Posted on September 5th, 2012 7 comments
It’s almost eleven pm. Already, my daughter has cried out at least four times. She has these nights infrequently – usually when she is getting sick or when she’s had a long day. We run in, and her eyes stay closed, her mouth drawn into a frown as she cries out. I kneel by her bed, try to whisper her away from whatever scares her. Sometimes I sit on her bed and sweep her into my lap, hoping to wake her fully so I can find out what is wrong. She doesn’t respond, buries her head in the meat of my shoulder and tries to fall back asleep. When I lay her down, she tosses a bit before her body quiets and her fists spill open on her pillow. I say softly: “Shhhhh. I’m here. It’s OK. You’re in your room in our house. I am protecting you. You’re safe…you’re safe…you’re safe.” I know she isn’t fully conscious, but I speak the words anyway, truth like a blanket tucking her in. I hope that on some level she hears me, rests.
We spent last weekend at a cabin on the Alleghany River. It was ten minutes off a real paved road, a rustic little place backed up against the mountains with a dock along the shore. The dock was our favorite spot, poking out into the river like a finger testing the water. My daughter loved to walk the length of it, take tiny steps from one wobbly platform to another. My son tossed sticks into the water and watched them float away until they were out of sight. At night, after the kids were asleep, my husband and I lay on the dock with our hands behind our heads, Milky Way ribboned overhead. I forgot how many stars there are, stars upon stars upon stars. I felt like the sky, clear and calm and full, and we stayed there until our eyes grew heavy and the river started to rock us to sleep.
I know God’s language is clouds and fire, mountains and stars. He spoke them into being like my fingers type words, syntax set with the waters’ divide and the rising of the sun. He embedded his promises in all of them, promises upon promises, but I forget. I worry. I get overwhelmed. Daily distractions pop up like parking-lot lampposts and obscure the stars and the promises. He speaks them anyway, truth like a blanket, his love bannered over me like the Milky Way. He leads me besides quiet waters. He restores my soul. And sometimes, even through the distractions, I hear. I rest.
Posted on June 29th, 2012 1 comment
During my early years of teaching kindergarten, we had an incubator in our classroom. A local farm gave us chicken eggs, and we placed them inside, rotating them a couple times a day. One Saturday, when I stopped by to turn the eggs, I noticed one was rocking a little. There was a tiny triangle-shaped hole in its shell, then another next to it, and from within the chirp of a chick about to hatch. I pulled up a chair from one of the tiny desks and sat to watch the hatching. It was amazing, this earthy miracle of straining and pausing and straining again, glimpses of beak and feather poking out of the ever-lengthening crack in the shell. Finally, the chick broke out of its egg and laid on its back for a moment, matted and wet and exhausted and beautiful.
The next day, when I stopped by, the chick had dried out and rested up. He was this sweet, fluffy little thing, chirping incessantly. I picked him up, felt his downy softness in my hands, his claws tiny pricks against my palm. I moved him to his temporary home we’d set up – a cardboard box outfitted with newspaper and mesh, food and a lamp. Soon the box was filled with chicks, yellow ones, whitish ones, mottled ones, all chirping and pecking. My students were fascinated by them.
Whenever I lowered my hand into the box, one chick ran straight for it. It startled me each time, and I’d pull my hand back quickly before he reached me. It seemed unusually aggressive! After a couple days, I decided to leave my hand in the box and see what the chick would do. I lowered it in, palm up, and held still as the chick ran for it… and hopped into my hand and sat down. I realized it was the same chick I’d held. He wasn’t trying to attack me; he had imprinted on me and was trying to be near me.
I love the term “imprint.” It reminds me of the mother’s necklaces I have seen where a child’s thumbprint is pushed into clay before it is baked, reshaping the clay permanently, a hollow where there wasn’t one before. I wonder if the mother chicken feels that hollow when her chicks grow feathers and fly off.
My son just turned two. He is lean, but he still has thick baby ankles, little dimples on his hands where his knuckles are. Of course, I sit here wondering about how fast it is flying by as I watch him, caught between baby and little boy. I puzzle over the dichotomies of parenthood – how the pouring out can be so satiating. How the filling up leaves me empty, hollow in places that weren’t there before.
The years ahead will be full of growing, pushing against the circle of my arms. They aren’t meant to hold him forever, I know that. The quiet moments where he snuggles perfectly into my body, wraps his long arms around my shoulders and gives me a “hog and tiss” – those pauses will shorten. He will strain more and more, toward independence, big-boyhood and eventually manhood, and sometimes we both will be hurt, hollow, exhausted by it all. Still, what a blessing it is, our hearts imprinted on each other. I get to be a spectator to this amazing little life, this earthy miracle. My boy becoming.
Posted on May 6th, 2012 3 comments
Today’s run was hard.
First, I psyched myself out. The training for today called for running two shorter intervals and two intervals that were twice as long as I’d run previously (three minutes – not very long at all, unless you happen to be a non-runner starting a running program). Also, on the advice of a more experienced runner, I decided to run outside today. I really struggled with pacing. Without the crutch of a mechanically-set treadmill, my body naturally matched the fast-paced tempo of my music. After my first short run interval, I was already feeling winded, so by the time I got to the first “long” run I really struggled.
I ran straight in one direction, crossed the street halfway through and came back on the other side of the street. I’ve never quit a training session on the treadmill, but there is comfort in knowing that if I had to, I could. As the blocks passed, I realized that if I collapsed into a puddle of quivering sweat in the middle of my run, it would be a long crawl home. On the plus side, the second half of my session was easier since I was physically coming closer and closer to the finish.
At one point during a running interval, I approached a corner at the same time as a little blonde girl on a bike. She was on the sidewalk and her dad was riding next to her in the street. I slowed down and jogged in place to let her pass (which, by the way, seems a very runner-like thing to do, but I couldn’t really think about that because I was busy willing my legs to keep moving). Instead of passing, she stopped directly in my path, put her foot down and gave me an open-mouthed smile, her tongue pressing at the back of her top teeth. Her dad laughed apologetically as I circled around her and kept going.
After I’d passed them, it all clicked –the absence of training wheels, her dad trailing along, the back-and-forth shimmy of the handlebars as she stopped. This is a kid who had just learned to ride. She has worked and wobbled and now, she is a bike rider.
I’m realizing I need to draw a distinction between what I have done and what I am able to do. I got intimidated by the fact that this run was twice as long as I’d previously run, but I was capable of running it. It was double my previous accomplishments, but it wasn’t double my capabilities. My life is not static like a dusty record board etched with names on a gym wall. In slow, small ways, my abilities increase.
She rides a bike.
And I run.
Posted on April 24th, 2012 No comments
Today I am honored to guest-post over at Smallest Inspirations, a blog by Cathi Brese Doebler. Cathi is a mom, consultant, small business owner and the author of Ditch the Joneses, Discover Your Family: How to Thrive on Less than Two Incomes!
Posted on February 29th, 2012 No comments
I’m looking at a picture of a shadow. A plant sits on a ledge outside a yellow house – a little plant in a plastic bucket casting its broad-leaved shadow on the plaster wall. Around the corner, kids sit in the shade of the porch, lean legs stretched out or bent with arms resting on top. One girl leans against the pillar.
For years, we came to the property, empty and grassy. We imagined the bricks, stacked and mortared. We squinted until we could see the slope of the roof. We listened to words that tumbled out into blueprints on the rugged ground. The sun cast long shadows of home.
Today, this picture. One quiet moment. Soon a dog will bark. Soon a friend will come by, hand on skirted hip, with a story to tell. A young boy will run by kicking a stone. The girl at the pillar will scold him, and he will laugh mischievously as he runs away.
Soon someone will take the plant off its sun-soaked ledge. They will overturn the dirt, will shovel a hole. They will take the plant out of its bucket, place it in the ground, tamp down the soil around its stem. It will stretch its roots deep into the earth, reaching, reaching, like the shadow of the house across the field.
Posted on January 20th, 2012 1 comment
I went to the grocery store last night. After a snowstorm. In January. I’ve always heard that the worst time to shop is when you’re hungry, but shopping at night in the middle of winter trumps hunger. My body is ready to hibernate. I fill my cart with anything I may want or need in the next three months. And last night, I found a real gem: sugarcane.
No, I don’t actually need sugarcane. It is not healthy. It is not local, sustainable agriculture. But it’s rare around here, and it brought back a memory I’d forgotten. I spend a lot of time searching for items I’ve lost, so getting one back so freely makes me grateful.
In second grade, our teacher arranged for us to be pen pals with a school in Hawaii. We’d write out tedious letters on dotted gray paper talking about our families and life in suburban Ohio. My pen pal told me that her state produced sugar cane. I wrote back that sugar cane sounded interesting, but I’d never tried it. This might have been a travesty to the little second grade class far across the Pacific, because our class’s next batch of letters came with a box of sugar cane for us to try. That was magical.
I used to feel that often – the idea that life may, at any given moment, burst into bloom with some fascinating new experience. One year, a teacher had a handmade reward puzzle in the room. Every time our whole class was being good, we got a puzzle piece, and when the puzzle was complete it spelled out “Free Time.” Magic. My cousins once took us to a park with hill after hill to roll down. That was magic, too. And once, when my parents were redoing the dining room, they let us draw on the old walls with crayon before taking the wallpaper off. Absolute magic.
So, after lunch today, I surprised my daughter with sugar cane. (And, actually, it came with two amazing components – the sugary taste, and permission to spit the remaining chunks out without being scolded.) I hope she stores up these little moments like a squirrel in winter. And someday when she’s older, I want her to remember what this sweetness tastes like. I hope she reminds herself that life is sometimes long and sometimes cold, but even so, it is blooming with magic.