Monday, January 28, 2008
Saturday we went to a one-year birthday party for a friend. The girls made cards for him and brought him small gifts, though it took some persuading to get Elaine to part with the Curious George puzzle she was giving. I would ask her periodically throughout the party, "Do you want to give Caleb (she calls him "Clay-leb") his puzzle now?" and she would nod; we would walk over to him; she would stretch out her hand with the puzzle, then retract it, shake her head, and walk away. I finally just distracted her with some pigs-in-a-blanket and birthday cake so she would put it down.
I think this is common with most parents when they're expecting their second child, but you just wonder if you'll ever be able to love them as much as your first one. Then when they arrive, there is just no doubt. And each day as she grows into her own little person, I see how crazy I was to even think that.
Now when I'm in the kitchen, like I was yesterday on a big cooking jag (making beef stew and corn & potato chowder thankyouverymuch), all of a sudden I hear the sound of the kitchen stool being dragged over, then the sound of climbing up the steps, and a little blond gosling head pops up at my elbow and peeps, "Why you do dat, Mommy?" I talked her through what I was doing, and she grabbed the little cookbook that was on the counter and said, "I read dis to you. It says, 'Nine.'" (I'll be very sad when she can pronounce "th." I almost want Lucy to bug her just so I can keep hearing her say, "No bodder me please Lucy!") Then later I was peeling a number of grapefruit and she kept running in and saying, "Please Mom, I want some dat pumpkin" then after I gave her a mouthful she'd say, "I go play now!" until 30 or 40 seconds later she'd be back for more.
Both girls also started watching "Cinderella" together this weekend. Lucy's seen it before but had fortunately forgotten that we own it. I HATE that movie. It should really be renamed "A Bunch of Mice Get Chased by a Cat for an Hour and a Half." It's so annoying. But...they both love it even though Elaine can barely contain her distress and shouts at the screen, "No no you naughty cat! Don't do dat!"
Afterward I heard Lucy say to her, "Elaine, did you know that cat is named Lucifer? And after he was a cat, then he became an angel. Then he was turned into a snake."
Friday, January 25, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
In between my heavily demanding courseload of Independent Living, Speedwriting, and American Government, I took five years of French (the first year in junior high--amazingly, I wasn't in high school for five years). French was fun inasmuch as any class was fun for me--I liked picking up useful little phrases, meandering my way through "The Count of Monte Cristo," and not doing my homework. My friend Julie and I spent a good portion of our time writing and passing notes to each other (that could be added as another major activity to the list above), and somewhere in boxes we've kept old high school notes for posterity. It's astonishing how many of them (both of ours) contain the words, "I didn't do my French homework, did you?" (why we continued to ask each other when the answer was obviously "no" I'll never know). Our teacher, Madame Erven, would walk up and down the aisles checking homework, and would look at us sadly whenever she saw our empty notebooks. And if it was on a Monday, she would inquire reprovingly, "Le bon weekend?" which never failed to reduce us to giggles.
So, it might surprise you to learn that Lucy's teacher, having somehow gotten wind of the fact that I had taken five years of French, asked me to be the Mystery Guest in class this week. All of January, the class is learning about France. Despite my reputation for procrastination and underachievement, my desire to make Lucy proud and maintain my status in her eyes as Best Mom Ever won out, and I had great things planned. I was going to teach the children many of the words they think they know in English but are really French, such as art, blonde, ballet, restaurant, etc. (Don't think I wasn't tempted to discuss "aperitif" and "agent provocateur," but I resisted). And my coup de grace? I was bringing in a popular snack little French boys and girls have after school (so I hear)--French bread with chocolate bars on top. I was even wearing my Paris shirt with the Eiffel Tower on it.
Oh, mes amies, it would have been tres magnifique. However, when I went to drop Lucy off, the school parking lot was deserted. No cars. No children. No school today. Apparently that six inches of snow we had in the night had an impact on the school system. And...Mystery Guests are only once a month on a Tuesday! I'd already procrastinated until January, even though Lucy asks me almost weekly when I'm going to be the guest. Now I have to think up something new and fabulous for a later date. Quel horreur. (And as we drove away, Lucy was almost in tears and said, "I just hate it when there isn't any school!" Could this possibly be my child? She must get that from her father.)
Oh well, in the immortal words of Robbie Neville, "C'est la vie."
Edited to add: Lucy's teacher called me this afternoon. She wants to reschedule me to Thursday! Who knew pre-school was so flexible?
Monday, January 21, 2008
Me: We're celebrating the birthday of a man named Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lucy: Why? What does he do?
Me: OK, you know how some people have lighter skin like we do and some people have darker skin like Osceana and Ms. Jackie and Mr. Michael do? Well, it's kind of unbelievable, but some people don't like the people with darker skin.
Lucy: (openmouthed in surpise) Why? Why wouldn't they like them?
Me: I don't know; it's crazy. But Martin Luther King was a pastor, and he stood up and said it was wrong, and that everybody should like everybody else, no matter what color their skin is.
Lucy: Did Martin Luther King have light skin or dark skin?
Me: He had dark skin.
Lucy: And tomorrow we're telling him happy birthday?
Me: (deep breath) Well, yes, but...here's the sad part. Some bad people who didn't like Martin Luther King and didn't like people with dark skin shot him.
Lucy: They shot him? With a gun? Did they kill him? Is he dead?
Me: (now realizing I'm in way over my head) Yeeeessss. But honey, this happened a long time ago. Even before Mommy was born. It's really a good day. It's a day to celebrate the good things he did.
Lucy: THEY SHOT THE PASTOR?!? AND HE'S DEAD?
Valentine's Day can't get here soon enough.
Friday, January 18, 2008
Also, regarding Baby Lucy and her open heart surgery: the surgery was successful in repairing her valve, and the doctors were pleased. She is being watched carefully in intensive care, and everyone is happy with her progress. Thanks to everyone who is praying for her too.
As for me, I have farmed my family out for the weekend and am on my own until mid-day Saturday. Tonight some friends (I actually have no idea how many) are coming over for dessert and to make jewelry (it's what we call "fellowship" in the Baptist church, ya'll), and tomorrow I will be able to sleep in as late as I want. I've got some library books to catch up on as well.
I took Elaine over to my parents' house yesterday, and she made herself at home there immediately. She had cookies and tea and then went upstairs and got down some of the dolls who belong to the girls but live with my parents (Allie and Louisa, named for me and Louisa May Alcott respectively, dontcha know). Then she told my mom she wanted to watch "teebee" (forever shattering the illusion for them that I don't let my kids watch TV). When I said goodbye to her, she ran over, gave me a brief hug, said, "Bye-bye, Mom. Go to the store. I watch this goose on teebee," and ran back to her dolls and the tube.
When I got home, I prepped Lucy for her visit to Darren's parents (my mother-in-law is watching her while Darren goes hunting) and said, "Lucy, I know you'll be a good girl and won't cause any trouble. See if you can be a helper too. You could say to MiMi, 'Is there anything I can help you with, MiMi?' Now, can you practice saying that back to me?" and she said, "Sure! 'MiMi, is there anything you can help me with?'" So, we'll see how that goes.
I'll be back next week with more mundane and mediocre tales, especially since I'm slated to be the Mystery Guest in Lucy's class on Tuesday. And again, to everyone who reads this, a warm thank you. Several of you also said some very complimentary things about my writing, which is always nice to hear. And one person pointed out that I was misspelling "connoisseur" in my profile, and I realized that I was also misspelling it on my Facebook page as well, so it wasn't just a typo, I actually did not know how to spell that word and was too lazy to look it up. Nothing makes you look more pretentious and foolish than running around using fancy words you don't even know how to spell or pronounce. As I say often, "I'm so glad I'm an editor. It's such a help in my daily life."
Have a good weekend!
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
When Lucy was one year old, I was driving to work and heard a news story about a woman who was carrying her one-year-old baby into a store at a strip mall. A mentally ill man with a knife was approaching people in the parking lot and demanding their keys and stabbing them. He approached this woman and stabbed her baby girl. The baby died right there in her arms. By the time I got to work, I was so ill that I had to tell my boss I needed to take a sick day. I turned around and drove home. Darren was taking care of Lucy since it was a Friday, but I needed to be there and to hold her. I needed to make sure that he didn't take her out of the house that day. I spent the day alternately clutching her to me and running to the bathroom to vomit. What chance did she have in the world if she wasn't even safe in her mother's arms? For all the times I carried her into the grocery store or Target...she was not protected there. I kept crying out to God, "Where were You? I don't understand. I don't understand." Suddenly, a verse I'd learned from childhood came to mind, Proverbs 3:5 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding." I had to put my hand again in His and trust Him as His child, though I'll never understand. I spent many tortured hours, days, and weeks, wrestling with that, but the fact that I do not have to lean on my own understanding sustained me through it.
Our former church, where we spent seven years and where both our girls were baptized, was as close to perfect (for me) as you could get. If I personally designed a church, it would come out looking like that one. It was large, and the friends we made were often the people who sat around us--quite a number of people sat in roughly the same spot each week. There was a man there, in his sixties, who sat behind us. He was quiet but friendly and seemed a little bit sad. We struck up a friendship, not a close one, but a friendship with him. When I became pregnant with Lucy, all of our "seatmates" around us were excited and then thrilled when she was born. I enjoyed showing her off after she was born and bringing her up from the nursery after the service each Sunday as she grew into a little girl.
Our friend particularly liked her and was so sweet to her. He bought her a little bear and made sure there was nothing on it that could choke her. He always let her play with his keys. Besides missing everything else about our church when we moved here, we missed him, and I was so happy one day when Lucy got a card in the mail from him that said, "Dear Lucy, never forget that Jesus loves you and I love you too." I kept it in her baby book.
Today I opened up the newspaper and discovered that our friend had been sentenced to 39 years in prison for four counts of aggravated sexual assault against an 11-year-old. And discovered this was not his first sexual offense either. He befriended the child's parents, gave gifts to the child, and eventually molested him repeatedly. Apparently there was a lot of brainwashing going on as well because the judge said at his sentencing, "You twisted your religion and Bible references to work these despicable acts."
In between tears and a heaving stomach, I try to think of metaphors--like I've just seen my daughter almost killed by a car but snatched away just in time. But nothing can convey the horror of the misplaced trust and the fact that, at 4 years old, my precious lamb has already met and been liked by a pedophile. Praise God, she is unharmed.
One of my favorite books is part of a fiction series set in the Church of England. This particular book, "Scandalous Risks," is about a 26-year-old woman who embarks on an affair with a married man who is also a clergyman. He twists Scripture and morality until this young woman is so confused, she consults a priest to help her discern what is happening. He says to her, " 'You both stand in very great danger.' 'You mean in danger of being found out?' 'No, in danger of spiritual destruction. Can't you feel the Devil caressing the hair at the nape of your neck?' Instantly my scalp prickled. In fact so powerful was the impact of his suggestion that my hand automatically sped to the nape of my neck to clamp down on the hairs which I felt sure were standing on end. Then reason reclaimed me. I said in a fury, 'You can't frighten me like that! No one believes in the Devil any more!' ...'Forget the little imp with horns,' Father Darrow said...'But think of Hiroshima. When the atomic bomb was dropped many were killed but some people did survive apparently unscathed. Yet they were not unscathed. They had been contaminated by a great pollutant. That was a very great pollutant, but there's another pollutant, the greatest pollutant of them all, and it attacks not men's bodies, but their souls.'"
I have a dear friend who is uncomfortable when I start talking about Christianity, particularly when I mention Satan. But when I opened up the paper today and saw the mugshot of someone I knew and trusted, who had loved my child, and who had perpetrated such evil onto another innocent child...there is no other way to put it. I could feel the Devil caressing the hair at the nape of my neck.
And the absolute worst, worst part of it is that somehow he used the name of Jesus, the name that is so precious to me and my children, so revered in our household, the Jesus who is holy and pure, who created and blessed the children, to get it done. When I saw his picture in the paper, it felt like I was looking right in Satan's face.
This is a pretty dark night for me. I checked on each of my sleeping babies, but I don't know how much I will sleep. In between getting it all out on paper as it were (and anyone who writes knows how cathartic that is), I'm reading the comforting words about the triumph of the light against darkness in 1 John. And just as that day three or so years ago when I cried out to God, "Where were You?" and I was comforted by the words of Proverbs, I'm again comforted by His Word, this time from Revelation 19:12 "His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns. He has a name written on Him that no one knows but He Himself."
What an awesome, awesome comfort that is to me. Somewhere on Jesus Christ is written a name that no one knows but Him alone. No one will ever know. No one can touch it. No one can profane it. No one can twist it. No one can foul it. No one can perpetrate hideous acts of wickedness with it. It's pure. It's untouchable. It's holy.
I try to read 3-4 books a week (emphasis on "try"). But unless you want to hear a mystery or a classic reviewed every week, I probably shouldn't write about what I'm reading (also, I tend to be a little bit behind. I just finished, for the first time, Alexander McCall Smith's "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" even though everybody else read it about 8 years ago or something. Oh, and it was wonderful! But...you already knew that.) So instead I'm going to try and review a children's book each week, because not only is my ultimate dream job to sit around in my pajamas and read children's books full-time, but this blog IS called Guilford Road: IloveyouI'mcrying, which is about my kids, so I should have something that actually relates to them. Also, I concur with C.S. Lewis who said that the mark of a good children's book is that it appeals to an adult. Or something like that.
So, let's begin.
My inaugural book is Rumer Godden's "Miss Happiness and Miss Flower." Published in 1961, the story is that of Nona, a 9-year-old girl who has grown up in colonized India but is sent to live in a suburb of London with her aunt and uncle and their three children. Nona is homesick and heartsick, lonely and unsure of how to remedy that. Her two older cousins, while kind, don't have much time for her, and the youngest, Belinda, torments Nona whenever possible. Everything seems hopeless until a package arrives in the mail, containing two small Japanese dolls named Miss Happiness and Miss Flower.
Somehow instinctively, Nona understands that they need a home. It is not right for them to be thrown into Belinda's English dollhouse, Nona must learn how to make a proper Japanese home for them. She must first conquer her own fears and anxieties and actually meet people, people who can help her learn how to make a house for the dolls. Her first conquest is Mr. Twilfit, the bookstore owner down the road, of whom even Belinda is terrified. However, Mr. Twilfit is not unacquainted with loneliness either, nor is he devoid of sympathy towards children: "Will you be careful [of these books] if I lend them to you?' 'Very careful,' said Nona, and her brown eyes glowed. 'Then give me your name and address.' 'Nona Fell,' said Nona dreamily--she was thinking about reading those books--'Nona Fell. Coimbatore Tea Estate, near Travancore, South India...' 'You are in England,' said Mr. Twilfit very gently. 'Your address here?' Nona looked at him and the glow went out of her eyes. She could have fallen through the floor with shame; even small children, almost babies, know their address, but she had been taken into the house almost as if she had been a piece of luggage, and had never bothered to notice or find out its address."
Nona's course of self-study through Japanese culture, customs, festivals, and houses is always well-woven into the story and never becames drily factual. Of course through her creation of a home for the two tiny dolls, she is creating a sense of belonging for herself. And her joyful journey is not without impediment--Belinda nearly manages to ruin the whole thing.
Besides being a captivating story, (and Godden's style is unique--she traverses back and forth between inner and spoken dialogue with ease like I've never read from any other author) there is a wonderful amount of accurate cultural information. As well, at the end of the book, there are detailed plans of how to build a Japanese dollhouse as Nona did. In addition to getting Nona's perspective of the story, Godden also gives us the dolls' perspective (and I blame her for the fact that even when I'm in a rush to clean up all the toys littering the house up, whenever I put away Elaine's dollhouse, I make sure the two dolls are gently tucked into bed for the night).
The age range listed for "Miss Happiness and Miss Flower" is 8-12, though I think a perceptive 5-year-old would definitely be ready to enjoy it. The Horn Book calls this "A rare and perfect gem of a book," and I would certainly concur.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Sleep, little Baby, sleep;
The holy Angels love thee,
And guard thy bed, and keep
A blessed watch above thee.
No spirit can come near
Nor evil beast to harm thee:
Sleep, Sweet, devoid of fear
Where nothing need alarm thee.
The Love which doth not sleep,
The eternal Arms surround thee:
The Shepherd of the sheep
In perfect love hath found thee.
Sleep through the holy night,
Christ-kept from snare and sorrow,
Until thou wake to light
And love and warmth to-morrow.
When my brother and I were growing up, we took part in yearly musicals at Wheaton Bible Church. Anyone else out there remember these? Anyone? Bueller? OK, maybe not. They were Bible-story based musicals or stuff derived from Music Machine, etc. Chuck usually got some great lead part or at least the funny man part, while I was always relegated to the chorus and playing the kazoo. But...no professional jealousy there or anything. Our absolute favorite one was called "Cool in the Furnace." (I'll let you figure out the Bible story on which it was based. Take a minute. Got it?) Chuck got the main part: Daniel, who acted as the narrator.
My mom has audio cassettes of some of our musicals, and the girls discovered "Cool in the Furnace." They absolutely love it, and what a blast it was for me to REWIND and listen to our little selves circa 1981. Daniel's voice hadn't even changed yet!
Now every night right before bed, both girls start clamoring for "Tio, Tio!", which is code for "Cool in the Furnace." We turn out the lights, and the musical kicks off with me (and the other kazoo players) and segues into the first song, which the girls dance around to with wild abandon. I wouldn't say that the words are particularly deep theologically--"Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego learned some lessons they want you to know, they had funny names and they lived far away, but they set an example you can follow today"--but the story's all there, and it's presented clearly.
So why the other night when they were dancing and singing for the nth time to this recording, did my eyes fill up with tears when I heard Elaine lisp "Shadrach! Meshach! A-BED-NEE-GO!"? (And no, it wasn't because of my kazoo playing). All of a sudden it hit me--man, we are still talking about these guys. Didn't this incident happen in like, 570 B.C. or something? This meglomaniac king builds a big statue and every time the music plays, everyone is supposed to bow down to it, and if you don't? Fiery furnace. I can picture so clearly a massive crowd of people face down, and then there are these three young men--we're not even sure how old--maybe their voices had just broken...and they're standing up. Standing up tall. Alone.
I always love their response to the king too when he tells them bow down or go to the furnace and even their god won't be able to save them then, and they reply calmly, "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But either way, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." Either way.
Immediately they're seized and dragged to the furnace, which scholars believe was set into the side of mountain or hill. Any time God could have intervened and called a halt to the whole thing. But He didn't. He let those young men be dragged away and thrown into a fire so hot, that those who threw them in were immediately consumed by it themselves. The three men fell, tied, into the fire, and that could have been the end of it.
Except the king, who was apparently peering into the fire (from a safe distance), suddenly saw figures in the fire. Untied. Walking around. (Hey, I don't want to read anything into the Bible that's not there. But when I picture this scene in my head? Those guys are dancing around. Singing, too.) And of course there was a Fourth in there with them. When the king called into the furnace, the three men walked out, by themselves, unharmed.
There were a lot of different ways God could have played that scene. Maybe the split second before they were bound together and thrown in, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego accepted that He really wasn't going to miraculously intervene. Imagine their joy and surprise at the way He chose. Sometimes God works quietly, in the heart, in the attitude, in the aftermath. And sometimes He just flat out shows up. In a big way.
And because He did that day, those guys with the funny names not only set an example we can follow today, but some 2500+ years later, two little girls can dance and sing the story and its outcome to His glory. And their mom can look on with tears in her eyes.
Monday, January 07, 2008
"Elaine, you need to say, 'I'm sorry' to your sister immediately."
"I forgive you. But it's still your fault."
"Lucy, is that a really kind thing to say?"
"Well, it IS her fault."
"When you broke my Snoopy Christmas ornament and you told me you were sorry, did I say, 'I forgive you, but it's still your fault'?"
"But it really is still her fault."
Saturday, January 05, 2008
I went back up again almost an hour later. Once again, the light was on under her door. She was sitting up in bed, working on her Cinderella magna-doodle. I said, "What are you doing?" She was full of a lot of reasons why she should have the light on and be working away instead of obeying. I stood there and waited silently, until finally she crumbled and started to cry. I said, "Yeah, all you're really doing is disobeying. I'm putting this up now, and you won't be able to work on this at all tomorrow." That of course brought on more sobs and cries of "I'm sorry, Mom! I'm sorry I disobeyed you!"
So often, God uses my kids as object lessons for me. Oddly enough (coincidence?), I'm listening to James Macdonald's series "Going Down for the Third Time" on the life of King Saul. Just that night I had listened to "Turning from God"--the portion where Saul does not carry out God's instructions through Samuel and brings back King Agag as a prisoner of war as well as all the spoils left over from the Amalekites. He stands in front of Samuel and says, "I carried out what the Lord asked!" and Samuel replies (which would be funny if it weren't so tragic) "What then is this bleating of sheep I hear?"
Then Samuel asks him why, why he did this thing. "Produce your strong reasons why you did not obey the Lord!" Saul digs himself deeper and deeper claiming "I did obey!" and then "It was the people. They did this, and we brought back the spoils to make a sacrifice to your God." Samuel answers back with one of the key phrases in the whole Bible, "To obey is better than sacrifice." (Or a paraphrase from Anne of Green Gables? "Good behavior in the first place is better than theatrical apologies afterward.")
If you've never heard James Macdonald (he's on my blog roll, check it out!), he can really break it down. He can take a story that happened in 1050 B.C. and make it relevant to me today. I'm really not different from Saul. I've always got an excuse for why I disobey. It's always easy to produce all the strong reasons why I'm doing my own thing, working on Cinderella magna-doodle instead of being obedient and going to sleep.
But there's no excuse for disobedience. Never. None. Not "I obey most of the time" or "My heart was in the right place" or "Look at all the times I do obey!" During this whole debacle with Saul and the Amalekites, God said to Samuel, "I regret that I have made Saul king." Pastor James said something that really cut me to the heart, "Don't make God feel regret. Don't make God say, 'Is that it? Is that her response for all the grace and mercy she's been given?' "
I like the new year, the idea of a fresh start. And the big idea for 2008 for me? It's obedience. All the time. No excuses. No phony reasons. No regret.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Lucy was carefully brushing Elaine's hair with her wet toothbrush (and surprisingly, Elaine was actually letting her). She said to me, "Mom, I'm giving her a buttermilk bath, just like Mrs. Homer Zuckerman gave to Wilbur. She's going to be some clean pig when I'm through!"