Dancing Little Screens

I’m the only one looking around, seeing trees swaying in the wind, and the play of shadows over rough bark; the way the light streams through twisting leaves.  Even the children, even the littlest ones, their faces still and passive, their squirming ceased, their eyes riveted by the dancing little screens, they miss the squirrel racing around the trunk and chattering.

Their parents stare hard and scroll, scroll, scroll, their thumbs stroking the glass of their miniature portals into otherness; other peoples’ beach photos, rapid-fire recipe videos, artful platings of food, and memes unending.  Now and then they’ll look up, around, at their child, and then, as though there were an invisible elastic from their neck to their wrist, they bend to it, raising their phone-clutching hand, and they leave again.

Grocery lines, stoplights, carpool pick-up lanes, waiting rooms, restaurants; they are no longer experienced anymore…they are only escape spaces to distraction, to otherness.

I love elderly people.  You still see their eyes; their eyes greet you, see you; there is a sense that they’d gladly connect and share life for a moment.  They remember the times before people carried all-engulfing entertainment in their pockets and used them at every opportunity.  They remember courtesy, conversation, presence.

I am alarmed.

Ever-reaching for phones, ever-scrolling, compulsive behavior that is becoming “normal”.  I’ve experienced it myself.  I don’t have a phone, and hopefully never will, but my husband’s smart phone is terribly tempting to reach for on the long drive to church.  I don’t even know what compels me to “check it”; what on earth am I longing for; why not let the passing landscape form my thoughts, rather than absorbing the experiences of others?

In my home my laptop is a severe temptation; always promising a moment’s escape from domestic cares and hollering toddlers.  But again, I have to ask, what am I longing for?  Do I ever feel any sort of fulfillment from “checking in” and “catching up”?  No.  Rather I feel the weight of wasted time and attention.  My childrens’ behavior also changes when I tune out; they are more irritable and uncharitable with each other.  They ignore my words, sensing that I’m not really “there” anyways.  Presence is necessary.  Not just at home but out and about in the world.

I will endeavor to change; to allot a time for online reading and interaction, writing, answering of emails, and ordering supplies for my business.  Lord, help me!  I don’t want to be absorbed by a screen, nor feel myself pulled towards it.  I am mindful of the little eyes that watch how I live; do I need a screen or use a screen?

Please, dear ones, consider.  Leave the phone in your car, don’t let your kids play with one whenever they’re bored or fidgety (it’ll prevent them from growing in imagination and creativity and being present), and don’t teach them that zombie-like staring at screens is how to live.shortstory8

The Looser Weave

There was a time when we leaned back into couches and weren’t sure if we’d be able to get back out of them; our pregnant, rounded bellies sitting like so many beach balls in our laps.  There would be commiseration about heartburn, clothes no longer fitting, nausea, and exhaustion, but mostly we laughed and we dreamed.  I don’t know what the husbands spoke about.  I knew wonder and it grew and grew.

Somehow then we were in the thick of it, with babies and toddlers, and were in and out of maternity clothing on the regular.  Our toddlers grew into friends, our babies which we once rocked to sleep in their carseats with our feet while we played board games were tearing around, trashing toy rooms and pretending together.  We went from couples with babies to a whole vibrant community with shared memories stretching back years and years.

As kids entered grade school, one by one, the moms could catch their breath and look around.  Some decided to work, to find their purpose and passion in fields of interest to them, others had to work to support the family, others devoted themselves to educating their kids at home, others found home itself work enough.  Our worlds opened outwards as the kids grew, into new schools, new churches, new connections, new responsibilities, new stories.

Though we would get together as able, and delighted yet in the ease of being with those with common history, one could feel the looser weave.

I walked today with my baby and my toddler in a park where I’ve spent untold afternoons with friends and their little ones.  I settled a child on each knee and we watched ducks and a great blue heron beside a sparkling pond with cheerful fountains; autumn giving every tree a gilded, crisp look.  There wasn’t anyone to call to join us when we’d spontaneously decided to escape the house and Monday’s laundry.  There’s work and homeschooling and a billion busy things, and I understand.

But I miss them.  I miss journeying together.  I’m too old for the new moms, and generally, I think I freak them out by not hovering over my babies, by letting them climb high on the playground equipment, by letting them get frustrated and work through stuff. I find now that I talk to the grandmas, but often they’re on their phones, which is sort of funny, but mostly sad.

I want to have more babies.  I want to peer into little faces again; hear newborn squeaks and sighs.  How much joy and laughter is there, in the knowing of a person, brand new to the world.  I want to feel the kicks and squirms through my own skin, to carry a soul not my own but knit within me.  I’m not over it.  I’m not past it.  I haven’t moved on and held a garage sale and reclaimed my home.  It would upset none of my plans; my plan is simply to live.

My toddler put on a severe pout today; he pulled it on deliberately, like a heavy coat, and I could hear in my heart the sounds of an inner stream of laughter; one that is always flowing but not always overflowing outwards.  He teaches me in caricature; in his simple sins I see the roots of my seemingly complex ones.  A screaming fit?  Mine may happen inside, but what’s the difference?  Any size fist can be raised to shake at God.  He surely repents better than I do; in tears and real compunction.

What am I saying…only this; I’m not eager to hurry away, to go on to the next thing.  I am in a garden and I haven’t exhausted my wonder at all the flowers.  IMG_1146

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even The Grays

It has been a week of clumsily wrangling table cloths and bedsheets over my flowering peach and nectarine trees in a futile attempt to save them from freezing into fruitlessness.  It has been a week of hunching over an old kerosene heater at midnight in the greenhouse trying to coax some robust heat out of it to keep the seedlings from certain, cold death.  It has been a week of washing poop out of underpants with a toddler who has no interest in potty training.  It’s been a week without a single order for soap and all the questions that can kindle.

It has also been bright.

Mr. Mango, our beloved parakeet, has begun making word-like utterances, much to my over-the-top delight.  Tobias has learned how to grin mischievously.  My daughter comes home from her long bus commute with a handful of poems she writes on the way; often springing from topics she’s learned about that day in history class.  Sunflowers, dahlias, and coxcombs are coming up in the seed trays, lifting their leafy hands up to the sun.  My boule bread has been turning out quite good, and we’ve cut down on our food bill via creative means.  My bees are still alive.

My daughter was asking me about hair dye.  She wanted to know why I rarely use it (I highlighted my hair in Chile, oh, six years ago or so).  I fanned out a handful of my hair in my hands.  “Look at all the colors.  Browns, blonde strands, copper.  Yes, gray too.  I don’t want to miss this, from bright to dark, even the grays.”

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It may not be a fashionable look; I may look older than I otherwise would, but I find some delight in looking my age, my thirty-six years of life under the sun.  I make no argument against dyeing of hair; just saying that I like to watch the march of time of browns and blonds and grays, right on my own head.  I don’t want to miss what the transition between youth and middle age looks like; I do not want to look perpetually young in anything but my childlike delight in life.  I welcome my years; would that I could kiss God’s feet in gratitude for all they’ve held.

As regards these days of both trials and blessings, I feel the same.  It is me, yes, bent over the toilet, swishing feces out of underpants for the third time in one day.  It’s me!  It’s also me that gets to hold my dear son, all cleaned up, and teach him the names of colors, and hear him mispronounce them, and smile all the way out to my ears.

I’ll take these days, these bright ones, and grays too, with great gratitude from a full heart, for God has dealt kindly with me.

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Once, Twice

Pushing swings

One, two

My sons grinning and

The light falls spotty.

A lump rising in my throat

At the beauty and the swift passing

Of time, which always plunges ahead

Undisturbed by our own scrambling

Our yearning for it to slow a while

So we can breathe that flower in

Once, twice, once more.

We could rip the hands off of the clocks

All the clocks stripped bare of their ticking arms

And yet, still time would march

Undeterred

Seasons obeying, dropping leaves, dropping snow, dropping rain, throwing flowers up and out of the ground, inexorably forward.

I take my child’s face in my aging hands

I claim this moment before it hurries away

And kiss it once, twice

And once more.  IMG_4065

Outside, Inside, and Deep Inside

I have been ever-so unavailable.  Not busy, just occupied.  With gazing in awe at all the winter-buried life bursting up and out of the ground; the rhubarb looks as though it is gradually going to take over the world.  The peach tree is covered in blooms and the strawberry leaves which have bravely remained a silent green all winter are coming alive and alert and verdant.

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I’ve been planting seeds and hoeing the earth and watching the earthworms wiggle.  The skies, oh the skies so mesmerizing as dark clouds crouch at the horizon and then run across the sky, whipping-up wind and sending sideways rain.  All this fuss and fury and beauty-blitzing after the sober quiet of winter; it’s enough to leave me slack-jawed.  Even if it would just be the magnolia trees, heavy with soft pink flowers, even then.

Indoors, the soap kettles are always being filled and emptied and cleaned and filled again. Soaps stand curing and piles of it sit waiting to be clothed and labeled.  My babies are fed, changed, and played with.  The Lord knows the laundry and I make quality time together a habit.

Truly indoors, below the skin and in the soul, the heart, the mind, another scene, another realm of duties and joys.  Radiant joy is there, gratitude and peace.  Also despair, and the prayers that surround it and carry it off as able.  Yesterday I fought despairing thoughts all through the day.  No one had died, I and my family were all healthy; it was just the disorganization and mess that had settled in my home that battered me.  From the attic to the cellar were vast evidence of lack-of-care:  discarded dirty socks, playthings left scattered, piles of papers, construction supplies, and on and on.  Familial negligence, some laziness, some sin; a mess.  I was overwhelmed and angry; “How can they live like this?  Why doesn’t anyone care how things look?  Why did they tell me they cleaned when there’s dishes and dirty clothes under their beds?”.

Then I remembered to pray.

And I simply started.  Started to clean, to organize, one drawer here, one corner there; staking a flag of peace and order in every conquered space.  And God led despair away from my side while I was cleaning; I hardly heard it leave.

On Tenderness

I had just unloaded my two little sons from the car into the shopping cart, Henrik all grins and Tobi all wide-eyed with the wonder of being outside.

“Shut the f— up!  GET IN THERE!”

A man was shouting at his child.  The rest of the words were indistinguishable, but the tone was all cruelty and rage.  The man menacingly leaned his whole body into the vehicle as he roared.  I imagined the child within cowering before his anger.  My mouth went dry.

I couldn’t see the child, five rows away as I was, but I saw the mother, nonchalantly climbing up into their pick-up’s bed to situate grocery bags.  This while the man raged and raged and I felt sick.  I froze in place, staring at them.

I knew there wasn’t anything I could do; most likely confronting the man would make things worse for the child, not better.  And I had my little boys with me and wasn’t sure what he was capable of doing to a stranger if that’s how he treated the ones he loved.

The woman caught me standing there, looking right at her.  For a brief moment our gazes locked, mine saying “This isn’t okay” and hers saying “Oh, someone is noticing this”.  She looked away and I walked with leaden feet into the store, praying, praying.

This is the second time in two days that I’ve heard men raging at children.  Tantrums are unpleasant in children; in adults they are disturbing and ugly.  Edison was with me yesterday as a man belittled and insulted a child with him, raising his voice, and eventually disciplining her right there in the store aisle, her wails echoing about.

Edison blushed fiercely, his mouth tightening in stress and fear.  I know, son, I know.

Every parent hollers, every parent loses their temper (I certainly do), but there is something I’m seeing that is blacker.  Parents are raging.  Why are they so angry?

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Sophia had I curled up on the sofa, her likely-dying hamster cupped within our hands.  She sobbed and sighed and her cheeks were flushed and her eyes swollen; all the love was in her face.  “It’s okay”, she whispered in a choked voice to her little Peanut, who rested uncharacteristically still.  We offered a tiny spoon of water, a fresh leaf of lettuce; the last bits of a good hamster life.

I didn’t say any of the “well, at least…” statements that comfort no one, never.  I haven’t learned much, but I’ve learned that.  I held my daughter and I held her dying hamster and we carried the pain together.  The pain of loving and losing.

I am not a perfect mother; I am well within the league of shouters and temper-losers, but I realized that why I was so disturbed by the man today was that he was not merely losing his temper, but he was abusing that child; lashing with full throttle fury.  Not just blowing off steam, but scorching, scathing, looking to damage.  How can such a little one endure all that fire?  How many children go to bed each night burned in their very souls by the violence of their parents’ words?

As I pushed my grocery cart, looking out the wide store window as the couple finished unloading their groceries, I prayed those words which come so quickly and seem to encompass all my flailing emotions, “Lord have mercy”.  And as I held my grieving daughter, the same words.  And for me also, the same.  That God would keep me always constrained by tenderness and mercy and love from exhibiting the same sickening ways I had witnessed.  And for the children, oh the children, so harmed.

And again I say, Lord have mercy.