laughing as I danced for Silas and chased him up the stairs tickling him over and over. Something had shifted, and I made it to dinner.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Pre-School Shmoozing

On Sunday, I went to my first child's birthday party where I knew no one. A boy in Silas's class turned 3, and we were all invited -- "we" because at this age, it's a parents' party as much as a kids' party. I decided we had to go since I know no families at Silas's school, and his teacher encouraged us to have "playdates."...

It was a lot like going to a bar. A lot like that. Except it was a toddler bar, which means rather than measuring up bodies, careers, or drink choices, it was eying three foot tall yommpers racing around gymnastics mats, talking about where you live, and what pre-schools your kid attends. Ewww.

Bravely, I ventured into the mix. I think I am better at flirting than at female friend shmoozing, which isn't very helpful since I have largely retired flirting.

There were several conversations that just dropped off into nothingness. We both pretended we weren't talking because we were so intently watching our children race around, when really we ran out of anything to say, and with our eyes still locked on our kids, we each casually backed away.

Then there were the people who simply weren't nice. Giving one syllable answers is almost the same as ignoring someone.

And there were the kind, chatty people, who appeared to be potential friends, but after 10 solid minutes of talking, I realized we'd never exchanged names even or an ounce of personal information but had only talked about toddlers, so I don't even know who they were.

Off to the side, there was a small grouping of "dads" with tats and such, but I didn't even venture over there.

Finally, just before the end, I met and got the phone number of a sweet person who actually introduced herself by name rather than child's name and who may meet us at the park one afternoon.

So I guess the trip to Toddler Bar, take 1, was not a total wash. It was a rite of passage, the first of soooooo many weird birthday party/school event/children's friends' parents/kind-of-friend exchanges.

Or if we may throw it in a positive light, yet another beginning.


Some days I find my faith so restless. Having God in my life is nothing like finding a gold coin, wrapping it in a handkerchief, and walking on with security in my pocket. God is anything but tidy. And the more I know and learn about Him(Her), the more I spill over with questions and find my head spinning.

God is unshakably real, and I know this because I have tried many times to shake Him. Each time I have been -- despite resistance -- drawn back to God's presence, creativity, gentleness, grace. Grace is a word rubbed around the world so much that the meaning is hardly decipherable, but I mean grace: un-reasonable love, a love that knows nothing about measuring what is fair or deserved but that pours and pours out.

Along with this certainty that God is very much alive and real, I also have so many questions. This beautiful world, full of rich relationships, generous people, exhilarating thought, art, beauty, is split wide open in pain -- it is filling with garbage, swarming with starving toddlers, rampant with AIDS, pocketed with wealthy comfort, murdered with hate and superiority, rape genocide, child-trafficking, the deaths of people we adore. Help.

The world -- within us and without us -- is broken.

And yet, God is.
God is God, even and, especially with, all the hurt everywhere. And God is with us. That is what He promises and gives us. That and the reassurance that there is life beyond this life (which sometimes makes us ache with all its sweetness), that all the brokenness of this place, of ourselves, of our relationships will be fully repaired -- the world taken back to Shalom. It's a pretty breath-taking promise.

In yoga class, when we're in mountain pose, the instructor always tells us to move in two directions at once -- to feel our feet root and press into the ground, and to feel our arms, head, and hands move up and out. This is kind of how faith is -- my feet grounding on a solid Presence and my hands reaching up and out into the questions and mystery.