Small Wonders… or Sibling Love

It was a rough weekend. My arms are swollen and itchy with poison ivy, acquired while doing cleanup at a cemetery on Saturday. My husband is still recovering from some severe vertigo that hit him hard on Sunday. Jane was surprised by an early arrival for which she had not packed supplies. And Daryl… well, Daryl beat himself up.

One of our church members found what he thought was a sturdy grapevine at the cemetery and suggested the boys swing on it. He helped Hal swing and then backed up as Daryl took a turn. Daryl swung into the air and then slammed into the ground when the vine snapped, landing hard on his back. He was ok but didn’t believe it. He walked around gingerly and moaned about his back for some time.

By that evening, however, he had found sufficient distraction from his back. At the hotel, he ran across the courtyard to fetch his swimsuit and tripped, severely skinning his knee. Sorry, kid, we can’t let you in the pool.

He was devastated. Hal was already dressed in his swimsuit so Poppy prepared to take him to the pool. A dark cloud descended over Daryl’s face. He looked as though the world would never be right again.

Jane sat down beside him and wrapped him in a hug. She began to talk softly to him, rubbing his arms and leaning her face in close to his. I expected him to shrug her off like he normally would, but instead he listened. She said, “I know how you feel. I really do. I wanted to go swimming but I can’t either.”

“Yes you can,” he responded. “Nothing is stopping you.”

“Yes it is,” she said. “My period started and so now I can’t go swimming. We are in the same boat. Maybe we can watch some TV instead.”

I had a hard time imagining a nine year old boy being comforted by a story of menstrual distress, but to my great surprise, he cheered up immediately. He scrambled onto the bed across from the TV and waited for his sister to turn it on.

Small wonders. I can’t believe she shared that information and I can’t believe the tactic worked. Small wonders, indeed.

Generational Differences

Hal is nearly five years old. We moved past the potty training stage well over a year and a half ago. We absolutely love not being tethered to a diaper bag or having to make sure you have a spare change of clothes. The time period of accidents is long past. Or so we thought.

The first poop accident occurred while the boys were camping in the northwest in June. Daddy had asked him to wait until they got somewhere so willingly took part of the blame. That was an exceptional incident under trying circumstances. Surely an isolated event.

The next one occurred a couple of weeks ago. Again, we were away from home at the art conference. Nevertheless, we started to get irritated. Both times, my husband threw away the underwear – one Thor, the other Angry Birds – because we just didn’t have the means to clean them properly. Both times, Hal got really upset. We thought losing the underwear would make an impression.

Accident number three was just last week. At home. His reason? “I forgot!” We had a long talk about how old he was and the need to pay attention to when he needed to go and not ignore it. The same conversation we’d had repeatedly back when this was a focus in our lives.

The next one was yesterday at my grandmother’s house. One thing that fascinates me is how he tries to hide it. As if we won’t ever notice the poop caked to his bum or the smelly clothes. I looked at the underwear – this time Lego Star Wars Darth Maul – and thought I really don’t want to clean those. So I said I was throwing them away.

He got upset. I asked if he wanted to clean them. He said yes. I clarified: “You want to scrub the poop out with your own hands?” He said no, he wanted me to, because that was my job. I explained that it wasn’t my poop and he was getting too old for me to deal with these problems.

I then told him to put his pants back on without underwear. He refused. I pointed out that he did not have any underwear there so he’d have to. He angrily chastised me for not bringing our vehicle to grandma’s that had his backpack with a change of clothes in it.

Eventually, we went downstairs with a towel wrapped around his waist. I told my grandma, mom, and aunt what happened and said I’d be right back since I needed to walk the plastic bag-wrapped underwear to the outside trash can.

My grandmother calmly pointed out that I could scrub them clean. I said I knew that but didn’t want to. She said, “Well, back when I was your age, we used cloth diapers so we were used to it.”

I responded, “Yes, and I used cloth diapers too but we are well past that stage now. It’s not worth it to me to clean them up. When he runs out of his character underwear, we’ll buy him plain white. It’s a good logical consequence.”

She shrugged and nodded her head. I found this to be a remarkable demonstration of generational differences. She lived through the Depression. She still washes her Ziploc bags and until she became too weak to do it, she would occasionally dumpster dive behind the day-old bread store to get free bread. It doesn’t matter that she lives in a nice two-story house with a comfortable income. That underwear can be cleaned, so it should. Why be wasteful?

I, on the other hand, grew up in a more comfortable time. I make very good money and the cost of a pair of underwear is insignificant. My time and comfort are much more precious to me than pinching a few pennies. It doesn’t matter that the underwear can be cleaned. It’s not worth my time to do it. Especially when I can wrap it into an object lesson for my child.

I’m not sure which perspective is better overall, probably hers. But, they both have their merits and justifications. And neither one of us is likely to adopt the other attitude.

Sharing the Burden

I consider myself to be a modern and progressive woman, fully capable of accomplishing most anything. I have a college degree and work in a male-dominated technical field. I am the primary bread winner while my husband is the stay-at-home parent.

I’ve always had the attitude that I can do anything a man can do. In fact, as a kid, I used to try (repeatedly) to pee standing in front of the toilet. As a teenager, when a boy offered his hand as I climbed down off a rock, instead of viewing that as an opportunity to strike up a conversation with a cute guy, I glared at him and haughtily announced that I could get down by myself.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that when I married my high school sweetheart, I married a very capable man. And since I’ve been married to him for my entire adult life, I have become accustomed to him always taking care of certain things.

Driving is one of them. If he’s in the car, he’s usually driving. He’s better, safer, and likes it more. As he’s getting older, he seems to want me to share the burden but I’ve come to enjoy my chauffeured status and tend to resist at every opportunity.

Driving with a trailer or a serious load in the truck bed is a no-brainer. I flat-out refuse to pull the trailer. I find the entire experience too nerve-wracking. And besides, he’s impressively good. He’s had a commercial driver’s license before. He can back a school bus into a narrow parking space with buses on either side. I’m doing good to attempt the same with the Prius.

Tying stuff down in the back of a pick-up truck is another one. He remembers all the right knots and how to tie them. He’s also stronger and thus able to ratchet stuff down better. I’ve become so accustomed to his competency in this matter, that I’ve become complacent, simply standing near the truck and handing him whatever he asks for or holding whatever he tells me to hold.

This had disastrous results earlier this year when we loaded our propane grill into the back of the truck to take to church for a cook-out. He made no move to tie it down. I had a niggling thought in the back of my mind that I should perhaps suggest doing so but then dismissed it. He knows what he’s doing. Less than two miles down the road, I found myself helping him chase down pieces of our former grill after it did a spectacular back flip over the tailgate.

And so we come to today. We had had a very busy weekend, pieces of which will likely be blogged about soon. Since we would be in southern Oklahoma on Saturday, we decided to take the opportunity to run up to the Oklahoma City area with the truck. My mom recently moved into a new house and her old refrigerator (which we love) wouldn’t fit in the new kitchen. She had offered to sell it to us and also give us the grill the previous owners had left behind.

There was just one problem. My husband woke up Sunday morning with vertigo. He then took some Sudafed on an empty stomach and that caused him to throw up. Mom, her boyfriend, my husband’s dad, and I all worked together to get the truck loaded. He spent the day in bed and when it was finally time to leave, it was obvious that he wouldn’t be driving.

I climbed behind the wheel and nervously pulled out of the driveway. My shoulders were tense and I checked the mirrors constantly. I was going to need a good table massage if I stayed this tense for the entire trip.

The first stop occurred before I made it to the highway. The tie-down strap across the fridge had a long loose end blowing around. I hopped out and tied it to itself, feeling a tiny bit pleased with myself.

The second stop occurred a few miles down the highway when I noticed that the grill cover looked like it was fraying. Sure enough, it was ripped to shreds. My husband couldn’t stand so I asked Jane to help me.

First, I retrieved a tarp and covered the grill. Then I grabbed another tie-down and wrapped it as tight as I could around the grill, pushing my feet against the tires to get it tighter. Finally, I found some bungee cords and used them to secure the tarp corners by the grommets. It wasn’t a great job, but it felt adequate.

The third stop occurred very quickly after the second. I had moved the little gas can in the back and forgotten to secure it back down. I pulled over as soon as I saw it fly out the back. My husband seemed flustered about the fact that I was stopping again.

“How badly do you want the gas can?” I asked. “I’ll have to walk back and get it.”

He said he wanted it but we got crosswise with each other. He was sick and weak. I was tense and flustered. Some F-bombs were dropped. Yes, in front of the kids. I trotted back about a hundred yards to the can, moving through tall, itchy grass. By the time I got back, my legs were itching almost as much as my poison-ivy covered arms that had been scratched during the emergency tie-down of the grill tarp (busy weekend, remember?).

My husband took the opportunity to crawl weakly from the truck to check the tie-downs. He expressed a wish for another tie-down to put around the fridge. I pointed to the one around the grill and said that I had used the last one.

“That’s not a tie-down,” he said. “That’s a tow strap.”

“Oh. Well, that would certainly explain why it was so stiff and difficult to work with!”

The fourth stop came after I worried over the loose corner of the tarp flapping on my side. The last bungee cord was put to good use then. I also removed the airport baggage claim tag from the suitcase that kept masquerading as a floppy strap-like thing I should worry about.

The fifth stop was because I noticed that the fridge had slid away from the back of the cab. A folded cardboard box had been used to protect it from rubbing against the truck but it was now flopping around. We investigated but decided it would be ok. At least for now.

By the sixth time I pulled over, he was asking “what now?!” The strap over the fridge had just come loose and I watched the heavy metal ratcheting device plummet over the side of the truck.

“I’m afraid I’m going to need your help on this one,” I said. I never have been able to master those devices.

After that stop, I actually began to relax. We stopped once more, this time for food and a potty break. My husband was starting to feel better. He didn’t get dizzy when he turned his head. He offered to drive the last hour.

I said that surely I was a better choice than someone who might still get dizzy and finished the trip, even though I really, really wanted to sit in the passenger seat and play Candy Crush. Hopefully this trip earned me some credit. Surely he’ll drive all the way to Denver next month without expecting me to spend any time behind the wheel. Right?

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Daleks and Angels and Grasshoppers, Oh My!

We have a bit of a grasshopper infestation. Well, ok, maybe if there’s been a person or two who has actually contemplated not coming to our house because of them, it might be more than just a bit of an infestation.

When Allison came home with us the other night, the grasshoppers greeted our return with their usual fanfare. Hundreds of grasshoppers began to jump in celebration. Think the big “Be Our Guest” number in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. A fountain of jumping insects all across the yard.

That’s when we learned that Allison is slightly phobic about grasshoppers. She opted to wait in the car while Jane went in to retrieve her clothes. Unfortunately, the backseat was also occupied by a four year old, who bounded out of the car without shutting the door. While Jane called to Allison to come inside and Allison called out that she was fine, a grasshopper decided to join her.

Suddenly, she was not fine. She began to shriek. And then flail. She begged Jane to come retrieve the grasshopper. And then in a final move of desperation, she scrambled out of the car, jumping from foot to foot and shaking her arms.

Now, this is what I love about Jane’s friends. No, not that this one is afraid of grasshoppers. That’s not what I’m getting at. It has to do with how she chose to describe the nightmare once we were safely back in the car. As she shuddered slightly, she said, “That was horrible. That was the most awful experience ever. That’s worse than Daleks and Weeping Angels combined!”

I’m all for Jane having friends that relate their real-world experiences to Doctor Who. Even if she’s prone to hyperbole.

Did You Forget Anything?

Jane, who has been away from home this entire summer (save about ten days), commented today how much she misses her two best friends. Since they both live within walking distance of our church, I suggested that she invite them to our talent show tonight. So she did and one came.

When it was over, the normal post-event chaos ensued. Everyone milled around to congratulate the performers on a job well-done. Children ran to and fro at break-neck speeds, gushing hyper post-performance energy. As I left a conversation with the music director and her husband, I was approached with The Question.

The Question comes up anytime Jane is in the company of a friend and is often cleverly crafted in a way to make the request seem un-burdensome and even wise.

“Can Allison spend the night with us tonight? She’s going to the volleyball camp tomorrow, so it’d be real easy to drop her off too.”

“No. I have to drop you off at Madison’s house in the morning before work. Her mom is taking you to camp because Daddy has to take the boys to swim lessons.”

With that, she walked away and I thought the conversation was done. How foolish I was. The girls regrouped and approached Madison’s mom. When I was revisited, the plan had changed and had already been approved by at least one parent from each household. Jane had weighed her odds and approached her dad.

The new plan was that Jane and Allison were both going to spend the night at Madison’s house. Since Madison’s mom was already taking Jane to camp, after all, it’d be no problem. Of course, neither girl had brought her volleyball clothes to church that night. So all I had to do was run Jane home to get her clothes. Oh, and stop by Allison’s house to pick them up because they could walk down there to get Allison’s clothes. No big deal, so far as the girls saw it.

Various logistical problems ensued, including sending Daryl home with Madison’s mom so Allison could fit in our car. This solved the “it’s not fair” problem Daryl had with the whole arrangement by giving him some time with Madison’s brother Trenton. I also had to clarify to Allison’s mom that “spending the night with Jane” did not mean staying at Jane’s house, which then meant introducing her to Madison’s mom, whom she had never met, and assuring her that I was not sending our children home with an axe murderer. Eventually, though, we had the two girls in our car and drove home to get Jane’s stuff.

Before we left our house, I asked, “Did you get everything?”

“Yes.”

“Knee pads?”

“Oh, wait. No. Be right back.” She ran back to her room and when she returned, I resumed my checklist of items she usually forgets.

“Sports bra?”

“Oh, yeah. Better get that too.” As she returned, she suddenly remembered her tennis shoes. In the car, I ran down the remaining items. Shorts? Shirt? Socks? Hairbands? Deodorant? Toothbrush? Toothpaste? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. YES, Mom.

“Oh, by the way. We need to stop by Allison’s house. She forgot her kneepads.” On the way to Allison’s house, she remembered a couple more things that she had forgotten, including her shoes. Allison ran into her house to get the forgotten items while her mom stood at the door and shook her head in dismay. Then Jane yelped the tell-tale “Oh! Shoot!” and started rummaging through her bag. She hopped out just as Allison returned to the car. “Can I borrow an UnderArmour headband?” she asked.

“Sure,” said Allison, “What color?” Jane pondered the question while Allison ran down the possibilities and I thought What color?! Seriously? Does that even matter? Beggars can’t be choosers. Come on girls… Jane eventually settled on “anything with black on it” and we were soon on the road to Madison’s house.

When I finally made it home, I realized I had (ironically) forgotten my phone in the car. Opening the door to retrieve it, I saw a pair of tennis shoes in the front floorboard.

Do you need these tennis shoes in the floorboard? I texted.

Ohh crap yeah was the response.

Hmmm.

I don’t suppose you could bring them to me??

It’s a wonder these girls can even remember to get out of bed. I wonder what they’ll forget at Madison’s house when they leave for camp in the morning.

Addendum: The next morning, we transferred the shoes from my husband’s car to my truck. As I began to back out of the drive, I received a text from Jane: I think I left my Gatorade in the car too.

I hopped out and hustled over to the car, retrieved the Gatorade, and then resumed my trip. At Madison’s house, I carried in the two pairs of shoes (Jane’s father and I had disagreed with her shoe selection, believing the shoes with tiny welding burn holes were still a better choice than those falling apart at the toes), but missed the Gatorade, which had rolled off the seat during the drive.

I stated our case for the shoes. She stuck with her selection. I said I hoped she didn’t hurt herself diving for the ball. She asked for her Gatorade.

When I said I had left it in the car, she had the gall to tease me for forgetting an object that I care nothing about and which had been forgotten by the person for whom it is important. Then, on the way out the door, Allison called out from the couch, “Hey, Jane. Grab mine too please.”

“Wait, she forgot hers too? I didn’t bring the car, honey. If you needed me to search the backseat for her Gatorade, you should have said so.”

I’m at work (finally). Those girls are on their own now. God help them.

The Labyrinth

Today, we took the boys walking around the ranch where we are staying this week. We found ourselves walking through an area we hadn’t been last year. It had rained so all the green seemed brighter than usual. The green leaves of the trees hung low with the weight of the rain water, dangling ever so close to the river, which was itself several different remarkable shades of green due to the beautiful varieties of moss and plants just below the surface. The wood chips that marked the walkway were also a brighter reddish brown than they would have been dry. All together, it felt like walking through a fairy tale land.

We saw a sign for a labyrinth and decided to search it out. The boys were hoping for a maze, a la David Bowie. We did our best to dissuade them of the notion, explaining that it’s a path used for prayer and contemplation. They still ran ahead in excited anticipation. When we reached it, they yelled “cool!” and headed in.

We looked at each other and smiled. I tried to read the instructions to the boys but I knew this walk through a labyrinth would not be as peaceful or spiritual as times past. Nevertheless, I started my walk, the last and the slowest of the four. I centered my mind on God and tried to block out the raucous traveling of my progeny. I asked God to show me how to be a better parent. To be more patient, especially on this trip. To find ways to handle the wild hyperactivity more successfully, without yells or threats or attempted intimidation.

I couldn’t block the boys from my attention, however. I soon noticed that they were sticking out their hands for a light hand slap as they passed each other on the winding paths. Completely missing the point, I thought. Introspection is the name of the game here. And then I noticed my husband approaching me on an adjacent path. We looked at each other and smiled. And stuck our hands out, mimicking our little boys.

The boys noticed. At that point, any person who passed any other person quietly put out their hand for the touch. It didn’t lessen the experience one bit. In fact, it deepened it considerably as I was drawn into my boys’ world. They entered the center of the labyrinth much sooner than I did, of course. And what they did next made my smile go all the way down to the tips of my toes and back.

I had explained that this was a means of prayer and meditation. So when Daryl made it to the center, he sat down with crossed legs. He put his hands palms up on his knees, lightly pressing the thumbs to the index fingers, and started humming “Ohmmmmm…. Ohmmmmm… Ohmmmmm”

Without questioning, Hal sat down behind him and did it too.

meditation

Now, I know they were just having fun. I don’t think their trip through the labyrinth deepened their spirituality or anything significant like that. But it had a profound effect on me. God showed me my boys being their usual selves in an environment in which I should have been extremely put-out at their lack of reverence yet couldn’t be precisely because of that environment. He answered my prayer by showing me how to extend grace and patience to my boys, by drawing me into their play, by sharing their joy.

A Husband Worth Having

Let me tell you how a husband is supposed to be. Wait, let me qualify that just a little bit. Let me tell you how a husband of twenty-plus years is supposed to be. Maybe the young and/or newlyweds can be let off the hook. For awhile.

You are walking along beside him when you realize that he has stopped. You turn to look at him and he has this magnificent smile on his face. Before you have the chance to ask what he is smiling about, he tells you.

“I love your gray hairs.”

“That’s good because I am getting more and more of them all the time.”

“I know. I love that you are getting gray hairs and that you have so many of them.”

“Why?”

“Because I like seeing you change. I’ve known you for so long. I can remember when you didn’t have any gray hairs. I love that you have them now and I am with you. I love that you have started running. That you blog. I love being here and watching you change as time goes on.”

That right there is a husband worth having. When he says something like that without a hint of sarcasm, with nothing but love and sincerity behind it, that’s when he proves he’s worth traveling through this life alongside. I took his hand and we walked on together, both feeling warm and content inside.