Sunday, December 26, 2010

They All Rolled Over

There were three in the bed,
And the little one said:
"Roll over! Roll over!"
So they all rolled over,
And one fell out.

There were two in the bed,
And the little one said:
"Roll over! Roll over!"
So they both rolled over,
And one fell out.

There was one in the bed,
And the little one said:
"Hey! I'm lonely!"

Baby Charleigh is SO the "little one" from this song.  She is teething and tends to whine the second I leave her side...even if she's dead asleep.  She starts thinking about going down for the "night" between 2 and 3 AM, but she wants to be right beside me, and she's a bed hog.  Who knew that such a tiny person could edge two much bigger people out of bed?  Jim is always the first to go, and I move closer and closer to the edge until I say to Charleigh: "Ok!  I'm up, already! You can have the bed!"  I surround her sleeping body with pillows and walk away.  The whining commences almost immediately.  It is a steady, unpleasant drone, like that of a table saw, weedeater, or dental drill. 

I am so very tired.

Yesterday (Christmas Eve), Jim had to run some errands, and nothing at home went smoothly.  Charleigh whined most of the day.  At one point, I sat down to nurse her and turned on Animal Planet just in time to witness squirrels getting it on in frenzied delight, and Cade looked at me and burst into peals of laughter.  Clementine hasn't been feeling well and kept trying to climb my leg...except for the period of time during which she figured out that--if she slid her full sippy cup down into the center of a spool of curling ribbon--she could take the end of the ribbon and run through the house without the spool trailing behind her.  The spool spun with amazing speed on its axle, and Clementine wound curling ribbon around all the furniture, in every room. 

I started getting ready for our candlelight service at church four hours early.  Jim returned cheerful from his time in town; took one look at the red-and-white, striped elf stockings I was wearing; and started humming the Wicked Witch of the West tune.  I took off the stockings.  Neither Jim nor Cade could understand why I was getting ready so early...or how I could possibly be in a bad mood on Christmas Eve? 

We made it to church with three minutes to spare.  It was a Christmas miracle, but the sitting there was nearly as stressful as the getting there.  Clementine yelled: "YAY!" after almost every song and reading, "sang" the choir special on my hip, and--with great gusto--blew out my candle during the candlelight portion of the service.  Later, everyone gasped as she came within inches of destroying Jesus's three-tiered, white birthday cake.

Still, being at church helped me get my heart in the right place.  (Amazing that--just hours earlier--I had been yelling at Jim, from the kitchen: Where is Christmas?  There is no Christmas to be found, here!  This is craziness!) 

Jim and I ended up spending quality time with Cade until the middle of morning, and today (while Cade celebrated Christmas with his dad), Jim and I took turns napping and playing with the babies.  Now, Cade sleeps again under our roof, and the winter storm has made traveling impossible.  So I have relaxed.  I have stopped thinking about packing suitcases and cleaning and loading the van.  Earlier, I watched a movie, made Chex mix, and played games with my family.  I enjoyed it; I was present for and with my husband and children.  I am thankful for the snow that brought hush to my head on Jesus's birthday: a day that is--in my world--normally full of rush and fuss.

May God bless all of you this day and upcoming year.  Merry, Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Promise for Charleigh


Dear Charleigh Evangeline,

You are not quite four months old, but, already, you are your own person.  You are long and lean and bald except for a dusting of orange hair.  Your daddy calls you "Smiley" for obvious reasons.  Your stomach bothers you, sometimes, and the teeth you are cutting bother you very often; still, you don't ask for much.  You seem to enjoy sitting back and taking in the world with your large, bright eyes.  It is mostly without complaint that you sit in your bouncy or infant seat or ride in the front pack, but you like to be turned inward toward another's body and held.  You like it when someone talks to you, and you have a fierce attachment to your pacifier.  You like your sister Clementine, even when she kisses peanut butter into your hair or tries to climb on top of you.  You make baby-pig and Jetson-car noises, and you coo, laugh, and squeal.  You are my late night (and very early morning) companion and sleep late into the day.

Just after midnight, I bundled you up in your fleece, Care Bear outfit and wool hat, and we went outside to look at the moon.


There is snow on the ground, and this is winter solstice: the shortest day of the year.  A lunar eclipse is expected to occur before morning, but the moon we observed was full and unshadowed.


I looked at you in the bright glow of the moon, and you smiled at me.

Charleigh, I want you to know that I see and appreciate who you are...that I am glad for our time together and especially the moments we have alone.  I promise to try to carve those moments out over the years.  I promise not to allow you to become eclipsed by your sister the Wild Orange or anyone else, even if you remain calm and quiet.  I wish for you to be full and unshadowed, always.


I love you, and I am glad you are here,
Mommy


Monday, December 20, 2010

The Baby in the Manger

This video and these pictures speak for themselves.  Just know that my one and only meaningful goal is to live my life with this much passion for Baby Jesus.

video





The Man with the Bag

Our Santa Claus
Clementine and Our Cow (I mean CAT!) Sidda with Santa
One evening before Halloween, I happened to find a vintage, plastic Santa Claus in a Good Will.  He stands about four feet tall and is meant to be used as an outdoor decoration, lit from within by a standard-sized lightbulb.  At the time, I gave no thought to what I might do with him; I just knew I wanted him.  I lugged him out to the van, and Jim laughed and told me he'd seen Santa moving through the store and had believed him to be an actual person (albeit a small one) dressed in Santa garb.  And here is Reason #423 that I Love My Husband: Jim did not ask why in the world I had purchased such a thing, but, instead, saw the non-monetary value of Santa right away and was thrilled to learn he had become ours for less than seven dollars.

Santa has been on or beside our hearth ever since.  Even before he came to live with us, Jim and I had told Clementine that Santa would bring her a baby doll if she were a good girl, so she was glad to see him.  She hugs him once a day, or so, and sometimes she touches the open sack he holds and says: "Toys. Baby."

Tonight, after Clementine went to bed, I said to Jim: "You know, it's almost Christmas, and we haven't lit Santa up, yet."  So Jim unscrewed the back of Santa and replaced the bulb, and--lo and behold, when plugged into the wall--he lit up with an almost unbelievable brightness.  I suggested we wait to plug him up, again, until Christmas morning and stand him beside Clementine's new play kitchen.

Within an hour of Jim's and my contriving Santa magic for Clementine, Cade and I were standing in the kitchen when I asked him what happened to the tooth he lost most recently.  He responded that he'd forgotten it in his pants pocket, and I remarked: "You're growing up, aren't you, Buddy."  He assured me of his belief in the Tooth Fairy but confessed to being unsure about the existence of Santa, and I felt in my spirit that it was the right time in which to have the difficult Santa/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy conversation.  So I asked him to forgive my white lies and explained that parents make up such things to bring joy into their children's lives.  I told him I remember feeling disappointed when I learned the truth about Santa but promised that, over time, I have come to find Christmas just as exciting as before because I concentrate on God's profound love in sending His Son to us, family and togetherness, and creating Santa-magic for others.  We cried together, and I offered to let him stay up late Christmas Eve in order to help Jim assemble Clementine's play kitchen.

I find it a little bizarre to begin Santa magic with one child while ending it with another, and I guess I'm not completely sure I've done right by either of them.  All I know is: the Santa lie is one for which I've completely forgiven my parents, and I'm pretty sure I'm glad I believed in Santa once upon a time...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Getting Caught with Your Pants Down


Or: Thoughts on Body Image

I.

Earlier, I was sitting in the bathtub when my friend Christy knocked on the bathroom door.  I knew it was Christy because no one who lives here bothers to knock when I am in the bathroom, also because Christy had called to say she was stopping by to pick up the beaters she had left at my house on our seventh annual Cookie Day.  I assumed she knew I was bathing but wanted to see me or tell me something, anyway, so I said, "Hello," and not, "I'm in the bathtub," and I wasn't freaked out when she opened the door.  Now, I wasn't wearing my glasses, so she was Blur-o'-Christy, but she didn't seem particularly freaked out that I was in the bathtub, either, and--again, since I assumed she knew I was in the bathtub when she opened the door--I didn't expect her to be.  She stood there and greeted both Charleigh (who was sitting beside the bathtub in her bouncy seat) and me.

That's when Jim walked behind Christy and exclaimed, "I'm sorry! I thought Brandee was bathing Charleigh, not in the bathtub, herself!"  (If I were a more vindictive person, I would write a blog post about a certain husband who doesn't always listen well,  but anyway...)

Christy said, "Oh, it's ok. I've known her long enough, by now, to see her naked."  And she stood and talked to me for another minute or so before saying she'd see me tomorrow and shutting the door. 

Even as I write this, Christy may be traumatized: sitting somewhere, staring at a wall, and rocking back and forth.  But I have been laughing on and off all afternoon and evening because--while I had never before had cause to consider it--I am downright tickled to have a handful of girlfriends whom I would invite into the bathroom even if I were bathing.  These are women to whom I have bared my soul to such an extent that their seeing my unclothed shell seems of no consequence to me, whatsoever.  What a blessing it is to have them in my life.

II.

I am not my hair.  Thank goodness, because it has been falling out by the fistful, which I have found incredibly depressing. 

Today, I asked a stranger to gather my hair into a ponytail and cut off ten inches.  I am donating my hair to be someone's Christmas present.  She will appreciate it more than I did; I just kept it piled up on the back of my head.  I think I saw Jim's lip tremble a little when I walked out of the salon, but I kissed him four times in Wal-Mart, so he's ok. 

Now I just need to color what hair I have left.  See, I almost used the word "dye," just then, but I remembered that my friend Bette Gunderson corrected me, once, for doing that.  She said, "Honey, you dye Easter eggs.  You color your hair." 

III.

While I was shopping in Wal-Mart, this evening, I realized: my face has become too old for glittery make-up.  Also that I'm ok with it, and glad for it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Nostalgia

I am a girl in Pennsylvania winter.  I am a barrel of brown-headed energy.  There is no bottom to the barrel I am.  Snow makes everything new.  Watch: I can make a snow angel.  This is the closest I will ever come to being an angel; I already know.  I have a snowsuit: slick, tarpish overalls--blue and pink--with a matching coat.  My mother has a snowsuit just like mine, except brown.  She's beautiful, my mother.  Her brown hair curls out from underneath her boggan hat.  Her eyes laugh and laugh.  She knows how to crochet and crocheted our scarves.  She knows how to do everything.  She's a fast sledder, and she can iceskate in circles like Dorothy Hamill.  We all have our own iceskates, and--when we want to use them--all we have to do is walk next door to Grandad Shafer's pond.  Grandad drives his tractor right out onto the ice to push away the snow; he isn't scared of his tractor falling into the pond.  He isn't scared of anything, and neither is my dad.  My dad killed a black bear, once, in Maine.  It was really big, and its skull sits on top of Dad's gun cabinet, and its fur hangs on our wall.  That proves how brave my dad is: very brave.  Extremely.  We might iceskate tonight, and--if we do--I hope Grandad builds a bonfire on the bank.  I hope my little brother waits a long time to whine about being cold: at least until I can't feel my toes, anymore.  And, after we skate, I hope my mother boils milk on the woodstove and makes hot chocolate.

Yesterday, my brother and I built burrows in the walls of plowed snow in our driveway.  We both like playing Rabbits but have to take turns about with Snowball Wars and Fairy Cave.  I don't like Snowball Wars; snowballs burn when they hit, and someone ends up crying every time.  Usually my brother.  I moreso like looking for fairies (which my brother thinks is stupid) at the opening to the underground stream, where icicles hang.  I just love icicles; don't you?  Our biggest ones hang off the roof of our red barn.  In the mouth, they're like pointy popsicles with no taste.

Maybe it will take awhile for the snow to melt, this time.  I feel bad for the snowmen when their heads shrink to the size of eggs and their rock eyes fall out.  And I think winter is the very best season: better than all the other seasons put together, really, even if you're not counting Christmas, which of course is the very, very best holiday...

The Yard of Our Farm in Pennsylvania

A Snowman Friend and Me.  These pictures precede most of my memories of self but capture, perfectly, my memories of Pennsylvania winter landscape.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Getting Yelled at by Grandma

I find it ironic that--just hours before my grandma yelled at me for the first (and only) time--I had taken a photo of a billboard for the Milton Hershey school: "Where Kisses Make Dreams Come True."  Jim, Cade, and I had spent the day at Hershey Park with my Aunt Ellie and her family, who had moved into the downstairs apartment of Grandma's house in order to keep an eye on her.  We returned from Hershey Park to find Grandma had forgotten that my family and I were staying with her in her upstairs apartment; she had locked us out.  We called and woke her up, and she came to the door yelling: "I'm so mad I could just spit!"

I was devastated.  This was in the first half of 2008.  On my next trip north, in early 2009, Grandma had relocated to an assisted-living facility.  I was pregnant with Clementine: miserable with the weight of her and sick from gestational diabetes.  I stayed at Grandma's house (where my mom and her sisters were cleaning out cupboards), and I couldn't get Jim's truck up her icy hill; my Uncle Danny had to come back and assist.  I have these random, vivid memories of checking my blood sugar outside the assisted-living facility, of barely managing to hold it together when--for the first time--it was clear that Grandma didn't know me, of bawling my eyes out when I climbed back into the freezing-cold truck, of comfort bingeing on a Filet-O-Fish and french fries from McDonald's on the drive home and subsequently feeling my sickest, yet: like I might just slip into a diabetic coma.

It's interesting to me how a hundred people can know one person and each love her for different reasons.  The grandma I grew up knowing was very authentic and comfortable with herself.  Nothing tended to go perfectly for her; things broke, tore, and caught on fire, and the animals always seemed to break loose when she was around.  But she always just kind of laughed through it, and--I guess after raising seven kids--she'd become this person who really didn't give much of a rip about anything unimportant.  She didn't wear make-up, bother much with her hair, or wear dressy clothes or shoes.  She was a decent housekeeper, but she didn't care if everything was put away just so, and she didn't seem to mind a little dust, especially on the high shelves.  She loved Grandad but found him irritating, often, and didn't mind his knowing it.  She was never a morning person.  She talked frankly on all subjects (including taboo ones) and especially enjoyed reminiscing about family experiences, which she remembered in great detail.  She loved to write letters, talk on the phone, embroider and sew for others, and make hospital and nursing-home visits.  She wasn't the best cook in the world, but she made killer cheesy eggs.  She went to church.  She loved all people, especially babies and children.  She ran around with my other grandma.  She liked me for exactly who I was. 

I am so disappointed that Alzheimer's Disease is stealing Grandma from me, bit by bit.  None of us lives forever, and she's ninety-two; still, I hate losing her.  I sit with her and try not to cry when I tell her: "I remember brushing your hair when I was a little girl, before you cut it short," or, "I remember staying the night and falling asleep talking to you in the dark." (This happened over and over, even after Cade was born.)  It rips my heart out to have become a stranger to this person who really, really knew me.  But I am drawn to her like a moth to a flame because--although I have been completely erased from her memory--she still loves Jesus and all people, especially babies and children.  I am drawn to her because there are bittersweet lessons to be learned at her side.  They involve being hospitable to strangers (some of whom, mysteriously, seem to know her?)...also how Jesus is unforgettable for so much longer than certain relatives and friends, even the ones she bathed and took to Vacation Bible School.  So I make the trip when I can (even though it wrecks me, inside, for weeks afterward), and I say things like: "I remember digging through your pocketbook during church."

She raises her eyebrows and asks: "Oh, really? What was in there?"

I shrug and answer: "Chewing gum.  Peppermints.  Kleenex."

She says: "Well, there probably wasn't much money in there.  I never had much of that."

And I think: no.  But you had so much and gave so much, and I love you more than I could ever say, and--even though you're right here beside me--I miss you like crazy.


Grandma B. with Aunt Joyce, Uncle Ronnie, Uncle Danny, and Uncle Richard. This was before Uncle Tom, Mom, and Aunt Ellie were born. Late 40's.


Grandma B. and Me - 1977ish

Grandma B. with Cade - 2000

Grandma B. with Mom and My Daughters - 2010

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Mister Rogers Photo from My Fridge

My former Composition II (argument and rhetoric) students will tell you: I just love Mister Rogers, who played a pivotal role in the most dynamic lesson I've ever planned or delivered.  But first--close to thirty years before I brought him into my classroom--my mother used Mister Rogers to teach me a different lesson.  This is how it went:

I was, like, three years old. Maybe four.  Five days a week, my mother paid me to watch Mister Rogers' Neighborhood so I wouldn't be underfoot while she prepared dinner.  On this particular day--for whatever reason--I wasn't about it.  My mother announced, in her sing-songy manner: "Brandy (because I was, indeed, Brandy with a "y" in those days), it's time to watch Mister Rogers!"

I answered: "No. I don't want to."

My mother, never one to become easily discouraged, trilled, ever-so-sweetly: "Don't be silly. Of course you want to watch Mister Rogers."

I replied: "No. I don't. I don't want to watch Mister Rogers today."

At this point, my mother's tone changed just a weensy bit, and she asserted gently: "Now, Brandy, you know Mommy needs to make dinner.  You stop this and sit down and watch Mister Rogers.  You love Mister Rogers!"

I looked at my mother, stomped my foot, and yelled: "NO! I don't want to watch Mister Rogers! I hate Mister Rogers! I hate him! I hate him! I hate him!"

And my mother--with perfect calm (albeit a squint to her eyes and a slightly sharp edge to her voice)--responded like this: "Brandy Renee.  Do you know that Mister Rogers just heard everything you said?  Look at him there, on the tv screen.  Think how hard it must be for him to keep talking after hearing you say you hate him.  You should be ashamed of yourself!  He's always so nice to you, and you have been so mean to him!" 

I burst into tears and set to making things right with Mister Rogers.  My mother left the room to prepare dinner.  I spent the next several years believing I could communicate with people through the television, and I was never again unkind to Mister Rogers.

Now you know, ladies and gentleman, why I am so messed up.

But seriously: Mister Rogers was a good guy, and you'll never find evidence that he was anything other than the gentle man we all watched on PBS.  I keep his photo on my refrigerator, and I try to look at it, every day, with fresh eyes.  When the question "What would Jesus do?" intimidates me, the question "What would Mister Rogers do?" feels comfortable in the way I imagine his zippered, cardigan sweaters did.  (They were knitted by his mother, by the way.)  And--while I have a long way to go in living my life like Mister Rogers did (let alone like Jesus did)--I can tell you, honestly: the desire is there.

Mister Rogers cared about being a good neighbor.  So did Jesus, who said (in Matthew 22:39): "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."  I thought of both Mister Rogers and Jesus, today, because I dropped in, unannounced, on two different neighbors and came home with three pies.  My neighbors have plowed my driveway; cared for Clementine in the nursery of my church and parking lot of my pediatricians' office; fed my cats and collected my mail; and shown up at my doorstep with coupons, deviled eggs, clothes for my children, and desserts.  When Clementine was nine months old, and I started sharing the news that Jim (whom we all knew was about to lose his job) and I were pregnant, again, most of our loved ones were (understandably) concerned and responded with: "Really?," "Oh my," "Wow," or, "Ok then."  But not my neighbor Virginia Ann.  She squealed so loudly that she startled me, and I nearly fell off my chair!  And I think her sheer delight in that moment--when it felt like the world might just cave in--was the best gift she's ever given me. 

I have lived in many places where I did not even know my neighbors, let alone love them.  Mister Rogers would be proud of these people, and I am happy to use up this space in saying: thank you, Jesus, for my neighbors.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Crappy Old Kansas

On bad days, I feel sorry for myself because I'm an eight-hour drive from my parents and brother's family and a four-hour drive from most of my other relatives...and because I can't do anything about it (joint-custodial relationship of Cade, blah blah blah).   Holidays, often, are pretty much the same as Saturdays except with brown-sugar ham.  I mean, brown-sugar ham is nice and all, but I feel like I'm missing out in being so far away from my family.  (I'm not yet at the Caroline Ingalls point of [to her husband Charles]: "My home is where you are. And you and the children are my family."  To be honest, I'd like to smack Caroline right about now.)  Holidays can be especially depressing when Cade's with his dad.  I just...UGH!...feel like someone has kicked me in the gut, sometimes, when Cade's away. 

And I could go on and on.  Actually, maybe I will for awhile.  You're not a captive audience, so I don't feel sorry for you.  You can close this mess down whenever you want.

My family hardly ever visits me here.  I'm pretty sure that--in 2010--the only people biologically linked to me who have been to my house are my mom, my cousin-sister Andrea, and my Aunt Ellie's family.  I'm guessing everyone else is thinking that I'm the one who moved away from home, so I'm the one who should travel in order to make visits possible.  That's somewhat fair.  I don't mind doing, say, seventy-five percent of the traveling.  But at what point do the family members to whom I am close (excluding my grandma, who gets a permanent, free pass) think: wow, Brandee is making a real effort to maintain our relationship, and she has little kids, so I think I'll travel this time?  I would yell at some of them, but--honest to Pete--I'm so happy to see them when I get to wherever they live that I temporarily forget all my bad feelings.  It's when Jim, the girls, and I are eating brown-sugar ham by ourselves that I have the trouble.

On the up side.  1) I have family members with whom I actually want to spend time.  Lots and lots of them, since my mom is one of seven children, and my dad is one of five.  2) It's not like I NEVER see my family members.  (It feels like never sometimes, but it's not never.)  Poor Caroline Ingalls: when she let Charles drag her hind end across the country, she wasn't sure if she would EVER see her people again!  3) The cousin-sister and cousin-niece live only forty-five minutes away.  I get to see them a little more often than most of the other people in my family.  (Note to self: I should make more of an effort, there.)  4) Jim and I have some darling friends in Powhatan who go out of their way to include us in their family experiences.  Pretty cool of them.

I was watching The Wizard of Oz with Clementine (who might be more obsessed with it than I) again, today, and I got to thinking: that Dorothy!  At the end of the movie, she trades her Technicolor Oz of besties, glittery shoes, and fascinating opportunities for crappy old, black-and-white Kansas.  She's killed the enemies in Oz, but Miss Gulch is still riding her sad bicycle somewhere around Auntie Em's and Uncle Henry's farmhouse; you know she is!  She'll be coming back for Toto!  And as soon as everyone at Dorothy's bedside sees that she really is ok, they're going to go back to ignoring her while they count chickens and tend hogs.  So why in the world does she go back to Kansas?  Easy: because her family is there.

*sigh* I have the sense that I'm in Oz, longing for Kansas.

So, anyway, if you're in my family, try not to get too angry with me because of this blog post.  Just come visit me, sometime!  I am longing for your company and will be so, so happy to see you. I will bake you cookies: any kind you want!  I will sing, dance, whatever it takes to entertain you!  And--if you can't manage the drive--can you, like, call me sometime?

Man.  That would be so awesome.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out

How The Christmas Story is this?...



Cade, who will turn eleven in January, had been talking for a couple of weeks about Airsoft wars in the woods behind his dad's house, and I (thinking along the lines of NERF guns) had been, for the most part, tuning him out.  If anything, I had been excited that my "nice nerdy" had been getting some fresh air, hanging out with other kids, and doing something besides reading and playing video games.  But, today, he came home with a black-and-blue thumbnail and explained that someone had shot him with an Airsoft gun from a distance of about two feet.  I got immediately on the Internet to research.

What I learned is that anyone who expects to be shot with an Airsoft gun should wear (at a bare minimum) protective eye gear.  Airsoft ammunition can be damaging if it hits the bare eye or an eye covered by a lens.  A prescription eyeglass lens, like Cade's, or a sunglasses lens can break if struck, and the shattered material can damage the eye.  A shooter should make every effort to avoid hitting someone in the face, in general, also to maintain a safe shooting distance of at least ten feet.  Beyond the requirement that Airsoft guns have orange tips when sold commercially, there do not seem to be any federal laws related to Airsoft guns in the United States, although some states, cities, and population centers have laws related to the weapons' purchase and use.  Not to put too fine a point on it: I want Cade to have both adult supervision and goggles if people are going to shoot Airsoft guns near (or at!) him.

After many Cade tears, many Cade sighs, a couple of Cade stomps, a conversation between Jim and me, a conversation between Cade's dad and me, a conversation between Cade and his dad, a conversation between Cade and Jim, and several conversations between Cade and me, my growing boy is now sleeping peacefully in his bed.  Perhaps the most tragic part of the story is that--when I had told Cade I knew what he wanted for Christmas more than he did and thought his surprise gift would be his favorite--I had been referring to a keyboard, while he had started envisioning an Airsoft gun under our Christmas tree.  Thus, his hopes were dashed when I assured him, tonight, that neither Mommy nor Santa will be giving him an Airsoft gun for Christmas.  (Mommy will make sure that neither Daddy nor anyone else gives him one, either, but I decided not to say that part out loud.)

Even when my child is saying stupid things like: "But, Mom, I like being shot with Airsoft guns because it hurts, and that makes the war seem real and makes me want to hide behind things," and, "You are making things more dangerous for me by not buying me an Airsoft gun to use to defend myself," it is hard to watch his big beautiful, greenish eyes fill with tears.  But then I remember that this is a matter of my child maintaining eyeballs with which to cry.  I told him tonight that I am responsible for his health in every regard: physical, sexual, emotional, and mental, and that there were two words for what was happening between us: good parenting.

So *sigh* Mommy gets to be the bad guy one more time.  Awesome.

Friday, December 10, 2010

It Was Like a Trip to The Dentist

I spent part of Tuesday evening discussing Hebrews 4, which I found, and still find, particularly hard to understand.  It's like--no matter how many times I read the chapter (and regardless of which translation of the Bible I use) or how many commentaries I read on it--something isn't quite clicking.  I realize that my being exhausted contributes to the problem.  The irony in this is that Hebrews 4 is to a large extent on the subject of rest: God's resting on the seventh day, the rest of sabbath, the lost opportunity to rest for those under Joshua's leadership, the possibility of rest at the end of our lives, and maybe? rest in a peaceful state even as we journey through life.  

On Wednesday, both of the babies fell asleep (a miracle in and of itself), and I was in the bathroom leafing through the September 2010 issue of O (Go ahead and laugh if you must!) when I came across "Lying Low," which caught my attention because, in it, Martha Beck says a great deal about--you guessed it!--rest! Granted, she doesn't have the authoritative voice of Paul or whoever actually wrote Hebrews, but she's a whole lot easier to understand, and she has some pretty good points.  I particularly like it when she writes: "If nothing's working for you, if you feel as though you're pushing forward against the grain, the most productive and proactive thing you can do is nothing.  Nature is turning you inward, to gain power through peace, rather than outward to gain power through activity."

I finished the article, left the bathroom, and decided that--even though I felt like He had been trying to impart something for a couple of days--God wasn't making much sense to me.  So I decided to listen to Martha Beck, and I curled up under a fleece blanket on my couch and slept, hard, for thirty minutes until the phone rang and Clementine started yelling, from upstairs: "Mom! Down! Diapers! Mom! Milk!"

The interesting thing is that--after my power nap--I had kind of a cathartic moment related to some of the mess that's been in my head (more on that, later) and what to do about it (more on that, later, too).  It was almost as though--after days of hearing His voice as if it were only slightly clearer than that of an adult character in a Peanuts movie (mwah mwah mwah)--I could comprehend at least part of what God was trying to say.

Yesterday (Thursday) I felt a little better than I did on Wednesday, which was a little better than I felt on Tuesday and quite a bit better than I felt on Monday: less like everyone hates me. I have the plan that God gave me, and, yesterday, I began to execute it.  It pertains to other people.  Oh, and yesterday my Word for the Day (gratefulness.org) was from Mother Teresa: "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."  That feels like a piece of my puzzle.

I don't know if I can make it all come together in words the way it has on the inside, in a more wordless way.  As an aside--when I grasp truth from God--it feels in my heart the same way the piece of plastic (containing the x-ray film) used to feel in my mouth when I bit down on it during a trip to the dentist: substantial, basic but complex, discerning and informative.  Anyway, it goes something like this: rest is the goal.  It is in various states of rest that we experience peace, receive direction from God in how to serve others (and the serving brings its own peace to our lives), recharge, and experience God's mercy.  Hebrews 4 reminds us that our Mediator is no stranger to our struggles and is therefore able to help us with perfect empathy. 

And so I come back to this: I am not alone.  God loves me.  He has a plan for my life and will not allow me to become lost, friendless, in a dark pocket of my brain.

Monday, December 6, 2010

2605 Whiteclift Drive and 8202 Shelley Road

Just to be honest, I've found it a bit challenging to get my Christmas on with two babies, especially because the younger is attached to me (often literally, and I don't pump). Somehow, I decided the Tacky Lights Tour would be just the thing to alleviate my melancholy this evening. Only Clementine shared my enthusiasm about leaving the house, but I was encouraged by her excited donning of fuzzy pink hat and dancy sing-songing: "Go! Go! Go!" And the other family members didn't protest very long, or loudly.

The five of us hit eight stops on the Tour, which turned out to be the perfect number for our family. Each stop was magical in its own way, but two impacted me in particular. The first of these was 2605 Whiteclift Drive. The homeowners Dabrishus had prepared a very nice, detailed letter explaining that--after over a decade--this will be their last year to participate in Tacky Lights. Two of their three children (helpers) are in college out of state, and the third is a busy, high-school athlete. The homeowners are offering all of their lights for sale in a kind of "silent auction."

The second stop to impact me was 8202 Shelley Road, where we watched lights dance to music playing on 99.5 FM. Homeowners Shuler and Hatcher had food-bank donation boxes in their yard, as well as an "In Loving Memory" sign. The sign explained that their son Ralph--who had helped design and build their lightshow--passed away in October, and that they are participating in Tacky Lights this year only because that's what Ralph would want.

So. I expected to be dazzled by lights this evening, and I was. What I didn't expect was to come away from the Tacky Lights Tour with a greater appreciation of the season, and I refer not to the Christmas season, but to the life season.

This season of my life is not conducive to Christmas shopping; ice skating; preparing and sending two-hundred Christmas cards (or visiting the post office, in general); wrapping presents; decorating with anything that can deliver an electric shock, tip over, or be broken; drinking egg nog with liquor in it (which is the only kind I would bother drinking) or coffee with Saint Brendan's in it; sitting by the fireplace; attending a Christmas play or concert; etc. etc. ET FREAKIN' CETERA. And--trust me--I could go on and on, because I've felt a measure of disappointment over each and every thing I cannot do with ease, or at all, this Christmas season.

But these babies will grow into people who can live out my temporarily-lost traditions with me, and how wonderful will that be?! And the day will come when they're away at college, and how badly will I miss them?! And the day will come that I am separated from them by death (mine, I pray, and not theirs), and how [fill in the blank: I don't even want to try to figure it out] will that be?!

For now, they're so precious just the way they are: MeMe drawling out, with delight, "Baaaaby Jeeeesus!" as though she's from the Deep South, and Charleigh just trying to focus her big, round eyes.

So listen up, Folks. The Tacky Lights masters of 2605 Whiteclift Drive and 8202 Shelley Road might be the ONLY people who receive Christmas cards from Brandee Shafer in 2010, but, truly, I can't wait to prepare and send them! And may God bless the Dabrishus and Shuler-Hatcher families in their respective Christmas and life seasons!

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Day in My Life

The last two weeks or so have been interesting. No sooner did I become comfortable with Baby Charleigh than my body decided it could get pregnant again. Don't misunderstand: I'm not pregnant again, but my body has recovered from its ordeal and is functioning, again, as though waiting to get pregnant. As is typical for me when my body resumes its normal pattern, my hair has begun falling out by the fistful. What is atypical for me is that I have been in the dumps day after day...even though nothing overly negative has happened, and despite my rational mind's knowing that I have everything in the world for which to be profoundly grateful.

The good news is that--while I am bluesy--I am really enjoying the babies. I enjoyed them even today, which involved an average amount of breastmilk but an excessive amount of poop and puke. At one point, Charleigh threw up so much that I had to bathe her and change her clothes, wash the bouncy-seat cover, and wipe up the kitchen floor. Still, she didn't seem particularly "sick" to me, and I decided that the babies and I should meet Jim for dinner.

On the drive to Short Pump, I heard a vomiting sound behind me. I assumed, initially, that Charleigh was making the noise but discovered upon glancing into the rear-view mirror that Clementine had just thrown up an unchewed orange slice, a fist-sized portion of Kraft macaroni and cheese, and half a peanut-butter sandwich. I pulled over into a bank parking lot, wiped her and her car seat off best I could, and changed her clothes. As I proceeded to the restaurant (wearing make-up but smelling like puke), I realized that--in a zombie-like state--I had changed three dirty diapers for Clementine earlier in the day, which involved way more poop than usual.

Dinner was nice enough, and the drive home was quiet. I felt a little bit cheerier than I had, earlier, and my mind turned with gratitude toward the conversations I'd had on this Thursday: with a friend gifted in pastoral care, a good friend from high school, a close friend from college, my mom, and my husband. I realized with a start that I'd talked with all these but not with God! I started praying aloud, and there was a point in my prayer at which I said something about being a light...after which little MeMe (whom I'd assumed was asleep) chimed in: "Light! Light! Light!"

And what more is there, really? Nothing is easy, nothing is perfect, and there were three more dirty diapers after the "point of light" in my evening. (Two belonged to Clementine, who required a bath and Pedialyte for what is obviously diarrhea.) Charleigh is even now, at 2:37 AM, cooing, making baby pig noises, and staring at me with big, bright eyes. But I love them--and my boy, who went to sleep under his dad's roof, tonight--with a love that overwhelms and shatters me. I would not trade places with anyone in this big, old world because the hormonally-wrecked person writing this is the only one who gets to be their mom. There are people who really love me and make time for me...even in my moodiness. And God is right here and awake with me at 2:48 AM, although Charleigh has finally drifted off to sleep.

Sweet dreams.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Know, That You Know, That I Love You

Two years ago, I went home to Tennessee--as I always do--over the holidays. My dad's friend T.L. stopped by my parents' house to see me. He had moved, and--because I didn't have his new address--I hadn't sent him a Christmas card, so I apologized. He looked at me and said in his frank, sincere T.L. way: "It's alright, Brandee. I know you love me, " after which I burst into tears. At the time, I had no idea why his words affected me like that, and I'm pretty sure everyone else in the room was equally confused. But I think I've figured it out, and I think I can explain it like this:

After Grandma Shafer's death in 1992, the family gathered in Greencastle, Pennsylvania to clear out her house and prepare for an auction. Grandma had been the heart of our family and her house a warm, gathering place, so the air on this day was thick with grief. Everyone worked cooperatively, efficiently, quietly. There was a general understanding that each of us could reclaim gifts (s)he had given to Grandma, and--even as boxes were filled--small piles of these items were built throughout the house. I wandered from room to room, looking especially hard in the hutch, and found nothing I had given to Grandma. Nothing! I had loved her for eighteen years, and it was as though I had never given her a thing. My heart felt like a broken, concrete block in my chest.

Then I heard my name called from a back bedroom. There, in a cedar chest, someone had found a stack of letters I had written to Grandma. It was a thick stack tied together with satin ribbon: tens of letters written over the seven years since my parents had relocated our family to Tennessee. The rush of relief I experienced in that moment nearly drove me to my knees. Here was proof: Grandma knew that I loved her.




When there is no more opportunity for words, the question that will drive you crazy is less likely to be: Did (s)he love me?, than: Did (s)he know that I loved him or her? So it was a precious gift when T.L.--in his calm wisdom--acknowledged my love for him.

I encourage you, as you move through life, to say not only the deeply precious words: "I love you," but also: "I know you love me." On this earth, we must each be separated from the other, and--when those days come--what comfort it is to know that love was more than felt...that it was both expressed and realized!

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Can Do All Things

It took somewhere between six and eight weeks after Charleigh's birth for me to feel comfortable taking care of both babies by myself. From the time my mom left a few days after my return home from the hospital, it was on, it was me, and I did mostly ok, but I felt anxious and unsettled on the inside.

I had two big fears during that period of time. The first was that--with Charleigh on the scene--I would not be able to parent Clementine well. She was eighteen months old when her sister was born and right in the middle of a particularly aggressive, exploratory, and noncompliant phase. Let me put it another way: a few times, I saw horns popping out of her head! I called both my mom and my friend Christy and whined -- I love Clementine so much, but there are times I really don't like her! At all! -- after which I felt guilty in addition to frustrated.

My other big fear was that it would be a long, long time before I would ever again be able to do the things that make me feel like myself: bake cookies, write, serve on the Care Team, read, etc.

I don't remember the exact moment that everything became ok again, but--over the course of a couple months--I adapted. Clementine adapted, too, and (for the most part) has stopped jamming things into Charleigh's eyes and mouth and trying to pick her up by her head. And, to be fair, the eyes that saw horns in Clementine's head were very tired eyes connected to an overwhelmed brain, and imbedded in a hormone-filled body. I am once again able to see her for what she is: a communicative, curious, funny, loving, strong-willed child in touch with kinesthesia and the power of her own voice. And I like her through and through and all over.

Regarding my other fear, I have found the most remarkable thing to be true: if what I am trying to accomplish is something God has called me to do, He will allow it to happen. In a house where little people need (or otherwise demand) something constantly, there have been moments of deep silence when I have been creating or cooking something for someone else. I have been able to sing in the choir--with Charleigh in the sanctuary--every week.

Today someone held the door for me as I exited Macy's. The sun was in my eyes, and I swung my stroller immediately to the left so as to enter the parking lot at a curb cut. I thanked the door-holder just as I heard someone else say, "Hello," to my back, and I realized as I walked away that it was a bellringer. I am not necessarily prone to put money in buckets, but I could feel the Holy Spirit nudging me the whole way to my van. I put the girls and stroller inside, pulled a couple dollars from my diaper bag, and drove up to the front of what had been an incredibly busy storefront. I knew there wouldn't be any cars behind me, but--just to be sure--I checked my rearview mirror. No one there. So I hopped out of the van and ran up to the girl who had just seen me march away, wordless, with my small bus of a stroller. I still didn't say a word, but--for just a second--we looked in each other's eyes and beamed. She was still smiling when the babies and I drove away.

I believe with all of my heart that God stopped traffic so I could have my moment with the bellringer.

I don't tell you about it to try to make myself look good. I just referred to a plumber as the devil, remember? I tell you about it to make God look good. And He is really, really good. And really big and really powerful.

I can't tell you how many times over the years I have shaken my head and said of a friend -- I don't know how she does it! And in saying that, what I really meant was: I don't know how she does ... fill in the blank, whatever (in some cases, many things) she was doing ... so well. I have said that about Christy Conner, Rachel Huff, Beth Brawley, Anne Timberlake, my own grandma (who raised seven children), and Michelle Duggar...just to name a handful. But today it hit me: there is no real mystery to how these women have gotten it done! They aren't doing anything alone anymore than I am! They are doing all things through Christ, who strengthens them (Philippians 4:13). God is calling them, and he is equipping them!

And may He continue to help all of us in heeding His voice...in being faithful in even the smallest of things so that we will be given even greater opportunities (Matthew 25:21)!

Amen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Devil Is a Plumber

Sometimes I feel like our log cabin is falling down around us. I have lost count of how many times in two and a half years that we have called plumbers, electricians, heating and air technicians, and general handymen. Many have tried to take (and some have succeeded in taking) us for a ride. And let's get real: even the honest and forthright ones we've met have never had much to say that we wanted to hear; it always boils down to: your stuff is broken, and it will cost money and take time to fix it. Some servicemen have suggested that we just take out a fat home equity loan, no big deal, and do it big. Do it right. These people have no concept of the frugal wonder that is my beloved. But anyway.

Part of the problem is that, somehow, Jim and I earned Master's degrees in fields that have nothing to do with fixing anything. If I had it to do over, maybe I would try harder to fill my brain with useful information.

Another part of the problem is that--when it comes to many of our home-repair needs--we don't have a choice in terms of servicemen. We get whomever the home-warranty company sends. Today the home-warranty company sent the devil.

This plumber took a flashlight off my deck and stashed it in his pocket. He repaired exactly one of two leaks listed on the work order; he replaced the leaking hot-water heater but not the leaking pipe connected to it. I didn't notice or care about the leaking pipe but was reluctant to let him leave because--when he hooked up the new hot-water heater--the pressure tank lost air, and the pump started clicking on and off too often. And if I ran water anywhere in the house, the pump clicked on and off every couple of seconds. The plumber insisted that he didn't touch the tank, that he was a Master Plumber and knew what he was talking about, that a lack of air wasn't the problem, that my pressure tank needed replaced, that there was something wrong with the pump itself, that I was mistaken about how often the pump was clicking on before, and it went on and on and on and on...just like the clicking of my pump.

Now, normally, I am very chill when it comes to home repair. Leaking roofs, holey ceilings, soaked and rotting wood floors, rooms that are too cool or warm...I can take it. But I cannot tolerate constant beeps and clicks. I just can't. I could feel the sanity oozing out of my skull. I knew that I would never be able to run the washer, dishwasher, sink, or even a toilet without hearing the clicking, and I knew the clicking would drive me crazy.

The plumber wouldn't listen to me. He kept arguing with me. Meanwhile, the clicking. I told him to get out of my house. Sobbing, I called the handyman who just fixed our roof and bathroom ceiling. He dropped everything to come out and put air in the pressure tank. The clicking stopped. He said I didn't owe him a thing. I wrote him a check, anyway, for making it ok for me to be in the house.

There is no point to this story except that the devil is a plumber. I know; I saw him today. And even if I am wrong, and that plumber isn't the devil, the devil sent the plumber and the clicking and the snot and the tears. And he got me. He got me good.

Good Mom

Erin Snyder, my close friend for half my life, and her daughter Mira came from Chicago to celebrate halloween with my family, and we did it up big: pumpkin patch, fall festivals, trick-or-treating, etc. Still, I had daydreamed about even better and more prior to their coming and wanted to, for example, bake apple dumplings for them. Erin knows me better than most and therefore was under no illusion, I'm sure, that I would be a Martha-Stewart-like hostess, but, in my heart, I wanted to be. To be even more specific, in my heart, I wanted to be Martha-Stewart-meets-Jo-Frost (of Supernanny). So you can imagine that I was particularly disappointed when I found myself looking across the table at a hot-chocolate-drenched, head-back-and-howling, Clementine.

Don't you just hate it when your plans--from the best most beautiful place in your heart--get all messed up? Even worse, don't you hate it when you've tried to do a perfectly sweet something for someone only to have it go terribly wrong? This particular morning, Cade was drinking hot chocolate, and Clementine (who has a recent obsession with "big people cups" and runs through her life on the look-out for ones to grab) wanted Cade's hot chocolate really badly. So I made her some. I microwaved milk for sixty seconds until just warm; mixed in some Swiss Miss; poured it all into a kid-friendly, plastic and rubber elephant mug; and gave her a straw.

As it turned out, there were a couple of errors in my thinking. First of all, I should not have put so much hot chocolate in the mug. And the straw was just a source of confusion for Clementine, who tried to drink out of it while simultaneously holding and tipping the cup. She was soaked and bawling in a matter of seconds. I moved into action, consoling and wiping...keeping my cool on the outside, while--on the inside--feeling frustrated, defeated. That's when Cade looked at me and said: "You're a really good mom."

Amazing what those words have done for me: just to know that someone saw and appreciated my heart-felt efforts. And--if my oldest and only (at this point) rational child thinks I'm a good mom--for what else can I ask, anyway?

Upon reflection, I am taking with me two thoughts. The first, as I have shared with Cade, is that it really IS possible to turn someone's moment, day, week, etc. around with a few words of encouragement. I am going to look even harder for opportunities to do just that. The second is that it may matter more what I do, or don't do, with how I feel than how I feel. I have been trying so hard to be ok on the inside, even when my kids are crying or draining me of every type of energy known to man, or even when other things go wrong. And I think--as a general rule--it's good and important to be ok and not just seem ok. But I guess there are moments when seeming ok is plenty good enough...