Summer Break

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10282981093_8e2a85ba61_oI didn’t really intend to take last week off blogging–but my week at NPM (the National Association of Pastoral Musicians conference, for those non-liturgy geeks among my readership) ended up giving me lots to think and pray about, but not a lot of time to write about it.

My catchup list is getting pretty epic, so I’m thinking it may be time for a summer blogging break for the remainder of July. I hate to do it, but I’m thinking a lot about spiritual-emotional health right now and I think this is the right call. So I will see you all back in a couple of weeks!

Funny/Not Funny

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Funny:

Michael fell asleep on the way to piano lessons yesterday, and when I roused him to go inside, he said, “I just want to snuggle with you the whole time while you’re working.”

The trouble was, he was so cuddly—for a child who employs love with such ferocity it approaches the level of violence, he can be unbelievably cuddly—that I just didn’t have much interest in working. We were both getting sleepier and sleepier, but I kept kissing his cheek and then his head would pop up and he’d kiss mine. (Little boy kisses=heaven.) Finally he said, “Every time you kiss me, I just feel like I have to kiss you too.”

“Well,” I said, “every time you kiss me, I feel like I have to kiss you!” I raised my eyebrows at him. “We could do this all day!”

He giggled. “But Mom, we need some sleep!”

Not funny:

We went hiking with some friends on Sunday, and even before we started Christian was telling me that the scientists he works with had been warning that it’s a particularly bad tick year. We wore jeans and we sprayed our shoes and socks and lower legs. And arms. And necks. Except for Alex. Alex missed the memo somehow. And then he went deep into the wild blackberry bushes along the path, in search of the first few ripe berries.

He spent the entire one-hour drive back home finding ticks and throwing them out the van window. The other kids found some, too, so we left the van in the driveway for 24 hours and closed all the windows so it would get good and hot in there and hopefully kill those suckers.

Because if you’re anything like me, right about now you need a beautiful picture of water droplets on an iris to remind you that nature includes heart-stopping beauty and not just nightmares.

But that didn’t help him. By bedtime that night he’d found eleven. By the next morning he told us he was up to sixteen. And when, at dinner on Wednesday, another one crawled down his neck—despite my having checked his head two days prior—he went into complete trauma mode. We realized that not only did he not wear insect repellent while he was foraging, he also didn’t bring his clothes upstairs and throw them in the washing machine with everyone else’s, so they’d been wandering around his room for two or three days. And we found out the ticks he’d found overnight had actually been attached, and he didn’t have any idea if he’d gotten the whole thing or just the bodies when he pulled them out himself. (He tries so hard not to be a bother to anyone.

He and Christian pulled out every piece of clothing, and his sheets, and his blankets, and found another dozen ticks, dead and alive. He’s slept on the couch for two nights and he’s desperately afraid of his room.

I have realized in recent months that Nicholas has definitely inherited Christian’s and my tendencies toward anxiety issues, but I thought in Alex they were more muted and under control. In the last twenty-four hours, I have learned otherwise. 😦

The Reason That Dream Was So Scary

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Photo by anjan58, via Flickr

I’ll blame it on watching “Logan” late at night. I had this vivid dream in which we were at my parents’ church and in the middle of the Gospel, I realized Julianna’s bus was due to drop her off at home in five minutes. Only my parents’ church is 35 minutes away, and by the time we got home, we had no idea where she was. Then Christian got a phone call from the bus company saying she was in X subdivision and we had to get there in the next two minutes, and he was trying to tell me where it was so I could go find her.

I spent a couple of half-awake minutes trying to problem-solve it before I realized it was a dream and woke myself up all the way. It was 4:30 a.m. and I was afraid to go back to sleep.

This was the first time in a very long time that I’ve felt a desire to wake my husband and seek comfort after a nightmare. Usually I can dismiss the emotional response the moment I wake up because the situation is so ridiculous.

The problem with this one was, it could actually happen.

For seven years, I’ve structured my life around meeting Julianna when she gets home on the bus. For six of them it wasn’t optional: the sped busses will not drop off a child without a responsible adult on hand. They make two attempts to deliver a child and then they take them to the police station. This is laid out up front in the paperwork.

But sped busses are expensive, and a year ago, the school asked us if we were ready to let Julianna ride the reg-ed bus, with an accommodation written into her IEP that she would still get door to door service.

It’s the walk to and from the bus stop at the end of our street that had been my hangup this whole time; otherwise, I really wanted her included in this way as she is in the classroom. So we did it, and it’s been a positive experience, but no longer is there a requirement that the drivers deliver the child into the hands of a responsible adult. At least, I don’t think so.

So for the past year, I’ve made sure I’m there when Julianna comes home.

Until this summer, when all three of the younger kids rode together, and for that reason, I didn’t have to, because she was in company with brothers who would be sure she’d get inside.

Come August, she’ll be riding solo again. And this morning, lying awake with anxiety pouring through my veins, I realized how lucky I’ve gotten that nothing has ever unexpectedly prevented me from meeting the bus—car accident, appointment running late, last minute emergency with another kid—my author’s brain is concocting all kinds of zero-fault premises.

The thing is, Julianna cannot get into the house, and I have no idea what she might do if she found herself locked out.

But giving her a key would be useless, because our door has one of those push-in-and-turn locks that even adults can’t get open. Our next door neighbor couldn’t get in to water the tree for us one Christmas; I’ve lived here ten years and I still haven’t figured out the trick. I just wiggle and wiggle until I hit the magic combination. And the garage door code, aside from being far over her head, is not well made. You have to push the buttons so hard, she would never make it work, even if she could remember the combination. Or we could get her a garage door opener, but what if the power is out the one day I get caught away from home?

“I want to replace the front door lock,” I told Christian the instant he woke up this morning.

He said, “Just do the deadbolt and not the regular lock, and then she can use a key. The deadbolt works fine.”

I said, “Look, if I know I’m going to be gone I can do that. But if I know I’m going to be gone, I can call the neighbors to meet her. The problem is going to come when something prevents me from getting home on time. And I always lock that door.”

So—a new lock, and a key. But the truth is, I’m terrified of handing Julianna a key and saying “if I’m not here, let yourself into the house.” This is the girl who forgets (or chooses not to remember) that I told her to put away her shoes AND her dirty underwear. Who, when she does remember, is just as likely to deal with dirty underwear by sticking it back in the drawer as she is to put it in the laundry basket.

The girl for whom I never know how much she actually doesn’t understand, and how much she’s CHOOSING not to understand. I’m not even sure she knows the difference. She’s a mystery to me.

The girl who, after being shown the pulled weeds lying on the ground to put in the wheelbarrow, instead pulled up my lantana.

That dream, seemingly innocuous as nightmares go, is a reminder to me that parenting Julianna will always be fundamentally different from parenting my other children. And that is why it was so scary.

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Photo by evereverse, via Flickr

America, the Beautiful

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There’s a perennial debate among pastoral musicians about the appropriateness or not-appropriateness of singing patriotic music on the Sunday of a big national holiday. (Perhaps I should call it thrice-yearly, since it comes up Memorial Day, Labor Day, and of course, the Fourth.)

In the Catholic Church, the intent is for the readings, the prayers, the homily, and the music all to tie together to focus on a unified whole, and the readings never, ever lend themselves to American patriotism, because our allegiance is supposed to be to God.

Plus, a lot of people, myself included, look around at our country and can’t help seeing all the ways in which it is broken, how far it is from the Kingdom of God. The hysterical, fact-ignoring, inflammatory posturing coming from both sides of the aisle, the eagerness with which we follow suit, rarely (if ever) stopping to think through “what’s the rest of this story?” before hitting “share.” Police officers killing unarmed black men. People shooting up night clubs. Babies dying before they’re even born.

Frankly, we’re a mess.

For years, it has made me wince to sing patriotic songs at church. It’s felt like giving yourself a medal for, I don’t know, only kicking your little brother nine times instead of ten.

Last Wednesday, our choir, on a skeleton crew, put together “America the Beautiful” for the recessional at Mass, as directed. It was beautiful. We started in 4-part harmony a cappella, brought the piano in softly on verse 2, and built to a glorious end. I realized I knew all the words to every verse by heart. And as I sang/conducted them, it occurred to me:

This song is America as we believe she can be.

Souls confirmed in self-control. The heroes who love mercy more than life. Brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

This is what we are sometimes, and what we are meant to be always.

Yesterday morning, there were about 800 people at Mass, singing their hearts out on that song. For once, almost no one left. We sang four verses of a closing hymn, and everyone stayed to sing it.

And I realized: it’s okay to sing-pray these words over our assemblies. It’s okay to remind us of the vision of our best selves, of everything we’re called to be. Maybe it’s even part of what we need to make the real change happen.

Yes, God: mend our every flaw, till all success be nobleness and every gain divine.

My “Week Off”

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I was supposed to take this week, the last week of summer school, as a week off writing. I’ve finished my novel revision, and that was my reward: scrapbooking, some time sitting outside in the quiet, a shopping trip, maybe even a couple hours in front of the TV.

Well, I have deadlines, so forget that. Boo hiss.

So my “week off” became “two hours off” (three, including transit). About ten minutes from my house is Finger Lakes State Park, which is a reclaimed strip mine with a water trail. I’ve been on it once with my family and another family who are friends of ours, but with 8 kids, you can imagine that day was not a particularly peaceful one.

Yesterday morning was absolutely perfect. Cool, quiet–so very quiet, back there on the water trail. Just me and the frogs and the birds and the cicadas. Even the highway was obligingly quiet, for a change.

And since, you know, deadline, I’m just going to share some photos taken with my not-phone (what do you call an old iPhone with no service plan, so it only functions with wireless internet? We’ve tried ipod, but somehow “not-phone” seems most accurate). In any case: not fabulous photography, but enough to say: a wonderful week day couple hours off.

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Firefly Night

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Photo by ikewinski, via Flickr

It’s quarter after ten at night when I get home from my “girls’ night” to find Alex on babysitting duty because Christian got called in to work while I was gone—of all nights, the one night when I didn’t realize my rarely-used emergency mobile phone had run out of power.

 

I send him downstairs to bed and start closing things up around the house, but the quiet from the deck draws me outside, and I catch my breath, because the woods is alive.

We don’t see too many fireflies anymore. Only one other summer since we’ve lived here have we had anything like the light display going on in my back yard tonight, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t like this. It’s like Magic Kingdom lighting up the castle with sparkles. Or walking past a Christmas tree from a distance.

I hurry back inside. “Alex,” I say. “Grab your glasses and come up here.” His room, too, faces the woods, but I have a feeling that the view from the basement isn’t quite the same as the one from the deck.

We stand out there for a few minutes, surveying the magical array. There must be thousands of them, some of them in the yard, streaking for longer periods of time, others right at the edge of the trees, some illuminating tiny swaths of the foliage for a fleeting moment. A shimmering tapestry. Breathtaking.

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Image by ikewinski, via Flickr

It’s unusually cool for June, although the neighbors to either side haven’t figured it out yet; their air conditioners are still running, filling the night with the only obnoxiousness to be had, since the wind is out of the north and for once, we can’t hear I-70. I have a blanket around my shoulders, but Alex is in his shorts and t-shirt. When I offer to share, he’s more than willing. We pull two chairs together and sit down, and suddenly we’re talking. About school, and stars, and fireflies, and fidget spinners, and seeing Rudolph’s light in the sky, and God, and Alex’s earliest memory, and stars again, and fireflies again. The neighbors’ air conditioners trade back and forth, trying to outlast us, but at last they both give up and true quiet falls.

The undulating light display wanes and waxes, wanes and waxes. Wanes and waxes, but less convincingly. It’s getting late. We’re all winding down, even the fireflies. If Christian was home, we’d both have been in bed long before. But I think Alex and I both know we’ve stumbled into one of those gift moments, the ones you can’t plan or anticipate, you just have to accept them when they come.

I reach over and stroke his cheek once, still so soft. It won’t be too much longer before the peach fuzz will start, and then the stubble will overtake for good the little boy I can’t quite remember anymore, except for that visceral longing to brush my lips against cheeks as silky-soft as his once were. I could never get enough of kissing him as a baby.

“I love you,” I say quietly.

“I love you, too,” he murmurs. And we both go quiet, looking at the stars. His head drops back on the deck chair; I hear his glasses squish against the fabric, but neither of us wants the moment to end, even though it’s well past eleven. The wind whispers in cottonwood and sycamore.

Then the west neighbors’ air conditioner kicks on, and I know that’s my sign. We get up and head inside, but the buzz lingers. This is one of those nights I’ll always remember. A firefly night.

Kisses In The Outfield (Photo Friday)

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Monday night, when the coach dismissed the boys from their last (praise God!) baseball game of the season, he followed it up with, “Let’s get together for a parents-vs-kids game on Wednesday!”

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Nicholas sent a good line drive out there, and he hasn’t even been playing baseball this year.

I clamped down on the biggest “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” ever heard in the history of humankind. (Yes, I too can do idiotic superlatives that bear no resemblance to reality, thank you very much.)

I started praying on the spot for the grace to take this calmly and not gripe about yet another night’s worth of commitments. I told myself the boys were incredibly excited about this game and it wasn’t fair for me to ruin their enjoyment. And maybe it would even turn out to be something I’d enjoy.

Which it did. We all played, even Julianna.

Baseball is much more fun to play than it is to watch. And how can you not enjoy having a 5-year-old shadow in left field with you, leaping into your arms and slathering you with kisses every time you look at him?

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Different game. Same adorability.

Besides. I got a hit. Oh yes, I did. 🙂