Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fleshing Out the Script

Things I have rediscovered lately:

• Pandora Radio at
• "Jane Eyre" in print
• this photo I took of Paris in 1993
• robin-egg-shell blue
• the zen of fresh-cut flowers
• how hard Brooks can make me laugh

A few years ago, my sister Mindy introduced me to a book called "What's So Amazing About Grace?" by Philip Yancey. I was taken by the author's candid treatment of grace and mercy, two virtues I felt the absence of in my own life. I read more of his books. In "Soul Survivor" he highlights ten or so people whose lives he considers to emulate true Christian discipleship, Gandhi, MLK Jr., Dr. Paul Brand, to name a few.

It was while reading this book that I realized I am not a Christian.

This revelation was a big bummer because my whole life I thought I was. Don't get ahead of me here before I can say that I'm not soliciting reassurance. Perhaps in my twenties I would have but as I get older, external validation is less and less important. I was relieved to find that I had no need to beat myself up for this either. At a point in life when I am making more deliberate decisions, this revelation was actually helpful. Read on and walk through this with me.

Christianity has been an inheritance of sorts. I live in a country steeped in Judeo-Christian culture. I was raised in a family where I learned Christian principles, was baptized and went to church every Sunday. I tried to forgive and forget, walk the extra mile and be kind to others. This all felt right. I had no desire to do harm to anyone, a clean conscience was important to me and doing good felt good.

So, I'm a Christian, right?

Perhaps I've been on auto pilot since then because what I've described above pretty much characterizes my life over the years. At least I thought it did. When I read Philip Yancey's book, however, I couldn't help but examine myself a little closer. Sometimes when I thought I was being loving I was only being nice. A gesture of service was in reality a duty performed with resentment. To forgive, true remorse on the part of the offending party had to be taken into careful consideration. My critical nature of others too often kept me from seeing my own faults. And didn't I relish a grudge now and then? (Yes.)

So, big deal. That pretty much describes just about everyone who I would still consider to be a decent human being (and naturally I'm only outlining faults fit to print). But the question I couldn't ignore was just how much of my heart, just what percentage of my soul, does all this comprise?

Well, pretty much most of it.

For me the two core teachings that summarize Christ's ministry are returning love for hatred and eliminating poverty/human suffering. I ask myself how much of my time is spent engaging in either of those activities? Not much. So what do I fill most of my time with? Well, if it's true that "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also", then it's safe to say that I'm more influenced by capitalist and individualist theologies than by the Christian one.

As principles, love and poverty elimination (i.e., giving freely of my possessions) resonate with me. In fact, they resonate very deeply. The reality is that when it comes down to it, both of those things are very very hard to do. I am compelled to acknowledge that I am limited by the smallness of my heart — that I care more about myself than anyone else. And the business of enlarging one's heart on one's own is so hard that, in fact, I believe it's quite impossible. In her book "Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith", Ann Lamott writes, "We don't transform ourselves." and I agree. That's God's work. So then how do I make the transition between where I am and where I could be? Or do I?


So, acknowledging that I'm not truly a Christian may be a good place for Him to start. It has given me the space to realize that I actually have a choice in the matter (which feels funny even to write). Do I want to be or don't I? It's certainly easier to go on acting like it. Besides, who's really watching? What does it matter?

I guess the answer, whatever it might end up being, highlights the difference between a scripted life and a deliberate one. So far I'm leaning towards deliberate. But to me, "deliberate" doesn't seem to be the word that describes grace and mercy, the two things I need most to proceed.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ad Libris

The boys and I took a trip to the library the other day. I saw a book in the kids' section called "Big Lips and Hairy Arms". Based on the title alone, I felt we had a lot in common so I checked it out right away. Turns out we had more in common than the title since, as we discovered together that night, it's about a mom monster who has two little boy monsters! I wish I could say I loved the book but it was only so-so. Here are a few, however, we have enjoyed recently (in no particular order):

1. "I Ain't Gonna Paint No More" by Karen Beaumont (illustrated by David Catrow - fab!)
2. "That Book Woman" by Heather Henson
3. "Before I Was Your Mother (I Had a Life)" - OK, that's not the subtitle - by Kathryn Lasky
4. "Baby Brains: the Smartest Baby in the Whole World" by Simon James (also "Baby Brains and RoboMom", "Baby Brains Superstar")
5. Uncle Remus and tales of Brer Rabbit (these never get old for them - ever.)
6. "Stink: the Incredible Shrinking Kid" by Megan McDonald (they loved this more than I did)
7. "Sinbad the Sailor" from "Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights"
8. "I Miss You Every Day" by Simms Taback (you can't go wrong with any of his books)
9. "Knuffle Bunny Too" by Mo Willems
10. "Sarah, Plain and Tall" by Patricia MacLachlan. I was surprised they liked this!

I would love to hear your comments on books you and/or your kids have really liked.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Soul Food

When I came home from the gym last Tuesday morning, Brooks was serving up breakfast to the kids.

"What are you making?" I ask him as I walk in, smelling something good.

"Ba-rockin' Obama pancakes, of course." he answers working away at the griddle.

I've never heard of such pancakes before but it's all starting to make sense: the morning's inaugural festivities are streaming from on the counter to his right. To my surprise and delight, the kids are totally into it. I had been listening to the commentary on NPR as I drove home and wished that Brahm and Oliver could hear it, too, so I was glad to see that Brooks (as always) was one step ahead.

"Mom! Today Barack Obama is going to be made president of the United States!"

"Look! There he is in that car. Did you know that his car is bomb-proof? Is it even atomic bomb-proof?"

I'm like many people, liberal on some issues and conservative on others. Regardless of where I stand or party lines in general, it's hard to imagine anyone remaining unmoved after watching last week's broadcast. I myself haven't felt so inspired by a political leader since, well, since I've been old enough to comprehend politics in general. In a time when many of us could use a little inspiration, the sense of hope the change of office brings truly goes a long way.

The significance of a black president is not lost on me but I am not old enough to truly appreciate it. I was stirred nonetheless by the stories and images of people who are. Martin Luther King Jr. has long been one of my true heroes for the way he used love to change America's future. "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice." he once said. Last Tuesday would have been payday for him.

Well, I won't wax long on this entry. I'm mainly writing this down to remember what happened and how I felt that day. In fact, I was so stirred by it all that I let Oliver be late for school (Brahm had the day off) so he could take in as much as he wanted. Later, when it was just Brahm and I in front of the computer, I leaned down to him and said, "I hope you remember this day for the rest of your life."

Ba-rockin' Obama Buttermilk Pancakes

2 1/2 c flour
1 tsp soda
4 tsp baking powder
2 Tbs sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 c buttermilk
1/2 c milk
1/4 c oil

Beat eggs. Add milk and buttermilk. Sift together dry ingredients in separate bowl. Add dry to wet and gently fold in the oil just until well-blended. If you stir too much, it makes the pancakes tough. Also, if you mess with the ingredients to try and make this more healthy (like I always do - no sugar, whole wheat, etc.) they just won't be as delectable. I got this recipe from my sister-in-law's mother, S. Beazer.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

No Time Like the Present

When I was twenty-one I went on a trip with my mother to a town called Puente in Spain (she snapped the picture to the right). We visited a small shop where a potter and his wife create hand-crafted dishware. Before we left, she bought me a traditional dining set which included a few extras like tea cups, sugar bowl, cream dispenser and teapot. I love them for their beauty, for the love inherent in her gift and for the memories they hold.

But it wasn't always like that. For years they were packed carefully away for the day when I would set up a home of my own. When that day came, they were put up in a cupboard hidden away from view and used only on "special occasions". Then when it came time to reorganize after the remodel, I told myself that anything that wasn't used on a regular basis had to go. I had all but forgotten the dishes so when it came to making much-needed cupboard space, I was confronted with the dilemma of what to do with them. By now they were somewhat of a burden. Tea cups and sugar bowls seemed so romantic at the time but really had no practical function in my life at the present. Hmmm...

Then one day, the solution came to me: why not use them? I laugh at how sometimes the most obvious answer is the last one that presents itself—or rather, is the last one I consider as a possibility. So I took the set of dishes we were using on a day-to-day basis and gave them away.

This makes me think of a story my mom tells about her Grandma Alice. She (Alice) and her husband worked so hard just to provide the basics for their family that it wasn't until she was a grandma herself that she finally bought a brand new set of furniture for the first time. Her life to that point had been so marked by scarcity that she kept her new furniture covered in plastic at all times, even when company came to call. As odd as this seems to me, I must concede that a plate which never serves up a meal is no different from a couch you can't sit on.

PHOTO: Alice (l) with her daughter-in-law (my grandma) out giving the couches a break

So I ask myself, what good is something that can't be used up and worn out? This is a question which develops more meaning with time. That same query made in my twenties, for example, would have had a different context all together since so much of my life was yet to come. It's different now. Not that I have one foot in the grave or anything, it's just that, well — I no longer feel like time is on my side. One has to ask oneself, "At what point do I actually begin living my life as opposed to anticipating the arrival of that moment?"

This all makes me wonder what ever happened to Alice's furnishings? Did they go to her children after her death? Did they say, "Wow, mint condition but a tad out of style." then kick it all to the curb? Did they simply go straight to the Salvation Army where a mother of small children brought them home to certain destruction? Are they in a furniture museum somewhere? OK, I guess I've made my point.

So back to the dishes. Yes, some of the pieces are kitchen decorations. And yes, I picked up a few dishes and tumblers at a second-hand store that don't have to be hand-washed (they also happen to fit better on our tiny table than the others). But it's also true that it warms my heart to hear Oliver say at the end of the day, "Mom, will you make me some warm tea?" then watch him sip it from a cup and saucer that won't be seeing the inside of that same thrift store anytime soon.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Stop Me if You've Heard This Before

Just look at these faces. That's exactly what I've been doing over the weekend, in photo form anyway. Part of the remodel process includes (come to find out) sorting through all of the crap I've ever owned in my life. And this naturally includes photos.

Yesterday the boys and I spent part of the day sorting through a big box of photographs and actually putting them in an album. For a woman who is only months away from having both kids in school all day, this kind of thing can be risky business. I mean, they look so cute and cuddly in the pictures! But they look like that the same way a baby wolverine probably does, too. I mean, really – it's no secret that you feel all warm and fuzzy from the memories precisely because that's what they are: memories. None of these pictures portray the utter exhaustion, frazzled nerves, endless diapers, worrisome fevers, inconsolable crying, night-waking, weight gain or house that's never clean. Now if I could have captured all of that on film, then it wouldn't be so easy to start wondering what it would be like to have a third child. And yet, somehow...

This whole scenario is only exacerbated by questions like this from the boys: "Mom, when are you ever gonna have a baby in your stomach again?" "The next time you have a baby, can it be the girl kind? We have enough boys around here." "Mama, we really need a baby in this house. When are we gonna to get one?"

Maybe by the time you have your room clean.

Brooks won't even talk to me about it anymore. This annoys me to no end but secretly I think he's being smart. How many times can a good man take the crazy wife saying she's ready for another one and then in the same breath wanting to discuss permanent birth control procedures?

On the one hand, I tell myself that I'm more mature now than I was eight years ago. Besides, the two kids have given me a thick skin (not to mention a good aim) which makes me more prepared this time around. I'm more loving, more nurturing, more patient, more eager to spend time with them.

But on the other hand, to be pregnant I'd have to go off all the medication that makes it so I can be those things.


To make it even more confusing, this entry comes at the end of a day when I blew up at the boys for fighting (again) then wouldn't talk to them for the rest of the night because I was so irritated. I went to bed early and left them to fend for themselves. (OK, I did give them a little supper before ditching. And I knew Brooks would be home any minute. But still.)

So why won't the romantic notions of having another one just leave me alone? I can't help but wonder what would the baby look like. What kind of big brothers would Brahm and Oliver be? Would it be another boy or would God dare send us a she-beast? I'd give my bottom dollar to see Brooks being a dad to a baby girl, watching how she'd wrap him around her little finger. Sheesh - just one more can't be that hard - all my friends are doing it and they're still alive.

But then there are the times when I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. "What am I thinking?" I shriek aloud before jumping in the car to buy the nearest pregnancy test. "Just to be sure," I say in a trembling voice.

To help remind myself that two is enough, I recall a session I had with my shrink a few years ago. In it I divulged all of my shortcomings as a mom (OK, maybe not all - we only had fifty minutes). The issue of more children came up, of course, and she summarized the hour by saying, "It sounds like you have a thin skin for the chaos of childrearing, Jenny. I think it's OK to honor that." True, but this is also the same shrink I fired shortly thereafter because, well — I'm still crazy.

So I can't talk to Brooks about it, my friends are sick of listening, and I'm sure God Himself cannot take even one more prayer. I mean, how many times does He have to tell me that the world would be a safer place if I didn't before I'll listen? But sometimes the crazy part of me thinks I should just get pregnant and be done with it, logic and reason be damned. But that's exactly where the shoe pinches: I won't be "done with it" for at least another eighteen years after that. And for a woman who's only got approximately twelve to go (no matter how cute the little face might be) that may be asking a little too much.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Putting Our Quirks on the Table

[NOTE: I asked Brooks if he would make a guest entry in my blog and he so graciously complied with the following entry. — Jenny]

Every family has their quirks—you know, those little things they do that would irritate, disturb, or disgust anyone else. Some people save used dental floss or tin foil. Others put plastic on their couch. And some people are nut-jobs.

One of our friends works for the county health department, and sometimes we offer him dinner for health horror stories. One of our favorites involves a family that had nearly a dozen children, kept 40+ cats, 20+ dogs, and had no working toilet in their house—so they just pooped in the tub. Oh yeah—and the father was a counselor in the bishopric of their LDS ward. (Ward members often complained how the kids showed up for church with animal feces on their clothes.)

Now, I’m sure their family just thought their lifestyle was a little “quirky.” But in my view, if your “quirk” motivates neighbors to call the state because they think you have a meth lab due to the overpowering scent of ammonia—but it turns out you just have 40+ cats urinating in your house instead—that’s not a “quirk.” That’s a health hazard. And its why my friend has a Hazmat suit.

So, given that background, I’d say our family isn’t too bad in the quirk department. Our quirks are more along the lines of…oh, I dunno…d├ęcor. Take the kitchen table.

If you’ve been to our humble abode, you’ve noticed it. Or even sat at it. And you probably didn’t say anything. But for those of you who haven’t visited, let’s just say that it isn’t much of a table. It’s actually a kids table made by Ikea that we picked up from Jenny’s sister years ago (who had painted it bright blue before handing it down to us). Jenny thought it would be perfect for a kids craft table or kids dinner table when other families visited. At the time, our kitchen table was kind of a bar-thing with two stools. And since our kitchen space is like a highway off-ramp—all traffic all the time—the bar worked nicely because it was out of the way, up against the wall.

But then our kids outgrew their highchairs. And a table with backless bar stools is not a good solution for toddlers. It’s just not. So we sold the bar-table-thing at a yard sale, and Jenny refinished the kids table to match the kitchen cabinets. But despite best intentions, the chairs remain blue to this day.

We do have another table. It’s an “antique” with folding leaves, and we bust it out for our formal affairs in the front room. But because it doesn’t really fit in our kitchen, we started eating with our kids at their table. At the time, this was supposed to be temporary. But like so many other things in life, it has become permanent on a temporary basis.

Don’t get me wrong: I want a table. Very much so. And Jenny and I have had conversations, drawn diagrams, and even chalked in some lines on the slate floor to determine if and where we could place an island, or put a space-saving Ikea piece, etc. There has been discussion, debate, exploration, and items added to online shopping carts, but to this date, there is no adult-sized table in our kitchen.

The thing about quirks is that most people either don’t know or don’t understand the motivations behind them. Why do these people still have a tiny kitchen table? Is it because they’re lazy? Poor? Lacking taste? Weird? Sure, it’s all of those things. But its also because we discovered that there’s something special about eating dinner eye-to-eye with our kids in such a way that we’re connecting to their world rather than the other way around. That little table has some strange, wobbly magic in it that has bound us together in very close proximity. And it’s wonderful.

Now, having said that, has anybody seen any good space-saving kitchen tables? Because I’m tired of slamming my knees on the corners.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Fast White Rolls

Today's visual interest is my great- grandfather Hendrik Winkel who immigrated to the United States from Holland. He and his wife Everdina were converted to the Mormon faith there but came to Utah in search of Zion. Richfield is where they finally settled and raised a family of eleven children on the earnings from his bakery. That's where this photo was taken, probably around 1930.

I am proof that the ability to bake a fabulous loaf of bread is not genetic. I have always wanted to be proficient in making rolls, for example, but somehow always fell short. Too tricky, too time-consuming, so many places where you can go wrong. I decided that watching over someone's shoulder who was in the process would be a great help since I am such a visual person and learn best that way.

A friend of mine who used to live in our neighborhood invited me over one day to do just that. Turns out that (with her recipe) it's actually a snap and they turn out every time. I looove fresh bread from the oven and since this is a quick recipe, I get to satisfy my craving before it's gone. You, too, can impress family and friends by following theses basic steps! Trust me. If you're visual like I am, and watching would help, come on over and I will bake some up with you. We'll turn out a dozen or two that would make Grandpa Henrik proud.

2 Tbs active dry yeast
1/2 c warm water
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 c warm water (or milk)
2 eggs at room temperature, beaten
1/4 sugar
1/2 c butter (one stick) at room temperature
5 c flour (probably will need to add more)

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 c water. Pour 1 1/3 c water in a KitchenAid type mixer along with the rest of the ingredients, minus the flour (also, it helps if the butter is cut into smaller pieces). Mix together until combined (don't worry about the butter not being incorporated at this point). Stir in yeast mixture. At this point you can start adding the flour but keep an eye on your dough. I know I have added enough flour (about one or two cups more than the five prescribed) when the dough hook begins to clean the side of the bowl. From experience I know to leave the dough a bit sticky as well but not too sticky that you can't handle it. Too much flour makes the rolls heavy and dry.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead it for a few minutes until it feels elastic. Jamie taught me that kneading the dough by hand (as opposed to letting the mixer do it) makes for a better finished product. Spray the inside of a large mixing bowl with cooking spray and put it over ball of dough and let rise for half an hour (or until doubled). Shape dough into balls and arrange on a greased cookie sheet. How close you place them to each other depends on how you want them to turn out - closer together if you want to pull the rolls apart, farther if you want individual rolls. I usually get about a dozen on one sheet. Cover (I put mine in a plastic bag) and let rise again (about another half hour or so) then bake at 400F for 15 minutes. Rolls should be lightly browned and hollow sounding when tapped. Rub the tops with a stick of butter. Yummy!


•Using bread flour really makes a difference.
•When using whole wheat flour, a ratio of no more than 2:3 works beat. More makes the dough heavy.
•Using wheat gluten (according to package directions) also makes a big difference.
•Don't let the rolls rise too long.
•These make great hamburger buns!
•Can also use for bread sticks: make a long snake of dough, fold over on itself and twist. Dredge in melted butter then a mixture of grated Parmesan cheese, garlic salt and Italian spices. Don't let rise - cook right away

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pagan Rituals, Playing With Fire, Etc.

The answer is "C".

I look forward to winter Solstice every year because, not only does it mark the commencement of longer days, I get to celebrate it with two of my dearest friends E and J. I don't remember when it started but they've been getting together with Brooks and I around December 21st for several years now. There's a part of our get-together where we toss an evergreen twig into the [imagined yule log] fire to symbolize the death of the dark season. I love this. Since we were not able to celebrate Solstice last December, I just had to find a substitute for this tradition.

So I improvised one on New Year's Day.

Since Brooks and I fizzled on ushering in the new year (we went to bed early), I felt like doing something special the morning of January 1st. I made some coconut crepes, Brooks whipped up a "2009" stencil and we set the table with our holiday goblets and candlesticks (note the baby Jesus nestled in among candlestick bases, courtesy of the boys). After we ate, I passed around pieces of paper for everyone to write down things from the previous year that they wanted to forget or release: bad memories, mistakes, old habits, negative energy, etc. The boys got excited and quickly began scribbling down their selections.

"Do we have to read these out loud?" Brahm wanted to know.

"Nope. They're just for you to know."

When we were ready I explained that now we would take turns lighting the papers on fire from the candles and dropping them into a prepared bowl below to watch them burn. Well, you would have thought I had announced candy as the menu for the next week by the way their faces lit up. Watching his burn, Brahm said, "I think I like this tradition." Well, of course you do. Little boys and pyromania have gone hand in hand for centuries.

After we had completed our turns we then passed around clean sheets of paper to write down things we wanted for the new year. They didn't necessarily have to be resolutions. They could be hopes, new friends or memories to make, new things to try or learn, etc. These papers we then sealed up in a jar to read at the end of the year or to possibly burn (or not) depending on how they turn out (or don't!).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pop Quiz

We read scriptures this morning at breakfast. Samuel the Lamanite was talking about Christ's atonement so I asked the boys, "What kind of death did Jesus save us from?" Which of the following was Brahm's answer?

a) physical
b) spiritual
c) violent

Correct answer given in next entry.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Punica Granatum

In my quest to connect with Brahm and Oliver through conversation, I'm finding that they will tune into almost anything I say if I address them like people instead of as just kids. It doesn't seem to really matter what we talk about as long as they feel that they have my attention and respect. With this in mind, I'm picking up conversational threads in the most random places and running with them. So far, this technique is working.

Pomegranates, for example, are an usual theme for discussion (especially with little boys) but I try it anyway. Being my favorite fruit and owing to the fact that it's in season, we've been having them at dinner a lot lately. Last week I look into the bowl of seeds on the table and the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone comes to mind. I tell it to them and it's a hit! They have all sorts of questions: "Didn't her Mom miss her?" "Why wouldn't that bad man let her go?" "Is she gone from the earth right now?"

There's another bowl on the table tonight so I try my hand again.

"I've been to a place in Spain called Granada. Do you know what grows a lot there? Pomegranates. In fact, 'granada' is the Spanish word for 'pomegranate'"

They're tuned in almost immediately.

"Is that what grenadine syrup is made from?" Brooks wants to know, seeing a connection in the way the words are spelled.

"Yep. And do you know what people use grenadine syrup in?" I ask the boys. "If a person goes to a bar but doesn't want to order a drink with alcohol, they might ask the bartender for a 'Shirley Temple'. It's made with 7-Up, grenadine syrup, a squeeze of lime and then a cherry on top."

Brahm and Oliver start cracking up.

"What's so funny?" I want to know. After a minute I realize it's the name "7-Up". They are saying it over over, laughing all the while. Brahm is making the number seven with his hands and then pointing to the ceiling. This makes Oliver laugh even more. Suddenly I get that they have no idea what 7-Up is! True, we don't drink a lot of pop at our house but if I said "Sprite" they'd know what I meant. In an instant, I feel old so I shift the focus back to Shirley Temple (which only makes me feel older so not sure what I was thinking there). Before you know it, I'm recounting the tale of "The Little Princess" to them (which they loved — sorry, Brooks) and then sooner than we realize, it's time for bed.

Sigh. There's one pomegranate left in the fridge. Lucky them — they'll soon find out that there's a French word which is derived from the same Latin base as the beloved fruit: "grenade".

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Was a Kid Once, Too, You Know

I'm posting this picture as a visual that actually relates to today's entry. It's of me and my sister Marni circa 1975. I'm the baby wearing the pacifier. (And no, it is not secured to my shirt with a safety clip. It's tied around my neck with a ribbon in the good, old-fashioned way.)

One way I try to connect with my kids is by relating stories from my childhood. I imagine parents all over the planet do this — I certainly remember begging my own mom and dad to do so. I've taken the story-telling cue from Brooks who will often engage the boys at mealtime with some exciting adventures from his past. He has prodded me from time to time with leading questions like, "What kinds of food did you like to eat when you were a girl, Mama?" At first I resented this. Mealtime is a chance to give my brain a rest while I digest my food and the events of the day at the same time. After a while, however, I saw how it draws Brahm and Oliver out so I've taken it up. And my new approach to parenting allows me to be more honest about my past deeds than I normally would be. This naturally leads to a more interesting story line. Take the following, for example.

"You know, when I was a girl, I didn't act like a girl." I begin after dinner on Thursday. "I loooved playing in the dirt, climbing trees, starting fights and catching tadpoles."

They look at me strangely but I continue.

"Did you know I was the the tetherball champion of Mission San Jose Elementary School when I was in second grade? Everybody wanted to beat me but no one could unless they cheated. One day I was playing against Jason Rocha who was the number two champ. The game was going on and on forever and the kids in line were getting tired. So the kid who was the referee — his name was John MacIntosh — called that I was holding the ball. Holding the ball is against the rules so this meant I lost the match. I stopped the ball and yelled, 'I did not hold the ball!'

'Oh, yeah?' he sneered.'Well you are now!'

He stepped into the circle and was trying to take the ball away from me but I wasn't about to let that happen so you know what I did? I bit his hand. And I bit it hard."

Oliver's mouth is agape, eyes bulging. Brahm is in my peripheral vision but even still I can see an understanding smile spread across his face. Brooks hastily interrupts with a cautionary word or two just in case the boys think to employ this tactic in resolving their next playground conflict.

"And then you know what happened?" I continue, adding a moral of my own. "I got sent to the principal's office."

But what I don't say is that even now when I think back on what happened that day, I can still feel the teeniest amount of satisfaction. Heh, heh heh... I only have the memory but John has the scar. To divulge this to my kids, of course, would be to cross the line, even in my new way of thinking. I'll leave it to them to ascribe meaning to the events of their own lives. That way they'll have plenty of good material to draw from when telling their own children tales from their past.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Dinner Is Served

I made ribs the other night. They weren't as tender as I wanted so I put them back in the oven for another hour. This pushed dinner back, of course, so I pulled out the emergency back up for the boys - Cup-o'-Noodles. Oliver says the blessing on the food and ends it with this:

"And please bless Mom for preparing our dinner tonight — even though it came from a bottle."

Monday, January 5, 2009

"It Happens When You're 18" Part 2

So it's the next day and we're having lunch. Church is over and we're unwinding around the table together. This seems like a good time to try my new approach. I will tell my kids up front that they can start to expect a few changes. This is counterintuitive, of course, since the "parent" in me is compelled to maintain the impression that I know what I'm doing at all times. Furthermore, any change in the usual course of action will only weaken their confidence in me and then they'll start to question my authority — or so the parent voice is telling me. But the truth is that I'm tired of this voice. What's more is that I don't really think they identify much with it anyway. In fact, I think it's been quite alienating in the past. I don't know what I'm doing most of the time and I'm starting to believe that it doesn't much matter if they know anyway (in case it hasn't occurred to them already). Maybe if they feel my love they'll let the rest slide because they know I'm trying my best. It worked for our contractor, why not for me?

"Hey, guys, I've been thinking about you lately and realize that you're getting old enough to be making your own decisions on a lot of things. When you were little I used to worry about you a lot because it was so easy for you to get hurt. I didn't want bad things to happen to you so I tried my best to protect you."

When we talk to Bram and Oliver on the level, their ears perk up and immediately they are interested. That's how they are now. They have forgotten their food for a minute and they are staring at me intently, trying to grasp exactly what it is I'm trying to say.

"Now that you are older Dad and I are going to start to let you make choices based on what we've taught you so far. When you make the choices, we'll want to talk with you afterward to find out what you liked about the choice and the consequence, and maybe what you didn't like so much."

Well, forget it. I don't think they heard the last part of what I said. They've already jumped out of their chairs and are dancing around the room tossing out ideas of what kinds of activities they are they are now free to engage in.

After the dust settles I manage to get in one more word edgewise. "The thing that's important is that you are able to make you own decisions when you turn eighteen and graduate from our house. That way you can create a really great life for yourself with what you've learned here."

At this point the conversation takes an unexpected turn. A silence falls over the room and Oliver looks at me, suddenly serious.

"Will I not live here anymore when I'm eighteen?" he asks.

This surprises me since we've covered this ground before — trust me.

"Nope, you won't, Oliver. And believe me, you won't want to. You'll be ready to start out on your own life. You won't want to hang around here anymore."

He considered this carefully and when he speaks, I hear a faint quiver in his voice.
"Will you always live here, Mom?"

If nothing else, I try and be truthful with my kids and the truth is that life is uncertain. The sarcastic part of me says, "I didn't just sink a half-billion dollars into this house just to pick up and leave anytime before I die." But the honest part says, "I don't know, O-man." I swallow to conceal the quiver in mine.

I see that my answer doesn't sit well because he turns away from me in a huff. Getting angry is his way of protecting his heart from feeling sad.

"Well you said we can make our own decisions now and I choose to stay here for as long as I want!"

Sigh. I think this is what we call "backfiring".

A million reasons why he won't want to (not to mention the reason I won't want him to) flash through my head and I start to speak. Instead, I surprise myself by putting my arms out and gathering him into me. What is even more surprising is that he lets me.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

"It Happens When You're 18" Part 1

My parenting philosophies are evolving. Maybe it's that my boys are old enough that they won't drown in the tub if I leave the room, maybe I'm getting older and have less energy. Or maybe my raisin heart is plumping out. Whatever it is, I think I'm easing up.

I want to develop my new ideas with someone whose parenting style I admire so when our contractor showed up yesterday, I started to talk. He was a family friend long before the remodel began and since then has become much more (though not necessarily by choice!) — marriage counselor, design consultant, comic relief, and shoulder to cry on, to name a few. Therefore, striking up this kind of conversation felt natural.We are in totally different phases of being parents (his kids are grown and out of the house) but I want to know how he has made it this far with all of his relationships intact. Not just intact but thriving. Look, I've never interviewed his children to verify all of this but I have spent time with their family and there are just some things you can't fake. He seems like the kind of dad who will genuinely love and accept his kids whatever life path they choose. I'm not so sure I offer the same guarantee to mine but I want to. Hence the evolution.

I pick his brain for a while and, as is his style, he's pretty open and honest. He doesn't feel the need to hide that he was young and inexperienced when he and his wife started having kids.

"How can my kids blame me for not knowing any better?" he points out.

This doesn't satisfy me. None of us know any better when we begin rearing children. As the conversation unfolds, however, I start to pick out what it is that I admire about him; what it is I'd like to emulate: he doesn't pretend that he has all the answers but at the same time you definitely get the sense that he's deeply grounded in his own personal and spiritual beliefs. It finally comes to the fore when he says, "Look, I think the Church has it right when they say 'Teach your kids correct principles then let them govern themselves'".

But there's something more, something you can't really learn in church, per se, or get from a parenting book: he really loves his kids. Not the kind that obligates a parent to the bum-wiping, night-waking, nutrition-supplying behaviors that come with the job — most of us can at least do those things. I'm talking about the kind you can actually feel; the kind that binds the heart of the child to the parent; the kind that engenders trust; the kind that opens a door and leaves it that way so that no matter what happens, the child knows they have a safe place to go when they need it. That's what I want to give my kids.

Brooks walks in during the conversation and wants to know if the contractor charges extra for the therapy. If he did, we'd have broken the bank long ago.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Meet Eve

It's December 23rd and our friend Paul Hatt has dropped in on business but brought up another subject entirely before he left.

"You guys don't want another chicken, do you?"

"Heck, yeah!" I say without hesitation.

Since Chicker died, I've been worried about Ophelia (as much as a human can worry over a chicken, I guess). They are social animals and it is suggested that if you keep chickens, you have at least two. It's been six months since Ophelia has been alone so I jumped at the chance.

"OK, I'll be right back," he says and walks out to his truck.

"You brought it with you??"

He answers my question with a box that is promptly deposited on the front porch.

"I've been working on a house this past week and noticed this chicken hanging out up in the rafters. She never comes down to eat or drink and it doesn't appear that she belongs to anyone so I thought you guys might be interested in taking her in."

The boys will not believe this! I call out to them that I have a surprise and they come running. (BTW, thanks for padding their Christmas gifts, Paul).

All of us headed out to the henhouse to see how Ophelia would respond to her new roommate. This is risky since, when introducing a new chicken to an existing group, the pecking order can often leave it on the outs, pecked and plucked - sometimes dead. Chicker and Ophelia got along famously but they were raised together from chickhood so that was a given. We watched fo a while - so far so good. Did I detect a sudden perkiness in her demeanor?

The next night Eve turned up missing. It was Christmas Eve, for heaven sake, but the boys (all three) disappeared into the darkness on a recovery mission. I thought the odds of finding her were poor but to my amazement she was located in our neighbors yard roosting in the rafters of his garage. I hold her as Brooks clips the ends of her wings (it doesn't hurt the animal) to make sure it doesn't happen again. And yes, the day of the year played into the name she was given by one of the boys.

"Who named Eve?" I just yelled out to Brooks who's in the kitchen as I write.

"Adam named Eve," comes the obvious answer.

"I'm talking about the chicken."

"Oh, I think it was Brahm or Oliver."

OK, so there you go. And I can't believe I just finished a blog entry about pet barnyard fowl.