Thursday, February 28, 2013

Of Food, Prayer, and Praise: A Repost

**I wrote this post two years go. Reposting, today, in response to the prompt "food."  If you have some thoughts to share on the subject, please join the party over at Emily Wierenga's Imperfect Prose. As an aside, Chrissie is in the process of painting, on canvas, the prayer at the end of this post to be hung in my dining room; I am so stinky excited!

"Grace," a photo taken by Eric Enstrom in 1918, the year my Grandma B. was born. 
This image hung, always, in my Shafer grandparents' living room.

Still half asleep, I buckle Baby Charleigh into her chair and skirt around the bar, for forks.

"Mommy," Clementine insists, "Hands.  Pray."  But before I settle at the table, she grows impatient: slaps her hands together, bows, and offers, "God.  Food.  Amen."  She dives into my beloved's biscuits and gravy, exclaims, "Yummy, Mommy.  Delicious." 

I know she speaks truth about my beloved's sausage gravy, which I wrote into my wedding vows for its excellence, but I marvel that--at barely two years old--she has already reached the point of prayer and praise.  She stopped drinking from my body only ten months ago. 

I get stuck there, for a moment, and (although of course I can't remember) think of my twenty-one-year-old mother's nursing me even while driving her baby-blue Volkswagen Beetle.  I have spent, already, thirty-four months loving my children in this way: nursing all day and night until my mouth grows dry and sometimes the sockets of my eyes, too...flopping from side to side like a fish in my bed so as to nurse from the fuller breast.  So much love in feeding, in being fed.

I think of my grandad--just returned from his garden of sun-kissed strawberries--stirring real Hershey's syrup (not Nesquik, like at our house) into my glass of milk.  Rich dark syrup in a real glass (not a plastic cup, like at our house). I can see the rise and fall of syrup in the bottom, catch glimpses of spoon, hear the quiet bell in silver meeting glass.  I see my grandma slathering one slice of fresh, white bread with peanut butter and another with Marshmallow Fluff.

I think of my other grandparents, too: Grandma of ice cream (always) in the freezer...standing at the stove, scrambling eggs with sharp cheddar, Grandad with his endless supply of bananas and sunflower seeds.

It comes to me how deeply I have loved and been loved in the sharing of food.

(I am not a thin woman.)

It pleases me to remember my dad (who requires cast-iron for happy cooking) and his adding, generously, tomatoes to eggs in skillet: to think of his amazing dutch-oven creations.  I see--baked by my mother's hands--one applesauce-raisin cake after another: an endless line of them to represent all my birthdays, graduations, homecomings, and new babies.  Also heart-shaped sugar cookies with pink icing. 

My loved ones become food.  My brother: deer jerky, IBC Root Beer, Big League Chew, Swedish Fish, a cheeseball with crackers.  His wife Sarah: homemade biscuits, and Sarah's mom: green beans cooked in bacon grease.  Andrea: smoothies, Wheat Thins.  My mother-in-law: broccoli casserole, and my brother-in-law: barbeque sauce.  Erin S.: Papa John's ham and pineapple pizza with breadsticks and banana peppers.  Erin Q.: Maryland Blue crabs and Beanie Weenies straight out the can.  Rachel: peach cobbler, chicken ring of crescent rolls.  Christy: apple bread and a little bowl made from bread and filled with dip.  Terye: fondue and turnip greens with little cups of vinegar.  Carlena: chili from Steak and Shake; fried potatoes, butter beans, and corn bread; El Azteca.  Boggsies: hambugers in buns, in bags.  Virginia Ann: plate after plate of deviled eggs.  I could go on and on, for a very long time. 

At almost thirty-seven years of age, I rarely eat any kind of food to which I have not already assigned a memory.

I think of those who, six months ago, brought food to our door in celebration of Charleigh's arrival.  Such a labor of love, to feed a family of five for a month.  I think of the friend who glowed as--even in the midst of a tremendous battle for her health--she made three separate trips to her car for food: gigantic containers of delicious, steaming food, enough food to eat for three nights in a row.  I think of the friend who fed us when we knew she couldn't afford to do so.  We chewed slowly (and with deep appreciation, the deepest) her offering and wondered if she had food to eat, herself. 

To feed, to be fed.  I have never gone hungry, and I thank you, Lord, for Your provision and all the love represented in a lifetime of consumption.

Out of gratefulness, I have taught my son to pray, at dinnertime: Thank you, God, for our food...for rest, and home, and all things good.  For wind, and rain, and sun above.  But most of all for those we love.  Amen.

Amen, and amen.  Thank you, Jesus.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Instrument

This flautist spent a couple months of my fourth-grade year thinking I may well be losing my mind.

I wore my zippered backpack on my back even while riding that dusty, yellow bus with its barely-padded, vinyl, dark green seats. I had an assigned seat mate: Robin. She lived in the cul-de-sac. She didn't much comb her hair or wash her coat: tough as nails, she was, even in elementary school. I carried a book for reading, always, and just tried to mind my own business.

One day, I stepped off the bus in front of the school, and suddenly, inexplicably, the front of my backpack fell open, and all my books and papers and folders and things hit the sidewalk just at my heels. I remember, still, the humiliation: sliding my backpack off my shoulders and clutching it in front of me, stooping in my dress to scoop up my stuff and jumble-cram it into my bag. A few of my papers blew on a breeze under the bus.

I couldn't believe I'd forgotten to zip my backpack, and it wasn't long after that I started to lose things: a pack of school pictures, a library book. I still remember which: Sylvia Cassedy's Behind the Attic Wall. I loved that book.

And then, one day, I lost my flute. I'd zipped it into my backpack, but--when I got home--the zipper was about eight inches open at the top, and the instrument was gone. And suddenly, I knew (don't ask me how): Robin had snaked that flute right out my backpack.

When Daddy got home from work, I told him all about it. "Are you sure?" he asked, and I nodded. "Well," he said, "get in the truck. We'll go get it back."

Minutes later, Daddy was knocking on the door of Robin's house in the cul-de-sac. I stood beside him, my hands crammed deep in my coat pockets against the cold and dark. Robin's daddy answered the door. "I believe your daughter has my daughter's flute," Daddy said. He never has been one to much beat around the bush.

Robin's daddy frowned and called for Robin's mama. She came to the door. "Robin come home with a flute?" Robin's daddy asked her.

Robin's mama looked from her husband to my daddy and back again. "She did," she said, bewildered. "Told me the band instructor was letting her borrow it."

Robin's daddy shook his head. "It belongs to this little girl," he said, nodding toward us. "Y'all come in."

Robin's mama left their dim, little living room and came back with the flute. Daddy and I thanked her kindly and climbed back in the truck. He didn't say another word, just reached over and squeezed my leg right above the knee.

A week or so later, Holly from the cul-de-sac handed me my library book. "I knew you were looking for it," she said, "and I found it at Robin's house. She must really like you; your pictures are all over her room."

**Writing in community with Tanya and friends. Source of image.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Slapped Cheeks


As I was telling you in this post, Charleigh started running a fever last Tuesday the 19th. She had a temperature of 103.3 when I took her to the pediatrician's office the next day. He checked her white blood cell count, said the problem appeared to be bacterial, and put her on a high-powered antibiotic.

Which didn't do a durn thing. She's run a fever for part of every day, since.

Not that I use a thermometer, or even own one. My mommy hand detects three grades of fever:
  • mild - kid is teething; don't worry; consider fever-reducing medication only for one's own comfort (i.e., if kid is annoyingly fussy at bedtime)
  • medium - kid is fighting something minor; try not to worry too much; give kid fever-reducing medication throughout day for fussiness; take kid to pediatrician after a couple days
  • hot - serious, scary problem; try not to completely FREAK OUT and make things worse; pump kid full of fever-reducing medication and give kid cool bath for lethargy; take kid to pediatrician or ER ASAP
Charleigh ran a medium fever off and on from sometime Tuesday the 19th until this morning. When she woke up feverish with bumpy, red cheeks, I told Jim: "She's GOT to go back to the pediatrician."

In my (new) experience, four is the magic number of kids when it comes to dealing with pediatric  healthcare professionals. I'm not trying to dog anybody; I'm just sayin': the phrase "I have four kids" carries some weight.

Today, I said: "I have four kids; I don't really take temperatures. She's been running a fever off and on since you saw her last," and all I got was a nod of thoughtful acceptance.

Later, I said: "I have four kids, and I'm not a particularly nervous mom, but I'm worried about this child," and things happened, up to and including a blood test for my sheer peace of mind.

But anyway. Charleigh seems to have turned a corner. The fever and redness were gone before we got to the pediatrician's office (leaving only the bumpy part of the rash), and she hasn't run a fever, since. The lymph node in her neck isn't swollen, anymore, and everything checked out with her blood test.

The doctor said something about "Slapped Cheek Syndrome" (another name for Fifth Disease or Human ParvoVirus B19), which confused me because he'd indicated, last week, that the problem was bacterial and not viral. Explains why the antibiotic didn't do squat, though.

I spent some time reading up on Fifth Disease, today, and think it's what we've all had but that it's  manifested itself in different ways. Earlier, I said that Charleigh was the only one who'd gotten a rash, but I don't know what I was thinking; Clementine had rosy, bumpy cheeks off and on for days. (It's all a big blur, by now.)

The pediatrician said a person with a rash like Charleigh's isn't usually contagious, anymore, but I decided to avoid our friends for the standard 24 hours after a fever and, instead, endanger strangers at Wishing Well Park and Cici's Pizza.

Nah, it was pretty cold outside; she kept her distance from everyone she didn't know; and she really is so much better. I'm thankful. I'll be honest: I was starting to worry! Who has a fever after six days on an antibiotic; right?

Thank you for your prayers!

This morning at the pediatrician's office. You can barely see the rash.

Classic Charleigh

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Smells Like Teen Spirit: A Repost

**In celebration of Clementine's 4th birthday, tomorrow, I'm looking a good, hard look at how far we've come. This post was written a little less than two years ago. My sincere thanks to the good Lord above that she's still safe and sound.

Clementine and the Man She Likes to Take to Bed: Sir Topham Hatt

This post has nothing to do with Nirvana.  This post has to do with Clementine's breath, which does, in fact, smell like Teen Spirit.  Because, earlier, she ate some of my deodorant.

So I learned two things, today: first, according to Judith at Poison Control, the Center rarely recommends vomiting as treatment, these days.  Which is good, because I tried unsuccessfully to get Clementine to vomit three times before calling the Poison Control Center.  Of course she wouldn't vomit, because whatever I want (or think I want) Clementine to do, she doesn't.  Whatever I don't want Clementine to do, she does.  She was the wiser of the two of us, today, but--I promise--this is not generally the case.

When I was a little girl, I had a reoccuring dream that I was driving a car, and everytime I turned the steering wheel right, the car turned left.  Everytime I turned the steering wheel left, the car turned right.  I understand, now, that--in some small way--God was preparing me for life with Clementine.

But anyway.  Judith looked Teen Spirit up in her database and asked me if it were the antiperspirant.  "I'm not sure," I told her.  "It doesn't have a label on it, anymore.  But I know it's Teen Spirit.  It's the white one with the pink cap."

"I don't have pictures in my database," Judith said, snidely.  But, minutes later, she assured me that all Teen Spirit is relatively safe to eat.  She recommended I give Clementine about 4 oz of water and keep an eye on her.

"Do you think it's ok for me to put her down for a nap?" I asked, with some measure of desperation.  (At that point, I was pretty much over Clementine.)

"Sure," Judith answered.  "Just go in and check on her.  She should be fine."

Jokingly, I said, "I figured.  She's too mean for anything too terrible to happen to her."

Judith didn't laugh.  She asked for Clementine's and my first names and our zipcode.  I wondered if she were planning to send Child Protective Services over, but no one came.  Thank goodness, because CPS (or anyone else, for that matter) is unlikely to believe my very true account of how Clementine came to have a ring of thirty flea bites around her left ankle.

If this weren't my story, and I were reading it, I would wonder: why does almost-thirty-seven-year-old Brandee Shafer wear Teen Spirit, anyway?  And I don't have a good explanation other than it's the deodorant I've always worn.  I like the way it smells (like roses, even on Clementine's breath) and--since it continues to work just fine--I don't feel too mature for it.  As of today, I'm happier than ever with my deodorant choice: it's not particularly poisonous, after all, and doesn't its name make for an excellent blog-post title?

Before I forget, I need to tell you the second thing I learned today.  A tuffet (as in, Little Miss Muffet sat on one) is a small stool.  Did you know?  After all these years, I had no idea until Elmo taught me, today.  Thanks, Elmo!

(And thank You, God, for keeping the Wild Orange safe one more time.)

Sick Kids {What I'm Holding}

Two weeks ago, I woke up with a cold. My grandma's 95th birthday party was planned for the next day, Sunday the 10th. Four hours away. Buck up, Little Camper, I said to myself; you'll have deep regrets if you miss it.

I buckled the three little ones in the minivan; picked up my friend Anjie; and drove to Williamsport, Maryland. I was in fairly bad shape, and it was hot as h-e-double matchsticks in the nursing home. The space was nice enough, but it's a big family, and we were close. Who knows how many people I infected. Grandma already had a cold; still, I tried not to breathe on her too much.

The girls were starting to sound like little donkeys by the time we got home Monday afternoon, and by Wednesday the 13th, I had no choice but to take them to the pediatrician. He put them on steroids for the croup.

Meanwhile, I'd developed a full-blown sinus infection: the first of my life that involved a horrendous mouthache. For days, I blew great quantities of blood out of my head.

By Monday the 18th, Chip had the croup and, the pediatrician discovered, an ear infection in his right ear. Steroid shot. Antibiotics.

The next day, Tuesday, Charleigh started running a fever. I took her back to the pediatrician this past Wednesday the 20th. Her temperature was 103.3, and she had one extremely swollen lymph node in her neck. The doctor checked her white blood cell count and said she has a bacterial infection. She's taken three doses of a high-powered antibiotic, but she's still feverish. Yesterday, she had a rash.

I'm thankful to report that Clementine, Chip, and I seem relatively healthy, at this point, and Jim and Cade have sniffled here and there but are still going strong. Still, I've postponed Clementine's birthday party. Anjie wasn't going to be able to come, anyway; I reckon she has ear, sinus, and viral infections. Pretty sure we're responsible for at least two of the three.

Thanks for praying for her, and for us. Maybe say a prayer for my family in Maryland, too? I'm afraid to ask how they're doing.

But, now, some photos from the last couple of weeks:

Amazing Photo by Anjie Kay:
Grandma B.'s 95th Birthday. 4 Generations.

Clementine and Anjie

Uncle Wiggily

Chip's Visit to Doctor MeMe

Surprise Package from Papaw

Dr. was curious to know if he's always this happy. Yeah, pretty much.

At the dr.'s office. Lion from Papaw.


Hats from Aunt Jill the Tutu Maker

**Sharing with Tea Girl Amy and friends for {What I'm Holding}. Note to Christina: the blanket, as you can see, is still a thing. Instant calming effect.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Sweet Orange

Seems like just yesterday the nurse was laughing: "She's not a very little Orange, is she?" And born at 9 lbs 7 oz, no, you weren't. You were flat-out gorgeous with your coal-black hair and tan skin; I kept waiting for someone to say there had been a mistake, that you were a papoose, after all: rip you from my pale arms and strap you to a Native American mommy with a cradleboard.

We've called you the Wild Orange for several years because of your tendency to wreak havoc inside (and outside) these log walls, but--aside from my still-constant reminders that I have ear drums you're likely to burst--the nickname hardly fits, now. You seem to have developed, finally!, a respect for others' property, and it's become unusual for you to tear something up "just because." I hardly worry, anymore, that you'll bolt from me and get hurt, or accidentally injure a smaller person.

In fact, you've turned into a remarkably gentle big sister. I don't know of many not-quite-four-year-olds who can be trusted to watch a younger sibling or two while Mommy goes pee or starts the minivan, but you can. You love to hold Baby Chip, and I saw you, earlier, holding the tissue for Charleigh to blow her nose; thank you.

Your papaw commented, once, that you really love your family, and he was right. You love to advise us ("Don't fight, ok? Be kind to one another!" or, "You should be thankful, Cade, that you have a mommy and a daddy!"); help us with your hands; and gift us with artwork.

You love to learn and are apt to throw a temper tantrum when I say we've done enough "school" for the day. You know your letters (and their sounds), and you can write most of the capital ones. You know your numbers (in Spanish, too, it seems; thank you, Dora!), and you understand the concepts of addition and subtraction. You adore patterns and see them everywhere. You know your shapes. You know your colors and use them inside the lines.

You love ballet and tap. Dearly.

You love puzzles and board games and stories. Two days ago, I was reading aloud from my Kindle, and by the look on your face, I knew: it made no nevermind about the absence of illustrations; you could see that rheumatic rabbit and his striped cane in your imagination, and the hungry bear, too. It was such a happy moment for me, as your mother.

And I've been hard on you; I know I have. You're very young to have two younger siblings, and I'm very old to have three children ages three and under. You've worked my nerves, Pretty Girl, but you've grown me into a more patient mommy. Charleigh and Chip thank you. Cade thanks you, too, come to think of it.

I brushed your hair from your forehead the other day and said: "Clementine, you've grown up so much! You're not a baby, anymore!"

Your eyes welled up with tears, actual tears!, and you cupped my chin with your soft, little hand. "But I still love you, Mama," you said.

I love you too, Clementine. So much. In three days, you will be four. May this be your best year of life, yet.

**Writing along with the Imperfect Prose community, today, in response to the prompt "joy." To read others' offerings, click on the image below. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

To the Readers of My Blog

As of yesterday, one hundred people have signed up to follow my blog through Google Friend Connect. I don't know very many of them in "real life." I learned, today: I don't know many of them even in the blogosphere.

The following thing is strange. Some people follow through Google Friend Connect. Some people follow through Networked Blogs. Some people follow through both. Some people follow through e-mail or possibly another means. Of those who follow, some read, and some don't.

Some people don't technically follow but do read. They click over from facebook, or perhaps they have my blog bookmarked and simply check in from time to time. Others hit upon a specific post through a search engine.

The point is: I rarely know who's actually reading unless (s)he comments. I've made a few friends in the blogosphere, but I'm not sure how many of the people who read my blog have blogs that I read. I'm thinking (based upon the time I spent visiting Google Friend Connect folks, today) that ("mutual") number is much smaller than I'd thought.

I haven't been shy about my main objective in blogging, which is to write things down for my kids. But the fact of the matter is: the interactive nature of blogging fuels my writing. I'm here because you're here.

If you're following through Google Friend Connect or Networked Blogs and have a blog, I'll be coming around to visit. I made a point of visiting some of your blogs, today, and I felt sad and sorry for having never visited, before.

It was sobering to nose around and realize: some followers of my blog face tremendous challenges. I met a follower who has brain cancer. I met a follower with an injured back. I met a follower whose son has seizures. I met a follower whose daughter has Smith-Magenis Syndrome. I don't know which of these have actually been reading my words, but I felt compelled to pray for each of them, today, in addition to the follower who's about to be published and the one who writes in a language so foreign I couldn't even determine what it was.

And I'm going to be doing more of this. I'm certain the Lord wants this of me. It's lovely to be small because I can visit your blog. I can pray for you by name. And I will.

If you'd like me to visit your blog but are not following through Google Friend Connect or Networked Blogs, please follow...or at least say, "Hi." If you're a reader but not a blogger, please say, "Hi," especially if there's something I can pray for you. If you feel uncomfortable commenting, feel free to send an e-mail to normalgirl (at) hotmail (dot) com. Just put Smooth Stones in the subject line so I'm sure to see your e-mail. 

I don't know where my blog posts go when they're e-mailed, but--if you'd like to receive my words via e-mail (instead of coming to this site to read them)--you may sign up over on the right.

May God bless each of you. I pray you find something of worth in or through this space.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Cupboard


I miss my grandmothers, and I miss my grandmothers' houses. I miss the cupboards in my grandmothers' houses, and how I pretty much knew where everything was or went, and how--on the off chance I didn't--I could dig around and through every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

I miss the dishes of the cupboards in the houses of my grandmothers. The white dishes at Grandma Shafer's had a matching pattern: green with Chinese huts on stilts, or some such. I'd know it in an instant if you put it in front of me. Glass glasses there, too, and we used them even as children: our spoons stirring chocolate syrup up from the bottoms like silver fish disrupting sand. I can almost hear my spoon tinkle against the glass like a quiet, little bell.

If dishes were breakable at Grandma Shafer's, they were non or chipped at Grandma Blickenstaff's but just as good, and my dishes, today, are like Grandma B.'s: mismatched and funny-stacked. 

It matters less what's in a cupboard, I think, than how willing one is to see those doors swung wide by others. Whom will you allow to get up in your cupboards, and in how many cupboards do you know your way around? I know my mother's, of course, and I'm learning my mother-in-law's. I've been in Terye Jo's for the pink, aluminum tumbler she keeps for me, and I'd enter Christy's without a second thought, but it's worth that second thought.

Because I've fooled myself into believing I've established intimacy that isn't there. I've looked over those few who know my cupboards for folks ain't never been in my house, and I see suddenly: I have a need that can't be satisfied that way.

Call me if you want to come over for ice cream. I have black cherry. Chips on the rims of my bowls.

**Writing in community with Tanya and friends.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Love Is Here

It started a week ago as a cold, but I'm pretty sure it's developed into a full-fledged sinus infection. I'm experiencing a great deal of pain across the bridge of my nose; under and behind my eyes; in the very center of my forehead; and, oddly enough, across the roof of my mouth and above and between all of my upper teeth.

Yesterday, I could hardly chew on the left side of my mouth. Today, if you were to spy on me, you might catch me scrubbing my gums with my index finger. I feel like a teething baby. Or a puppy.

We took the girls to the pediatrician, Wednesday; he diagnosed them with the croup and put them on steroids. Baby Chip has been uncharacteristically fussy and, at points, feverish. He has a couple swollen lymph nodes.

But I just keep thinking how blessed we are: that Jim can and will work from home in times like these; that the little kids and I don't have to be anywhere, ever.

And nothing has been able to diminish my happiness that Baby Chip is here, that we're all here. It feels so good to be needed by my children: to be someone they want when they're a little too warm or coughly. Even Cade has shown me, lately, that he needs me (although for different reasons), and it's felt like a blessing and a relief; he's not grown, yet.

So we've spent as much time as possible in our pajamas. We've eaten hotdogs off a stick and heart-shaped, cherry M&M pancakes off the griddle. We've played Fancy Nancy, and, in warmer moments, we've scoured the yard for signs of spring...and found them.

Love is here; spring is coming; what more is there, really?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day Poem for Jim

I've written, before, how
you've saved me from myself:
I've always been most comfortable
with the physical aspects of love;
you've made my touch holy.

Just look at all the mini yous
you've given me to hold
in addition to the 13-year-old
who crowds me in the pew
and does homework at my feet.

The little ones are sick; for days,
I've been trying to bless with baths,
lotion, clean pjs, meds, vaporizer.
For the baby, milk of my own body.
Snuggling for all, most of all.

Yesterday, I held Charleigh
in a comforter on the front porch
so she could breathe cold, fresh air.
We watched a red-capped woodpecker
skitter hungrily, hopefully, up a tree.

What does it all mean? Our home,
our hearts, our arms: they're full.
But catch my eye, every now and then,
just over their sweet-smelling heads.
Show me with a spark and a smirk:

you remember how-why we made them.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Path

Say to me the word path, and I'll see the cut-through Mr. Mike and my dad made, clearing out brush and brambles, knocking down trees so Ben and Anna, my brother and I, could walk between houses and away from the road. Say path; I'll remember how private it was: tramped clean, ever after, by eight small feet.

Hear our happy voices; see our swinging arms. Nothing in the world better than walking through the woods to the house of a friend.

Say path, and I'll see my mother playing tennis, lifting her arm with its racquet in hopes of the return. We children danced away through hedges on a snaking line of dust. No one ever tried to snatch us or lure us with candy. An amphitheater and three playgrounds. Tetherball, crawling barrel tunnel, swings. Sand.

Say path, and I'll remember riding bareback from the meadow, her body barely fitting betwixt the narrow trees. I laid my head against her neck to duck the bending branches, and we belonged to one another. I've never been closer to God.

Say path, and I'll see my daughter running in the winter: her cheeks pink roses, her mouth an upward curve.

**writing in community with Amber and friends

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Charleigh: Living Out Loud

My Little Red-Haired Girl named Charleigh will turn 2.5 at the end of the month, and she's quite come into herself. I used to worry that her older sister would overshadow her, which, at it turns out, was a laughable concern.

Charleigh, in the words of Emile Zola, is here to live out loud. See?

Charleigh takes great delight in making her housemates yell. She's a terrific tease, and it makes no nevermind to her that, among us, she's second to smallest. She knows the spankable offenses and commits them, anyway, because they're fun and, in her estimation, worth it.

She's a scrapper. She's been known to bite, pull hair, ride her older siblings as though they were horses, kick, and hit. She loves to climb and, to show for it, has bulging calf muscles and all manner of bruises. At the moment, she sports a fading goose egg on her forehead and a sidewalk scrape on her wrist. Her front teeth are chipped.

She's apt to lean over the side of the grocery cart and hock a spontaneous loogie onto the floor of a Walmart Supercenter.

She's put more foreign objects and poisonous substances in her mouth than her three siblings put together and multiplied by sixteen. In this respect, she's worked her guardian angel (and her mama) hard. She bites her nails and scrapes polish right off with her two, front teeth.

She can wink, and she can bust a move. She hugs with ferocity and names all her baby dolls after herself. If you'll let her, she'll wear high heels in the bathtub, but she won't keep a ponytail for nothin. She makes a person want to write in double negatives and drop g's as though it's the Wild, Wild West.

Last night, before we could snatch her up, she interrupted our pastor to announce: "I'm a dancer. I'm a star. I'm a beautiful princess. I'm a super hero."

She pretty much hates Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Chuck E. Cheese, Yogi Bear, and all manner of costumed nonsense. But she's plumb crazy over her papaw, which is saying something, and she's stolen his heart like none other, which is saying even more.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Truth about Parenting

The truth about parenting is that nothing can fully prepare you for it. You can talk to a bunch of other parents and read a bunch of books, but, in the end, your child will look expectantly in your direction, and you'll think: Lord have mercy, I'm responsible for helping this person when I need so much help, myself.

Different phases will affect you differently. I'm a champion breastfeeder, which is good in that I start parenting with a bang (or a gush), but bad in that, so far, it seems like my best is behind me by month fourteen or fifteen of a child's life, and then what?

I'm not so great at parenting two- and three-year-olds. I have one of each, at the moment. I yell too much.

With Cade, I enjoyed years four through nine. I cried for three days when he turned ten. At the time, I didn't know why, but now I do. And just when it seemed like we might be figuring it out, again, he started creeping up on thirteen. Last month, he fell over the edge.

I've never been here, before. He's a young man and a startlingly beautiful one, at that, but, already, I miss his other face. I know it's gone forever; did I look at it enough? Did I commit it to memory or, at least, take enough photos of it?

I'm grieving a bit. I realize that's ridiculous; I mean, I have loved ones whose sons have gone to heaven, and I'm whining because mine is growing up. But I do feel a little unsettled.

His grades have slipped, and his dad is so laid back that he might as well be dead. I hung up on him the other day. It was like old times.

On the other hand, Jim's so uptight that, in comparison, I'm looking dead-ish, myself. I feel like bait on a trotline what runs between these two men. Do you see me squirming? Everything rushes by fast and cold, and I'm just trying to catch the ever-growing fish that is the boy.

I have to find my own way, and it may not be the best way, but I can't pretend to be Jason or Jim. I have to be myself. I'm in the waters with the boy, and my hands are open. Lord, help.

Friday, February 1, 2013

On Seeing

Jim surprised me when he bought me, for Christmas, a much nicer camera. We had discussed my getting one, but later: you know, when I don't have two (destructive!) toddlers and an infant and, therefore, more children needing a hand than hands. When I don't break tons of things, myself, out of exhausted carelessness.

It took a couple weeks for me to get up enough nerve to pull my new camera out of the box. I used only a prime lens (on automatic focus) for a couple more.

Saturday, though, the three little ones all went down for a nap at the same time. Jim and Mom were here, so I asked Dad to walk with me. I took my camera and all my lenses, and I practiced--for the first time in my life, really--taking photos of things, not people. I had so much fun that, nap-time Sunday, I scurried straightaway out into the yard with my camera. This time, I was alone.

So many of you grasp the mysteries of a camera with interchangeable lenses; I'd never even tried to understand my point-and-click. Don't laugh, but I felt very brave in switching from automatic to manual focus on a zoom lens.

It was cold outside, and a few small patches of snow remained on the ground. And it's a little embarrassing, really, but--before I knew it--my jeans were wet from kneeling. I just couldn't get over the fact that I could make myself and my camera as still as possible and see such wildly different things through the lens.
The view changed drastically as I zoomed, but I was even more fascinated in playing with the focus. I realized that--even after I'd decided where I was going to look, and from what distance--I could change my focal point. I could capture countless different images within the same view-finding rectangle, even making details appear and disappear at will!

I realized: as much fun as I thought I'd had with my point-and-click, I'd been giving the camera most of the control. I could almost hear my new camera whisper-ask: "What do you want me to see?" And--as I answered silently with my hands, in just the few ways I know--I experienced more of a creative high than I had in a long time.

And then it came upon me in an epiphanous rush: there are so many more variables to what is than I'm capable of fathoming. In one sense, my human eye (being part of my human body), sees only what little is in front of it. In another sense, my human eye struggles in focusing in on one detail among all those it can see. Hard to explain, but my human eye sees both too little and too much.

Perhaps this is why Paul writes of our seeing through a glass, darkly (I Corinthians 13:12).

I look out of my human eye, this morning, and whisper-ask of God: What do you want me to see? Show me, Lord.