Sunday, June 30, 2013

Things I Want To Remember About Isaac At Three

It’s the evening of Isaac’s third birthday and I just can’t believe it.  I want my sweet boy to stay just like he is forever.  Some things I want to remember about his third year of life…

He calls me “fweety mama” when I call him my sweet boy. 

He says his name “Igit.”  He can work very hard and come up with an “Issssssuhc” every once in awhile and he is so proud when he does. 

He loves to organize small things and line them up.  He likes to move his lines of things to other places in the house one thing at a time. 

He vrooooms trucks on the floor to get them where he wants them, and walks/crawls all bent over even if he’s going from one end of the house to the other.

He has a hard time pronouncing the “S” sound, and sometimes it sounds like a Sean Connery slobbery “S”, and sometimes he exhales through his nose instead.  So instead of “snake,” he says “(nose exhale)nake.” 

He says “ever guys” for “everybody.”

He says “I think we better should.” 

He says “you know, like” as if he was a 16 year-old valley girl.  I have no idea where he got this. 

He started his third year sleeping in our bed at night, and he would often fall asleep with his hands on my cheeks, one on either side. 

He then started sleeping in his own bed next to ours, and he would often throw a leg over me in the middle of the night just to make sure I was still there.

He now sleeps in his own bed in Eden’s room and only occasionally needs to hold my finger as he falls asleep.  If he had things his way, he would have ended his third year still sleeping in bed with us, but he has adapted to our changes and done really well with them. 

He likes to give a kiss, then a big strong hug, and then do “noses,” which means rubbing his nose on mine.  He came up with this 3 part routine and especially the noses himself. 

He gets completely absorbed in his play and is content to play by himself for large amounts of time. 

He also LOVES playing with Eden and does not want her to go inside when they are playing outside together. 

He loves to make Eden laugh and will do something repeatedly forever if it makes her laugh. 

His favorite color is orange.  

His favorite TV show is “the one where Curioush George knocks down all the ‘tuff.” 

His most requested books are Everyone Poops and Millions of Cats.  Probably not coincidentally, one of his favorite words this year was “poop”, and “poopy gaga”, and anything else relating to the potty. 

He loves to color and paint.  He chooses one color of paint and covers the entire paper in that color.  He often does the same thing with crayons.  He is a monochromatic artist. 

 He loves bugs.  He will find anything crawling near him and examine it (mostly) gently.  He once carried a small worm in his curled up fist all through a grocery shopping trip.  He dropped it once, told me, and I found it on the floor.  I put it back in his hand and we kept shopping. 

He can count to 11 in perpetuity:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 8, 9, 10, 11, 8, 9, 10, 11…

He knows bits and pieces of the ABCs, but they’re jumbled and he skips a lot.  He won’t let me help him learn them and says “I can do it, I can do it!” if I try to help. 

He started his third year saying “I can’t sing” and now he sings sometimes, so I let him sing the ABCs wrong as much as he wants. 

He believes in go big or go home.  For Christmas he asked for "a HOOOOOOOGE sucker," and for his 3rd birthday he asked for "all the legos."  

He has to finish his process.  If he is in the middle of a game or activity or job that he’s doing, he. must. finish. before we leave the house or change his diaper or go eat dinner.  He will express very clearly just how upset he is to not be able to finish if I interrupt him through screaming and flailing and limp-bodying.  I’m learning to build in “finishing time” to our transitions. 

He is sensitive to my tone.  He thinks my serious voice is mean and says in his best mean voice, “Mama, you talking MEAN at me.” 

He has a soft heart.  He can be rough and aggressive sometimes, but his heart is tender and he needs connection and gentleness even in the midst of correction.

He lost his toddler belly this year.  I was watching him play in the sand one day and saw him stand up, up, up…no belly.  He’s all stretched out now. 

His favorite snuggle spot is on my left shoulder, head facing out, arms down at his sides or one arm curled around my neck.  He likes me to walk around holding him like this when he needs a snuggle.

His hair is wispy light blond, and before his haircut he looked like a dandelion gone to seed. 

We have a rhyme that is just his and mine, and during his third year he started changing his part of the rhyme to “poopy gaga.”  But tonight he said his words just right, hugged me tight, and said “I love you fweety fwee-year-old Mama” when I said “I love you my sweet three-year-old Isaac.” 

Mama’s love for you is big
                And it’s strong
                And it’s true. 
Mama’s love for you will last
                Your whole life through. 

Love you sweet boy,


Monday, June 24, 2013

About That Tightrope Walking Wallenda Guy And Prayer...

So you might have heard of that guy, Nik Wallenda, who traversed the Grand Canyon yesterday on a tightrope wire with no harness or safety net.  He comes from a family that has done outrageous stunts for generations. 

According to this article, he prefaced his stunt with prayer, prayed throughout, and praised God afterwards for his success and safety.  He asked God to “calm these winds in the name of Jesus” as winds gusted up to 48 mph during his crossing. 
Meanwhile, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately.  Usually summer is great for me as far as my general mood goes, what with all the sunshine and time outside and fun things to do with the kids.  But this summer I just feel tired a lot.  I feel like I’m dragging and gravity is targeting me unfairly.  You know how when you’re done taking a bath, you drain all the water out and slowly feel the buoyancy of the water fall away and the force of gravity retake you?  I feel like I’m walking around with the emotional equivalent of not enough water and too much gravity. 

I started taking vitamin b12, trying to go to bed earlier, trying to drink more water, watching comedies (I highly recommend Silver Linings Playbook and Pitch Perfect).  And I thought about praying about it.  I believe in God and I believe that he cares about me, but I have a hard time bringing myself to believe that my gravity problem is significant enough to pray about.  I would find myself starting to pray, and then I would start thinking about so-and-so who has cancer, and about my friend living in another country where girls in her neighborhood are being kidnapped for the sex trade, and about Syrians in the midst of war and refugee camps, and on and on…. 

And I end up saying something like “Um, well, God, if you have any time left after dealing with all of that…I mean, I know you’re not bound by time, but I guess what I mean is, if you wouldn’t mind doing something a little extra and superfluous, could you…oh, I don’t think I really have enough faith for this prayer to make any difference anyway…nevermind.”  And then I feel ridiculous. 
I feel like my mind chides me to a place of gratitude and glass half-full, even though I feel glass half-empty right now.  And while I know cognitively that God has grace to spare even for my gravity problem, my heart has trouble believing that or being courageous enough to ask for a drop of grace. 

And then Nik Wallenda pulls his stunt, and I can’t help but feel like his prayers are a bit presumptuous.  Really, Nik?  (Doing my own SNL “Really” segment here.)  Really?  You think that God should be concerned about your safety when you voluntarily put yourself in grave danger for what reason, exactly?  Really?  You think that your act of walking the tightrope can be some kind of act of worship that helps people to know God better or believe in him more?  Really, Nik?  Really?  Do you think God might possibly have more important things to deal with than known wind gusts across a 1,500 foot canyon that you subjected yourself to on purpose?  Really? 

But then…I remember my favorite image of Jesus from the Bible, book of Hebrews.  Jesus is described as the curtain.  Not just any window curtain, but the curtain in the Jewish Temple that separated the presence of God from the people.  The presence of God resided in the Most Holy Place, and only one person was allowed to go inside the curtain, and only on one day of the year.  God’s presence was so powerful and so dangerously perfect that we fallen humans couldn’t survive it.  The curtain offered protection to the people and a reminder of who was dwelling among them.

This curtain was still around when Jesus walked the earth.  It still covered the Most Holy Place, protecting the people from the perilous presence of God.  This was the curtain that was torn in two when Jesus died.  In the book of Mark it is noted that the curtain was torn from top to bottom, signifying who it was that did the tearing. 

In Hebrews, the author says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings….”     

Not only did Jesus’ death cause the physical curtain in the temple to be torn, thus allowing free access to anyone who wanted to approach the presence of God, but Jesus’ body is actually the spiritual, metaphorical, immaterial curtain through which anyone who wants to can pass into God’s presence.  It’s like what used to be a force field is now turned into a portal, for any of you sci-fi geeks. 

We have a new and living way opened for us.  And it’s not some scolding, you should be quivering with fear way; it’s a bold, confident way.  We don’t have to wait for the one day of the year that God can be approached, and we don’t have to send our messages in to his presence with someone else.  We can go, ourselves, into his presence, whenever, for whatever reason. 

The way is open.  The invitation has been sent.  All I have to do is grasp the confidence I am allowed to have, and go in.  That’s what prayer is.  Just go in and have a talk.  There are no guarantees as to what the outcomes of my prayer will be.  In fact, the only guarantee is that I can always go in. 

There is no line.  The imaginary line of who should have first access to God’s grace and attention is all in my head.  He’s capable of hearing all of us at once and he’s the one in charge of distributing good things and there is enough to go around.  If he wants to quiet the wind for Nik Wallenda, so be it.  If he wants to lessen the force of gravity on my heart, that’d be freaking awesome.  And I know the suffering and poor and exploited are always, always near the heart of God.  My prayers aren’t going to encroach on that. 

I can pray.  That I can do.  For others, and for myself and my gravity problem.  We can all go in. 

There’s room for Nik and I and you, and the curtain is open.  

Eden made this in Sunday School last Sunday.  Aside from the fact that glitter should be banned from the earth, I thought it was kind of cool that God told her to make this craft specially for me.  (kidding ;) ) 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Today I Felt Like A Substitute Parent

For two very stressful years, I was a substitute teacher.  I taught all grades, all classes, including specials like gym, health, and art, which apparently made me a rarity.  I taught gym, health, and art a lot.  It turns out there’s a reason substitute teachers especially don’t like refereeing dodge ball.  And there was that art class where one tool at the students’ disposal was box cutters.  And the day I arrived at 7th grade health class to see that the day’s topic was the male reproductive system.  No joke.  There were transparencies to project the male bits on the wall and label the parts and everything.  I don’t think the timing of that health teacher’s absence was an accident, just sayin’. 

It took me awhile to learn classroom management, and before I did, it was a mess.  Did you know that if you ask a classroom of 25 five-year-olds a question, you will then have 25 five-year-olds talking at the same time?  I learned to preface my questions with “Raise your hand if you know…”.  And did you know that if you have to walk 25 five-year-olds up two flights of stairs for library time, they should hold hands or have a buddy or something so you don’t lose a few?  And if you let 25 students free on the playground, you should have some agreed upon plan for getting their attention when it’s time to line up?    

If there is one word to describe how it felt being a sub, it would be behind.  From the moment I walked in the building, I felt behind.  Where was my room, where were the restrooms, where were the specials rooms?  Where were the lesson plans, the attendance sheets, the teacher’s manuals, the worksheets, all the supplies?  The worst was the unplanned absences, where I would be quickly gathering materials, making photocopies, searching the desk for the day’s schedule and seating chart. 

Everyone else knew everything and I knew nothing, and had virtually no time to prepare.  The momentum of the day was coming, and I was going to be carried along no matter what state of readiness I was in. 

Sometimes I sat behind the desk fighting panic before the opening bell and said to myself, “I can do this. I can do this. I can do this” until I sort of believed it. 

Today I felt like a substitute parent.  The day started before I was ready.  Isaac woke up laughing about a funny dream and just had to wake me up to tell me about it, at 5:30am.  It was adorable and something I will always remember, but all the same, I got up feeling sleep deprived, disoriented, and frustrated.  Everything came too fast.  Kids are hungry, kids are fighting, kids are throwing things for fun, kids are screaming at squirrels outside when I’m sure the neighbors are still asleep, kids are back inside.  And now it’s 7:30am.  Repeat. 

It was one of those days where I felt perpetually behind, unable to clean up one meal before it’s time for the next, unable to calm myself down from the last squabble before the next one happens, unable to feed myself or drink my coffee or take a shower before it’s too late and I have a migraine and we’re late to our meeting and I’m just. so. tired. 

When you’re a sub, the worst possible thing you can do is appear flustered.  If your students are young, you will immediately have 25 helpers who will tell you everything you need to know for the next 7 hours.  If your students are older, they will sense weakness and have a field day with you.

I think the same is true for parenting on these days.  If I get flustered and start ranting about how “you are the oldest and should be a good example” and “you are being unkind to mommy when you spit food on the floor because I have to clean it up” and on and on, we all get out of whack.  The kids sense my lack of calm and start to act out more because they feel unsettled. 

On these days I tell myself, “I can do this.  I can do this.  I can do this” until I sort of believe it.  And I tell myself, “Don’t think, do.  Don’t think, do.”  Because my mind becomes a maze of self-judgment, frustration, and wishful thinking on these days.  Better to just put one foot in front of the other and trudge through the day.

And trudge we did.  As with subbing, I’m not sure anyone learned anything today or had a particularly fantastically fun day, but we got through it with no huge crises or damage done.  And that, my friends, is a wildly successful substitute parenting day.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

An Hour At Flurry's Cafe

I had an hour and a half to myself, a book to read, and a café in mind.  I pass little cafés in Cuyahoga Falls and picture myself sitting quietly at a table, enjoying coffee and a pastry.  Until today, it’s just been daydreaming. 

It’s hard to get an hour and a half to myself.  And it’s even harder to convince myself to go to a café during that time if I do get it.  There are always piles of paper to sort and put away, floors to sweep, dirty dishes to do, groceries to shop for…the endless list of daily to-dos.  And then there’s the next level of to-do list: dentist appointments to make, rebates to apply for, wills to finish, invoices for work completed 6 months ago to submit, home budgets to review. 

Cafés don’t make any to-do list in my world. 

But today I went.  To café number one, which was closed.  I headed to café number two, which was also closed.  I sat in my van for a minute and thought about going to Dunkin' Donuts instead, because I was using up all my time driving to closed cafés and at least DD would be open.  I felt my bravery and momentum drifting away. 

But I remembered one more café that I’ve seen and decided that would be my last attempt.  I drove to Flurry’s, thinking about how these little cafés don’t really stand a chance if they aren’t open at 8am.  But then I thought that the shop owners probably like sleep and their families and are trying to keep things in balance by not being open 14 hours a day, and I commend them for that.  And at least I was alone in my van, listening to NPR. 

Flurry’s was open.  The sign said “Breakfast Served All Day” and “Kim – Owner,” and I thought, “This is my kind of place.” 

I went inside and Kim said, “Table for two?  One?” 

“Just me,” I said. 

She sat me at a bar stool in the kitchen.  I felt exposed on the bar stool and thought about requesting a booth, but didn’t.  I ordered the French toast that had “Cinnamon Roll” in the title and she poured me coffee.  A Usual came in and sat at another bar stool.  I looked up at the Garfield clock, his tail swinging the beat of each second.  I heard Mumford and Sons playing on the radio. 

Sandy came by to drop off some bananas, since today’s special was Banana Bread Pancakes.

I listened to the Usual talk about his latest ebay finds – a one-of-a-kind Harley Davidson t-shirt designed by Uhl and a Ralph Lauren polo with a teddy bear insignia.  He asked Kim what the difference was between petite and junior clothing and she and I explained. 

I drafted an outline for a letter to the School Board and drank my coffee.  Every time I picked up my cup it was full, so I couldn’t tell you how many cups of coffee I drank throughout my visit.  I heard my French toast sizzle on the grill.

Kim brought me my food and I ate French toast that tasted like Cinnamon Rolls.  I read the novel I brought with me.  Another man came in and sat at the bar stool next to me.  I didn’t feel exposed anymore.  I felt like I was in a community of coffee drinking, paper reading, alone people who weren’t lonely. 

I read awhile longer.  Kim put my leftovers in a wax paper bag.  I paid my bill and gave an insanely huge tip.  I wanted my tip to say, “I like it here.” And “I’m coming back.”  And “Thank you for making me breakfast.”  And “I like your weird clock and your taste in music.”  And “Thank you for making me feel like a part of a community without pestering me.” 

I went back to my van and felt myself take a deep breath.  I felt my eyes almost tearing up. 

Someone made me breakfast, and I didn’t have to do a thing.  I got to eat a whole meal without getting up from my chair.  I drank as much coffee as I wanted.  I got to read a chapter of a book before 10am. 

I love my kids and I know these intense years are short, but the days are long.  Sometimes the minutes drag out to an eternity. 

Today I got a deep breath.  I feel like I can run a little longer now. 

I’ll be back, Flurry’s.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Great Gatsby: The Presence of Absence

This post is going to talk about the theme of absence becoming a presence in The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It sounds confusing, so let me start by giving a concrete and relevant personal experience. 

We are currently transitioning Isaac to a new sleeping situation, and he thinks this is a bad idea.  As a result, something that is currently absent in my life is sleep, both mine and my children’s.  The absence of sleep has a powerful presence, as I’m sure many of you know.  The lack of zzzs manifests itself in easy tears, strong reactions, much fighting and yelling, crankiness, laziness, and distractedness.  (I am just hoping against all hope to write something coherent here.)  So you see, the absence of something can develop a presence of its own. 

In The Great Gatsby, the title character’s life is built around the absence of a woman he loves, Daisy.  Gatsby wants to make a life with Daisy when he first meets her, but doesn’t have the money or status to care for her and goes to war instead.  His entire life’s goal becomes making himself into “his Platonic conception of himself,” the man that could win Daisy, even as he sees her slipping away (98).  She soon marries another man, Tom, but Gatsby remains single-minded in his devotion to Daisy and his attempts at a life with her.  His life is built around a woman who is absent, and whose absence manifests itself in every decision he makes.  His shady business dealings, his building a house directly opposite hers across the bay, and his extravagant parties and “ineffable gaudiness” are all manifestations of Daisy’s absence in his life (99). 

It reminds me of this pipe. 

The Treachery of Images, by Rene Magritte

The French reads: "This is not a pipe."  

And yet it is.  The painting is one representation of a pipe, but as the artist, Magritte, says, “Could you stuff my pipe?  No, it’s just a representation, is it not?  So if I had written on my picture “This is a pipe,” I’d have been lying!” (Torczyner 71).

These tricky Modernists like to play around with questions of reality and illusion.  Gatsby’s imagined version of Daisy is like this painting.  It seems real to Gatsby, but is just his representation of Daisy.

Gatsby is determined to recreate an elusive past, which remains just out of his reach.  When he finally does meet Daisy again, her real presence comes in conflict with Gatsby’s version of her imagined presence.  The “colossal vitality of his illusion” cannot be fulfilled by her real presence (95).  He asks too much of her, denies the reality of her life in his absence and her love for her husband, and so loses her. 

He also loses himself.  In his attempts to recreate the past with Daisy, he changes his name, erases his past, and does whatever is necessary to gain the status needed to gain Daisy’s attention.  His gaudy mansion is filled with the rich and famous, none of whom know anything about Gatsby.  In fact, the subject of dinner table conversation at his parties is usually the latest rumor about whether or not Gatsby has killed a man or who he allied himself with in the War.  Gatsby creates an illusion of himself worthy of his illusion of Daisy, and neither can last. 

In the end, the only person who really knows Gatsby is his neighbor, Nick.  Nick is unimpressed with Gatsby and the flashy crowd that follows him.  In contrast to the free-flowing, undefined moral code of Gatsby and his playmates and business partners, Nick “want(s) the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever” (2).  It seems that only from Nick’s perspective can the illusions be seen for what they are and any grasp of reality be had. 

In short, it’s a good read.  Through a love story, Fitzgerald explores the ambiguity of modernism and demonstrates the powerful presence of absence.  And his use of language is masterful and beautiful.  One of the first things I thought while reading this novel again was, “Damn, he really knows how to use language.”

And finally, a commentary on reading the recent reprint with my good buddies Leo and Tobey on the front, the “Now a Major Motion Picture!” version.  It was oddly distracting to have their faces staring at me when I picked up the book. 

Usually, some amorphous body with a blurred out face is what I picture when I read a character.  This time, I was picturing Leo and Tobey speaking the lines that I was reading, and it was both distracting to the story and limiting to my understanding of the character.  It was weird.  This is one area where I think the murky ambiguity of absence is better.  I guess this is the same argument for reading a book before seeing the movie version…one person’s visual interpretation of the story can limit later readings of it.  Our imaginations can fill in a lot more gaps and leave the important gaps unfilled when given the opportunity. 

So if you’re interested in reading this book, pick up an older version with a boring cover or the original version with Cugat's artistic cover art.

Next up:  A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano.  Can Flannery O’Connor and her love of peacocks be appropriated for a fiction book?  We shall see… 

Fitzgerald, F. Scott.  The Great Gatsby.  New York, New York: Scribner, 1925. 

Torczyner, Harry.  Magritte: Ideas and Images.  Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1979.