The Velveteen Chair

Mar 30 2012

I often sit in my 5-year-olds’ room at night while they fall asleep. I think about the day. And then I write. To you. To them. To God. To me.

Being here soothes my boys. That’s my excuse.

But being here soothes me, too.

One of my twin boys rockets to Land of Sleep so quickly I’m always stunned he doesn’t give himself a concussion when his head hits his pillow with such force. He doesn’t so much fall asleep – which implies a process – as he becomes sleep. The switch flips, and he is enthusiastically done with his day.

My other twin boy wrestles with sleep like it’s a theological dilemma. If there IS sleep – and I’m not saying there is – how can I know that it’s intimately involved in MY life? … and … What’s the meaning of sleep, anyway? … and … Why does bad sleep happen to good people? 

I sit in the Velveteen Rabbit of chairs, a hard, boxy, perfect club chair that belonged a long while ago to my boys’ great-grandfather, and then to my parents-in-law, and then, ever since the occasion of our marriage 17 years ago, to Greg and me. It’s the kind of sturdy chair that makes people say things like, “They just don’t make things like they used to.” My mom-in-law tells stories of reading happily in it in college, both legs flung over an arm of the chair while her head nestled in the corner of the wingback. My boys use it today as a diving platform for jumping across their hot, raging lava floor and onto their bed.

The Velveteen Chair has been reupholstered several times throughout the decades of its rich and long life, and one glance at its patchy, anemic velour will tell you that it needs to be again. But I lack the resolve to make the change because I fear that the pursuit of beauty will somehow alter its character or release its soul or dilute its magic. And that will never do.

I sit here in the almost dark, and I listen to Cael.

“Mom?” Cael says in his sturdy voice.

“Yes, Cael?”

“Why does lava bubble up from a volcano?”

“We’ll talk about it in the morning, Cael. It’s sleeping time.”

And a few minutes later…

“Mom?” Cael asks, wide awake.

“Yes, Cael?”

“When people go into outer space, they can’t breathe. That’s why they wear space suits. Right, Mom?”

“We’ll talk about it in the morning, Cael. It’s sleeping time.”

And a few minutes later we do it again.

And a few minutes later we do it again.

And a few minutes later we do it again.

Until I’ve said “Yes, Cael.” and “We’ll talk about it in the morning, Cael. It’s sleeping time.” at least four thousand times.

For a long time, I thought I should stop him at “Mom?”

But every once in a while, he whispers something that tugs at my heart.

“Mom?”

“Yes, Cael?”

“What’s that sound?”

It whistles as it blows. To me, it’s comforting, being warm and cozy inside while the storm rages. I’ve learned that the storm always rages, that it’s ever-present, that it’s part of life. And so I’ve learned to love it when there’s shelter and we’re all curled up together and safe at home. To Cael, though, the wind is a stark reminder that storms exist at all.

“It’s just the wind, baby. It’s just the wind,” I say, which soothes him for reasons I don’t understand.

I don’t want to miss these questions. These thoughts. So even though I tell him that we’ll talk about most things in the morning, I still keep my foot in the conversation door, not closing it on “Mom?”

“Mom?”

“Yes, Cael?”

“Are you going to leave?” He means tonight and as soon as I fall asleep.

And I have to say, “Yes, Cael. I’m going to leave.”

He’s sad. And I think the Velveteen Chair is sad, too. And I know the mama in the story is sad. Because I am her. And I’m going to leave.

I don’t poo-poo his five-year-old fears at being left by his mama. I don’t tell him that he has a twin brother whose hand is mere inches away and ready for holding. I don’t suggest that he should be brave, because courage in the night is never an expectation I have of anyone at all. I don’t remind him that he ends up in my bed still every single night and that our minutes apart from each other will be few and fleeting.

Because I know that it’ll only be a short while – just a matter of the growing-up years – ’til I say, “Cael, are you going to leave?”

And he’ll say, “Yes, Mom. I’m going to leave.”

I pet the arm of my Velveteen Chair, hand moving with the grain of the fabric.

Being here soothes my boys. That’s my excuse.

But being here soothes me, too.

The Velveteen Chair knows. I think she really does.

 

Dear Canine Guest

Mar 29 2012

This is a painting by Jackson Pollock, a famous painter and major figure in the abstract expressionist movement.

Just keep it in mind.

Now on to the post…

………

Dear Canine Guest,

I feel like there are some important things for you to know, and, while I’m not very good at subtle communication (my parents used to say I had the capacity to be just a touch overbearing), I’m going to give it a shot.

There are certain things that are frowned upon when one is a guest. Certain things, let’s say, that a guest should not do.

I, for example, have never entered your house and made a beeline to your legs or your toes with single-minded licking determination. Nor have I pushed my nose into your crannies or sniffed things that aren’t mine to sniff. Never. Not even one single time. But hey, I recognize that we all have our weird behaviors, and since I do come to your house on occasion and drink your mama’s diet grapefruit soda (with perhaps a smidgen or four of raspberry vodka), which you no doubt find as distasteful as I find the places you stick your face, we’re probably even.

Even Steven. Square. Evensies.

Here’s to interspecies understanding!

However, I’d like to point out that I also don’t come to your house, sniff out your husband’s Ghirardelli Midnight Reverie all natural chocolate on the bedside table, rip the lovely gold-on-one-side-and-silver-on-the-other foil into teeny, tiny pieces, slather those pieces with dog slobber, mix the slobber liberally with the bed sheet, ingest 2 tablespoons of chocolate and foil, and then ralph it all back up in Raging Regurgital Glory all over the Berber carpet (whose loops make a proper cleaning darn near impossible.)

I arrived at the quantity of chocolate you consumed by solving for x in the following equation:

¼ cup of bile on top of carpet
+
2 tablespoons (estimated) of bile soaked into carpet
+
x amount of chocolate
=
½ cup total dog regurgitation

(And, to think, I used to doubt the value of alegbra in everyday life.)

Now, Canine Guest, I know you probably read the chocolate package with its promise to give “moments of timeless pleasure,” but I think you and I can both agree that your consumption of it did no such thing. For either of us.

I’d like to know how you to plan to get back to evensies now, pal.

Hmm?

What’s that you say?

I was already running a deficit in the Even Steven department? What are you talking about, Dog?

Oh.

Oh, that.

I thought we agreed to never talk about that again.

You say I started it?

FINE. I started it.

And FINE. I guess I can’t get all uptight about cleaning up your doggy vomit when my kid once upon a major poop-smearing time channeled her inner Jackson Pollock all over your mama’s walls. I, at least, didn’t have to bring in a professional carpet cleaner for your mess.

Huh. Now I’m a little embarrassed I even raised this subject.

Tell you what. Let’s forget this whole thing.

Love,
Beth

P.S. You’re the cutest.

P.P.S. You just ralphed AGAIN. On the bathroom linoleum. Where I sit typing. Which is the clearest “shut up and stop making fun of me” from a dog I ever did hear. I do believe I’ve offended you. I’m truly sorry. I’ll make you a deal. You quit yarfing, and I’ll quit typing. K? K.

P.P.P.S. Thanks for trying to clean it up yourself this time. That was an upstanding move, man.

A Snow Angel by Another Name

Mar 28 2012

Fair warning:

If you let your kid lie down at the playground to make gravel angels,

…more parents will find it as funny than you might expect.

Some will even let their children join in the fun.

You’ve probably already discovered this truth for yourself, what with the rampant popularity of gravel angels and all. My children, for example, have only to notice fine bits of gravel before they throw themselves gleefully to the ground to grind gravel holes happily into their clothes. Don’t yours?

Truly, a snow angel by another name is not as clean but is just as sweet. And joy is joy is joy is joy; in any package, it’s joy.

Beth

Come on, baby, light my fire.

Mar 27 2012

This week at the beach, I taught my three littlest kids how to build a fire.

If you’re wondering what’s wrong with me, my children were in your camp. They all thought I was crazy, too. Are you sure that teaching fire-building is in our best interests, Mom? they asked with various words and skeptical glances.

I told them I was sure. It seemed like the thing to say.

We talked about fire safety and uses. We talked about how fire keeps us warm and cooks our food. We talked about how quickly fire can burn out of control, and how we only build fires with adults, and that we never, ever, EVER play with matches. And we talked about the importance of oxygen and leaving lots of pockets of space so the fire has room to breathe.

They were entranced.

Spell-bound.

Mesmerized.

I was, too. Entranced by them, and mesmerized by this pocket of space where we found a little bit of room to breathe.

And it TOTALLY worked out! We didn’t burn ANYTHING except for paper, wood, some marshmallows and a few hot dogs that, frankly, had it coming.

Of course, it’s all fun and games…

… ’til someone pokes an eye out.

Heh heh.

But we got right back on track.

My husband showed me lots of gooey affection in front of our kids. Not to be too graphic in public, but Greg’s been doing this to me…

for years, and I’m here to tell you that giving him lots of opportunities to practice his skills has really paid off. That guy sure knows what he’s doing. Mmm hmm.

I’m sure now, kids. Sure as sure can be. Fire-building? An excellent idea. And I can’t wait to do it again.

xoxo,
Mama

P.S. No eyes were harmed in the making of the hot dogs… no matter how hard we tried.

About As Perfect

Mar 26 2012

It’s Spring Break!

All of the kids were booted from school this week. Something about the school closing, and this is an annual event, and we parents should have prepared for it in advance, and NO, we’re emphatically not allowed to send our kids to school anyway. (It was just a question, School. Sheesh.)

So, this weekend, we packed up the kids, begged a kind neighbor to take our dog, ran around in our typical car-loading flurry of activity and mild frustration, and now we’re vacationing at the beautiful Oregon Coast.

sunset at the beach house

Phew! There’s nothing quite like preparing for a vacation that makes me really, really need  a vacation. Except, maybe, the vacation itself.

Ah, vacation! That wonderful time of the year when we drive a few hours away to a house less than half the size of our own with a quarter of the electronics and none of the enclosed outdoor space so we can all get sick of each other faster than we usually do.

I kid.

In part.

In part, I kid.

In part, I tell the truth. Because there’s a chaos and a madness present when we knowingly take the usual family rhythm and smash it to smithereens. When we pressure cook our routine. When we expect our kids (and *ahem* ourselves) to adjust to different waking and different sleeping and different eating and different playing and different everything… and to do it all kindly.

I used to feel angst and small slices of guilt about how we handled ourselves during vacation, and I used to believe that other families handled the same pressures with so much more grace and peace and, well, perfection.

Now that I’m older, though, I’ve noticed that it’s not just vacation that’s full of chaos, madness, constant change, and the need to learn to handle each other with kindness. That, to me, sounds an awful lot like life. So now, when I consider our messy and imperfect family time together, I think what awesome practice for life!

There’s a funny about learning and practicing; they don’t usually happen when everything is already perfect. Nope. Learning and practicing happen mostly in environments where there’s room for improvement.

It’s Spring Break!

And my family is on vacation.

And this instant message tonight with my sister-in-law sums it all up quite nicely:

Kim: Beach good?

Me: Yes. You know. It’s family vacation. Exhausting. Full of bickering. Occasional shining moments of family oneness. Sometimes it blows. Sometimes it’s bliss. All in all, it’s a good use of time.

Kim: Sounds about as perfect as you could hope for! Congratulations!

I’m pretty sure Kim’s on to something.

Our family time together IS about as perfect.

And that’s a great place to be.

Spring is a Weirdo: A Celebration

Mar 24 2012

You know what I like?

No. Strike that.

You know what I LOVE?

You know what I RELISH?

You know what I CELEBRATE?

You know what I want to embrace and squeeze until it squirms and gasps, “Too tight! Let go!”

Differences.

Weirdnesses.

I just love that we’re not the same. I adore our colorful world. I’m thrilled at all of the surprises and the “what huh’s?” and the ways that people burst out of boxes, leaving cardboard shrapnel behind because the people are too big, too much, too extraordinary to be squashed inside a small, confined space where someone else insists they belong.

Living requires us to be born over and over, and each birth is beautiful and terrifying, painful and freeing, messy and marvelous, mundane and a miracle. And, at each new phase of life, as a new heart or a new revelation or a new person lays there crying in the mess, gasping its first sweet breaths, the world pauses in both hope and in fear because we recognize that this new, strange squalling thing has the potential to change the world.

I’m not good at conforming.

Everyone who’s met me – including each of you who has so generously invested your time right here on this blog really getting to know my heart – is chuckling right now. Guffawing. Laughing your collective hineys off.

Because I’m just not good at conforming.

In fact, the older I become, the less interested I am in conformation and the more interested I am in transformation.

I’ve read the books. The parenting books that tell me the right way to raise a child. The marriage books that tell me the right way to honor my husband. The God books that tell me the right way to be a Jesus believer. The books that are willing to give me the Handbook for the Minutia of Life for which I sometimes so desperately long… at the small, small price of conforming to their Right Way.

In the end, I’ve taken to heart the bits and pieces that lift up my relationships as paramount and primary – the parts that exhort me to live out a fuller truth, a deeper justice, an unapologetic mercy, and, above all, an unreasonable love – and I discarded the rest. I’ve learned to trust myself, my gut, my God, my kids and my husband as bigger and smarter and better able to teach me than all of the experts combined. It turns out that living outside of my busted box is brighter and bolder and way, way more drafty and exposed than staying safely inside it. And the air out here? It’s amazing!

None of which was my point in writing this post.

But isn’t that funny?

How a post about the weirdness and joy of Spring can turn into a post about the weirdness and joy of Life?

I think so, too.

Spring arrived three days ago, and it brought to Oregon more snow than we’ve seen for a year.

our snow-covered house

It was different.

It was weird.

It was like Spring went away to college and came home sporting a purple mohawk, a butterfly tattoo and a nose ring.

the view from the path behind our house

“DO NOT think you can tell me what to do,” Spring said, loud and clear. “DO NOT think I’ll sit happy and pretty in your tight, stale box.”

the path behind our house

And I said, “Spring, I LOVE YOU. You’re a total freaking weirdo, and I think you’re FABULOUS.”

Because there was something about Spring arriving with her swagger and her don’t you DARE judge me attitude and then leaking her emotions all over Portland that just made me want to squeeze her tight.

I dressed my twin boys in their siblings’ hand-me-down snow gear.

Cai and Cael: special bro moment

They were, at first, TERRIBLY upset that we didn’t have two pink snowsuits for them to wear. There were a lot of “it’s not fair’s” from my boy who was forced to wear “boring blue and gray.” Heh heh.

And then we went outside and celebrated Spring.

Just the way she is.

Weird and different.

Abby’s handprints in the snow

And it was AMAZING.

You know what’s better than respect? Skittles.

Mar 22 2012

I told my 12-year-old son tonight that I expect him to respect me.

Specifically, I said, that means not duh-ragging his heels on finishing his chores.

He responded emphatically that he was not dragging his heels and also, oh my GOSH, Mom!

I mentioned that taking 22 hours to unload the dishwasher is, too, dragging his heels and that the eye-rolling, body-flopping, voice-harumphing, martyr-sounding drama accompanying the heel-dragging only proves I’m right.

TWENTY-TWO HOURS, Ian. You started unloading the dishwasher TWENTY-TWO HOURS AGO.

Then Ian totally caved and said I had a good point which is such a good point. And he walked quickly away from my crazy eyes to unload the dishwasher.

He came back 1.67 minutes later.

“Ian. Seriously, dude.” I felt that was all the admonishment I needed to deliver, what with my crazy eyes and their dedication to making my point for me.

“But Mom! I want to trade for Skittles.”

“What?” I didn’t ask nicely.

“I want to trade my Skittles.”

“Let me get this straight, kid. You want to give me your Skittles as a trade for emptying the dishwasher? A job you haven’t done for the past TWENTY-TWO HOURS? You think I’ll trade you Skittles for that?

My eyes were applying for the first available bed at the psych ward. They were a danger to themselves and others.

And also… TWENTY-TWO HOURS.

“NO, Mom,” Ian hurried to reply. He often has a hard time getting his words to come out clearly, so I try – I try – to give him the benefit of the doubt. And I try to slow down and listen even though slowing down is not always this mama’s best thing and even though OH MY WORD, TWENTY-TWO HOURS.

I took a deep breath.

Deep breaths, I’ve found, are good things to take.

“Ian, I need some more information. You want to trade me Skittles. But not for the dishwasher job?”

“Right, Mom,” Ian said earnestly. Smart boy. “You’re right. I want to trade my Skittles.”

“Oookkaaay. So, you want to trade your Skittles for…”

“I want to trade my Skittles for respect, Mom.”

He wanted to trade his Skittles for…

Oh, crap. My kid just wanted what we all want. A little respect.

I’m not gonna lie. My heart fell in a big, fat lump onto my dirty floor. It landed next to my patience, which I’d crumpled up and discarded many minutes earlier. And then my desire to be a good mom stomped on my heart a few times, just so, you know, it got the point. Because somewhere along the way, I thought, my baby got the idea that I don’t respect him (maybe it was the way I said TWENTY TWO HOURS?).

“Oh, Ian, honey,” I replied. “You don’t have to give me your Skittles to have my respect. I love you. I value you. I respect you every day. It’s my job to teach you to be diligent and hard-working. That’s why we have things like chores and why I have to make sure you do them…”

I went on like that for another self-deploring 4 minutes or so until Ian interrupted. Which was terribly unfortunate because I was on a roll. Eloquent. Passionate. Loving. Self-deprecating.

“Um, Mom?”

“What is it, baby boy?”

“That’s not it.”

“What? Oh. …   …   …   …   …   …   …  Hm.  …  …  … Well, if you’re not trading your Skittles for your dishwasher job or for my respect, what are you trading them for?”

“Mom, listen. I give you my Skittles. Skittles are SO GOOD. Yum, Mom! SO DELICIOUS.” Ian followed with convincing slurping sounds and then he said, “WAY better than respect, Mom. I give you Skittles. Then you don’t need respect.”

“Wait.” The lightbulb in my brain flashed on. “Ian, are you trying to give me your Skittles in place of giving me your respect?

“Yes, Mom! You get it! Good job!”

Pardon me for just one tiny minute while I go powder my…

Bahahahahaha!

… OK – I’m back.

You guys, it was my minute to win it.

The crowd was wild, hollering suggestions. “TAKE THE OFFER!” and “No, no, NO! Go for it ALL!”

My heart beat like a mama hopped up on too much caffeine and not enough sleep. And the battle raged within me.

Because Ian was making me a killer offer. I mean, Skittles are a sure thing, and I think we can agree that going for respect is much, much more risky.

I was tempted. Very tempted.

But in the end, I pulled Ian close in a one-armed side hug. I told him it was a nice try. Really. A very nice try. And then I gently and quietly explained that he better scooch his hiney back to that dishwasher faster than I could say TWENTY-TWO HOURS, and I have a few more jobs lined up post-dishwasher because he clearly needs more practice finishing chores on time.

Heh heh.

In short,

Dear Respect,

I hope you’re worth it.

Skittleless,
Beth