Friday, October 27, 2006

First Word!

Elaine said her first word. ELAINE SAID HER FIRST WORD! Oh Elaine. I've been meaning to write a whole entry about her anyway. Lucy gets lots of press, but you know, it's harder to write about a baby because they don't talk. At least, mine didn't. But now she does. Did I mention that? Elaine said her first word.

She loves for me to sing "Pop Goes the Weasel" to her. I hold her and we slightly bounce until we get to "Pop!" then we do a big jump, and she laughs and loves it. Well, last night Elaine was in her holding pen aka the crib, while I bathed Lucy. She stands up now too, did I mention it? and is all blase about that. She stands in her crib and does a little dance or pounds on the wall, and when you come in the room, she loves for you to say, "WHAT are you doing?" because she's ever so proud of her newfound standing ability. Anyway, while Lucy was in the bath, I started to sing, "All around the cobbler's bench, the monkey chased the weasel, the monkey thought 'twas all in fun....POP! goes the weasel!" and from the bedroom I heard a joyous little "Pop!" Then I sang, "A penny for a spool of thread, a penny for a nee-dle, that's the way the money goes, POP! goes the weasel!" and I heard another little "Pop!" from the crib.

I ran into her room and sang it again, and each time she said "Pop!" at just the right second! (To be scrupulously honest, it does sound more like "Pah!" than a word with two p's in it. But, it's definitely still her first word.) Darren got home about the same moment, and I told him all about it and tried to demonstrate (but of course she wouldn't do it then) and he got on the phone to his mom and my mom to tell them all about it (I just love that about him). The grandmas were suitably impressed. Then I tried it again with her, and she did it! She seems so happy with herself and thrilled that I'm singing Pop Goes the Weasel and jumping pretty much nonstop for her.

Darren claims that she's really already said her first word: Mama, but she really says mamamamamamama. She does know that it's me, but still...I can't really count that. Though I will say, the other day I went into her room about 4:45 a.m. to get my clothes for work--she was breathing those deep breaths of sleep, and I didn't make a single solitary sound. Nevertheless, in about 15 seconds, I could see a little person in polar bear pajamas, sitting up in her crib in the dark, whispering, "Mamamamama?" (It was the whispering part that just killed me.)

Regardless, whatever she's doing, she's beginning to communicate verbally with us. And pretty soon this blog will be filled with all sorts of her witty bon mots. Soon we will have not one, but two talkers in this house. In fact, I can hear her up in her crib right now. So, I'm off for another chorus of Pop Goes the Weasel.

For Moali

About a year ago, I heard a sermon at church by a guest speaker. The title of the sermon was "Will You Give Jesus Your Lunch?" which sounds sort of funny. The premise though was the story in the Bible when Jesus fed the 5,000. He had been teaching a large crowd (and actually, 5,000 was the count for the men there. Probably, including women and children, it was closer to 20,000), and it had come time for food to be passed around--to feed all these hungry people. But there wasn't any food. The 12 disciples got together and tried to brainstorm, but all they came up with was a little boy who offered up his lunch--5 little loaves of bread and 2 fish. That tiny amount wouldn't have made much of a snack for the disciples alone, let alone 20,000 people. But Jesus blessed it, and everyone had as much as they wanted to eat, plus twelve baskets left over. The point of the sermon was that, with regard to world needs, we may feel like we have nothing to give. But if we place what little we have in God's hands, He will be able to do mighty things with it, things we could never dream of. At the end of the sermon, the speaker asked us, if we were willing, to hold out our hands, palms up, in a symbolic gesture that we are giving our time, prayer, resources, whatever little bit that we have. Well, even though we're in an EV Free church, I'm still a Presbyterian at heart, and we *don't* raise our hands. But...I kept turning the ideas over in my head long after we left.

A few weeks later, I was sitting at our kitchen island, reading the Chicago Tribune. There was a feature story on AIDS orphans in Africa. Ever since I volunteered teaching ESL to refugee pre-schoolers with World Relief, African children have been in my heart. I've actually read quite a few articles about the epidemic in Africa and have seen a number of news pieces. This one was different. This told the story of a 13-year-old South African girl named Moali Mthombeni. She had been orphaned as a toddler; her parents dead from AIDS. She had been living in various foster care situations. Her uncle had begun raping her when she was 10. Honestly, on the surface, as sad as that story is, there are thousands, millions, just like hers. But the article went on. At school, the other children laughed at Moali and wouldn't play with her because she wasn't a virgin anymore. I think it was at that point that I put my head down on the counter and started to cry. The rest of the piece said that she had been asked to leave school because she did not have the fees for her uniform, and at the end she said simply, "I have no one to help me."

I have no one to help me.

I sat at the counter with the tears flowing and I felt my hands kind of open up involuntarily and I said, "I don't really have much. I'm a mom in Rockford, Illinois. We don't have a lot of extra money. I'm pregnant. I'm totally overwhelmed. But Jesus, I give you my lunch. You are welcome to do with it what you will."

There was a picture of Moali accompanying the article. I cut it out, and it's been on our refrigerator ever since. Every time I open the door, I see her. I touch her sweet face. I say a prayer that she'll be protected from violence, that she'll be kept safe, that she will not get AIDS, that she will live without fear.

I've tried to find her. I've searched and searched and searched. And then I've searched some more. I've contacted world organizations and Oprah and anyone I can think of. Needle in a haystack doesn't even begin to describe it. She's one of millions and millions and millions of orphans in this world.

We have adopted her, in our hearts for the time being, as a family. Darren prays for her and Lucy, sweet little Lucy, prays for her "that she won't be sad anymore because she doesn't have a mommy and a daddy" and I pray for her without ceasing. I wish we could adopt her and bring her to live with us and be a part of our family. I'd like to make sure she gets an education. I'd like to buy her clothes and feed her and tuck her in bed at night. I'd like to talk to her and listen to her.

Right now I feel like we've done everything we can. I don't feel like it's enough, but it's our little lunch; we've offered it up, and so be it. God's ways are not our ways. There are lots of great organizations out there, and many that are helping orphans of AIDS in Africa. Every time I see an African child I think of "our" African child. We try to send money whenever we can, and any little bit that we can help one child is good, I guess. We do for Moali's sake. We do it for Jesus' sake.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


One morning in August, I heard ear-splitting screams outside the house. I had that automatic panic-stricken feeling "A child has been hurt." I raced to the window, only to see our 5-year-old next door neighbor, Bridget, walking down the street. Her shrieks were deafening. She walked on, the noise shattering glass in people's windows, setting off car alarms, and causing neighborhood dogs to bark. Her mother walked wearily behind, saying to onlookers, "It's her first day of kindergarten. She doesn't want to go to school. She doesn't want to ride the bus, even though her grandpa drives the bus. Bridget doesn't like change."

More and more I feel like Bridget, and I think, for better or worse, I've passed this along to both my girls. When Lucy was 14 months old, we took her on our first official family vacation to the beach at Saugatuck. She loathed every minute, other than the part where Darren swung with her in a hammock. The whole place was like a picture postcard: a lovely golden beach, gentle lapping water, striped beach umbrellas, happy families splashing in the lake. Lucy hated it. She cried when Darren tried to take her into the water. She cried if I sprinkled the tiniest bit of sand on her piggies. She cried when we took a walk. She cried when we tried to give her a bath in the bathtub at the cabin. Mostly what I remember about that vacation is being awakened every morning by her little hands grasping the soles of my feet--the cabin bedroom was so small, her portable crib was pressed up against the bottom of our bed. She was so relieved to go home to everything familiar.

Elaine seems to have the same dislike of change. When she was born, unless we were holding her, she never wanted to leave her carseat. I think it reminded her of being in the womb. A lot of it was understandable: she had reflux and would vomit if she laid flat on her back. She was premature and quite small, so the closeness of the carseat made her feel more secure. I tried to get her acclimated to her crib, but she hated it. I guiltily let her sleep in every night. I would lie in the big guestroom bed beside her, with her carseat on the floor so I could reach down randomly every few minutes throughout the night and check to see if she was breathing. This went on for almost four months. I began to have visions of her being 3 years old, still sitting in her infant carseat with great, long legs dangling over the sides. (These are similar to the visions I have now of having to pack a bottle in her lunchbox or Lucy having to go to kindergarten in Depends fastened with duct tape.)

Like I said, I'm not much different myself though. Maybe I am getting melancholy because fall has come, but it's such a bittersweet thing to watch my little girls and to just want to preserve these moments in amber so I can keep them and relive them whenever I want. Maybe that's why I write this journal. Like the way Elaine is playing on the rug now and she does a move that can only be described as yoga's "downward facing dog." Or how her blond hair sticks up in a little mohawk. The other night I was undressing her for her bath, she was scrambling around naked on the bed, and Lucy exclaimed, "Elaine! You look like a wild mouse!" And that's what we call her now; it fits so well, our little Wild Mouse. But someday she'll be a little girl with hair that lies flat, and we won't call her that at all--I'm already missing her wild mouse days and they're not even over.

And Lucy herself. I can't say I wish that all of age 3 would stay with us, but I want to keep forever moments like the other day when she and I took a walk around the neighborhood, hand in hand, savoring the crisp fall air and the changing colors. She said excitedly, "Mama! Look at the squirrel running and swooping up that tree!" When we neared home she said, "Can we get some apple slices and milk and sit out on the front porch together and sing?" So we did--several rounds of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, plus one she had composed herself (along with a dance), which consisted of numerous verses such as "I'm a little cherry/pear/almond, etc." She stood on the front porch, petted one of the stone lions, sang and danced completely unself-consciously, and I thought, "Now. Right now. I want to keep this forever and ever and ever."

Any sort of change makes me feel trepidatious and a little panicky. The night before we brought Elaine home from the NICU, I rocked Lucy on my lap in the dark and sang along with the lullaby CD that she has listened to before bed ever since she was an infant. We rocked and rocked and sang and sang and I kept thinking, "This is it. This is the last time I'll have only this little one in the dark with me. Starting tomorrow, everything will change. For better or worse, we'll be a family of four" until she finally looked up at me and whispered, "Mama? Can I get in bed now?"

Of course, most of the time, the change in my life and theirs is for the better. I know I would be sad if they didn't learn and grow. But sometimes, like this week when I had to put away Elaine's tiny baby outfits and buy her some new 12-month clothes, it almost becomes too much for me. I kept her in size 2 diapers for so long until Darren finally said gently, "Babe, she really does need size 3," and I wailed, "But if I do that, pretty soon she'll be going to seventh grade!" I was only half kidding.

One of the songs on the lullaby CD is called "Seasons," and (surprise, surprise!) it makes me teary every time I hear it, which is often because now Elaine goes to sleep every night with it. I guess it's how I really feel about change, even though I'm always fighting it. I sing it to my two babies and hope to gently guide them through this constantly changing world with its sentiment:

Seasons come and seasons go
Things will change and this I know
But these remain as always true:
God is good, and I love you.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Vacation and the Aftermath

Last week we took a long weekend and went to St. Louis. Darren's brother, his wife, their two boys, and soon-to-be due baby just moved there from Boston. I like St. Louis as long as it's not summer. We got down there late Friday night and went to their fabulous free zoo the next day. Our two nephews, Drew and Ryne, are delightful. I'm really glad both girls are going to get to grow up near their cousins. Drew is shy and quiet and smart. He loves babies. Ryne is....well, he's kind of a combination of Curious George and Animal from the Muppets. He and Lucy are inseparable.

I overhear them having long conversations, introducing Lucy to their Star Wars action figures ("dolls" as she calls them. She picks one up and asks, "Is this Jesus?" and Ryne says, "No, that's Hans Solo." "Well, it looks like Jesus," she asserts doggedly.) They take her by the hand throughout the zoo and sing Wheels on the Bus. I see passersby looking at them and smiling. We eat hot dogs and ride the train and go to the small petting zoo and brush the goats (Smoochie is in heaven). At night we have a fire and make s'mores.

The next day we visit their church, and Ryne takes Lucy by the hand and tells the teacher importantly, "This is my cousin Lucy. I'm going to take care of her." ("I'm sure that puts everyone's mind at ease" mutters my brother-in-law.) After church we head back to Peoria to spend a couple of days with Mimi and Papa.

After four days of non-stop fun and no naps, it's taking some time to bring Lucy back to earth. The first day back, I'm downstairs in the basement emailing some pictures of the trip to Darren. I know she's eaten a sucker (leftover parade candy) and I yell up the stairs, "Lucy, do NOT go near Elaine with that sucker stick!" "OK, Mom!" she bellows back. Seconds later, I hear Elaine crying, and it's NOT a good cry. I run upstairs and Lucy is standing in very close proximity to her, stick in hand. Upon questioning, she reveals that not only was she playing by Elaine with the stick, but she stuck it in her ear. Two swats to the bottom later, she's sitting on a chair. I calm Elaine and check her ears. I ask Lucy, "Which ear did you put the stick in?" "Both," she replies.

After giving an impromptu hearing test to Elaine (who, of course, is smiling by now), I call Lucy in. I tell her that I love her, but that is the naughtiest thing she has ever done. The consequences are no more treats the rest of the day. No parade candy, no candy corn. Her mouth starts to quiver. Then I say that after lunch we won't be reading books and she won't be listening to CDs during naptime. "But...I want Henry Huggins," she quavers. I go on: she'll be sleeping on Darren's and my bed with no distractions Rabbie. Then she begins to cry. I talk to her about how she could have permanently damaged Elaine. I know that makes no sense, so maybe she'll remember a Rabbie-less day.

I let her cry it out, and we go upstairs to get ready for the day. A few minutes later I'm in the bathroom getting ready, and I hear a tell-tale sound. I go to the door of her room. She has her back to me, jumping on the bed (this is not allowed). As soon as she sees me, she plops down instantly. I say, "What are you doing?" A split second. "Trying to make my dolls laugh, Mama." I say, "What am I going to do with you, Lucy? You've already gotten into more trouble than you ever have in your lifetime. You already don't get Rabbie today. What should be your punishment?" The corners of her mouth turn down, her lip quivers, and she says in a half sob, "I just don't know! I'll obey you! Mama, I'll give you my life!" I have no idea where she got that phrase, but it makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. I end simply with "Get off the bed" and go take my shower.

Lucy took all of her punishment the rest of the day without complaining or fussing. During naptime, I gave Rabbie a bath, and she was thrilled to have him at bedtime. When I tucked her in bed, she looked up at me with those huge brown eyes and said, "Mom, do you still love me when I'm naughty? Do you still love me when I put a stick in Smoochie's ears? Is she not deaf anymore?"

In concert

I wish I could like, blog in real time. Something great happens and I need to write it down right away, rather than weeks later when the momentum is lost. This is particularly the case with the concert we went to a couple of Fridays ago. Lucy is in love with this group: I periodically check their website to see if they're in concert, and lo and behold they were scheduled to be at Moody. I haven't been back since I graduated actually. I got tickets, and against our better judgment we took our 3-year-old to a concert that started at 8:00 p.m. In Chicago. We left our house at 4:00 p.m. and planned to eat near my work at Dave & Busters so we could play some games and kill some time before the concert. About the time we reached Schaumburg, the heavens opened and the worst storm I have ever been out in commenced. The works: green sky, wind, crashing thunder, streaking lightning, rain falling sideways, hail battering the car (don't think I didn't hope for just a little bit of hail damage seeing as we got $3,000 for such about three years ago). We inched along with our hazards on. We finally decided it would be more expedient to just go through the drivethrough--so we did, with an umbrella up and still got soaked. Lucy asked, "Where's the part where we play games?"

We got to Moody Church and in our seats at 7:40. Not bad. Because the concert was being broadcast on the radio, we got to practice our reaction and cheering before it even started, which was fun. Selah came out, we cheered for real, and they started with Lucy's two favorites. The whole thing was wonderful from start to finish. Great music, great group of people, no shame in singing along. Lucy sang loudly with everything she knew, some she didn't, and forgot she was a Presbyterian and even raised her hands.

Todd taught us all to sing in African, which was a highlight. Our whole family is touched by the situation in Africa; this is one of the major things that attracts us to this group in the first place. It was phenomenal to sing in their language and feel connected to people all the way across the world.

One of the highlights for me was one of their new songs "Follow Jesus." This is written for the particular section of the Congo where Todd is from. Their only claim to fame is that they are the most populous area. Todd's father (current missionary) wants their claim to be "Bandandu: people of the Bible." The most powerful part of the song is the middle where Todd calls out each province and people group, so that they know, when hearing the song, that they have not been forgotten.

The song is my prayer for my own girls and also the little African girl, Moali Mthombeni, who we've adopted in our hearts (more on her at a later date).

Anyway, the whole experience was transforming, and we left with Lucy saying, "Can we go to that concert again?"

My parents stayed overnight and took care of Elaine. My mom asked Lucy the next morning how the concert was and she said, "Good. I had chicken nuggets in a bag in my carseat."