Friday, May 27, 2011

Chocolate Milk Fridays

Fridays during elementary school were particularly special. Not only did they signal the end of a school week, they were also the day when my mom gave us permission to choose chocolate milk from the milk lady in the cafeteria. I could actually walk up to that metal fridge with my little fist-full of change, drop it into that lady's hand and say, "Chocolate, please," just like all the other kids who, I was convinced, had parents who obligingly fed them chocolate milk on a daily basis.

Another highlight was pulling out the school lunch calendar for the month and circling a few days for which we could actually purchase a hot lunch, rather than lug the metal Holly Hobbie lunch box and thermos to school. I found great delight in marking "Cheese Zombies with Tomato Soup and Orange Smiles" or "Weiner Wraps with French Fries and Apple Wedges" on the bright pink xeroxed calendar.

Sometimes I feel like my kids are missing out on the quirky little experiences that make elementary school so unique, from the hot lunches and tether ball matches to the monkey bars and school assemblies. (Assemblies which, I'll have you know, included an Indian chief headdress the year I was elected vice-president. "Pride of our early youth, home of the Chieftains!")

The other day, as I told my kids about chocolate milk Fridays, it occurred to me that there was no reason why they, too, couldn't enjoy such a thing. So this afternoon I picked up a quart of chocolate milk in anticipation of our first Chocolate Milk Friday. Maybe we'll even make it a tradition. I bet I could dig up a Cheese Zombie recipe, too . . . . Look out, folks -- we're really gettin' crazy over here. Now, if only I could convince Drew to wear a headdress . . . .
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Saturday, May 21, 2011

{The Things that Keep}

I've been frustrated this week. It seems like everywhere I look, I see the mess, the chaos and disorder that inevitably happens where two or more are gathered. In this case, six have gathered. And let me tell you, six people can make a mess.

The girls (whom I call my little tornadoes) seem to have it pretty bad. It literally looks like they drop and leave and misplace everything in their wakes. I was out of solutions. Finally, I decided to ground them. From their very own room. Some children are sent to their rooms. Well my girls were sent out of their room. They could use it only for dressing and sleeping. They weren't allowed to play with anything from their room or even use the books in their room until it was spotless (we're talkin' serious consequences here). They quickly got the message.

This helped with my girls, but it didn't help me. I still found myself focusing on the yuck. It's a pit that I sink into every once in a while, and the climbing out can be arduous. A few words in the last few days have begun to pull me (once again) from the yuck. Might I share them with you?

A single line from a young mom's blog, Raising Arrows, jumped out at me early in the week:

If you spend your day striving for a home that looks devoid of family life,
you will quickly find yourself . . . devoid of family life.

This is exactly the place in which I found myself. Striving, striving. Frustrated with the laundry that never went away, the dishes that piled up, the papers that stacked, the toys that tripped me. Frustrated with . . . dare I say it? Life. Because that's exactly what I was trying to erase. If I look at the scraps of paper all over the school table which are destined to become a medieval castle and wish it could just go away, am I in truth acting as though I would wish away the creativity of my children? Am I striving for a sterile home, devoid of life? I shudder.

Thursday morning as I read Isaiah 30, my soul was lulled by verse 15, which reads, "In quietness and trust is your strength." This is one of those "cling-to" verses. I cling to it, knowing it's true. I repeat it to myself, rhythmic breathing reminders. Quietness. Trust. When I'm tempted to scream chaos! I run back to the truth. Quietness. Trust. This is my strength.

And then this afternoon, I ran across a poem that my friend Katie illustrated for her new studio, Paisley Kate. (I love, love this name, by the way. Her stuff is amazing, too!) I was drawn first to her artistic touch, and then to the words of the poem, penned in 1958 by Ruth Hulbert Hamilton:

Song for a Fifth Child
Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is this mother whose house is so shocking?
She's up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.
Oh, I've grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo.
The shopping's not done and there's nothing for stew
And out in the yard there's a hullabaloo.
The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I've learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep.

The other day when I was driving with Aidan, I felt the pang of this. Babies don't keep. As we wound our way through Lake Road, he played with the dinosaur silly bands on his lap. I teased that the T-Rex might just nibble away at his knee -- he had better beware! He teased right back, "He's nibbling on my knees!" I laughed outwardly, but my heart ached. How much longer will I giggle with this boy over knee-hungry dinosaurs? Not much longer. He'll outgrow it in a flash. Eight-year-olds don't keep.

These children with their messy rooms, their paper castle scraps and stacks of books, their jeans with holey knees, their little toes with chipping nail polish. These won't keep.

But there are things which do keep. Most importantly, the souls of the little ones whose clothes I wash, whose dishes I scrub, whose backs I scratch and whose books I straighten, these will keep. And so if I strive for anything, it should be for life. It should be for quietness and trust. It should be always and only for the things that keep.
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Two Big Smiles

Yesterday I smiled a very big smile and did a double-take. Twice. The sun was warm and bright -- still a novelty in this remarkably wet 2011 we're having. As I drove the kiddos home from piano lessons with the windows down, the wind blowing and TobyMac serenading, we passed one of the most charming spectacles I've seen in quite some time. I desperately wanted to turn around and pass again, but we were behind schedule and I had to make do with a brief glance and my failing memory.

The sight? A woman, maybe in her seventies, making her way down the Padden Parkway footpath . . . in a Shetland pony-drawn cart. If ever I wished for my camera, it was at that moment. A long silver braid twisted down her back. She smiled in the warmth of the sun, content in the trot of her little pony and the rattle of her metal, basket-like carriage. Oh, my word, how I smiled. It was priceless.

You might have noticed that I said I smiled a very big smile twice on this day. That's because the pony lady wasn't the only one out enjoying the sun at a leisurely pace. Later, on our way to Drew's percussion class, we passed another buggy. As I approached from behind, I momentarily thought of those Mennonite carriages. You know, the little black things like Doc Baker or the Reverend Alden would drive. But smaller. With a big orange triangle reflector. But, in this case, the buggy was drawn by an aging gentlemen . . . on a large motorized tricycle. Silver and red tinsel-like streamers floated from the corners of his buggy as he crept up 164th. (Alas, the camera was still at home on my desk.)

I looked at Drew with mingled amusement and delight. He reassured me that I was not going crazy. Yes, that was an old man on a big tricycle and yes, this did happen on the very same sunny afternoon as the pony on the parkway incident. What was it about this day? I believe it was simply meant to delight. Some days just do that.
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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lessons Learned on the Drive Home

Aidan was being punished. This meant that he could not stay home with his older brother and hang out. He had to ride in the car with his mother and drop off his sister at the gym. He didn't take it very well. What angry child wants to be stuck in a vehicle with no one else but a mean old mom?

But as we meandered home after dropping off Bethie, his demeanor changed. Sometimes solitude isn't such a bad thing. He emerged from his self focus and began to converse quite pleasantly. He even suggested that we take a different route home.

“Mom? Can we take the road by the produce market?”

“Sure, honey." I smiled. I like that route, too. I wondered about his reason for choosing it. "Why do you like it so much?”

He wrinkled his brow and crinkled his nose. “It’s just so . . . lifey. You know," he nodded, "lots of life."

I knew exactly what he meant. Lake Road winds through beautiful evergreens alongside Lacamas Lake. It's green, it's growing and it's . . . well, it's lifey.

Aidan went on to explain why he doesn't care for the other route. "The freeway has too many cars, and you can’t see stuff. Like if a raccoon crossed the road, the cars would just have to hit it.”

Yes. Sometimes there are too many cars. You can't see stuff and you miss out on the life. Lots of life. Sure, the highly traveled roads might offer the quickest way home. But don't we prefer the towering greens, the glistening blues and the prospect of a non-squished raccoon in this life? I believe we do.

I think of Robert Frost's lines,

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

We pulled into our neighborhood, and Aidan piped up again, "Can you drop me off at the corner?" I was a little surprised and hesitant until I saw that he meant the corner that was only one house away from ours. I smiled at my lifey boy, thankful for our time together, thankful for a glimpse into his heart, thankful for the road he'd chosen. It made all the difference. "Yes!" I answered. Then with a grin I challenged, "I'll race ya!" And he ran all the way home.
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Too Much Noise

My poor little Mac finally hacked and wheezed and coughed out its last little breath. The hard drive groaned laboriously and finally just stopped. I looked at the fading screen and panicked. How could I survive without a computer? All of my school files, craft plans, art study resources, writing folders, pictures -- everything that I could grab with a click was gone.

It's been eerily quiet these last few days. Sure, I still have four children running around, spilling water on the couch, pounding away at the piano and telling me too frequently of how they've been wronged by a sibling. But there's less noise. Less information clamoring for my attention.

I can't respond to emails immediately, I can't catch up on articles and blogs, I can't even throw down my thoughts in this place with ease. I sneak a few borrowed minutes when my husband's work computer is available, then head back into the quiet.

It's not such a bad thing, this quiet.

Today I read Little Miss Avery Kate Too Much Noise, a library book which we immediately fell in love with. An old man named Peter lives alone in an old cottage. The bed creaks, the floor squeaks, the leaves rustle, the tea kettle whistles. And he's convinced that it's too noisy.

So Peter visits a wise man who tells him to buy a cow. Peter, although perplexed, brings home a cow. Eventually, he has hauled home a cow, a goat, a sheep, and several other barnyard animals. Of course by this time he really can't stand the noise.

He finally approaches the wise man in a fit of anger, upset that the noise has only increased. The wise man then tells Peter to get rid of the animals, which he is only too glad to do. This leaves Peter with just a bed that creaks, floors that squeak, leaves that rustle and a tea kettle that whistles. His response? "Ah . . . how quiet my house is!"

My mind feels the quiet of these last several days. Not too much information to sift through, not too many contacts to keep up with. The cow, donkey, sheep and hen have been given the boot. And I'm left with just the bed that creaks, the floors that squeak, the leaves that rustle and the tea kettle that whistles. (And the piano that pounds, the basketballs that bounce, the washing machine that runs, the children who chortle . . . .)

My response? "Ah . . . how quiet my house is!" Maybe it's not such a bad thing, after all.
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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Way Home

The sun was slowly climbing into the morning sky as I rounded the corner and headed toward the park. Only a few others had the same idea. Quiet morning solitude. Walking, listening, praying. A smile and a nod in passing, breathing deeply of the surrounding green, sharing this human experience.

The dew glistened on the grass, diamonds extravagantly sprinkled by a too-generous hand.

I finished my lap and headed toward home. Back to make breakfast, back to wake the little ones and back to dive into the full day that stretched before me.

The last leg took me away from the towering evergreens and plush grass toward the lifeless brick walls and cement sidewalks. Cars zipped by, frantically racing to work. The noise overpowered my quiet. I strained to listen to the music that was playing in my ears. It required a complete focus of my attention . . . .

And I will . . . worship . . . You, Lord
Only You, Lord . . .
And I will . . . bow down . . . before You
Only You, Lord . . .

It was hard to focus. But I wanted the words, the worship on that final stretch. And the only way home was straight through that offensive, fast-paced, blaring world. I quickened my pace and strained even harder.

The words brought instant peace:

And it's just You and me here now
Only You and me here now
You should see the view
When it's only You.

My heart swelled. Just my Savior and me on that busy road. That was the view I craved. And that's where He wanted me to be.

Sometimes that view is found only by trudging through the harshness of the world. I can't avoid it, try as I might. And in many cases, I shouldn't. I might miss it. I might miss a moment to hear from my Savior.

Sure, I would love to circle that diamond-sprinkled park again and again in complete peace and silence, worshiping Him in solitude, avoiding all discord and unpleasantness.

But if I did . . . I would never get home.

Only You by David Crowder Band
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Monday, May 2, 2011

A Scientific Prayer

Aidan's dinnertime prayers are never predictable. Sometimes I watch him with one eye open, half fearful, half in awe. A few nights ago, as we learned about the devastating tornado in Alabama, I reminded Aidan to pray specifically for a couple of family friends in Birmingham.

He closed his eyes and lifted our friends before the Lord: ". . . . and I pray that they would be like that box of eggs that was carried away for two miles and none of them were broken. I hope that would happen to them . . . except they didn't fly for two miles . . . ."

I tried to keep a straight face, but failed. It's rather unconventional to have Magic School Bus book material inserted into a prayer. But apparently there was once a crate of eggs that was transported, unharmed, for miles during a storm. (I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised at this prayer. Aidan frequently drops bits of data into his conversations. You just never know when it's going to show up.)

We were indeed thankful to hear that our friends were okay: No one flew for two miles before landing. But there is brokenness. Not only in Alabama, but all over our country, all over our world. So we continue to pray and we continue to hope. Most of all, we continue to praise the One who reigns supreme over all the earth, eagerly anticipating the day when we'll be carried away and completely released from all brokenness.
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