A Memorial Memory and A Childlike Faith

I feel like the Lord is constantly teaching me through my children, and I can choose whether or not I am willing to listen. It was 7 years ago that my oldest bravely walked me through a valuable life lesson. It happened on Memorial Day, which is fitting since I always seem to need reminding.

My girls were 7 and 4 that year, and we decided to spend the holiday with my grandmother who had recently been admitted into a nursing home. It was difficult for me to visit her there. Just opening the front door and encountering the aromas was an act of faith due to the scents of aging behaving like a cruel, hostile hostess I could not get past.

I am claustrophobic and being unable to breathe triggers enormous amounts of anxiety inside of me. So, in order to fully engage with my grandmother, I had to shut down my olfactory nerves before I entered the building. I essentially told my brain that what it was taking in was false. That way, I would not and could not smell any thing which created a new reality for myself and for my nose.

It is kind of like a super power.

We pulled up that Memorial Day all fairly chipper, and I remember helping my young ones out of the van. We had gone to Wendy’s before hand and picked up some Frosty’s. Since my Memaw was unable to get to this favored treat herself, we thought we would just bring it to her.

I was a bit distracted walking through the parking lot as are most mom’s with young children. I was watching them while simultaneously looking for cars. Feeling like we had made it safely across, I lifted my head and almost bumped into a man wheeling a gurney out of the side door.

Startled by his presence, I pressed my daughter’s little hands into mine. He pulled up as well, and his eyes grew very large as he took in the sight before him.  He was a mortician and was wheeling out a resident in a body bag who had recently passed away.

He looked at me and then to my young children. He mouthed very shaken, “I am so sorry.”

I looked at my children. My youngest had her eyes on her cup of ice cream, but my oldest looked up at me. Then I followed her eyes to the man and then to the gurney.

I don’t know if you have every experienced looking into a child’s eyes that were registering an acknowledgement of something, but clearly did not understand what they had taken in.

That was exactly what I saw in Maggie’s eyes. It was a type of horror confusion.

The gentleman waited for me to act, and I said the first thing that came to my mind. I faced him and whispered, “Just act natural.”

He nodded, managed a sympathetic smile, and motioned for me move on a head. We had to walk around him and his work to make it to the side-walk. We proceeded to the front gate where I let us in to the patio. I was cussing myself and the situation when I heard my oldest say, “Mommy, what was in that shiny sheet on the wheelie bed?”

“We’ll talk about it later honey,” I said. “Let’s go see Memaw because our ice cream is beginning to melt.”

We walked through the front door, and like clock work, I turned my brain off to the smelly realities.

The rest of the afternoon my daughter followed me around like a shadow. She asked me once again what it was that the man was pushing in the ‘shiny sheet.’ I brushed her off saying that we would talk later. I was too busy and needed her to run along and play.

At that moment, I had absolutely no intention of telling her the truth. I was not going to lie to her. I was just going to wait until she forgot about it.

That night while washing dishes, I felt a tug on my shirt. I looked down and there she was once again.

“Mommy,” she pleaded. “Will you PLEASE tell me now what was in the shiny sheet?”

I sighed and knew that this conversation had to happen. I dried my hands and sat her down at the kitchen table. I turned her chair to face mine and noticed her feet were still unable to reach the floor. They swung back and forth as she waited expectantly.

Her smallness and innocence filled up the room as well as my heart.

“Maggie,” I said no longer able to run away from her, “What do you think it was underneath the shiny sheet?” I of course was using her description of the body bag.

She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it quickly. She sat still for a moment thinking and then confessed, “Mommy, I don’t want to say.”

That was the moment when I knew that this conversation needed to happen, and I was so thankful for her courage to pursue an answer.

“I know you don’t honey,” I soothed. “But I need you to try to use your words.”

She was quiet and then whispered, “Mommy, I think it was a person.”

I was so proud of her. “You are right, Maggie. It was a person,” I said. “A person who had died.”

She looked at me and with all that she could muster said, “Mommy, I did not want that to be what it was.”

I smiled at her. I looked into her eyes and said, “I know honey. I didn’t either. But, you are not doing yourself any favors by disconnecting this(pointing to her brain) and this(pointing to her heart).”

She nodded with the understanding of an aged soul.

“If you do it too many times, they will have a very hard time talking to and understanding one another,” I said. “They will get to where they will not trust what the other is trying to say.”

She nodded that she understood, and I really think that she did.

I told her she was very brave and thanked her talking to me about something that was hard for her.

“Your welcome,” she said, and hopped down off the chair satisfied with the truth.

I on the other hand sat in the irony of the situation. That is giving advice to my child that I often do not heed myself.

What exactly did I mean when I said that it was important for her mind and heart to be connected?

Isn’t one of my super powers the ability to disconnect? To not feel. To not smell. To not see.

I realized in that moment, that the parent was learning from the child. I watched her the rest of the evening. She was relieved and also at peace with the truth, even though it was a HARD truth that she would have preferred to edit.

I longed for that type of peace and rest.

I smiled and knew that my girls were going to teach me more in the end than I would ever teach them as long as I could try to stay connected.

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Sublime. How the Spell was Broken.

Ever have one of these? or four?

I have.  And they are evil. As in E’ville.

I didn’t think so at first. But, that is because it’s mind control in a plastic wrapper. They forget to mention that on the box.

Two years ago, this was an obsession of mine. They made me lie to my children. Well, not lie out right. More like….deceive them. There’s a difference.

My husband and I came across these in the freezer section at Trader Joe’s. They seemed harmless enough, so we bought a box. I remember him commenting on how much our children would love them as well.

That night, I had one and really….there are no adequate words to describe the experience.

Unlike other baked ice cream ‘cookie’ sandwiches, the Sublime cookies stay soft and moist even though they have been frozen. That should have been my first clue. It’s just unnatural. So, when you pull it out of the freezer, it’s like eating a chocolate chunk cookie straight out of the oven. Only cold. With ice cream. whatever.

When I woke up the next morning, they called to me.  And that went on all day. I felt it was only right to answer.

I like to save my sweets until the evening when all is quiet and settled.(read* when my children are in bed.) So, the next night, I ate another one. Which was fine, since four come in a box, that left two more for my girls. My husband doesn’t like sweets. Bless him.

I really meant to tell them about the unbelievable ice cream sandwhich cookies rolled in mini chocolate chips that were in the freezer, but it just slipped my mind. I’m sure.  So, after they went to bed, shocker….I had another one.

That left one for the kids, which was alright.  They were so large and really just a half between the two would be plenty as a treat after dinner.

The next day, I remember getting a call from my husband reminding me he would be in class all evening.  That meant I would be responsible for dinner. Then I thought, what would go perfectly with a night having complete control over the remote? But, a Sublime of course.

At that point, my conscience began to interfere. So, I took the girls to the grocery store that afternoon to get a frozen pizza, and surprised them with some ice cream sandwiches that looked like this…..

I was feeling generous. What can I say?

After dinner, the girls were very excited about their treat from ‘mommy.’ I opened up the freezer, not realizing that my oldest was behind me. I heard a loud…..”MOM!! What is That??!” Not much gets past that one; I was forced to share my Sublime. The last one. Seriously, there should be some kind of medal for that level of sacrifice for another.

For a few weeks, you would always find a box of Sublime in my freezer. Or 5.

One evening about a month later, we had a sweet friend come and watch our girls so my husband and I  could go on a date.  She is young, spunky, and loves to come over to our house. It may be because of the 5lb bag of m&m’s in the freezer, but I’m sure it’s more about us and our company.

When I was leaving, I told her she could help herself to anything in the house that she wanted and showed her the Sublimes. After all, that’s the secret of generosity isn’t….having lots of back up? Her eyes got big, and she was excited.

We got home a few hours later, and the girls were in bed. I asked her, “So….How was it?”  She responded that the girls had been very good, and that they had a great time.

I said, “A’hem…….I meant the Sublime.”  Her response was, “Oh, no way!! Did you see how many calories are in those things?”

What?! Calories!!?? Who does that? It never occurred to me to read the caloric intake in one cookie. So, I went and flipped the box over.

Let’s just say that one cookie has as many calories as a meal. For a lumberjack.

That’s all it took. And the spell was broken. Thank goodness for friendship.

Cinquains.

A Cinquain is a poem with five lines that follow a specific format. Towards the end of our last school year, my oldest was assigned four different poems on any desired topic. This weekend, as I was organizing and storing school items, I came across her work.

I am a lover of words, but when you read something that your child has written about you….something that has given you insight into her/his heart, it can become a song.

Part of her poem made me laugh(you will too if you know me well), part of it was a surprise as it revealed her attentiveness to my life outside motherhood, and the last word felt like an anchor.

Because if you would have asked me separately to give you one word, one hope of what I desire to define my relationship with my children…I would have used the same word that she wrote as the summary of the theme of her poem.(that is the requirement for line 5: a summary of the theme of the cinquain, which is the first line.)

Cooking? When I gently asked her about this word, her response was…..”Well, you make french toast…..sometimes.”

The Last Word. The Final Say.

“Guide.”

This is all I have ever wanted to be as a mom. Not a dictator nor a tyrant. And, not aloof or absent.

The older they get, the less I will say. I will just continue to walk down the path set before me. before us. until it forks.

The more they age, the more space I will afford them to seek their own way, so that they can find their own footing. Not abandon, but simply encourage their own voice.

Hopefully, they will have the map in their mind and heart that we have used together thus far. The Map. The Word. For their Journey.

And for my own.

“The Divine Chuckle.”

Bear with me. Sometimes a stage must be set.

On Saturday, I took my youngest to see the movie, “Ramona and Beezus.”  It is based on the Beverly Cleary children’s books that have been in circulation since the 50’s. I have not been a huge fan of the books in the past, and I can’t say that my reason is good as I have read nary a one.

It’s because we have one of the books on CD.  Stockard Channing who narrates uses the screechiest, whiniest voice for the character, Ramona. It literally grates away at your last nerve and wears it down to a nub. Kind of like the small fragment left in your hand when you are finished shredding a block of cheese. But, I digress.

Having this as my only reference for the story line did not prepare me for what I was about to experience sitting next to my daughter in a dark, full, movie theater. Half way in, when Ramona’s cat “Picky Picky” died…..I started to cry.  I’m not a cat person. It was not a deep, visceral cry, yet those tears began a steady flow that did not stop until the movie ended. My husband texted me and asked how I liked it. All I could type was that it made me cry for a long time, and I didn’t know why.

Later that evening, he tried to engaged me on why it made me a wreck of sorts, so I began to explain the movie to him. I told him how Ramona was a third grader who was very misunderstood in school. She was always messing things up and not because this was her intention. In fact, many times, she was trying very hard to do the right thing but it generally ended badly.

I talked about how all the kids laughed at her when she was giving an oral report and how the teacher was always exasperated with her behavior and performance. I shared other things, but he interrupted me after I said, “What was so beautiful was that in the end, she was accepted for being different and never getting it right.”

That’s when my husband said, incredulously, “Seriously!? You don’t see why this movie made you cry? Carrie, It’s autobiographical.” I was stunned by his comment. Then he ended with…”Don’t you remember, the little girl whose teacher  threw away her homework in front of the entire classroom?”

There’s something beautiful about someone who knows your stories.

He was right, and I didn’t want to see it because it was too painful. School was a horrible place for me.

What my husband was referring to was that in the 4th grade, I had a very harsh teacher. One day, we had an assignment to draw a hot air balloon. I was excited about this because there was no writing, reading, or math involved. Finally, a level playing field. I remember being in my room for a long time creating. I drew a hot air balloon in the shape of Snoopy, the Red Baron.  Afterall, he could fly, right?

The next day, the teacher called me to her desk. She held up my picture and asked me to explain myself.  I don’t remember the specific words but after getting the attention of the entire class, she made an example of me about what it looks like to not follow directions. She pointed to a huge stack of pictures on her desk that were ‘correct’ then held up mine and crumpled it in my face. She threw it in the trash and then told me to go sit down and do it again. Correctly.

This is just one of a zillion stories I have tucked away in the recesses of my mind. Stories where I just didn’t ‘get it.’ Today, they would say that I am “Dyslexic” and have “Attention Deficit Disorder.” Back then, they had other words.

I didn’t want to talk about it anymore with my husband.  I was done with memory lane, but God was not.

On Monday morning, my girls and I read about an artist named Peter Brueghel(1525-1560).  You need to know that the readings and assignments for our school day are preplanned by the  My Father’s World curriculum. I open a teacher’s guide, and it tells me exactly what to do for several subjects. Art being one of them.

We learned that Brueghel was a genre painter living in a region of turmoil caused by the Spanish Inquisition. Our book described him like this, “Throughout these years of war and religious subjugation, the artist was well aware of the sorrows of his day. Even so, with Peter Brueghel there is a fresh breath of life as his art brings laughter to the soul.”

Because his paintings are often full of people celebrating and enjoying the simple life, my daughters art assignment (that was preplanned) for the day was to draw a large family gathering at Thanksgiving.

Later that morning, my daughter, who is in the fourth grade came down the stairs to show me her picture. She was very excited and proud. She wants to be an artist, one day.

When I looked at it….I was taken a back.

Now, no one said that it couldn’t be a family of mice….celebrating Thanksgiving. Or a hot air balloon shaped like the Red Baron.

And that’s when I heard it….”The Divine Chuckle.”

I hear it every time I refuse to deal with something painful, and God brings it back up in a way that shows me it’s redeemable. He brings it to light to show me He is aware of the hurt and wants to communicate to me that it can become a beautiful wound.

Later I asked her if I could take a picture of her drawing, so that I could blog about it. She asked me why. I told her the story of why Ramona and Beezus made me cry, and then shared with her my Red Baron story. She was horrified and said, “Mommy, if you draw me a picture, I won’t throw it away. I will hang it on my wall.”

Now…..where are my crayons?

Overwhelmed and nostalgic. Not a good combination.

Last night, my youngest and I went birthday shopping for my oldest. It made me teary.

Why?

1. I passed the games Candy Land, Hi Ho Cheerio, and Chutes and Ladders, and headed for Twister, Guesstures, and Harry Potter Clue. I guess, I’m a little happy not to have to play Chute’s and Ladders anymore. That game can take FOREVER.

2. I walked passed the arts and crafts section, and went to pick out a nice hair straightening flat iron, hair product, and cute hair accessories. oh, and an i tunes gift card.

3. There was no play dough in my cart for party favors. Or pinwheels. Or bubbles. or sidewalk chalk. Or Disney themed party plates and napkins.

Why?

4. Because all she wants to do is ‘hang out’ with friends and stay up all night talking.

What just happened?

Wasn’t this you just last year?

Ok, maybe that’s me being a bit dramatic. But surely this is recent….

What?  No?

Ok, Ok….but this is where i draw the line, missy. And you can forget about going off to college!!

Ahhh, that feels better. Thank goodness for super powers.

The Final Camp Cut….

Here are the bedtime buddies who are going to camp!

Meet:

“Sweetblossom”, the lamb. she’s shy and very sweet. Loves to sing.

“Moonbeam”, the black cat. She’s very good with wands, and is going to be a ship’s cat when she grows up.

“Lovey Bovey”, the dog. He tells really good stories.

“Blankie”. well, it has seen better days.

“Brownie Royaling”, the brown dog. He does not have a special talent because he is so cute and doesn’t need one.

“Crystal”(as in Bowersox), the white bunny. She is very brave and can make people laugh. She can hear people talking from miles away.

“Padra”, the bobble head dinosaur. He is very strong and can move heavy things. He is a policeman and palace guard.

“Crusty”, the yellow blanket. AKA….”Brownie’s Bundler.

I will see you all monday…live from Lurecrest’s kitchen where i’ll be cooking camp style all week!

“a light for my path.”

Psalm 119:105

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet, and a light for my path.”

Today, we will pack for camp. There is much excitement in our home, but there is also some fear and insecurity. Camp is a big step for children, and mine are no exception. My youngest said yesterday, “I wake up and am so excited, but at night time, i get afraid.”

It is true that there is something about the dark that can bring our fears to life. It is at the end of the day, when fatigue and quiet settle in that there is room for doubt and loneliness.

My oldest has had difficulty sleeping this week, and has been plagued by bad dreams. Weird dreams about camp. By Wednesday evening, the worry was beginning to catch up with her. Her only fear is not getting a bottom bunk in the cabin with her sister and friend. After that is settled, she will be fine as she is going into her third year as a camper.

But, it is a pretty big hurdle. The kids get on a chartered bus that heads up to the mountains. There is so much energy. When they reach the campus, they shoot out of the bus and make a mad dash to the cabins to claim their bed for the week.

One night this past week, my daughter was ‘off’ due to her anxiety. My husband looked at me with a look that asked, “you’re a girl….what is going on?”  I told him that they were just worried about the ‘unknown’s of camp.’ We talked about it a bit, but did not have any answers.

After they went upstairs, i prayed quietly for the girls. I prayed that God would be with them both in the unknown’s of life. That in their doubt and fear, He would simply become bigger, so that they would not feel alone.

About 30 mins later, while i was sitting at my computer, i heard footsteps that came bounding down the stairs. We are not ‘bounding’ people in general, and we’re certainly not at night. My oldest came around the corner holding her Bible very excited and almost laughing in amazement. She said, “Mom, look at this.”

She stuck her Bible in my face and then pointed to a verse newly highlighted.

Proverbs 16:1 NLT “We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer.”

I’m not really sure how this spoke directly to her fears and gave her comfort. But, her face radiated a new sense of security and trust, that God was listening to her and was near. She had found ‘a light for her path’.