Sunday, January 30, 2011

For My Girls

Sweet Mackenzie, you stand in front of the mirror, wearing a pink flannel nightgown, combing your hair in every direction. As I step behind you, you smile at your reflection and at me, then say, "I look SO beautiful! Don't I, Mommy?" I smile back and say, "Yes you do! You are wonderfully made!"

My Annie brings me hair bows, waits patiently for me to put them in her hair, then steps back and grins her one-dimpled grin and says, "I pretty." And I have to agree.

You are both adorable, but what makes you so much sweeter is your comfort with who you are, right now. Looking into mirrors and seeing all the things that you love about yourself.

I stand, admiring your lack of self-consciousness, and I pray for you. Experience has shown me that soon enough someone will make you feel like your body is merely an object for their pleasure or criticism. Soon enough you'll learn to stand in front of a mirror and look for the "flaws". But still, I pray.

I pray that you will always know that you were created with a mind, body, and spirit. You'll want to do your best to keep all three healthy, since they work together, but please, don't let your mind dwell on thoughts about your body that will crush your spirit.

I pray that you will realize early on that your body will change many times as it carries your mind and spirit through life. Those changes are inevitable and I hope you won't begrudge them. You'll grow taller, eventually you'll go through all the physical changes that will transport you from the world of little girls to the world of young women. One day you may experience the pleasures and pains of pregnancy, watching your body become unrecognizable and yet admirable, as it becomes a temporary home for someone else. You will age. Wrinkles, freckles, moles, sun spots and gray hair will come. You'll have aches and pains. Eventually your body will fail to do the things that you've become so accustomed to it doing.

Through each of these transitions, my loves, I pray that your mind will continue to grow sharper and your spirit more steadfast in what is TRUE. I pray that you will know that you can look "pretty" anytime, but being beautiful is extremely rare. May your outward appearance reflect the beauty of your inner spirit.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Meltdown

Last night, all seemed to be going smoothly, until "The MELTDOWN" hit. I really didn't see it coming, and usually I do, but last night, I didn't.

We had finished dinner. We were going to do baths before bedtime. There was a basket of folded laundry right outside the kids' rooms and they were going to help put their things away before we started baths.

Annie, now two-years-old, took her things a piece at a time to her room and put them into the drawers. (We keep all their clothes in drawers, for this reason. If it's on a hanger higher then their heads, guess who has to put it away? ME. If it's at a level they can reach, it becomes their responsibility.)

Mackenzie, soon to be four, was working with "piles" to put hers away. "Mommy, just pile my panties and socks on my arms so I can dump them in the top drawer. I already opened it...Next pile my shirts on my arms 'cause the middle drawer is open now...Pile on my pants 'cause the bottom drawer looks kind of empty since you haven't washed my pants for a long time, right?"

Then there was Nicholas, five-and-a-half, normally very compliant, and quick when it comes to putting things away because almost everything is a race. I placed his stacks of folded clothes in the floor of his room. Three pairs of pajamas, two pairs of pants, two shirts, some underwear and socks. The underwear and socks made it quickly into their rightful place. Then, I'm not sure what happened. The drawer was open for the next set of clothes, but suddenly, the clothes were being tossed into the floor, not even close to the open drawer! WHAT?! I picked up the clothes (pants & shirts) that were now unfolded near the door, walked into the hall, pulled down the attic door, and put the clothes up inside, then closed the door. He saw what happened. I simply said, "If you don't want to put away your clothes, then we'll keep them up in the attic so they won't be in the way. If you would like to keep your pajamas in your room, you should put them away now." This was infuriating to him. So what did he do?


I picked them up, and in the same way, walked into the hallway, opened the attic, put the pj's inside, closed the attic door. He screamed. He cried. He sulked.

I got the girls ready for their bath.

"I'm not taking a bath!!!" he shouted.

"Okay. Then get ready for bed. I'll help you brush your teeth."

The drama continued to unfold as he didn't want to put on pajamas, because the ones he wanted to wear were now in the attic. "You can sleep in undies."

Not the answer he was hoping for.

He didn't want to brush teeth.

Not an option when your dad's an orthodontist.

For half an hour he screamed & cried as though I were an expert in various forms of torture and cruelty. He did receive two spankings (literally 1 swat, then a little later another, lest anyone think that I beat my children) one for throwing something at me when he was angry, the other for being intentionally defiant when he was asked to do something reasonable within his ability level. Needless to say, it wasn't fun for either of us.

After the "storm" had passed, we talked about what went wrong. "Buddy, why did you choose to throw your clothes instead of putting them away? Why did you choose to throw something at Mommy when you felt angry? It's okay to be angry with me and tell me what made you feel angry, but you are not allowed to throw things or try to hurt me when you are angry."

"Well, Mommy," he says, with a few tears still dampening his cheeks, "I think what we had for dinner made me do all that."

"How's that? You liked dinner tonight and said it was one of your 'most favorite things Mommy cooks' and you ate a lot of mango & pineapple at the end. How did your dinner do that?"

"Well, maybe it wasn't dinner then. Maybe it was just some bad choices."

If I sound like I have confidence or certainty about how the night turned out, I hope you'll know that I don't. I sat wondering, after the kids were asleep, "What will they take from this? How will Nicholas remember this event? How about the girls, who heard their big brother, but didn't see everything that was going on? And what if a neighbor picks up a distorted signal from one of our baby monitors? They'll certainly think the child was near death. Of course, he was the only one screaming and shouting. My husband and I both managed to keep our voices at a normal level. Did I do what needed to be done for his best or did I do what was best for me?" And with these thoughts we continue to put money into a savings account that will one day help pay for college or counseling, whichever seems appropriate at the time.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Granny Mitchell's House

When my children are my age, they may have vague memories of one of their great-grandparents. I, on the other hand, have vivid memories of 3. Yesterday, as I watched my husband climb the stairs to the back porch of my Granny Mitchell's house, my mind was flooded with memories of the times I spent there.

There were memories of the way that porch (or actually the one that was there before) was wrapped in black tarpaper, or at least heavy duty garbage bags, that blocked out all light. My four-year-old self, climbing those stairs with trepidation, holding tightly to my mom's hand, while the sound of my pounding heart was greeted by the slow jingle of Bouncy's dog chain. I'm not certain how many encounters that old dog and I had, but I never knew what color he was or how big he was, because our only meetings were there in the darkness, with the sound of his movements and the smell of his dog-ness, just before Granny would open the screen door. With the opening of the door, there was an invitation into another world.

In Granny's house there was a record player which often produced the sounds of The Chuck Wagon Gang singing songs like "I'd Rather Have Jesus" or "I'll Fly Away" and Granny would always let you know when you should sing along and when you should just sit quietly and "listen at how good that sounds."

In Granny's front room the furniture was wrapped in plastic that your legs would stick to in summer and there was the most marvelous pump organ with a stool that twisted so you could go up and down. One of the great benefits of beginning piano lessons in second grade was that Granny would invite my sister and me to play for her. At the time it was a team effort. One of us would sit in the floor to "pump" while the other would play and then we'd trade positions. Granny would saddle up to that organ and sing tunes like "Humpback Mule" as her feet would pump and her fingers would move easily from key to key. She would smile and cackle and the Topps snuff would trickle down the creases at the corner of her mouth, but we weren't disgusted, we were entertained. After a few songs Granny might invite you to the kitchen for a little snack.

In Granny's kitchen you could expect to get a glass of cold, almost sweet, well water in a little jelly jar or other "fancy" cup. She'd also offer you something warm from the stove if it was close to lunch or dinner time. It might be green beans and potatoes with "just a little bit of pork" (about half her pinky finger's length, to be exact), or Spanish rice. But if you were there between meals, she might just bring out the Nutter Butter cookies wrapped in tin/aluminum foil (one of my cousins was convinced for years that "Granny made those little peanut shaped cookies" since she never got them out of a package, only out of the foil).

In spring Granny would walk around the yard with you, stopping by the wild strawberry patch to pick some of the tiniest and tastiest berries I've ever had. If the flowers were in bloom, she'd help make a bouquet of hydrangeas, forsythia, Cherokee roses, and whatever else grew in her yard. Then she'd wrap the stems in wet paper towels and a layer of tin foil around that to "keep 'em fresh." She might sit with you for awhile on the front porch, rocking in the green chairs that bumped forward and back since the rockers weren't quite a smooth curve. That's when she would tell tales of the wampus cat, the ghost on Poole mountain, or slunks that were "lookin' for little girls your age just to snatch up quick as lightnin' and ne'er been seen again." It was on Granny's front porch that I first remember hearing the word "rape", but as a five-year-old, I had no idea what that could possibly mean. I just knew it was awful from the way Granny said it. My best understanding was that it had something to do with a rake and it made me fearful of any men that ever came to collect pine straw from the acres of loblolly pines that surrounded our home.

On rare occasions, Granny might let you come into the front bedroom. I don't think she ever actually slept there. If she walked with you to the front bedroom, it meant she might pull some dresses out of the closet or let you try on jewelry from her jewelry box. I don't remember ever seeing her in any of those dresses or wearing any of that jewelry, but there are pictures that show that she did. I remember her wearing house dresses with a flannel shirt over top.

My Granny Mitchell was quite a character. She was an excellent story teller. She "fear(ed) the Good Lord" but I think she feared life more. She had quite a sense of humor and more than a few eccentricities. When I see her house now, from the outside looking quite similar to the way it did many years ago, I wonder what other memories those walls hold. It's kind of like Granny in her later years, after Alzheimer's had captured most of her mind. It has known many things and been witness to many changes over the years, and yet it sits, silently, as time continues to wear away various parts.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What would you do?

There's a show, I think on ABC, that uses actors to confront unknowing people with ethical dilemmas and then there are hidden cameras to record their responses. Sometimes it's bullying, sometimes it's racism, sometimes it's cheating or stealing or trying to get away with something illegal. It's always interesting to see how different people react and then when they are questioned about their reaction, to hear what motivated them. In these scenarios, the "observer" never has a prior relationship with the victim or the perpetrator. Because of the set-up aspect of the show, they will not have a future relationship with either party. The focus is what you would do in the moment for a stranger.

So now comes my question, what would you do?

You have at least an acquaintance level relationship with a person, but not much more. You see this family around the neighborhood, at the gym, at the ball field, at church, at school events, wherever you and your family spend time. Whenever you see each other you say, "Hi!" and exchange a brief conversation of pleasantries. The other parent(s) is all smiles and has the "friendly voice" on. However, just before you made eye contact, or after they think you're out of earshot, 90% of the time, they are directly criticizing or berating one or more of their children. Maybe it's just the mom that has the razor sharp tongue and sarcastic comment for every act of imperfection. Maybe it's the dad that seems to point out every falter and flaw. There is a very harsh tone and body postures that just make you uncomfortable. Whomever it is, you can see that it is slowly eating away at the fiber of the children, but what do you do? There don't appear to be any signs of physical abuse, so you don't think you could intervene legally. You don't have a strong enough relationship with the kids to ask them if there's more going on behind closed doors. You just know it's not right. So what do you do?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Telling secrets

Today I had lunch with four amazing women. These are women that I know on varying levels, but women I love more each time I'm around them. We enjoyed a tasty meal together, but what I believe fed us each a little more, and satisfied our appetites beyond what food could provide, was the extra hour and a half spent in the parking lot, talking, sharing bits and pieces of who we are with each other.

And like Frederick Buechner, I also, "have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell. They are telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition--that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are--even if we tell it only to ourselves--because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been in our lives and where we are going. It also makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own, and exchanges like that have a lot to do with what being a family is all about and what being human is all about. Finally, I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell."

So I thank you, sweet friends, for sharing lunch, and some "secrets" with me today. I count myself more blessed because of each of you.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The end of the day

I know I'm not alone in this, because I've heard other stay-at-home-moms express the same feeling, but at the end of the day, when all little people have been tucked snugly into bed, I'm done.

I don't want to give anyone "just one sip of water" or "a little back rub" or "help to find my small blanket" because if you drink too much water I'll be changing the sheets in the middle of the night, I rubbed your back while we were reading the bedtime story, and your small blanket was in your bed when I left your room 3 minutes ago. I'm done!

But then there are the requests that are impossible to refuse. "Mommy, I'm scared. Will you sit by my bed?" "I love you so much. Will you hold my hand for a few minutes?" "Could we rock a little and will you pray with me?" I realize these statements can be just as manipulative as any other, but how can I refuse?

There are sometimes that I am racing from my parental responsibilities to the retreat of our comfy couch and a good book at the end of the evening. There are other times that I can be soothed by the sounds of my children slowly settling into rhythmic breathing that tells me in the darkness that they are sleeping. It continues to be an internal and external struggle. I know they need consistency, but I also know there are times to make exceptions to the routine.

I often wonder how they will remember bedtime when their beds are no longer under "my" roof.