Tag Archives: domestic

Full Mind, Full Heart…

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There are a lot of things in my head right now. The song is “I Can Her the Bells” from “Hairspray Jr.” which we saw at the middle school four blocks from our house on Friday. Several alum from our elementary school plays were there and in good form. The steps under my feet and in my head are for “Make ‘em Laugh” which we will choreograph this week.

I’m rereading Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, a fantastic novel that throws together everything that interests me into a lovely disastrous science fiction salad, languages, medicine, with some alien life forms thrown in. I am emotionally tired from our community group’s project on Saturday to feed breakfast to seventy five people through City Hope, our church’s community center in the tenderloin district of San Francisco.

I met a young lady named Ari. When I had talked her inside off the wet street she left moments later with tears in her eyes. She had been looking at my kids. Out of prison for five days, her seven-year-old son is with his father in Alabama, her two-year-old daughter is in Petaluma with friends. We talked about being mothers, she talked about the weight of the family she was raised in, the weight of caring for children on her own, the weight of her addiction that led her straight back here to the streets of San Francisco.

She came in again, she ate, she met my children, I connected her to our pastor there. We found out where she could get clothes. She went to use the bathroom. I sat with her bag.

When she came back she said, “I’m glad you watched my bag. It would’ve been too hard not to — if I had had it with me.”

“You have drugs in there right now?” I asked.

“No,” she said after the slightest pause.

And this is how far I’ve come, I’m still naive enough to be surprised that a drug addict has drugs on their person. But, as it turns out, I’m not naive enough that I didn’t recognize that she was lying to me in the second instance. So, that’s something.

The emotional response in my body brought to mind another instance of similar discordant realization. We were in Manila on a mission trip. We were touring lots of areas and different ministries. One night we went down to the slums to meet some of the thousands of orphans left on their own to form families. We had a group of about twenty boys, six to ten year-olds. We told them Bible stories, learned their names, fed them. We had been there for hours when I began noticing that they were leaving one by one and coming back after a while. They would come back a little happier, red eyes, a little less attentive, distant.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked one.

“He’s high,” the boy answered succinctly.

As it turns out these beautiful brown boys were taking turns leaving to huff glue out of discarded glass jars.

One of our set up guys at church has been clean for two years. He posted on Facebook. “Two years off the needle by the grace of God.”

Another time in college a young man, long blonde hair in a ponytail, a smattering of tattoos, was a friend of a friend of someone in En Christo, our ministry to the poor and homeless in Spokane, Washington. He showed up for a month of Saturdays, handing out bagged lunches to the residents of the hotels we had established relationships with. He gave a powerful testimony of God’s saving grace to release him from his addiction to heroine. He was witness, it could be done. He didn’t show up one Saturday. We heard the next week, through a friend of a friend, he had died of an overdose. I don’t remember his name. I remember thinking he was cool.

I am thinking of the second grader, a little brother, who told me he has begun reading the Bible when he’s bored at home, mostly the story of David and Goliath.

I am thinking of my volunteer who has rekindled her years of ASL and is practicing the story for this next week so she can communicate with two deaf boys who have been coming to our program.

I am thinking of two third grade girls who haven’t had a friend in their all-boy children’s worship class. Two Sundays ago they finally found each other and told their mothers about their new friend.

I am thinking about the two first grade boys who are a little intimidated about transitioning out of their comfortable Kindergarten class where their little brothers are. One is autistic and finally yesterday didn’t look like a caged animal when I gave him another tour of the “big kid” room.

I am thinking about all the slogans I have read off the posters of all my friends who went to many women’s marches all across the country. I didn’t think about going. I served breakfast with my community group to seventy-five inhabitants of the tenderloin and met Ari and was tired and went home and thanked the Lord for whatever combination of grace, provision, chance, will, or wisdom that has allowed me to have a house and the right to mother my children.

I thanked the Lord for a rug to vacuum, dishes to do, so many bananas that they had gotten old, and the baking space, that no SRO hotel room has, to make banana bread. There was so much joy in making banana bread for my people, so much flour, so much sugar. I thanked the Lord for the bathroom I had to clean even though I swore on Tuesday that anybody but me was going to be scouring it this weekend. I was grateful for the fridge full, the laundry basket full, the arms full of my children.

I realized that I was being domestic even while I was admiring signs, even while City Hall was lit up pink. I laughed at myself.

My favorite quote, the last sentences of Middlemarch by George Eliot. The great heroin Dorothea, who is described as having the energy and righteous ambition of another Joan of Arc, spreading out her energies into domesticity like the delta of the river Cyrus. “But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

I think about how distasteful it is sometimes to my ambition to rest in the small things, how difficult to be satisfied in diffusion.

I think of the one hundred sixty-nine kids in the school play that I get to know and encourage. I think of the eighty-five to one-hundred fifteen kids that we have in children’s worship on Sundays that we get to know and welcome. I think of the three who I kissed awake this morning with many kisses, the little one’s cheek smelling like his sweet mouth from falling asleep sucking his thumb.

This morning I don’t feel so far away from every other woman in the world. This morning I see more parallels than differences between me and Ari who is somewhere just outside this coffee shop window, maybe still trying to find her cell phone so she can see that last picture she took of her little girl. I feel my energies splitting and irrigating many tiny fields, for each of which I am very grateful.

My Fault…

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I thought I could go back to bed and lie there for a bit without incident. So, technically, I suppose it was my fault. But I heard everyone helping each other get breakfast. It sounded peaceable.

So, forty glorious minutes later I walk out. The weather’s perfect. It’s sunny. Even the introvert in me is charmed.

“Let’s go to the park,” I say, “Shoes on.”

At this moment in the hallway the little guy passes me holding a spoonful of milky cereal in front of his belly and marching into his bedroom. Curious, I follow him. Then I watch as he stops, calculates, throws said cereal onto the carpet, touches one foot on top of it delicately as if to evaluate his success and turns, I’m assuming, in order to get more.

Well, I stop that nonsense and on the way to the kitchen with the spoon I notice several other arrangements of cereal on the floor and realize this is an installation piece, probably entitled “Scourge of My Mother”. There is also one very wet towel lying in a square on the floor.

“Hey guys? What’s with the wet towel? Did he have an accident?”

“No, Mom, he spilled a cup of milk,” said the eldest.

“He did it on purpose. And it was my milk,” said the girl.

Mixed media.

(There are many moments like this when I’m glad I don’t have a nice place. I can’t stand how my kids treat my two-bedroom rental. What on earth would I do if they treated my dream-house this way?!)

I proceed into the kitchen. And the baby has tried to make a smoothie.

Here is a picture of that baby:

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I sigh and scrap my plans for the park. I place the baby in the tub (the only place he will remain contained) and wipe counters, do dishes, unload dishwasher so I can load dishes, start laundry from last night’s pee debacle(another long story), scrub and baking soda a square of carpet, sweep the kitchen, vacuum and four hours later it’s nap time and I’m sucking down coffee and eating some Go Diego Go cereal. For some subliminal reason I wanted some.

The first baby, that’s not anyone’s fault. You’re naive; you’ve never had a baby. You don’t know. The second one, well, that’s not technically your fault either. You and your husband have seven siblings between you. Let’s blame family culture. But three, well- the third one’s on you. You asked for three. This is on you.

Ibtissam…

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Her name means smile.  And boy does she have a good one! I met her once before, months ago, on the playground around the corner and we stumbled along in French. I’ve since tried to ring her door bell a few times but we haven’t managed to find each other.  Until two weeks ago.

She was at the park by the kids’ school. I recognized her underneath her hijab and we began at once just where we left off. By the sometimes miracle of six months, our babies were actually old enough to play without our ever-intervention.  So we chatted along in French in the sunshine, with the line of Presidio trees rising along our shoulders to the left, the city blinking bright below us on the right.

I noticed a woman watching us and edging closer.  I turned to her and smiled.  She stepped over.  Our French had reached her ears and she came to sit by us.  As it would turn out she just moved from Paris six months ago. She introduced us to her darling baby and confessed to knowing no one, a couple French families, she said, but no Americans. We exchanged numbers and promised to have coffee.

I was going to walk back and invited Ibtissam to walk with me.  She went one step further and invited us into her apartment for a full Moroccan tea.

Like any hostess she apologized for the mess and hastily moved toys aside. Her two daughters played with my three kids. And we talked happily while she set out cookies in beautiful little crystal dishes.  She showed me how to scoop the mint and tea into a pot, how to steep it and how much sugar to add.  We had a feast of peanuts and pistachios, beautiful butter cookies dipped in chocolate, and little gold rimmed glasses of sweet hot Moroccan mint tea. When those were finished off (by many little fingers besides our own) she got out two beautiful flat disks of homemade bread and olives in oil for dipping.

We ate and talked well into the dinner hour and as it was getting dim we tore ourselves away. We had talked about the similarities between Lent and Ramadan. We had shared about our faiths. We had talked about the loneliness of motherhood. And we had shared what makes us ourselves outside of these domestic spheres. “This,” she said, spreading her hands, “Sitting like this with friends. This is what I love.”

I am thankful for the gift of language that has enabled me to get to know one of these beautiful mothers. And I am thankful for this experience that has forever changed how I see the women underneath the hijab.