Wednesday, December 30, 2009

When You Don't Have the Right Keys

The whole incident was about four and a half minutes.

There were tears.
No blood.
But many tears.

Can a mother who really does want to keep her children admit to turning her back on her 17-month-old for....mmmm...20 seconds? Or is there state intervention after 19 seconds? If "The State" should be monitoring presently, we'll say it was no more than 19 seconds. Certainly not crossing the line into negligent, but long enough to produce adrenaline when my back was no longer turned.

It was snowing. I had three kids with me, lots of bags, boxes, folders, and keys. I was juggling everything in an effort to unlock the south west door of the church even though I wanted to be in the south east corner. But my key only opens one door. I parked in a handicap spot not wanting to use a sled to schlep everything through sodden snow on my way to the door.

We managed to make our way inside, going from completely frozen to intolerably hot. Regardless of how often I push buttons on the thermostat in this room it holds itself in the "Perpetual Tropics" region of 80 generous degrees Fahrenheit. After opening windows I laid out bagels and cream cheese as brazen means of bribing teenage girls into doing my bidding for the next hour. There is no shame here. Teenagers require lots of food, and lots of bribing. I am not above this tawdry exchange. Neither are they.

I saw a red-coated man in the hall, but there are often miscellaneous people at the church in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. He had keys, which immediately placed him as legitimate in my mind, despite having never seen his face in my five years patronizing this church. While opening a locked door on one side of the room for an early comer, my little Cecily was heading out another door...towards the red-coated man.

After the 19 seconds discussed previously, I became aware that Cecily was no longer in the room and not visible down the long hallway before me. Just as I caught a glimpse of the red-coated man turning the corner at the end of that hallway, I heard Cecily scream.

For half a second I imagined Cecily, held tight under the deceptive warmth of the red coat, going away from me with a face I had never seen before and might never see again.

She screamed again.

The sound was too close for her to be hidden under a coat on the other side of the building. But I couldn't see her....anywhere.

Then she was crying long frantic sobs that came, unmistakably, from behind the library door, held fast with two heavy bolts, for which there were no keys on my ring.

"HEY!" I yelled. "HEY!", because I didn't have a name to go with my desperate call to the red-coated man. I bolted down the hall, leaving Jonah and Caroline to console the terrified Cecily trapped in complete darkness behind two inches of solid wood. I rounded the corner with still no glimpse of red. My heart can handle only so much adrenaline before it pounds itself into cardiac arrest. Who will have a key? How long will it take them to get here? How high up is the handle of the long blade of the paper cutter on the counter just to the left of the library door?

She was wailing, and I was flailing, and we were both of us frightened beyond measure.

There he was! The red-coated man bumbling about in a cleaning closet.
" daughter...the door...back's key...can you...please?"
I was catching my breath, having wasted it on the horrific possibility that Cecily had been whisked away under the red coat.

The same coat worn by the gentle man that smiled in front of me. "Oh sure," he said. "I thought you had closed the door to keep her out. She must have been pretty quiet. I didn't even know she was in there."

Ok, well, let's hope he didn't know she was in there, because the alternative is a little perverse.

He rescued her with absolutely zero level of urgency in either his voice or movement. A father who had apparently dealt with this sort of thing before with the realization that a child behind a closed door comes out fairly unscathed. I'm sure I was sufficiently scathed for everyone present.

The red-coated man turned back the bolt on both locks and swung the door wide. Cecily stood there in the dark holding her milk cup in one hand, her face soaked by great watery tears and mucus. She was instantly quieted at the sight of all of us crowded round the open door. I scooped her up, expecting the consolation to be long and painful, but she was done crying. No fretting, no scarring--just a "get me the heck out of here, if you please" and she was off to play with the other little ones that had joined us by then.

Later, after all the girls had arrived and they were salivating over Jackie's coffee cake, I told them we could start after I moved my car form the handicap spot. Someone suggested that, as a mother, I might be entitled to a handicap spot.

Handicapped by three kids and no eyes in the back of my head, as it seems all the other moms get.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What We Do Before the Cock Crows

Aside from his first months of life when Jonah seemed sustained not by mother's milk, but crying beyond the realms of colic, he has been a good and peaceful sleeper. At least until 6am, when his inner clock gives him a good 'thwack' from the inside, jolting him out of sleepy reverie and physically out of bed. He gets this jolt based entirely on the time and not the number of hours he has slept. Put him to bed at 7:30 with a story and a hug and he is up at six. Put him to bed at 10:30 with a "get your hiney into bed or I'll get it there for you," and he is up at six.

This schedule works for all of us because Matt gets up early and the two of them commune in the wee hours while we of the fairer sex rest on, attending to our beauty. Father and son might commune like this: Matt gets into the shower while Jonah lays on the hard tile of the bathroom floor soaking up the heat from the vent. Father and son might instead commune like this: Matt pours a bowl of cereal for each of them and they sit at the table together considering the confections they will eat when Dad finishes his 'book' and we have a mighty junk-food-party. And yet another means of communion might play out as such: Matt goes back and forth from bathroom to closet dressing and grooming, gelling hair, brushing teeth, and tying shoes while Jonah follows almost a full step behind chattering ceaselessly about Willie Scott, Short Round and Indiana Jones, making Matt wish we had 5000 more square feet in our home so as to avoid tripping over his son every time he turns around.

I give this quality time to my boys each morning as a gift of the truest motherly love. I stay in my warm bed and let them enjoy the half-light without my influence so that Jonah will have these memories with his Dad forever. It is a gift I am possibly a little too happy to give. So, on mornings when Matt is not around to absorb the impact of Jonah's wakefulness I tend to struggle just a little bit. Mother and son might commune like this: Jonah comes to the side of my bed where I am effectively 'dead to the world.' "Mom," he says with a voice that has the raspiness of a shameful effort at whispering and the volume of a freight train. "Can I have some cereal?" Why would he ask this of me? Do we not grant him the right of eating cereal every day of his life? "Yes, you can get your own cereal. And then go read a book and let me sleep, Jo."
Our communion comes in other ways, at more decent hours throughout the day. My best self emerges with the sun.

While in Las Vegas for two weeks I began to tire of Jonah's sweet company in the dark of early morning. I went to bed too late and I wanted him to go away and let my body eek its selfish sleep in a heavily curtained room. One night (late, I'm sure) as my Mom and I sat at the table talking about going to bed, she mentioned how it might be nice if Jonah would get up in the morning and start his lessons on his own. This was a stroke of maternal genius that I had not gleaned from my own paltry experience as a mothering neophyte.

"That's it! I'll make a treasure hunt for him to follow in the morning when he gets up." This I did with all of the gusto that a person has left at 1:00 in the morning after a day of keeping three children alive and one adult sane. I used 3x5 cards strategically placed throughout the house to get the most mileage out of the activity. It started with a large sign on my bedroom door that said "DO NOT ENTER" and then some clue that led him far away from my bedside, out of ear shot. I gave Jonah several activities with which to amuse himself including his writing/copywork, and reading three or four chapters of his Magic Tree House book. At the end of all this I had Charlotte's Web queued up in the DVD player so he could push 'power' and 'play', giving me an extra two hours of sleep, giving him a more present and capable mother.

Jonah bought this whole thing like it was a trip to Legoland. He woke up, he came to my room with his freight-train-whisper on the tip of his tongue and found the clue on my door. He followed each direction, reading and writing on his own without any one there to nag him like his teacher might have considered absolutely necessary before then. He moved on to the getting-his -own-breakfast part, and finally to watching Charlotte's Web before he decided he had to wake someone up.

Jonah knocked on my bedroom door with no thought to waking the baby that slept in the room with me. I jumped out of bed lamenting the unsuccessful attempt at the morning treasure hunt. It felt far too early for him to have taken the bait. He stood before me in tears.
"What's wrong?" I asked. "Did you do the treasure hunt?"
"Yes," he sniffled. "I did all of it. But I'm too lonely. No one is waking up."
I pushed the button on the clock to illuminate the hour.

5:00 AM!

Jonah had eaten, copied a full page of writing , read four chapters , and watched an entire movie, and it was 5:00 in the morning. Maybe he and Matt have been communing earlier than I thought.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Driving North --- For a Really Long Time

Part I - Backing Out of the Driveway
There are four hundred miles and many hours ahead of us this day.
While I'm closing my door, before I put the car in reverse, it starts.

Jonah: "Mom, put the Penderwicks on."
Me: "Just a minute Jo. We're going to get gas first, and then I'll turn it on."

We reach the stop sign fifty feet from the driveway.

Jonah: "MOM, put the book on tape on. Please."
Me: "Jonah, wait."

Pulling into the gas station:

Jonah:"Mom, why can't you just turn it on so we can listen while you get gas?"
Me: "Look kid, you will have seven hours to enjoy Penderwick adventures, and I want to listen too. So cut it out, and have a little patience."

I love books on tape/cd/mp3. This conversation would have sent me into shrill guilt-ridden shrieks if it had been about the DVD player. But we opted for the Toyota Sienna without a DVD player...and not because of the money.
Thanks for paving the audio-way, Aubrey.

Despite giving Jonah and Caroline both a dose of dramamine, Jonah is wide-eyed for two hours while we listen. Caroline is asleep before we leave the gas station.

Part II. Car Dancing With The Black Eyed Peas
The desert can be beautiful. The desert can be monotonous. Coming through the gorge onto the Utah side I feel the signs of driver's fatigue and know that the sonorous voice of our narrator is going to put me to sleep even if the Penderwick girls are plotting grievous, sinful, provocative encounters.

Break out the mp3 and -
Give me a little "Let's Get it Started" by The Black Eyed Peas...with some volume.
And maybe a 16oz Coke - for purely medicinal purposes which I employ only when travelling and revel in under those circumstances alone. Shhh.

In the rear view mirror I see that after turning off the book Jonah is instantly asleep while Caroline is now awake and dancing with reckless abandon.

Part III. Can We Just Get Rid of Beaver?
You may not feel this way. I'm sorry if you have fond feelings for Beaver and I might step all over those feelings. But....
Beaver is Utah's black hole. I don't know why. I am not armed with terrible stories to justify such a claim. It's just not right. And I don't really believe that anybody actually lives there anyway. Sulpherdale residents man the Beaver gas stations to maintain the facade of township.
The only good thing that ever happened in Beaver was our family lying on the grass of the football field over at the abandoned high school and two-year-old Caroline says "I see the moon." It took us a LONG time to spot, but she was right - a little, faint sliver of moon was up there - staring at us.

When we left Vegas we didn't even need jackets.
We met winter in Beaver. It hung low in the air under gray clouds and a dirty haze. It felt sad and cold. I added a few more notches of speed to the cruise control.

Part IV. If You're Going to Yell, Don't do it in Public
I wanted to take four-year-old Quentin and strap him into a seatbelt in my van and take him home with me. Thirty minutes at the Burger King in Fillmore convinced me that home life with Chris-the-Dad-angry-face-yelling-man is no trip to Disneyland. While Quentin's parents alternately yelled at him and ignored him we got to know him. He's a good kid. He would have gotten in my car and gone home with me. I smiled at him and made him, it was kind of underhanded not-so-fair-play on my part.

While we are on the subject of yelling,
Glenn Beck
is not invited to participate in my life.
In ANY way.
So all you gas stations out there or fast food places (like, say, the Burger King in Fillmore) - TURN IT OFF!!
Or put Discovery Channel on, Food Network, HSN, QVC, TLC, AMC, SYFY, ANYTHING.

Part V. Coming Home a New Soul
It's dark now, and although we enjoyed blue skies when we were sufficiently clear of Beaver, Northern Utah offers us a good deal of stop and go traffic that kind of bites. There's nothing like traveling 350 miles in five hours only to spend another two on the last fifty miles.
The kids are finally starting to ask when we will be home.
"Soon." I say and hope simultaneously. "See those lights coming at us in a big curve? Those are cars coming around the point of the mountain. Salt Lake is on the other side of that curve."

While we come around the point Yael Naim is declaring herself "A New Soul."
I feel like a new soul too.
Surviving a heart attack and open heart surgery with my Dad has been an altering experience this past week.
I am reforged of new stuff - mostly because he is reforged, coming out of the fire with no beard and new intentions.
My Mom and Dad will have to keep that fire lit together. I will offer what fuel I can as often as possible.
I love you both, even while driving away from you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

"Now Join Your Hands, and With Your Hands Your Hearts" --William Shakespeare

My brother's wife is pregnant. The baby is a girl. The girl has a heart, and this little heart has somewhere on it an "abnormality."
"Down syndrome" they are whispering. It could be...but there are tests, and then there is waiting.

My big sister has a heart. She thought she left it four states away yearning for friends and home seven years in the making. Sometimes she thinks her heart got left a whole country away. Out there past plains and rivers that cut down the middle, through forests and deserts, over the Rockies, just hibernating, waiting.

My little sister wed her heart to someone else who left it by text message slumped on the floor in the hall pumping anguish just as readily as it pumped joy a year before.

My Mom has a....well...the biggest heart you ever done saw. I think her heart makes her tears. It makes lots of them. Reserves from which she dips for every happy thought, every sympathy, every bout of consuming laughter, every hurt, every passion, every moment with the divine. I don't know that she lives a single day without dipping into that pool.
This week her reserves are dangerously low from excessive use.

My Dad has a heart. On Tuesday it betrayed him.
Or, rather, he has been betraying it for too many years now.
While I put my children to bed in an otherwise empty house his veins were refusing access to his heart. Well, we know what to do with veins like that. We bypass them...if we are surgeons, if we wear gloves and know how to open chests, and make microscopic stitches.

I have a heart too.
I'm not sure about mine.
It could break under the right conditions, which I would likely label the "wrong conditions" were they to occur. But that's just it - nothing is breaking my heart. I feel the fast and fluttering empathetic beats that come with troubling news, but I am still whole, still...happy...mostly.


These are hearts made alive by mingled blood, flesh of my flesh. They are as surely and intricately connected to one another as they are to the veins that are wound about each one delivering life.

Miracles are the stuff behind seeing my Dad and my Dad seeing me yesterday. Grace is the approbation for questionable words that might not leave his mouth on better days.
"Oh please...let me go home," is his invocation to all the life that comes after this, the life that would not have been his without a bit of sacred serendipity.

All our hearts break, and all our hearts heal.

My brother and his wife have no less love in their hearts for a child with down syndrome. My big sister was smiling today as she talked about the life she builds next door to the Sacred Grove. My little sister loves with, and is loved by a better heart than she has known before. My Mother ate cookies with me by the fire last night, her heart making new tears to cry over happier things, and my Dad... Dad beckons me to come close enough to hear a dry, slurred whisper, "Jesse, help me. You've got to bring me a knife. I've gotta cut these things off."
Yes, his hands are tied down because they are connected to arms that might be better described as sledge hammers, which are in turn connected to an oddly functioning brain at present. In short, he can pack a mighty punch, of which nobody wishes to be the recipient.

But the knife bit tells me he's on the mend. He's really stretching to gather his wits about him...such as they are.
Oh, alright, Dad. You've got pretty impressive wits. And you may brandish them at will in no time.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Prescience...or Sophomoric Communion?

Caroline seems to be waxing
all kinds of lyrical at bed time these days.
Last night she uttered this plea in Matthew's behalf,
"Dear Heavenly Father, please bless the Holy Spirit to save Dad from all those gross bugs."

What I want to know is, has she seen something in my house that I have not. We run into the occasional uninvited spider, I may have seen a Box Elder bug...or two, but what's up with "all those gross bugs?" Is Caroline having nocturnal encounters with insects that would give her cause to pray for Matt's welfare?

I didn't question her about the content of her prayer. I mostly just give silent thanks when she decides she is willing to pray.
But I considered sending a few more details heavenward, like; "maybe You could work out some kind of insect-impregnable forcefield around Matt while he sleeps tonight."
There is the terrible prospect that the "gross bugs" she's talking about are.....(it's hard for me to even type the word)...ear wigs!*@!

Oh no, please don't be earwigs. Such an invasion cannot be borne.

But Matt called me today and he seems well enough so either the insect-impregnable forcefield is working out alright, or Caroline is four, and says strange four-year-old things that harbor merit primarily in their humor.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A bit of "Not-Lonely" Please

We are a migratory clan, 400 long miles from the man who is "Dad" in our tribe.

It is bedtime - a torturous routine involving three children that always, every night, despite any efforts on anyone's part, end up asleep. I can't get them there fast enough. They would prop their eyelids open with toothpicks and ask for seventy-two "goodnight drinks" to avoid the inevitable slumber.

Jonah is letting slip a few I-miss-Dad tears as we go through our third round of hugs in the dark room. He decides a prayer will help. "Please bless Dad that he won't be lonely," Jo implores on Matthew's behalf.

One "amen" later Caroline refutes the prayer.
"Dad doesn't be lonely, Jonah. He be's with the Holy Ghost."
(The apostrophe in "be's" is poetic license based on my assumption that Caroline has created a contraction out of "be is". Thus - he be's...)

Well, I for one am feeling better about the state of my husband's potential loneliness. Lest I fear that a man alone at home misses his family, I need only remind myself that "he be's with the Holy Ghost."

And Jonah's tears are gone, so apparently the Holy Ghost be's with us too.