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  • The Grocery Store

    February 11, 2014

    Today I had to go to the grocery store.

    These days that task is as mundane as it sounds.

    Except for that the grocery store is never mundane, especially if you shop at Walmart as I often do.  Walmart embodies the whole of the broken state of humanity. It is where it all hangs out — literally.  It is the state fair and the airport all in one place.  Every person pushing a cart has some wild crazy Pulitzer Prize winning tragic story.  And I can see that, I can smell it and that lights some sort of fire in me, those stories that hide in plain sight.

    And that’s why I love the grocery store.

    Even with all that lurid carnival-style enticement, the store is not the same as it was when I had a grocery store buddy, a chubby fisted helper who was thrilled and delighted with all the exotic marvels that the grocery store offers.

    I thought of that today as I was pushing my cart towards the checkout.  Right in the middle of the St. Patrick’s Day t-shirts there was a man going up, up, up on a vertical lift.  He was retrieving a helium balloon from the ceiling.  Did his mother never tell him that if he just waits long enough it will come down?

    Had my little boyfriend been with me, even today, we would have stopped and watched and marveled at the machine and it’s scissor-like arm reaching for the ceiling.  We would lie with all sincerity about how we wish we could ride the vertical lift.  Except that we would be too scared.  And maybe we would impulsively buy a balloon when we got to the checkout and promise not to let it go.

    But today, there were no brave wishes or balloons or grocery store buddy, just a cart full of mundane to get through the checkout.

    As I waited my turn in the checkout line, I thought about how much I enjoyed going to the grocery store with Sean and how I miss him hanging off the end of the cart and his running observations and commentary.

    And then I caught myself.  Surely that is not really true, surely there were days when I just wanted to go, get groceries and go home — and not have to stop and watch a man on a vertical lift or see how much two apples weighed or see if they had any cookie samples for good boys.

    Has the same time that heals all wounds also rewritten the tedious and mundane days of my motherhood into a more lovely narrative?

    Maybe.

    But if so, if going to the store with a little boy was a chore and a pain, I honestly don’t remember it that way.

    And so I should like to do it all over again.

    Swings And Lane Cutters. When A Win Is Not A Win.

    February 10, 2013

    Have you ever been driving somewhere, and you see a sign in big flashing letters that unmistakably says MERGE RIGHT. LEFT LANE CLOSED AHEAD.

    Being the good reader that you are, you take this to mean that the left lane is closed ahead.  You merge right because you know that no left lane will preclude driving in the left lane. You are astute like that.

    Then you, along with the other good readers, spend the next 30 minutes painfully inching forward in the right lane for the next mile where the left lane actually ceases to exist.  And as you approach the point where the left lane ends you are united with those who did not merge right a mile back and now insist that you let them in.

    And are you like me in that some days your tendency is to look straight ahead and pretend that you don’t see them? And maybe you keep the front end of your car so close to the back end of the car ahead that even a gnat couldn’t pass between?  Or maybe you are even brazen enough to look over at them and give them the “Ain’t no way buddy!” look.  You maybe even say to yourself, “That’s no fair!  Get in line and inch up like the rest of us!  Who do you think you are??”

    Now that I’m older and have a slightly better grip on what is important in life, I’ll usually just wave one or two in front of me and go on my merry way, because the stress of teaching the world a lesson while behind the wheel of a car is just not worth it.  But sometimes, it’s just one of those days and I can’t stop myself, and I allow myself to falsely believe that they will change their me-first-lane-cutting ways and the world will be a better place for all concerned if I don’t let them get away with it.

    But that never happens.

    Those days when I just have to right the traffic wrongs, I never move along feeling better about myself.  I never feel like I made my little slice of the world a better place.  In fact just the opposite.  Sometimes a win is not really a win.

    A while back, we had an exceptionally spring like day in the middle of the winter and Sean and I were hanging out at the park.  Sean was on the swing, not really swinging, but just kind of sitting and twisting in the sunshine.  A neighbor showed up with his little grandson who is about four and as is typical of four-year-olds, he wanted the swing Sean was on.  Being four, he did not say, “Pardon me sir, if you’re not going to swing, may I?”  No. Being four, he tugged at the chains and said something like, “I want to swing.”

    To this, Sean responded by digging in his proverbial heels.  He gripped the chains tighter and sat as immovable as Mount Rushmore and gave the four-year-old the “Ain’t no way buddy!” look, which was painfully all too familiar.  He was going to teach that four-year-old a lesson – you can’t just cut in on the swing!

    I really wanted Sean to voluntarily give up the swing for three reasons.  One, I want Sean to have a good heart, one that loves to give and serve.  Two, I want Sean to experience how good it feels when you respond with kindness where it is not necessarily warranted or likely to be reciprocated.  And three, and I am cringing as I write this in naked honesty, I wanted my neighbor to think I was an awesome parent.

    But at the same time, I didn’t want to force Sean to give up the swing.  Embarrassment is never an effective teacher in my opinion.  As expected, Sean soon grew weary of the little boy tugging at the swing, so he got off and we headed home to sit on the front steps and watch the world go by.

    I took that opportunity to try to tell him how sometimes when you win, you don’t really win, knowing that this is a lesson he will have to learn on his own over and over throughout his life.

    “I know you probably don’t understand this just yet, but you could have given up the swing to that little boy and it wouldn’t have cost you a thing.  And you could have looked really big in the eyes of that little boy and his grandpa,” I said, “And bonus, when you do something like that, you get to feel good about yourself.”

    He didn’t respond to that.  I could tell he was giving it skeptical consideration or trying to figure out how to get off the subject.

    “What if you give up something that does cost you?” he asked.

    Good question.  Crickets chirped as I tried to think of something I had given up lately that had cost me something and couldn’t come up with one thing.

    “I guess then you get to look big in the eyes of God,” I said slowly, more to myself than to him, wondering what in the heck just happened here.  I thought I was supposed to be the teacher.

    Sometimes, the teacher is the student and learning is more about the questions than the answers.

    School Dazed

    September 27, 2011

    The last time I wrote here, Sean and I were coming to the end of his of first grade year of school.  I say “Sean and I”  because, really, it was not just his first grade – it occupied a large share of my time and my thinking and my emotional space too.  It was my first grade experience by proxy; a much needed do-over of sorts for me.

    It seemed to me that first grade would be a pivotal point in Sean’s academic career.  In that first school year, he would either decide school was a good thing or not a good thing, and it would have everything to do with his teacher.

    I had a sour, joyless and surly nun for first grade named Sister Edwina.  I decided early on in that first grade year that school was an exercise in misery.  That’s a rotten way for a six-year-old to spend seven hours of a day, hating it.  Thereafter, I pretty much hated school and I was a cruddy student with a cruddy attitude and the grades to prove it.  All that changed when I was 30 and became a professional student, but I don’t want that for Sean.

    For Sean, I wanted a teacher who would make him toe the line in terms of behavior, as we do at home. I wanted a teacher who would appreciate his creativity.  I wanted a teacher who would not allow him to get away with doing the least, as he is wont to do.  I wanted a teacher who wanted to be a teacher, whose nature it was to be happy.  And, as important as anything else, I wanted a teacher who would not make me feel like “that mom” or a big fat bother any time I had a question or an issue.

    We got the teacher for which we prayed. She was Sean’s advocate, and for me, she was an encourager and adviser and even a friend.  It was a terrific first grade year that came and went in a flurry of papers and projects and lunches and parties and jackets lost and found.

    And now, here we are at the top of the second grade school year and I’m still having trouble saying second grade instead of first grade and Ms. W. instead of Ms. S.  And by the grace of God and the awesome ladies who run the school, Sean was assigned a second grade teacher who is picking up right where the first grade teacher left off and we are off and running on our way to another exciting write-it-all-down-in-your-diary kind of school year.

    One of my favorite quotes is that education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire, and thus far, all of Sean’s teachers have been pyromaniacs.  May it ever be so.  I’m sure it won’t ever be so, but may it ever be so at least until his learning spirit can’t be easily broken.

    The other morning, Sean got up and got dressed for school and came to the breakfast bar for the most important meal of the day.  I asked him if he had had any dreams.  He said he knows that he has dreams, but that he never remembers them.

    I stood on the other side of the bar wringing a dish towel in my hands for no reason and watched him eat his toast.  I noticed the jelly marking the corners of his mouth and how he is still unable to resist the urge to use his shirt for a napkin.  In the haze of a morning-minded fog, I saw not a long-legged soccer-playing second-grader, but my kindergartner, the one I could still carry on my hip, the one I picked up from school at 1pm and took with me to the grocery store in the afternoon.

    “As soon as I open my eyes,” he said, “the dreams rush out of my mind, like the tide, and I can’t catch them.”

    I loved how he said that, loved the imagery.

    I thought about how that is exactly how it is with each passing school year – dream like and slow motion and mixed up when you’re in the middle of it, and then before you know it,  it rushes away and you can’t hold onto it.   And when you look back, even from a short distance, you don’t really remember it.

    You just know it was.

     


    excels at soccer, second grade and being seven

    The Holiday Shop

    January 16, 2011

    If there was one thing I thought I knew about my child it is this:  He cannot keep a secret.

    Early in December, Sean brought home a flyer from school announcing the annual Holiday Shop!  I put the exclamation point there so you might know just how thrilled I was with this news.

    The flyer reported which classes would visit the Holiday Shop on which days and at what time.  The flyer also stated with vehemence (probably inferred on my part) that there would be NO preview this year and that the vendor was the same as last year and that it was NOT a school fundraiser.  It was totally for-profit crunk selling.

    As it turns out, we were not at the school last year, so that information, vehement or otherwise, was not useful to me.

    What information I did require was the following:  What in the heck is a Holiday Shop? What kind of holiday crunk is stocked in Ye Olde Holiday Shoppe, and most importantly how much does this crunk cost?  Oh, and hey, what about the kiddos who have no Holiday Shop spending money?  And then the question I always have when it comes to these kinds of extra-curricular events:  Can’t we just do math or phonics instead?

    So as usual when faced with a conundrum, I called my friend Jennifer who knows stuff.  She gave me the low-down on the Holiday Shop and a suggested a budget of about $5 to $10.

    When I talked to Sean later, I asked him about how much he thought he needed for this shopping spree.  He said about $30.  So I said, how about $5?  He said how about $10?  I said how about I give you $5 and you take $5 out of your bank.  He said, “Deal!” and we shook on it and signed the papers.

    Then we had a little chat about how this was Christmas, not Seanmas, and that the purpose of the Holiday Shop was so that he might buy presents for others, and by others I meant People Who Are Not Sean.  Then we had a discussion about fractions and percentages as we negotiated about how much he could spend on himself.

    The next day I sent him off to school with his $5 and my $5 expecting the same winning results you might get in Las Vegas.  When he came home from school I asked to see his purchases.  With much pride he showed me the Cowboys pennant he bought for his father and the camouflage-motif pencil he bought for Papa George.  And then he showed me the dog-tag style necklace with a soccer pendant he bought for himself.

    “Did you get anything else?” I asked coyly, “Anything for anyone else?”

    “Nope,” he said definitively and handed me the $7.25 he did not spend.

    I chuckled to myself as I turned his backpack inside out looking for the other gifts. Surely there were other gifts, surely.  But no….

    We wrapped the pennant and the pencil and put them under the tree and I thought no more of it because I knew my broken and wounded heart would someday mend.

    On Christmas Eve I unwrapped the gifts from my big boyfriend and my little boyfriend — an ornament from Target which I had purchased myself and handed off to big boyfriend for wrapping, and a pair of much-needed slippers which I requested.  No surprises there but much delight all the same.

    “Oh, one more thing Mom!” Sean said as he dove under the tree.  He returned with a tiny package, merrily wrapped with a ribbon and secured with a lot of tape.  He handed it to me, glowing, as though it were a jewel he had just plucked from its slumber in the earth.

    I couldn’t imagine what it could be but suspected it was something that he had made at school, something with glitter and glue and probably macaroni.

    Inside was a pretty little ring with a blue stone that he had purchased at the Holiday Shop.

    “Are you surprised Mom? Are you? You thought I forgot you, didn’t you!” he laughed.

    “It cost a dollar!” he enthused, then  quickly added, “I’m sorry it’s not a real diamond.”

    “I love it,” I said with all honestly.

    I slipped it on my finger, adjusted the band for a custom-fit and then held out my hand to admire it.

    It was a complete surprise.

    It was beautiful.

    It pinched my finger.

    And my heart.

    The Morning Routine

    November 18, 2010

    I am by nature a morning person.  By 5:30 am, I am itching to get out of bed and get going.  But by 8:30 pm, I’m spent; ready for bath, bed, and beyond.  AD, on the other hand, is a night owl.  Consequently I have always assumed the morning parenting duties while he takes the bedtime shift.  And it has worked well for our family.

    The other morning Sean got up earlier than usual and stumbled into the kitchen where I was sitting at my desk.  He wrapped his arms around my neck and then lodged himself into my lap.  He squirmed and shifted as he tried to find a comfortable place to stash his long legs.  He twisted his head this way and that as he tried to nestle into my neck.  He doesn’t quite fit me the way he used to.

    As we sat there quietly and uncomfortably like two mismatched puzzle pieces, I reflected on how our morning routine has changed over the past seven years.

    When he was a brand new preemie newborn, we were instructed to feed him every two hours.  So I would wake him from his sleep at 4am to feed him.  After his bottle I would lay with him on the floor under the glow of the lights of the Christmas tree and stare at this weird little four-pound alien creature who had rocked my world.   While the dog snuggled into the curve of my back and Sean snuggled into the pillowy softness that was my post-postpartum front,  I would study his face and count his eyelashes as I watched him drift back to sleep.

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    The next year, I would tip toe into his room early in the morning hoping to find him sleeping so I could check my email or enjoy a cup of coffee in peace before the day started.  But being a morning person like me, I would most often find him standing in his crib waiting for me. He would bounce with excitement when he saw me and squeal with joy.  Then he would stretch out his arms for me clenching his chubby little hands in and out in the universal and dual-purpose sign for Get me! and Milk!

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    I would lift him out of his crib and inhale the morning essence wafting off his neck.  Then I’d wrap him up in a blanket and carry him away to the den where we would sit on the couch in silence save the slurping symphony that is the sweet sound of a congested baby sucking on a bottle.

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    The next few years, I would often wake up to the sound of someone breathing in my face.  I would force open one eye to see him standing next to my bed, two hopeful little eyeballs staring back at me, willing me into consciousness.  I would pull on my robe as a footsie-pajama clad policeman led me away by the hand to the den.  We would get our respective beverages, snuggle in an afghan on the couch and then build with Legos until the sun came up.

    The days of snuggling together in a blanket with a bottle and playing all morning are no more.  Now we have to get up and get going; we’ve got to meet the world.

    But before we get to lunch packing, paper signing, breakfast making, backpack packing and world meeting he sits on my lap for a minute or two and tries to figure out where to put his legs while I inhale his morning essence.

    He still rocks my world.  And he still fits.

    The Lightning Blue Remote Control Speed Boat

    September 26, 2010

    Sometimes when I catch Sean being good, I reward him by letting him pick out something at the grocery store.  The only limitation I put on him is that it must be something that can fit in the palm of his hand.  And it is for this reason that I haven’t told him where Wal-Mart keeps the iPods.

    And so it was one day early in the summer.  When we got to the store, we headed straight back to the toy department in search of a reward. We went up the aisles and down the aisles and down the aisles and up the aisles trying to make a decision, trying to choose the exact right perfect reward that would fit in the palm of his grubby little hand.

    Finally he stopped dead in his tracks in front of a display of little boy heaven.  He pulled from the shelf a box that was about the size of a small television.  Wearing a hopeful expression, he held out his hands to show me.  Behind the cellophane window on the front of the box was a lightning blue remote control speedboat. The sticker on the front of the box read $25.

    “Sean,” I asked, “Does this fit in the palm of your hand?”

    “No. But I really want it.”

    “Well I can see why.  It is very cool.  But this is a big thing.  This is more the kind of thing you would get for a birthday present.”

    “Oh. I thought that was what you’d say,” he said with dramatic dejection.  Dramatic flair does not work on me.  I’ve had my little-boy-manipulation shot. I am immune.

    He hung his head, heaved an exaggerated sigh, and as though wearing lead boots, he walked the box back to its place on the shelf.  He patted it and then stood there looking longingly at it.  If I were a member of the Academy, I would have given him an Oscar right there in Wal-Mart.

    As we continued on, I took a second look at the boat and made a mental note in case of the unlikely event that it was something that he still wanted when he had a birthday later this fall.

    About a week later we went to a birthday party.

    And sure enough the birthday boy got the lightning blue remote control speed boat.

    I watched Sean watching the boy open the box, watching the boy’s face light up.

    I watched him try to pretend to be happy for the birthday boy as he has been instructed to do.  I noticed his bottom lip start to tremble.

    He popped his head above the crowd of kids sitting criss-cross-applesauce in front of the birthday boy.  He searched for my face.  He gestured towards the boat with open palms.  He shrugged his shoulders in a statement of disbelief.  I noticed that his ears were red.

    He got up, stepped over a few kids and schlumped over to me with the lead boots, head hung low, both arms swinging from side to side like an ape.

    He put his head in my lap and whispered through tears, “That was the very thing I wanted and HE got it.”

    Part of me wanted to give him a stern lecture about how silly he looked, about how grateful he should be for all that he has, about how he should focus outward and not on himself, about how it wasn’t about him today, about how he will have his own birthday this fall, about how he was embarrassing me, about a million other things.

    Yet, my heart broke for him because it was exactly how I felt for years at baby showers.  I would pretend to be delighted for the mother-to-be when really I wanted to lay my head in my mother’s lap and cry bitter tears about the unfairness that some other gal was getting the very thing I wanted.

    In that moment, I didn’t really know what to do. I wanted to comfort and scold him all at the same time.  And no course of action seemed right.

    So I told him it’s not his party and he can’t cry if he wants to — and I sent him back to the party.  We would have to talk about it later but in the mean time the civilized thing to do was to play the part of a good party guest.

    The birthday party might have provided a wonderful life lesson about waiting and wanting and not getting everything you want.  But shortly after the birthday party, Sean came home from Memaw’s with a lightning blue remote control speed boat.

    Memaw had three little boys of her own at one time but apparently she needs a little-boy-manipulation booster shot.

    My Father’s Book

    December 13, 2009

    By Antique Daddy

    Earlier in the year, I found myself standing before a bookcase where I noticed the two-volume series The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.  These books had belonged to my father, a preacher, and then later my oldest brother, also a preacher.

    My father was thrown from a horse and killed when I was eleven.  Six years later when I was 17, my oldest brother was killed in a motorcycle accident.  He was only 27 and left behind his pregnant wife and unborn child.  The loss of these two men who never saw their children grown, profoundly changed not just my life, but the life of my son who would never benefit from having known them.

    I pulled the book from the shelf and looked through it for a moment.  I noticed my father’s rather distinctive  signature in the front cover.  I called Sean over to come take a look at the book.  I explained to him that this book had belonged to his grandfather and then I showed him the signature.

    Then something interesting happened.  Rather than barely taking notice and then running off to play as you might expect of a five-year-old, he took the book and held it reverently in his hands.  He lightly brushed his fingers over the signature.

    For a long moment he stood holding the book, gazing at the signature.  Then he looked off at the wall as he continued to gently rub the book.  His eyes noticeably began to fill with tears.  Finally he handed the book back and asked if I had any other books that had belonged to his grandfather.

    My throat tightened with emotion as I wondered what he was thinking. I wanted to ask, but decided instead to let him own that moment as his own.  My wife and I exchanged glances.  We both understood that something remarkable had happened, something that we could sense but could not see.

    Later that night, as my wife tucked him into bed, she asked him what he had been thinking.  He told her that he was looking into a clock and wondering what it would be like to know his grandfather.

    Fatherhood has brought me many unexpected poignant moments; sometimes as a witness and other times, like this one, as a participant.  And that is perhaps one of the greatest blessings of fatherhood, to share in those poignant moments with my child.

    Every day I thank God for this incredible gift that is my son, this answered prayer, this miracle he performed in our lives, the miracle that we had given up on, that we had all but conceded.  I thank Him for those special moments, for the joy and the depth of meaning that fatherhood has brought me.

    And I pray that He will bless my efforts to be a good father and that he will see fit to bless me, that I might live to see him into manhood.

    Make A Wish

    October 31, 2009

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    The other afternoon Sean and I went out for a walk. It was a glorious Indian summer day, warm and peaceful and perfect in every way.

    He spied the very last of the ripened dandelions and plucked it out of the ground.  “Okay Mom,” he said, “Be quiet.”

    I stood quietly and respectfully off to the side while he stood as still as a totem pole, eyes closed and holding up the dandelion to his lips.  Then he whispered, “I wish Vivian could come see me every year!”

    He inhaled deeply with a squeak and then blew with all his might, scattering his wish to the wind. He blew and blew and blew until there was nothing left but a bald stem.

    As we continued our walk towards home, I told him I thought that was a nice wish.  I told him I thought it was much better to wish for people than for stuff.

    He nodded in agreement.  Then he said, “You know a prayer is kind of like a wish you share with God.”

    All I could do was nod in agreement.

    The Confliction Of Five

    August 14, 2009

    As of late, Sean has been trying to convince me that he is over being a baby, that being a baby is so yesterday, that he has moved on, that he has joined the ranks of the big boys.

    But like a politician, his actions don’t always line up with his words.

    The other day as we were leaving the house for a play date, he ran back to his bedroom and grabbed Mr. Monkey to take with him in the car. As we are walking towards the garage, I notice his grimy little boy fingers, set to automatic, busily working and petting Mr. Monkey’s muzzle.  Mr. Monkey used to have a nose and a mouth. But they have long since been loved off.

    His fingers are long and delicate and even pretty.  I remember how I marveled at them, the first time I saw them, how fragile and breakable they felt in my hand, how they moved as though powered by batteries. I was fascinated by his fingernails, miniature and as fine as tissue paper.  The thought of trimming those itty bitty fingernails terrified me.

    I still marvel at those fingers although now they are scraped up and have a good amount of dirt under the nails which need to be trimmed.  Even so, they are still long and delicate, and even pretty.

    As we walked towards the car, I watched him out of the corner of my eye, his fingers methodically twitching over Mr. Monkey’s muzzle. I wondered if he was feeling anxious about the play date.  Then he turned to me and said, “Mom, I don’t care for cartoons anymore. Those are for babies. I prefer real shows with real people, like The Food Network and Survivor Man.”

    “Oh really?” I said more than asked.

    I was struck by the composition, the stark contrast between the boy clutching Mr. Monkey and the same boy telling me he has moved beyond childish cartoons.

    He is conflicted.  He is a boy wobbling and balancing on a high wire between two worlds.  On one side of the wire is a soft and sweet and safe place, where all the anxiety and ills of life can be soothed by a fraying and well loved monkey. On the other side is a not safe and not soft world that calls to him to come taste new and exciting things.  And he is conflicted. He wants to live in both worlds.

    I’m conflicted. I want him to live in both worlds.  And daily we swing wildly between the two.

    Jay Jay

    August 5, 2009

    “Mom,” Sean said, “I want you to take these baby toys and put them away.”

    He was standing next to my desk holding a small box.

    He laid the box on its side and Jay Jay and the gang came to a crash landing on my desk with a clatter.

    “What’s wrong with Jay Jay?” I asked puzzled. “You love Jay Jay.”

    I picked Jay Jay up.  He was missing a bit of his tail section but was just as bright and cheerful as ever.

    “Well I’m big now,” he said seriously.  “I’m more into planes that really fly.”

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    “No!  Stick with Jay Jay!” I wanted to say.

    But I didn’t.

    I took the little box of airplanes and stuck them in the back of his closet.

    The next day, when he wasn’t looking, I pulled them out and lined them all up again one last time and took their picture.

    I recalled the day we bought Jay Jay at the Pensacola Flight Museum.  Sean was two and a half and had a head full of long blond curls.   I remembered how happy it made him and how he clutched that little plane to his chest in his fat little dimpled hand.  I remembered how happy it made me to buy it for him.

    And now, so soon, he is more into real planes.

    One by one, I tucked each of the little planes back into the box and then returned them to the back of the closet.

    So long Jay Jay.

    ~sigh~