Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hardy Like Hosta

The great hosta harvest was almost complete.  I had successfully uprooted a few from the overgrown section of our yard and re-purposed them in the newly mulched beds on the shady side of the house.  Instead of being lost in a breezy, sea of ivy, these hardy plants now firmly flanked my precious bleeding heart.

After surveying my work with pride, I clapped my leather garden gloves together to remove the remaining, sweet-smelling soil and headed off to fill the watering can.  As I made my way across the backyard, I recognized the muffled cries of my 4-year-old inside.  By assessing her tone and location, my "momdar" understood in an instant.  I tossed the plastic jug aside and scaled the deck steps in a flash.

Kicking off my dirt laden sneakers with nary a pause, I caught a glimpse of the oven clock as I ran by.  It glared at me in green: 2:14.  My heart sank.  My husband had left for the store after putting the girls in their rooms for quiet time.  Our 2-year-old, no doubt, had long been asleep in her crib.  But, our big girl may very well have been trapped on the toilet wailing for a wipe for more than a half hour.

As I turned the corner to enter our upstairs bathroom, her spritely body came into view.  Her frightened face was red and plastered with tears.  Her little, pale knees were raw from leaning and her tiny tush hovered helpless over the bowl.

"Oh baby, baby, I'm so sorry!" I enveloped her right then from my seat on the side of the tub.  She sobbed a bit more, but reassured me she was alright.  My nose soon reminded me of my duty and in just a few minutes we had flushed and washed and parted ways, poor girl.

While watering my hosta, I reflected on this most recent, crazy occurrence and realized something:  she recovered.  She recovered quickly.  She, no doubt, had felt stranded, alone, vulnerable, and unsure of what to do with no one coming to her aid.  And for a long time.  Her plight was genuine and yet, she was just fine.

Children are resilient and I say thank goodness for that.  But, we parents can bounce back after a phase of weakness as well.

Over the long winter months, cooped up in the house, I got lazy.  I tolerated fussing and whining over almost anything.  And, the girls rarely recovered in just a few minutes because they were rarely actually upset.    Looks like I know now, for sure, when my 4-year-old is faking a fit.  It is time to get back to being hardy like hosta.


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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Christmas Card Contests are Sweeping the Nation

I love the way quality paper feels in my hands.  Its sturdiness assures me that whatever art ends up on it, whether tirelessly written or absentmindedly doodled, it will somehow survive.  Dozens of cards decorate our door frames.  My favorites are always designs printed on heavy stock, in bright colors, and clever fonts.

The cards have been hanging here for weeks and I have read them, studied them, all several times.  I reach up to open one that glitters with superficial snow.  It is pretty, but too glitzy for me.  I smile when I am reminded who sent it.  Mom's grown harp students still send greetings at Christmas, years after their last lesson in this very living room.

"Hey, Rach, where's the one from Uncle Eddie and Kip?"  I ask my sister as I wander into the dining room, my eyes fixed upon the rows of cards.

"No discussing your favorites, girls.  I want one of my picks to actually place this year."

"Dad, I was merely asking where a card was, not disclosing how many points I was planning to award it.  Sheesh."

"Kristin, it's in here, on the back of the door."  My sister jumps up the three small steps from our family room into our kitchen.  "Hey, when we're finished with this can you help me pick out my outfit for Leah's New Year's party tonight?"

"Most def.  You're gonna be tote gorg."

Rachel cheers, "Abbrevs are sweeping the naish!"

Mom stops her, "Abbrevs are what now?"

"Abbreviations are sweeping the nation," our nearly identical voices reply in unison.

"Of course they are.  Thom, what are these?"  Mom holds up a stack of neatly cut slips of paper she found on the kitchen table.  Dad's three ladies gather around and wait for his defense.

"What?  Why are you all looking at me like that?  I pre-printed ballots this year so I could clearly determine a winner.  When I let you draw the lines and scribble the points it was impossible."  

Mom, Rachel and I collectively roll our eyes all while grinning.  We love that Dad still writes as precisely as the nuns taught him.  We love that he instituted an annual Christmas card contest to ensure each card was appreciated.  We love that he places gift wrap bows on the winning cards and saves them to hang up in following years.  We love that this tradition has held so strong and so fast that our family always receives the most beautiful cards.  Our relatives and friends knowingly send thoughtfully chosen "entries" each year.  

"The mail is here!" Rachel hollers to us as she skips outside to the box.  When she returns she shuffles through the envelopes.  "No new cards today.  Let the voting begin!"


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Monday, April 8, 2013


I anxiously bounced my legs in unison, the toe of my right shoe firmly planted in a white square of linoleum, my left in a square of black.  The clock above the ice box ticked at me, its face scowling 8:33.  Father's Saturday paper was sprawled over our narrow breakfast table, leaving only enough room for his favorite mug.  The rest of the dishes had long been cleared.  Mother and Betty stood side by side at the sink.

"Junior!" Father bellowed, "For the last time, you're going to shake the house down. Here, read the Sports section."  He pointed to its place on the table without looking up, licked his index finger and forwarded his own progress.

"Dad, I have a ball game at nine.  I'm late for warm-ups."

"Son, you may be excused when everyone is finished."

While drying her hands on a striped dish towel, Betty turned to look at me.  She mouthed the words, "I'm sorry," folded the towel and turned her gaze to the counter where the painted, metal file box still sat.  Its gold padlock now secured nothing, but a bitter emptiness.

* * * * *

While we were eating breakfast, the letter was delivered.  Mr. Booth brought it over well before the postman usually arrived.  Betty always got the mail on her way in from school, but this particular piece must have gotten lost.  The familiar slap of the back door screen announced our neighbor. 

"Good morning, folks."  Mr. Booth tipped his wide-brimmed white straw hat at Mother and Betty and patted my back.  

"'Morning, Tom.  What do you have there?"  Father asked with a smile.

"This letter was delivered to our home by mistake.  It fell right out of Marie's LIFE magazine."

Father casually extended his hand to relieve Mr. Booth of the letter, but he turned to Betty.  "It's for you, young lady.  It's from Smith College and it feels promisingly hefty."  Mr. Booth exaggerated the weight of the letter in his hands and presented it to Betty with a bow.  

Slamming his large palms down on the Formica, Father exploded, "Elizabeth Jane Murphy!  No daughter of mine is going to waste precious time and money going to college.  We've discussed this to death.  Damn it, Betty.  Give me that letter!"  He lunged toward her knocking his chair to the floor.

"Fine!  Take it!"  Betty's bright red face seethed with anger.  "I already have acceptances from Vassar, Barnard, Bryn Mawr and Wellesley.  I'm going to college, Daddy!  You can't tell me what to do."

"The hell I can't!"  Father screamed as he began to throw open drawers and cabinets.  "Where are the letters?  Where are they!?!"  He was up in Betty's room before Mr. Booth and I reached the gate at the end of the sun dappled yard. 

Looking back toward our house as I walked slowly to school, I saw a thin, twisted line of gray smoke escaping from the chimney.  "I'm sorry, Betty," I whispered.


This piece is a work of fiction and was inspired by this week's the speakeasy writing prompt.  Click on the button below to read the prompt and the other beautiful writers who hang out there.  Thanks!   

Saturday, April 6, 2013

What Are You Waiting For?

In his book,  Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, Rob Bell says, "Everybody follows somebody."  He explains that when discussing what matters most to us, the question is not whether you believe or don't believe, whether you have faith or don't have faith.  The question is what do you believe?  Where do you place your faith?  We all put our hope in something or someone.

Many people put their hope in themselves.  They believe in their own strength to solve the problem, to write their story, to prevail.  Some people put their faith in a soul mate.  They believe that this person's love and devotion will "save them" from dying alone, wasting away, amounting to nothing.  Other people hope that money, government, religion, healthy living, destructive living, is the way to survive, maybe even to thrive in this life.

I put my hope in God, or at least I thought I did, until my own pastor changed my mind on Easter Sunday.  That morning Rev. Jason Poling preached a sermon entitled, "Hope in the Midst of Cluelessness," the final sermon in his Lenten series, "Hope: New and Otherwise."  In it he said something along the lines of, "Our hopes don't fit into our idea of God because we have no idea.  We think we are hoping in God, but our idea is wrong."

So, let me start again: I try to put my hope in God, I hope my hope is in Him.  I think, more often than not, I am still putting my faith in myself, or my family, or even (yikes) this crazy world.  Jason is right.  My idea of God is way more simple than God is.  I probably offend God with my tiny view of Him.  And while it may feel a bit disconcerting to believe in someone so overwhelming that He is the beginning and the end, the singular entity of everything, it fills me with great hope.  Praise God, He doesn't have to fit into the cramped box I have built for Him.

Many people put spiritual belief in a box.  Maybe the box is called Saturday or Sunday, or a certain religious holiday, or when Grandma is around.  Even the most devout put God in a box by separating with certainty the secular from the sacred.  I say we let God bust out of that box and into every little nook and cranny we can manage to allow.

On that same Easter Sunday, before Jason spoke, our worship team led us in singing "I Will Wait" from Mumford & Sons newest album, Babel.  

I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms
These days of dust
Which we've known
Will blow away with this new sun

And I'll kneel down
Wait for now
And I'll kneel down
Know my ground

I will wait, I will wait for you!  And I will wait,  I will wait for you!

So break my step
And relent
You forgave and I won't forget
 Know what we've seen
And him with less
Now in some way, shake the excess

Cause I will wait, I will wait for you!  And I will wait, I will wait for you!

Now I'll be bold
As well as strong
Use my head alongside my heart
So take my flesh
And fix my eyes
That tethered mind free from the lies

God shows up in this song, in every nook and cranny of it.  When I sing it, I sing it for Him.  I may not be able to even begin to understand all that He is, has been and will be.  But, I want to try.  Anyone with a soul can't help stomp their feet and clap their hands to this song.  When you sing it, who are you waiting for?

Listen to "I Will Wait"
Listen to "Hope in the Midst of Cluelessness"


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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What's in a Name?

For Christmas this past year, our younger daughter received her first baby doll.  I guess Grandma thought it best she receive one honestly, for a change.   She already had a doll, but I had helped her lift it from the church nursery.   It is called “Baa Baa” because that is how her then one-year-old words said “baby.”   

That Sunday, she had claimed Baa Baa as her own and would not let it go.  Apparently, this runs in the family as I did the same thing at a friend’s house when I was a kid.  I still have Baby Beans.   She is irresistibly cute.  Like my mom before me, I simplified the minute and just let the cranky child bring the baby doll home. 

The legitimate doll from Grandma still does not have a name.  A few weeks ago, right as our youngest turned two, I realized it was around this age that our oldest named her baby.  So that afternoon, during those never-ending winter hours between napping and Daddy, I asked my little one what she might like to call her doll.

I got nothing.

I went on to point to each of us in the room, including the dog, and said our names.   I then pointed to the doll and waited for my often goofy little girl to produce a name out of thin air.  

I got nothing.

I was a little disappointed, though not surprised that she didn’t perform.  Her sister before her had magically, though curiously, proclaimed her baby doll’s name to be “Sticker” the first time I had asked.  That same sister had been coloring nearby during our brief back and forth about baby.

Genetically incapable of minding her own business for too long, my big one eventually piped up without looking up, “You should name her Cracker.”

The hilarity of this suggestion hit me immediately.  I dissolved into giggles as my two girls sat silent and eyed me with suspicion.   I braced myself on their tiny table, shaking crayons to the floor.  I simply could not get over how ridiculous it would sound; Sticker and Cracker.  

“I want your sister to pick the name herself, but thank you, honey,” I managed to squeak out after a while, wiping tears from my eyes.  

I have since named the baby myself.  I call her Freesia as she is dressed in pink and purple and I love the flower.  The name has yet to catch on.  The doll’s owner can’t even pronounce it.  She can, however, say cracker as clear as a bell.

I am thinking only time will tell what the doll’s real name will be.  I am also thinking we should probably return the doll we stole from church.  Poor baby Baa Baa.    

Our motley crew: Sticker, Baa Baa, No Name (Freesia) and Beans