Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Reminder of Frailty

My daughter is proving to be a bit of a dare devil, shirking the warnings of many a well-meaning adult in order to determine danger for herself.

Age is relative. To the teenagers I coach I am old: I have a baby, a house, a couple degrees, and gray hair that centers around the part in my hair. I'm not keenly aware of what is "on point", don't use snapchat enough, and prefer to go to bed early. To many of the women at church I study with on a weekly basis, I am young. I have a baby and no children in school--let alone college. I attempt to be stylish, know how to use Siri on my iphone, and participate in workouts with the high school trackl team. 

At times I am not sure where I fit, but I think it is somewhere in the middle. I still feel like I have the options of youth, but I'm thankful much of the time that I don't have the endless transitions that loomed in my teens and twenties. For now, in the deceiving reality I live in, life is stable.

Then, I am reminded that my seeming stability is an illusion.

A friend learned last week that her heart is failing. She is my age, almost exactly. She has a newborn baby, a preschooler, an elementary student, and a child that passed away a few years back. She has a home, weekly activities, and plans lessons and crafts for our mom's group. She is a bright light in our weekly studies, a servant in seemingly every circle she exists within, and too young to have a heart that is failing--much too young.

In these moments, when a few tears over a brief conversation is all our babies will allow, I feel so powerless. Neither the energy of youth or the wisdom of age can do anything concrete in this situation, where the evidence of failure is the subtle shortness of breath and silent panic in the quiet of the night that everything is unraveling. And so we pray: for a miracle, for peace, for comfort, for life beyond the frailty of her broken body. 

In these moments, we are reminded--young and old, healthy and weak--life is fleeting. We are reminded to cling to the truths that are most important, those that remain beyond the conflicts and idols of youth, those that exceed the temptations of complacency and false stability as we age.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Nap Time Diversion, or the Perfect Fall Pie

Taken this summer, at a party celebrating 40 years of marriage between Curtis's parents.

Today during nap time, I cooked a pie. I had a pile of pears, a couple of hours, and the urge to wrestle a pie crust. The recipe I found called for garam masala, a spice I have cooked with a few times before, and I had a small jar sitting among my well-used spices waiting for such an occasion. And a lovely occasion it was, where the chopping of pears didn't wake the little one, where the pie crust rolled and folded as it was ordered, where the spices simmered in the hot oven and the crust came out with a perfect golden luster.

My daughter awoke as I assembled the lattice cover (a first for me, but with the luck I was having in construction, I figured it was a good day to try my hand at it), and I fed her uncooked pie crust chunks as she circled the kitchen, flipping through cookbooks and climbing on and off of the dining room chairs.

While the pie cooked under the watchful eye of a toddler, I attacked the mess that was my kitchen: breakfast, lunch, and pie construction. I filled the dishwasher (while she removed spatulas to lick and make sure they had been stripped of all goodness), and dried the knives, and wiped the counters.

And with all the evidence of the nap time activity gone (save the pie, to be consumed tomorrow), we resumed our normal activities: change a diaper, put on coats and shoes, drive to practice, run a while with the jogger, dinner, bath, bed. In the midst of scheduled activities were many somewhat predictable activities as well: the fit that was thrown when I wouldn't let her have the car keys, the escapist move she pulled when she wriggled her arms out from her car seat straps, the endless dogs and airplanes that were identified as we ran the streets in the sunshine, and several kisses at bath time.

The days with just me and my daughter blend together after a while. Routine and structure seem to be necessities for my sanity, but occasionally the sprinkle of garam masala is the perfect Wednesday addition--something out of the ordinary that's been sitting on the shelf for a while, not the do-it-yourself project or bill paying task I originally had on my mind to accomplish. It was nothing ground breaking, but it didn't need to be. It was my little bit of autonomy at a time when my little appendage is with me everywhere I go.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My People

A glorious evening full of sunshine this summer, in what now feels like ages ago.

One of the hardest parts of moving is leaving people behind. Call it what you want: a village, a safety net--it is the community of people who help when there’s a schedule conflict, who make you dinner when you’d otherwise be home alone, who call to check on you when they haven’t heard from you in a while.

And I have them, again.

The last two moves have been easier than most because we were moving back: back to family, back to old friends, back to a church community from the past and a handful of relationships maintained well over time. The difference was that last time I moved back to my old hometown, and this time we moved to his. I had plenty of contacts, and knew plenty of first names, but this turned out to be surface fa├žade that held all sorts of potential and absolutely no depth. Relationships take time and effort and the sharing of burdens and joys. Mostly, time.

This morning sixteen women and a dozen children showed up at my house while I wiped my daughter clean of her morning yogurt mask. They show up every Wednesday, and we study together and share bits of our stories: the good, the bad, the real. Some of the kids play downstairs; some of them crawl over legs, flip through board books and Bibles left unattended, and rock in the small rocking chair I refinished this summer. Most of the women I see every Sunday, though a few of the others I know through play groups, or were invited from churches across town. All of them find value in our shared time, or they wouldn’t bother—cutting out time from a busy schedule, getting parked-in on my isolated driveway by late arrivals, sitting on stools when we run out of chairs, and shielding their eyes when the sun shines brightly through my coverless windows.

Later this afternoon a friend called and offered to take my daughter during cross country practice so I could run without a jogger—the same friend who had invited me over for dinner this evening, knowing Curtis was working all night.

I basked in blue skies and sunshine, running through trails up the side of a mountain with the team I coach—trails impassible by a jogging stroller—for one glorious hour. I watched for roots and avoided mud bogs. I listened and shared in a conversation winding as often as the trail. When we hit the pavement at the end of the run, covering the short mile that takes us from the wilderness to the high school, I couldn’t help but be struck by how things have changed.

The season of loneliness that comes with relocating can be disheartening, but it can also be very good. In choosing people, in choosing activities, you have to consider again what is most important. And when your community comes together again, it is even more precious than before.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Head Case

I had to shampoo my toddler's head three times this afternoon, scrubbing her scalp vigorously and pinching her thin hair between my fingers to wash away the oily residue. I had covered her head in sunscreen, and now I was paying for the deed. 

My daughter has disliked anything on her head for most of her life. Born in March, she cried when we put hats on her even as a newborn. Unfortunately, living in Alaska demands that newborns (especially five bound bald ones) wear hats in the winter, which doesn't typically end until May. We dealt with the crying; it was par for the course for the first four months of her life. 

Some time around five months she quit resisting head coverings, and I was thrilled as I accessorized her outfits with colorful bows and matching beanies. Around ten months she remembered that she didn't actually care for anything touching her head, and now she had the coordination and dexterity to match it. Though it was the dead of winter, she whipped hats (and of course headbands) off her head as quickly as I could put them on. I crocheted a hat with straps to secure it, and though it was warped and mangled by her fierce pulling, it stayed on. Unfortunately, her sun hats straps have velcro, and she has discovered it is no match for her previously unknown strength. 

And the hats come off. Every time.

Thus I found myself in today's predicament: unwilling to stay inside when the sun was shining brightly and the thermometer declared it was above 70, and unwilling to risk a sunburn on her oh-so-exposed scalp beneath a ridiculously thin matting of hair. So I squirted a small puddle of the thick, white shield into my hand and reluctantly spread it on her head, trying to rub it in and around her face while she looked at me with an expression that was more shocked than concerned. When I finished, a young boy nearby asked me why my child's hair was white. I explained to him my decision, and he looked unconvinced that it was completely necessary. After all, it looked completely ridiculous.

A few hours after the smearing, after three thorough scrubbings, the hair was mostly back to normal. A patch on the crown of her head escaped a thorough mauling and remained crusty and tangled, but otherwise evidence of the dousing was gone.

Good to know, since I have a feeling we will be repeating this again tomorrow. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Story in the Sink

There is a wealth of information in a sink of dirty dishes: A cutting board covered with remnants of oranges and strawberries and tomatoes, each not leaving a big enough mess to warrant a cleaning before reuse. Multiple small containers, coated with a thin layer of sand and ash, alongside remnants of items stored for a lunchtime picnic at the beach. Four (or was it six?) bowls streaked with dried oatmeal from three days' breakfasts unattended. 

If the highchair tray came with multiple covers, they'd be stacked by the sink too.

The weather forecast has been favorable this month, with only a half inch rain and a delicious abundance of sun, a welcome contrast to the fifteen inches we received in January.

This island we live on is green, with weather that is notoriously harsh. A friend visiting in March commented on what a distinct look seaside towns have: houses with exterior paint gradually peeling or chipped, foliage with hearty root systems to survive the ever present wind, so many trees and fences and walkways leaning. Weathered. All of it.

And so when the sun comes out and the wind eases up, so do the people--with as much time as real life allows. I spent two hours after my daughter went to bed cleaning: laundry and dishes and bathrooms. I unpacked from last weekend's track meet and began to repack for this weekend's final meet. It seems that the evening, after the sun has dipped below my backyard spruce trees with glistening rays through my kitchen window, is the only prudent time to get such work done. 

Eventually these tasks demand attention, when the baby runs out of clean pajamas, and there isn't a clean spoon in the house. Until that breaking point, I exercise my freedom to ignore. There will always be housework; alas, there will not always be sun...especially in this town. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Nap Time Musings

     Morning sunrise, a bit earlier each day...

Last week, an hour after putting our toddling girl to bed, I could still hear her babbling away in her crib. Knowing this was unusual for her, I went in to check that something hadn't happened. Everything was as it should be, but the minute I entered the room she popped up and greeted me with an excited squeal, and I lifted her into my arms. With all the range of voice she could muster, she continued to talk and squeal, to play with my lips and drum her hands on my shoulder, pausing every now and then to bury her face in her blanket, which she had intentionally kept tightly within her grasp as I lifted her out.

After a couple moments I lay her down again, and she began to cry intently. This is not her typical response when she is put to bed, and being caught off guard I immediately picked her back up. At that point every parenting advice ever given to me flashed into my head: what habits was I teaching her in this moment? Cry and you'll get what you want? I rocked her as I stood next to her crib, breathing deeply her smell as she nuzzled against my neck, humming as I stood in the evening glow of her room. The sun still shone brightly outside of her western facing window, the rays breaking through the cracks left by the darkening shades. After several moments I lay her down again, and she settled with her left thumb in her mouth, her right arm cradling her pink blanket to her face, and both eyes wide and fixed on my own. 

I spent this last weekend on a four day trip with the track team, flying a few hundred miles away from my family to parade around town in a minivan filled with teenagers. The conversations ranged from overplayed radio hits, to loyalty in relationships, to favorite ice cream flavors. In the couple hundred miles I drove to and from three days worth of track meets, there were plenty of quiet moments where I was able to relish the gift it is to have a job I thoroughly enjoy. And in the quiet of the evening, as I fell asleep in my sleeping bag on a classroom floor listening to the whispering of teenage girls, there were many moments where I very much missed being home. 

I am spending my Monday catching up from a long weekend away from home, finding myself enjoying the rhythm of day to day living: clean sheets, milk in sippe-cups, and the indecision of my daughter as she climbs on and off my lap a half dozen times. She wants to be near me, and though she doesn't have the words to say it, I can tell she noticed my absence. 

It's nice to be away. It's nice to be home. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Outside the Box

My daughter has learned a new skill this past week: the art of transportation. Now that she has mastered toddling around the house on her two dainty feet, she has her hands free. And what better activity than carrying items from one location to another? She is increasingly aware of where items belong—and where she can find them. Personal toiletries seem to be a favorite, and she loves that feminine products fit neatly in her fists, ready to be distributed throughout the kitchen in cupboards and drawers to be found at later dates.

At some point, operating in a world where items materialize in random locations around the house became expected. I’m not sure the day it happened, when the pitter patter of little feet and the sound of her shallow breathing as she concentrates on a specific task became noises that are so familiar, when the schedule of my day began to so effortlessly match the patterns of her naps, when grabbing hats and mittens for two people no longer required any more thought than gathering them just for myself. I don’t remember when I started emptying the dishwasher when she is out of the room, racing to place the contents on the counter before she has made her way over, because as soon as she hears the clinking of silverware and clangs of bowls being stacked she comes running.

Last week, I left her behind. I got on a plane with a couple dozen high school athletes and travelled to a track meet on the mainland, leaving her in capable loving hands—just not mine. The first 24 hours were glorious. I ate without breaking off small chunks to feed a pleading toddler; I fell asleep listening to sounds of sleeping bags rustling against sleeping pads, and awoke to the sound of an alarm clock instead of a cry. Yet after that initial break, where I remembered what it was to operate as an individual, I was ready to return. She has become such a bright spot in my day-to-day existence, and while she complicates the simplest of tasks she has edged her way into my expectations.