Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Cheerio Incident…

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Are these baristas flirting with me? No, they’re just being friendly. Barbara, I think they might be flirting with you. After three kids and six years this particular sense is a little dull.

I narrow my eyes shrewdly. I try to locate the ancient muscle once used for this sort of interpretation.

Why on Earth would the baristas be flirting with me? Do I not look like I came in with three kids? They’re going to be embarrassed when they realize. I mean, my kids are way on the other side of the coffee shop, but I’m pretty sure my current outfit screams, “Mother of three!”

He knows my first name because he made my coffee and he wields it now a little boldly. Am I on Facebook? Yes, I say dubiously. What’s my last name? I consider shutting him down with a, “Misses …”

But I don’t. I walk away with great purpose to the table of unsupervised children in the corner and claim them.

This perception of mine is a little rusty from disuse and I have to think about it carefully, parsing all sentences. I conclude that I was being flirted with. I was being flirted with in my Mom jeans and an old stained T-shirt. Maybe I do look good today? After all, I showered.

At any rate, whatever warm fuzzy feeling of flattery is slowly working its way up from my toes is shut down about knee level. There is a Cheerio incident.

I summarily pack up the children. I make a discreet note of Lake Cheerio to the cashier and slip out the back.

In light of events I recalculate. There was no way they could be flirting, which leads to the only other logical conclusion…

I am a narcissist…

In Mom jeans…

Who overthinks things.

Also, they work for tips.

The end.

Discontent…

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Someone once told me that whatever hobbies you want to have as a mother need to be in place already when you start having kids. And I get that. It’s like your schedule is what it is, the afternoon jogs, the Friday morning coffee with a particular friend, Sunday morning church. Because when the first kid comes along it takes up one hundred percent of the available time. And, really, it doesn’t matter how many kids you seem to keep having by some strange mystery, they always take up one hundred percent of your time and energy.

And that’s what it felt like when I made the decision somewhere after my first son was born to really start writing, like, regularly, like it was my job. It felt like I was trying to cram another ten percent into that already exhausting hundred percent.

When I first started, I was writing on Thursday nights and I would disappear among the coeds in the quiet tower of the library at Sacramento State University. But be assured that as soon as I want to write on Thursday nights the whole of Sacramento wants to see houses at the same time and needs a realtor. So I switched my time.

“The kids don’t get up until seven thirty,” I thought, “I’ll just get up at six and write for an hour and a half before everyone gets up.”

It worked like a charm for a while, the only side effect being I got addicted to coffee for the first time in my life. I still remember waking up and smelling the automatic drip like it was the morning’s warm present to me, so thoughtful. I mean, the sunrise is good, but so is coffee.

But my daughter, who was almost two at the time, began noticing that Mommy time was being wasted on a silly computer and began getting up earlier and earlier to keep me company until I had inadvertently created a six am waking habit for us both. I don’t know how she heard me. I was so quiet. How did she know?

I wrote at my Mom’s house when I could, but morning sickness and new baby fatigue sent me into hibernation for a while.

And then, when we moved to San Francisco my husband said, “How about Wednesday and Friday mornings until 8:30?”

“Really?!” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “This is it, Barbara, we’re here. Let’s do it.”

Some mornings I didn’t make it, I needed to spend my time on sleep. Somewhere in there it was switched to Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Sometimes I wrote blog posts. Sometimes I got to stay for hours past my time. At the end of it all I finished a book. Did I tell you that I finished a book?

But now the stock market is singing its siren song and my husband is fresh out of Odysseus’s wax to block his ears. And the closing bell doesn’t ring for Barbara’s writing time.

So, now I’m back to evenings. And my daughter cries when I leave. And last night I left and forgot to nurse the baby. Fortunately, he slept through the night with no ill effects. It was strange to leave the dirty dinner table, dishes, unbathed children, and three unfolded loads of laundry to descend to the quiet of the city streets. And for the seven pm streets of San Francisco to seem quiet you understand how loud those babies can be.

So here I am, with the blade of my hand still cramming the writing into the cracks of my life.

And the rejections are rolling in and I’m trying to work up the energy to send everything out again. My blanket seems to be woven today out of the cool colors of doubt and discouragement. Ugh. Blerg. Blech.

But none of this changes the fact that I have many stories to tell. Even as I write, characters and plots are meandering around mutely in the cool dark recesses of my unoccupied mind slowly developing motivations and desires. They hold them dear like the precious secrets that they are, not knowing that I watch them all the while. They don’t see my searching eye when I check in on their growing awareness, waiting for the ripe moment to tell their little bits of truth and beauty.

So, nothing’s changed. Momma’s just gotta whine, too, sometimes, I guess.

I’m a writer. And so, I’ll just write.

Sunday Night…

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You never know when you’re going to get those big questions. That’s one of the definite perks of being a stay-at-home Mom, you’re there. In the car, at bedtime, bath time, at inappropriate times in crowded public places, you’re there.

Tonight I was reading stories at the end of a big day. I read one of our favorites from Patricia Polacco (my son’s choice) and I read ten stories from the children’s Bible (my daughter’s choice).

I closed the book. I was done. It was bedtime.

And then my five (almost six) year-old son says, “Mom, it doesn’t seem true.”

“What doesn’t seem true, honey?”

“All this, about Jesus, it seems like a myth, like it’s all a myth.”

You can imagine the tiny tired woman inside my head already sucking down a cup of chamomile sitting bolt upright and spraying it all over the walls of my cranium in surprise.

“A myth?” I said. (Good recovery, Barbara.)

“Yeah, it’s only a myth. It’s not really true,” he said decisively.

“Well,” I said, “Do you remember reading the Odyssey last year?”

“Yes.”

“That’s a myth. Four headed dogs, one-eyed Cyclops, they aren’t real. But Jesus is real. There are many historical documents that show Jesus was a real person. It just depends on if you believe what the Bible says about him is true. And I believe the Bible. Some people don’t.”

“But how can Jesus be real? Did it happen a long time ago?”

“Yes.”

“And how come we can’t see him?” he asked.

“Well, he was a real baby who grew up into a real boy and when he became a man he did very real miracles and then he really died and his body really came back from the dead. And then he rose up to heaven. The Bible tells us that he’s seated at the right hand of God right now. That’s where he is.”

“So everyone who saw Jesus is dead now?”

“Yes. You have to realize, the questions you’re asking are not new. Do you remember the story of Thomas?”

“No,” he said, listening intently.

“The disciples were in the room and they saw Jesus, but Thomas wasn’t with them. And Thomas said, ‘Unless I stick my finger in his wounds I won’t believe he’s alive.’ And then Jesus did come back and Thomas saw and believed and Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who haven’t seen and still believe.’”

My son was looking incredibly dubious.

“Son,” I said, “You have to remember that I’m thirty-four years old. I’ve been asking lots of questions and the same questions as you for a long time. If you have questions, give them to God, he’ll give you the answers.”

At this point my four year-old daughter pipes up, “But Mommy, how do you give something to God?”

“Did you know that God wants everything from you?” I said, “He wants your songs, your anger, if you’re sad or happy, you give it to God and he’ll return it as something beautiful.”

“But how do you give it to him?” she asked.

“Well, when I write a story I just say, ‘Here, God, this is for you, do with it what you want.’”

“But how do you give it to him?” she asked again, miming the very gesture of offering something up.

“Well, he doesn’t have an address, he’s up in heaven,” I say, “There’s no postal service to heaven. (Think, Barbara, think!) Well, it’s like when you draw me a picture. Do you sit over here and draw me a picture?”

“Yes,” she said.

“And is it mine, even while you’re drawing it? Even when I don’t have it my hands and I’m sitting all the way over there?”

“Yes.”

“It’s like that,” I say.

“But how do you hear God when he answers your questions?” my son asks.

“Well, it’s not talking like you and I do. But he talks to me in lots of different ways. Sometimes I pray and ask God a question and then someone comes along and answers the same question I just asked God. Sometimes God uses people like that. And then there’s the Bible. Praying is how we talk to God and the Bible is God’s letter back to us. All the answers to my questions are in there. And you’ve heard of the Holy Spirit?”

“Yeah, the tongues of flame that rested on their heads,” he said.

“Yes. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be our helper. And the Holy Spirit helps us to know the truth.”

“He lives here in your belly,” my daughter says, pointing to her adorable round belly.

I repositioned her hand, “He lives in your heart if you ask him. Have you asked him to live in your hearts?”

“No,” they said.

“Well, you can,” I said, “And it doesn’t mean you don’t have questions. It means you need Jesus. It means that when you have questions you take them to him. I still have questions. But because I have Jesus in my heart and the Holy Spirit to help me I wait for the answers there.”

I looked at my son who was wearing that face he wears when an idea is so intense that it has to soak in. The ideas that cause that particular face go deep and lead him in silence for days until they pop up again in the kitchen as I’m making dinner, or at bedtime during stories and then I know how long he’s been thinking about it and trying to work it out. Isn’t it true that the best thoughts are a result of slow contemplation?

“Do you want to ask Jesus into your hearts?” I asked.

There was a strong yes from each of them, even my son. I was thankful.

“Alright, I’ll pray a prayer and you can repeat after me. When you say this prayer you’re asking Jesus to be the king of your life. You’re saying you need his helper the Holy Spirit to help you to know truth. And it means that if you have questions you take them to God first.”

“Like how?” my son asked.

“Like prayer. You can pray without Mommy, you can talk to God anytime and anywhere about anything. If you want to know if he’s real all you need to do is ask him and wait.”

There were silence and contemplative faces.

I have always known I would never strong-arm my kids into Christianity. I’ve always just told them the truth as I know it. I want their faith to be authentic, which means it needs to be backed by the Holy Spirit not Mom. I’ve seen enough to know that God answers the questions of the seeking. But I also know that you can never be sufficiently sure before you decide. The first step is always taken in faith.

I prayed Jesus into my heart at six years-old. And I meant it. If I didn’t remember it so vividly I might have felt a hesitation, the need to wait until my kids were older, until they really understood, whatever that means. Because the truth is, you never know exactly where your vow’s going to take you and you learn what the promises mean on the way.

God honored the covenant of my six year-old heart and I knew he’d honor the covenant of my kids. Regardless, I don’t know hearts, not even theirs, the covenant doesn’t involve me. It’s between them and God. And so I gave them up.

We prayed a simple prayer.

And then I asked them, “And now where does Jesus live?”

“In our hearts,” they said.

“Yes,” I said.

And I prayed another prayer asking that God would honor the covenant my kids had just made, reveal himself to them, and answer their questions.

I don’t think my son’s questions are over. He may have voiced a doubt he will struggle with all his life. But I believe in the power of my Jesus to answer my son on any level and on any point. And I enjoyed the first hard stretch of letting him and Jesus figure it out between them together. Because my goal is not that my son would have my faith, but his own.

Butt Balm…

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It’s been a couple of crazy weeks. First of all, last week was Vacation Bible School at our new church here in San Francisco. I volunteered on counsel of my husband. The prospect of being social to such a degree with strangers for five mornings in a row was a bit anxiety-producing. But my husband is usually right about these things.

And I say that knowing that he reads my blog. You hear me, James, you were right?!

Isn’t that big of me?

To be sure, it involved waking my late-sleepers up every single morning and catching the bus across town. It involved three kids, two large bags, and one collapsible stroller. It involved a seventy-five cent fare for my five year-old and a hand free for me to hold Daddy’s clipper card (bus fare) which I borrowed for the week and am not giving back.

To be sure, baby came home on Wednesday looking a little pale. And then he got a fever and then he threw up. And the last two days I was riding the bus to drop them off by themselves and get back to baby napping at home so Dad could get back to work.

The naps were late and the kids were wound up so tight that no one got to bed before ten pm. But it was worth it and a lot of fun. I enjoyed meeting a lot of awesome people and loving on their amazing kids.

But baby boy went from fever to mucus to the runs. And on Sunday night I got up to screaming and poopy diapers eight times between ten pm and six am. We started Monday with a long warm bath.

And then…

Yes, and then, we packed the car for VBS at our old church in Roseville because I am a glutton for punishment, also known as someone who voluntarily goes through labor more than once, also known as someone who voluntarily signs her kids up for two vacation bible schools in a row.

We stopped at the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield because I thought it would be a good idea to give everyone their own sample packets of sugar for the last hour and a half in the car. I changed the baby’s diaper twice more and cared for the quickly advancing bit of diaper rash.

When we arrived at my Mom’s I removed the baby’s diaper and let him roam around on the lawn naked. I may or may not have been pooped on and/or held him up to poop in the bushes during this time. It may or may not have happened. It’s baby number three. You do things with baby number three that wouldn’t enter your mind as a remote possibility with baby number one.

It was a packed week. I will give you an excerpt from Tuesday.

We were having a playdate with a friend’s kids in the morning. We took advantage of the central valley heat and walked to Walmart over the railroad tracks, picked wild blackberries on the way and bought ice cream sandwiches for the walk home (Hello, suburbia!). Our friends left and I checked my phone to find the cousins already waiting for us at Great-grandma’s lake.

We stuffed everybody in the car, sick baby caught a nap in the car seat, and everyone swam, which means all the adults were counting heads constantly to make sure everyone was above water. We left in time for dinner before VBS at church, which is in the evening. But my son had jumped into the lake with his only shirt and refused to wear it wet into the church or Chipotle. So I stop by church and have someone run to get their VBS shirts, so now we can go to Chipotle for dinner across the street.

I was ecstatic that my baby ate his first real meal in forty-eight hours, some burrito bowl, mostly rice. At five forty-five I stuff everyone into the car after dinner for the six o’clock check in, too quickly evidently. For, as we pull out of the parking lot I hear a sound I know to precede an event that is all too familiar to me now, the staccato like coughing that is precursor to vomit.

Too late!

“Mommy, baby just threw up all over his seat!”

I toss a damp towel from the lake into baby’s lap in a lame attempt to contain the rice soup and keep my eyes on the road. Then I hear,

“Mommy, he’s eating the rice out of his throw up!”

I only write truth here, so I will tell you this; I wanted him to eat something, anything! And I wanted my elder kids to stay vomit free since I was about to drop them off at church.

“Let him eat it! Keep your hands in your laps!”

I circled the parking lot three times before locating my mother and handing the big kids off to her. And then the baby and I went home, bathed, sanitized, and started some laundry.

I put the car seat on the front porch and came out with three paper towels and a spray bottle of 409. I have been called optimistic, and, I’m afraid, in this case that would be painfully correct. For the first time in six years and three different baby car seats I had to remove the liner and send it through the washing machine.

By the time I was done cleaning up and had baby asleep the big kids got home, wired and already an hour past bedtime. I got them bathed, scrubbed the face paint off of them, and sent them to bed. I followed shortly after.

That was day one.

Why would I do that to myself? Well, it starts with pregnancy. We did that to ourselves. And labor, somehow I volunteered for that three times; no one can be held guilty for the first time, really, but two and three, that’s on you. And there are sleepless nights and baby sign language and wheels on the bus and somewhere in all there you purse your lips and realize that the kids are three and one and they’re not going to remember a single damn thing that you have done for them up to this point in their lives.

So, why do it? Well, this is why I do it. Because when I was a kid, I don’t remember the pool being stressful or making sure my brothers weren’t drowning. It was fun. I was just swimming.

And my kids aren’t going to remember baby’s horrible diaper rash and their mother’s shattered timetable. They’re going to remember swimming in the lake with cousins, eating flats of strawberries, face painting, and arts-and-crafts. They’re going to remember fun cross-town rides on the bus and a sample pouch of jelly beans all to themselves in the car.

So this week I’m thankful that I get to be the buffer between life and my kids for a little while. I’m glad to absorb the stress so they can just play. How much energy and work have I put into that Mommy bubble of safety that’s been following them around since before they were born?

It’s one of my favorite parts of the Mommy job to make sure my kids have an actual childhood, something that they can remember fondly and feel like they thoroughly did when they get to adulthood. I mean, how much better would the world be if everyone had experienced such an amazing childhood they didn’t waste their adulthood trying to live a second one?

And isn’t that what God has done for us, spent all his energies and one most precious son to cover us, give us a safe place to rest? Rest in me, he tells us, right here, and you don’t have to be anxious for anything. To be sure, life still happens, you might get burned by a bad case of diaper rash, but I’ll take care of it. There is a butt balm in Gilead! Bad joke. I apologize. But not really, that was good.

Motherhood is chock full of images. And you gotta take them when they come because you know you’re never going to get those twenty quiet minutes for devotionals every day. And I’ll take this one, and try to rest in God the way I want my kids to rest with me. Because, let’s be honest, Momma could use a buffer.

Car “Problems”…

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Last week, I went down to the garage to take the kids somewhere in the car. It wouldn’t start.

I called James, “Um, the car won’t start. You wanna give me a hand?”

So he comes down and turns the key because I might not have done that part right.

“Well,” he says, “When’s the last time you drove it?”

I stared at him blankly.

“Um, when did we go to the library last?” I say, “Last week? No. Week before last? I don’t know.”

“Really?” he says, “That’s awesome.”

Because that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the reasons we moved to the city, to walk.

At first, the use of the car was regular. My four year-old couldn’t make it to the store four blocks away without being stricken by a sudden and bizarre attack of muscle dysplasia at least once. Walking to the library was out of the question. Walking to Golden Gate Park was a day-long venture.

Once, we tried to walk to dinner at a new friend’s house. It was twenty-six blocks away. James and I discussed it over the phone. Google maps said the walking route would take half an hour. Google maps has considered many possibilities. It has a car icon, a bus icon, a bike icon, and a walking human icon. It does not, however, have a four year-old icon. It took us forty minutes to get halfway. James had to pick us up in the car.

There are many, many double strollers in San Francisco for a reason. They are all owned by kind people.

I, however, am not a kind person. I believe in the power of my daughter’s legs. I believe in the strength of her character. I have witnessed it; I potty trained her. If she can hold a determined turd at bay for forty-eight hours, then she can walk.

And my husband is even crueller than I am. He plans hikes.

And so we made them walk. There are three parks within walking distance. There are many markets, about four we use. There are laundromats, libraries, museums, and two beaches. There are trails and hikes and numerous eateries all within reach of my four year-olds two little legs.

It sounds amazing doesn’t it?

It is.

Because one of the amazing things about living in the city, evidently, is that you have to remind yourself to drive your car at least once a week so the battery doesn’t die.

Who knew?

Of course, the downside to all this exercise is more energy, for them. Did you know they could get more energy? They can. It’s crazy.

Who knew?