Clothes Pins, Family, and Forty Years

About a year (ish) ago I bought a bag of clothes pins. The plan was to use them for closing bags of things in the pantry and for some never-realized craft for the kids. The clothes pins were plentiful for a while and I happily closed our bags of stuff with ease.

And then they began to disappear.

It happened so gradually that I didn’t even notice at first; they just started to become more and more difficult to find until, finally, they were all gone. Occasionally when I’d go to close bags of things I’d mention the disappearance to Keith or the dog or myself. But I never really fully investigated their vanishing – there are plenty of other mysteries that took precedence in my mind – like why Keith can only read every other item on a shopping list, or why my entire family always wants to talk to me when I reach the last twenty pages of a book.

Today, however, I happened to mention the clothes pin disappearance to Molly:

“Molly, I wish I knew where all those clothes pins went.”

“They’re in the princess piñata.”

(We happen to have a princess piñata that’s been hanging out on the floor of our pantry for the past couple of years. Don’t ask – I’m sure there’s a story there but I can’t remember it.)

Lo and behold, the piñata is filled with clothes pins.

Matter-of-fact Molly just shrugged and told me, “That’s where I keep them.”

Of course it is.

So, I was actually kind of excited a bit later when I had the need to close a bag ‘o something. I went straight for the piñata. But, once again, the clothes pins were all gone. I knew who to go to this time.

“Molly! Where are all the clothes pins?”

“I made a person with them.”

“Oh! Can I have one for this bag of rice?”

“No, Mom. I need all of my clothes pins.”

“YOUR clothes pins? I thought they were mine.”

“No, Mom – they were in my piñata.”Image

This is my life.

I live in a world where a four-year old is in charge of pantry management and piñatas are mainstays in the kitchen. It’s a magical place of stale cereal, spilled rice, and the need to be prepared for impromptu fiestas.

And, to give credit where credit is due, it’s all my parent’s fault.

Because forty years ago today they got married and started something chaotic, enduring, messy, loud, ever-changing, solid, and beautiful. Forty years ago they created my family. And they taught my siblings and me what a family looks like, a lesson that I think we’ve all taken to heart and used when creating our own families. So, my pantry problems (and dare I say my missing socks?) are their fault because they showed us that family is …

A place where pantry organization takes backseat to childhood

A place where humor wins and laughter heals

A place where tempers run hot and forgiveness flows freely

A place where ukulele, or guitar, or banjo, or harmonica music is the background to all family gatherings

A place where children are seen and heard and cherished

A place where dogs are loved (and the occasional cat is tolerated)

A place where the stories of our past are the folklore my children are raised with

A place where our differences are part of our strength

A place where creativity is embraced and love is quilted and strummed and sang and composed and danced

A place that has never been less than home – no matter where it’s located or how far apart we are from each other.

I think it’s such serendipitous timing that my parent’s fortieth anniversary is the same day as our Molly’s last day as a four-year-old. It’s such a cool connection to me. Forty years ago when they stood at that altar there’s no way they could have known what they were creating.

And today I spent the day soaking up my littlest girl’s littleness. I inhaled her twirling and singing and knock-knock jokes and clothes pin people because tomorrow she turns five and that feels like a big deal to me.

And, really, it’s all their fault.Image

Jesus in the Bathroom

My religious knowledge failed me.  I went to Baylor University, for goodness sakes … surely my stint in the land of the Baptists would give me the right words.  Nope.  Nada.  I had nothing.

It started with three-year-old Molly on the toilet yelling, “MOM!!! CLOSE THE DOOR SO JESUS DOESN’T SEE ME!”

I closed the door and walked away tickled by her precociousness and the hilarious Facebook status this would make.

But she wasn’t done.

“MOM!!!”

I walked back into the bathroom.  She was still sitting on the toilet (obviously physically uncomfortable at this point) and said with a tinge of panic, “But MOM … he’s INBISIBLE!!!” She then looked up to the sky with wide eyes that conveyed her discomfort at this situation. 

I went for the easy answer, “That just means you can’t see him right now but the door will still work.”

 “MOM. He is EVERYWHERE.”

I tried to go with creationism, “Sweetie, God made your bottom … he’s allowed to see it.”

She responded with an answer I’d been drilling in her head for the past three years, “The bathroom is a place for PRIVACY!!!”

I replied with a comment that I’m fairly sure has no Biblical backing, “Baby, Jesus respects your privacy.”

“Can you ask him?”

“Ask him what?

“TO RESPECT MY PRIVACY!!!”

So we said a prayer … in the bathroom … while Molly sat on the toilet. 

“God, we ask that you respect Molly’s privacy while she goes to the bathroom.  Amen.”

**********

The faith of a child, even when coupled with a bathroom emergency, is refreshing.

As adults we complicate things by either over-thinking or, ironically, under-examining. 

For four-year-old Molly it was a no-brainer; the presence of God is as real to her as the laptop I’m typing on is to me. 

In fact, her belief is so solid that she instantly felt uncomfortable when her belief in privacy (can I get an “Amen!” on that one?) came head-to-head with her belief in an ever-present God.

There’s something awesome about that.

I want that.  I want to feel uncomfortable at times because my faith is so powerful that it comes in conflict with my day-to-day life.  There’s quite a bit going on in our complicated, adult world that should hit a discordant note when it comes head-to-head with a belief in divine love. 

We should cringe when we force truth to fit our own agenda.  We should feel embarrassed when we desperately attempt to strengthen our faith by weakening the faith of others.  We should experience shame when we ignore our duty to stand by our neighbor in the face of prejudice, poverty, or hardship. We should grieve when we let judgment replace love. 

The faith of a child is so simple but so difficult for an over-thinker like me.  I don’t have all the answers.  I don’t know all the whys.  I don’t even fully understand where this story is going to end.  And while there’s definitely a time for seeking and questioning, there’s also a time to just stop and take a moment to believe. 

May you all find moments to sit in the certainty of love and, of course, find privacy in your bathrooms. 

 

One Day

She lies on the bed with her eyes closed, her hair puffed around her like a cloud. She’s not sleeping inside those closed eyes. Her body is still but she laughs along with someone I can’t see. I come closer and tell her I’m there and she says, “Momma?” When I take her hand she giggles and talks to me about candy. Her hand feels so fragile, her skin tissue paper inside my hand. She is 95 years old.

But in that moment she’s a child holding her mother’s hand. And inexplicably I’m reminded of my daughters.

Later that day, when I’m cuddled up with my kids at bedtime, I’m reminded of that woman. It resonates with me deeply that in her last days her mind clings to moments like this one. These moments matter – deeply.

But it’s not that thought that steals my breath away and makes me tremble with new awareness. It’s this:

Someday, if our stories go as I hope, my babies will be old.

Someday their chubby, little hands will be wrinkled and fragile; their skin will be tissue-thin.

I hope that when that day comes my children will be surrounded by family. I have to believe, with every ounce of faith I can muster, that someone will love them as fiercely as I do and care for them and give them words of comfort when they’re scared.

One day my children will be vulnerable, weak, and maybe even call for me – but I won’t be there.

It’s heartbreaking and terrifying. But it’s also, ultimately, okay.

This is how life was designed. There’s an Irish proverb that says, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Today, it’s my role to be the shelter. I protect my children, nourish them, and teach them. I do these things so that eventually they won’t need me. And then, one day, they will become the shelter – for their children and, perhaps, for me.

This is life.

And it’s beautiful, miraculous, and scary.

It’s also simple. We need to love each other. Protect each other. We need to be the shelter for the people who have no one left to look at them with love and memory.

And the next time I hold the hand of someone on the other end of life, I’ll remember that I’m holding the hand of someone’s child. And I will be their shelter.

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak and the wrong. Sometime in your life you will have been all of these.”
Dr. Robert H. Goddard

My heart goes out to those whose stories didn’t go as hoped, especially to parents who fiercely loved children who did not get the chance to grow old. Life has so many different truths and I hope my words didn’t cause any pain.

Grandmoms Gone Wild

Kids come up with cute names for their grandparents all the time.  My kids apparently never received the memo that the nicknames should be cute because they lovingly call my mom “Gring-grom.” (We’re not sure how to spell it.  I’m fairly certain it’s Klingon.) 

It’s possibly not their fault because the cute nickname gene does not run strong in my family.  My siblings and I gave our grandmom the nickname “Grandmom in Texas.”  We were nothing if not geographically aware. 

(That’s a joke, by the way.  My sister once went from Chicago to Kansas City via Indiana.  But that’s another story for another time …)

I’ve been thinking about Grandmom In Texas quite a bit lately because she is single-handedly making sure that my children are entertained.  She sends unique gifts.  Her gifts are the type that engage the imagination and encourage creativity.  (Engage the imagination and encourage creativity = code speak for incites loud outbursts of giggles and glitter.)

My kitchen after the arrival of the most recent package from Grandmom In Texas.

Sometimes I fail to thank Grandmom in Texas for all her wonderful gifts.  (Because I can’t keep up with them all!) So this would be a wonderful opportunity to thank her publicly for her awesomeness. 

However, that’s not what I’m going to do – I have a complaint to lodge.

First, some background: Grandmom in Texas is a walking Encyclopedia of knowledge about everything.  She can talk about the gardens of queens, sing any song from any musical, describe in detail the chronology of any historical event that ever happened, casually bring up major advances in science, and entertain children with lesser known facts about dinosaurs and ninjas.  David, my nine-year old, finds her fascinating.  They literally spent hours discussing the Aztecs, volcanoes, and Greek mythology.  David kept coming back to her with increasingly random questions and she always knew the answers.  The flow of their conversation was impossible to follow for anyone other than Grandmom In Texas and David.  David had a look of relief the entire time as if he was thinking, “Finally, an adult who knows things around here!” 

Grandmom in Texas is very involved in her church and community.  She is an Assistance Leaguer, an Episcopalian, and a member of Army Daughters.  She is obviously an Army daughter, an Air Force wife, and the mother and grandmother to Air Force officers (okay, okay, some of her children and grandchildren went Army – we can’t all make good decisions all the time.)

She is a lot of wonderful things so, frankly, I was a bit surprised by a recent gift. 

My Grandmom in Texas bought my nine-year-old son flatulent putty.  It’s called Flarp.

It’s putty.  That makes fart sounds.

"Noise Putty" is a nice way of putting it.

Just in case I haven’t described it clearly enough: It’s a can of putty that can be manipulated to sound like someone needs an emergency run to the drug store for some Gas Ex.  The person in possession of the offensive can is my NINE-YEAR-OLD SON. 

And the person responsible is my lovely, eloquent, wise, tea-party-throwing Grandmom In Texas.

I know she loves David but I feel I should remind her that I was her first grandchild.  And I’m fairly certain I’ve always been her favorite.  (Right, Grandmom?)

On a side note:  Grandmom, we’re really hoping to visit you sometime this summer.  We’ll be packing the Flarp.

Emotional Ninja Attacks

When the tornado hit we were faced with children to heal and a home to rebuild so there wasn’t time to be immobilized by intense emotions.  Our minds did what they were created to do and our emotions were parceled out in bite-sized doses, some of them being saved for later when the work was done.  The work, for my family, is mostly done.   So, almost nine months after the tornado, I find myself experiencing the emotions of this journey more powerfully than I did in the insane days following May 22, 2011.

These saved emotions don’t come when I flip through pictures of the destruction or read about a person lost.  That would be too easy, too obvious!  Like stealthy, emotional ninjas, they hit when I least expect it with the most unlikely triggers.

The Incredibles is playing, a movie I’ve seen tons of times.  The bad guy is about to shoot down the jet that the super-hero mom is flying and she radios to the control tower, “There are children aboard – say again – there are children aboard this plane!” The line stops me in my tracks like a punch in the gut. 

A restaurant menu features the quote, “Something this sweet never lasts long,” and my eyes fill with tears. 

I go to grab my red sweater only to remember that it blew away.  My stomach does instant flip flops as I look around the closet that sheltered my family.

We drive by a construction site in another town and one of my kids says, “Look, Mom.  They had a tornado here too.” I have to swallow down the instant lump in my throat before I can answer.

What is most surprising to me about these emotional sneak attacks is that I haven’t been able to name the powerful emotion I keep feeling.  Is it sadness?  Loss?  Fear?  What-if’s?  All of the above? 

Then I read the new post on Strolling down the Autobahn, a beautiful blog written by Shannon, a neighbor who used to live down the road.  I saw myself in her story.  She answered my question.  What is this intense emotion I’ve been experiencing so frequently?

It’s gratitude.

It’s a mind-boggling, knee-shaking awareness of how blessed I am.  It’s becoming overwhelmed with the intensity of how much I love them.  How powerfully thankful I am for them and that I married him and that I carried them in my body and that I’ve had them all these years.

And that I still have them today. 

To quote my friend Shannon’s post:

“You see….I got to experience a PROFOUND perspective change….

without anything truly horrifically awful happening to me.

 And I don’t EVER

EVER

EVER

EVER

want to go back to the placid-take-things-for-granted-more-superficial mindset I had before this last season of my life.”

I don’t either.  So bring it on unexpected emotions.  Remind me of what I have.  Remind me as often as needed to get it through my distracted mind.  Because I don’t ever, ever want to forget.

Valentine’s Day Top 5: Car Crashes and Vaseline

5.  I survived a second-grade Valentine’s party.  (Note to self: A game involving 21 second-graders, Vaseline, and cotton balls?  Really???)  Classroom parties always serve as a POWERFUL reaffirmation of my respect admiration complete and total awe of teachers. 

4.  I skillfully drove Keith’s new car directly into our babysitter’s parked car.  Our babysitter still plans on coming back.  And Keith seems to be breathing normally again.  Forgiveness is sweet, especially when you’re the one needing forgiving.

3.  This evening, Molly (3) said to me, “You’re a good mom today.  You let me eat two times!”  (Best quote ever.)

2.  As we were leaving the school party David (9) said to me, “So mom, turns out I’m pretty popular with the ladies.” (Ha!)

1.  Valentine’s 2012 kicked my butt had some challenging moments.  But at the end of the day chocolate covered strawberries were made.  Chocolate covered strawberries.  ‘Nuff said.  (The makers of those strawberries were pretty cute too.)  Life is sweet.

I hope your day was filled with sweetness and smooth sailing.  Everyone survive? 

Amen

Everyone has their turn as we go around the dinner table.  It’s pretty brief and predictable. 

Thank you, God, for our food.

 Thank you for our family. 

Thank you for our home and our health. 

Thank you for no homework tonight.

 Thank you that Keith is going to do the dishes.  (You can probably guess the source of that one.)

Then it’s my three-year-old, Molly’s turn.  She starts by looking up at all of us to make sure we’re ready.  Then, she closes her eyes and sings out her heart-felt and sincere prayer.  It goes a little something like this:

“ABCDEFG HIJK  ELEMENOP QRSTUV WX YandZ …Now I sang my ABC’s, next time won’t you sing with me.  Amen.”

Somewhere around E or F we all join in. 

Molly’s prayer isn’t because she’s confused about what she’s doing.  In fact her prayer is, at times, the most genuine and honest prayer at the table.  (Listen to me, God.  I know this! I can do it! Isn’t it wonderful?!?)

Sometimes, when it’s my turn, I just say the same old words because my befuddled adult brain is going through the motions.  I’m saying grace because that’s what we do and it’s good to teach the kids gratitude and because it’s right to thank God for our food.  If I think about it too much it becomes too big.  The same God who made the deepest depths of the ocean, is the one I’m thanking for my green beans!?!  It’s easier to stick to the script. 

But not Molly.  She’s sharing her life.  She’s sharing the same thing she’s asked to perform for important people like great-grandparents, teachers, and grown-up friends.  Every 2-3 year old knows that if you want to impress a grown-up, you give them the alphabet.

Sometimes, at the end of Molly’s prayer, I throw in a, “Thank you, God, for the alphabet.” I do it mostly to stifle the giggles from the 7-and-9-year old, know-it-all siblings at the table.  But I also do it to make her prayer fit in and make sense.

God does not need me to do that. 

In fact, instead of making it “correct,” I need to learn from the little girl sitting across the table with her precious curls, and self-cut bangs singing her heart out.  The alphabet is amazing.  It makes the people in her world smile and clap.  It’s something to be shared and celebrated with the people who matter … and, most importantly, with God.  That is prayer.

Thank you God for her.

Thank you for making those deepest oceans but still caring about a child’s delight in a song.  Thank you for the silly and ridiculous in life.  Thank you for the moments that take my breath away unexpectedly.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

To Molly, there is no huge distinction between how we should communicate with each other and how we should communicate with God.  She is fantastically unbefuddled.  She is wonderfully childish.

Something about her prayer always makes me think about praying without ceasing.  True confession: The idea of praying without ceasing has always felt overwhelming and confusing to me.  I’m always up for multi-tasking but without ceasing? The only things I do without ceasing are things I can’t control or things I can do without thinking about… like my heartbeat or the air going in and out of my lungs.

Like my heartbeat.

 God loves Molly.  She loves God.  Not for a moment does Molly doubt these things.  Not for a moment does she question this love or diminish it by her thoughts or actions.  She breathes in.  God loves her.  She breathes out.  God is listening.

That’s prayer without ceasing, I guess.  It’s so simple, too simple for us adults to always understand. Amen.