Friday, May 28, 2010

Just What are Mary's Cockleshells?

It's not all that cute - the nursery rhyme scene, or the fairy tale scene. In fact, the Ambleside reading list we use for Jonah's first grade curriculum gives little disclaimers about nasty old hags chopping up children, just in case we should choose to avoid the gore.

We never avoid the gore.

For some reason it makes my kids laugh. Especially Caroline.

Last night we sat at the table after dinner while I preemptively told them a bedtime story to expedite the really long go-to-bed process. My Mom looked aghast as I started the story of two children whose parents couldn't afford to keep them anymore and led them into the forest to secretly abandon them. . .the bread crumbs, the cottage, the old woman, the oven big enough for children, and the roasted lady.

They loved it. Caroline giggled ceaselessly. "And guess what their names were?" I asked, "Jonah and Caroline." Which just set off fits of laughter.

"Ok," I admitted, "it's a real story about two children called Hansel and Gretel, and I'm sure I didn't get any of the details right."

"That is a true story of things that really happened?" Caroline asked. "Well, not exactly," my Mom said. "It's a story that was written by real people but the things in the story did not happen to real people."

This information was, of course, a little disappointing for Caroline. The image of the two children pushing the ill-sighted old woman into her own oven was impressive - one she had hoped to find truth in.

Jonah and I read "Forty Theives" from The Arabian Nights the other day. This is no tale for weak stomachs - pregnant stomachs being deeply entrenched in weakness - my stomach being deeply entrenched in pregnant. Two brothers want nothing more than riches. Kasim finds himself murdered and body quartered for his troubles, while Ali Baba has the luck of employing his brother's servant, the "shrewd and sharp-witted Morgiana,"- who perpetrates the deaths of 38 of the 40 thieves by pouring boiling oil over their heads while they hide in large clay jars.

We read the tale behind "Mary, Mary, quite contrary...", which includes thumb presses, guillotines, and cemeteries as her infamous growing gardens. We read this because I am now in possession of an heirloom, hand stitched, embroidered quilt made by my maternal grandmother that features twelve congenial nursery rhymes.

Tell your kid the "Bloody Mary" story, throw that quilt on them, blow a kiss, say "good night" and turn the lights off. This is a sure way to elicit formidable dreams, should the kid actually reach the sleeping stage.

But I can tell you this, I'd go for the quartering, and roasted old lady before I'd read another knock-off adventure of that insipid, Disney-fied mermaid that I used to really like.

Bed time stories evolve. So does our family. At the moment we've arrived at a benign rendering of the gruesome, but entertaining. Only classics though - no Chucky or other such modern nonsense. We only like classic nonsense.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Can't We Just Watch When We Want?

I cannot escape the television.

Many of you know we opted for a television-free home a few years ago. The longer we are without, the more I feel relieved and removed from all that television offers. But choosing to evict tv from our home has by no means evicted tv from our lives.

We cannot escape it,
wherever we go;
not in the produce aisle,
not at the checkout stand,
not at the bank,
not at the furniture store,
not at the restaurant,
not at the library.

In the two and a half minutes I waited in the checkout line at Fresh Market the other day, I was shown a new recipe and several home improvement projects that could transform my house. As if strategically placing a Cosmo magazine in front of my face (or worse, my children's face) were not enough, somebody thinks I just can't make it through the line peaceably without placating my wanton behavior, which is so obviously threatening to the cashier. I am known to accost the person behind the register every now and again with a sinister "Hi, how are you today?"

Trying to have a pleasant dinner with Matthew on a rare date night, I had to work diligently to block out the THREE television screens broadcasting different programs within my view. We must have chosen the wrong restaurant.

Maybe people are afraid to be alone together. Maybe television is thought to mitigate the terrible social awkwardness of actually speaking to each other, whether it be the few moments we transact in money with a stranger, the hour we spend on a date with an unfamiliar person, or the hour we spend on a date with a spouse of ten years.

I don't need a television screen behind the librarian to help me feel good about patronizing my local library.

A tv in the lobby does not compel me to trust one particular bank over another.

And I can jolly well select apples without the Food Network plying their wares over my head.

What I could have used was a television screen somewhere inside the plane that flew six long, silent hours from Phoenix to Philadelphia. My grocery store produce aisle wants to hook me with media in the 23 seconds I spend choosing onions, but US Airways is totally uninterested in securing my patronage with a media cocktail even when they have me cornered for six hours. If anyone should be interested in placating wanton behavior, it should be the airlines.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

As Long as She Talks, I Laugh

She is four - only a few more months - five is looming. She lost two teeth while I was in England. That's right she's four and she lost her two bottom, front teeth. But those two teeth came cutting through her three-month-old gums a site too early for our nursing routine. At twelve months my flesh could no longer handle her full set of teeth and we decided to go for the cow option. I suppose with teeth, it is early in, early out.

And with that premature gap in Carolin'es smile she carries on in her funny four year old way - charming me with what comes out of her head, out of her mouth.

A sampling:

"Mom, my clothes are too loosable."

"Wow, that bath was as quick as a camel eating."
"Oh yeah?" I ask. "Do camels eat fast?"
"And do you know what a camel is?"
"Ye-es" in total exasperation.

So, I am pregnant. This means a growing belly, and a growing need for clothes made to accommodate my immensity. Caroline hasn't quite figured out what the special word for those clothes are. Every time I put on one of my bigger than normal tops she asks, "Is that an eternity shirt."
"Yes, in so many ways," I tell her.

Last night we were talking about her preschool graduation that will happen next week. With zeal Caroline declared "I'm graduating from preschool, I'll be in kindergarten next year, and then I'll go to high school."
Yup, something like that.

The other day my friend was lamenting a few of her husband's, shall we say, little imperfections. Not really thinking about children's ears that hear more than we imagine, she asked in rhetorical exasperation "What am I going to do with him?" Caroline answered without missing a beat "Toss him overboard," in her best pirate accent.

Jonah and Caroline are sitting in the back of the van trying to remember the name of one of the boys in Caroline's preschool class who did something funny. Since Jonah spends the five minutes it takes to drop her off making the social rounds, he is friends with pretty much everybody in her class, so he knows all their names. The two of them are ticking off each boy they can think of, but still not coming up with whomever she is thinking of. Finally she pleads in frustration "Come on Jonah, just be in my head."


To be in her head.

A totally unnavigable place is Caroline's head.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Darwin Disconnect

A book review - Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution

The controversy - be there any in the first place - is irrelevant. While reading this book on the plane to England the man sitting next to me asked "Is it for, or against?" "Neither," I responded, "it's a biography."

Randal Keynes is the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin and he deals with the life of his progenitor in an objective, scholarly and warm manner. In an interview with Diane Rehm, Keynes said that he wanted to portray Charles through the lens of family. He achieves this primarily through Darwin's wife Emma, and the death of their ten-year-old daughter, Annie. His devotion to science never eclipsed his supreme devotion to family.

Be you a Christian and a Darwinist naysayer, be sure to develop a keen differentiation between what you have to say about the man's science and what you have to say about the man. Although he spent many years determining that, although he would not deny the existence of a God, he could not subscribe to a belief in Jesus Christ, he was most Christian in character. He had great love for and cared deeply about the welfare of other humans. Outside his work as a scientist and father to ten children he did much to help others help themselves.

Those who are "believers" should not look upon Charles Darwin as an object of wholesale derision. As one of history's most iconic figures Darwin is used as epithet, rude caricature, and source of ill-placed humor. His tender nature was wounded by such treatment, so much so, that he delayed the publication of his "Origin of Species" for years, not wanting to subject himself or his family to the scorn that would surely come.

The natural world fueled his development of intellect. Fatherhood heightened his sense of humanity. Both taught him to see terrestrial beauty in a way most of us cannot conceive. His heart was continually swelled with the beauty of form, relationship, emotion, and filial connection. He cried bitter tears over the death of his daughter Annie. Tears made more bitter by his inability to have faith in a life after the one he knew. Although faith could not offer him comfort, love could, and as father to ten children he certainly had no paucity of love. Charles profoundly appreciated life; whether that life came as gift from a Maker, or as the stunning chance of natural selection.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Sound and Scent of Sunday Morning

Sunday morning is an open window in the gabled bathroom on the third floor in Roger's limestone Victorian row house on the end of Queen Katherine Street nearest Kendal Castle. Out his front door and a few steps to the right puts one on the footpath up to the castle built around 1200 which housed many a Kendal Baron, most notably Thomas Parr, father to Katherine, the sixth wife of King Henry VIII.

The open window in the bathroom lets in the rousing historicity that hangs in the air of Britain. It flows through and mingles in swirled patterns with the steam from the shower that I can move this way and that with the motion of my hand, like a magic wand. It is England, it is the air that smells of coal fire, verdancy, and the lingering presence of many thousands of years of inhabited soil. The earth is so solidly marked by humans in this place, no respite from the workings of man, which has created the inimitable scent of Britannia. It fills me when I am here. It is the stuff of powerful nostalgia . . . the simple smell of place.

Today I accent the scent of Britannia with John Freida's Sheer Blonde shampoo - a bit of wishing on my part. It is a travel-size bottle I purchased yesterday at Superdrug in the Westmorland Shopping Centre, while in a stupor of travel-induced exhaustion. More than buying shampoo, I wanted to lay my body down on the floor with a pack of Superdrug nappies under my head and let sleep take me. Instead we spent our first 20 pounds on things with which to clean our weary bodies in the week to come - letting our various chemical concoctions slide through the bathroom window and mingle with Britain's olfactory ethos.

I have slept now, my head rested luxuriantly on a pillow, in a bed, rather than a pack of nappies on a tile floor. I am readied for the Sabbath which greets me now, through this same open window, with the ebullient tones of Kendal's bells.

In the ten months we lived here in 2003 and 2004 I opened the patio doors of our very small flat on Garden Road every Sunday morning, without thought to temperature or rain, to welcome the bells of the parish church. The sound seemed to pound in my soul, singing to the part of me that worships and finds the contentment of life in faith. "Ring out Wild Bells" Lord Tennyson proclaims. Oh yes, wild, and sweet, and filling the little space that is my home. And for some reason it feels so French. I've not been there. I've really no experience with all things French, and I can't imagine it to be more transporting than all things English, but there you are. The bells roll in through my wide doors and I am pulled away over the English channel into lands certainly no more magnifique than those I now enjoy.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

This is the last stanza in Tennyson's Ring Out, Wild Bells. They are all beguiling and worth repeating. A fit melody to accompany the hours before I go to worship.

I had not thought of the bells in the many hours on the plane, or the weeks of volcanic anxiety before the plane. They are a sweet surprise to me now as I meet my first morning of only six on this short stay.

Why do we not have parish churches and Sabbath bells in the thick of Salt Lake City? Well, at least beyond the Cathedral of the Madeleine. We are near enough that every now and again I can hear it. Back in our days in the Avenues Matt and I had an ongoing inquiry regarding for whom the cathedral bells toll. They are nice bells, but not Kendal on a Sunday morning bells. Perhaps the space which they must fill is just too large in such open sky. Kendal offers a nestled English scale that keeps the reverberations cozily fitted in the streets of the town.

As if the bells are not enough to keep my feet light on the walk to church along the River Kent, when they have finished we are serenaded with delightful bird song. Birds that Susie says "must just be happy to live in England." Like the cows that make such sweet cream because they live on England's "green and pleasant" hills. Maybe the earth itself keeps turning just because it is so happy to have England resting upon it.

This morning, the goodness of life is because England is here. . .and I am in it.