Monday, December 30, 2013

Home Again, Home Again

And now the party is over.  At least for a day.  Balsam fir needles shagging our carpet, scraps of wrapping paper nestled against the bottom of chair legs, new paints and glitter glue and Princess coloring books clogging the shelves-in-need-of-a-thorough-purging. 

It was negative 13 degrees when we woke this morning.  Chill sweeping up from the floor in the breakfast nook, your sister turning and turning the lid of her vitamin jar to release her new gummies. 

You are becoming sweeter and sweeter by the day.  Less frugal with your smiles, content to sit against the swell of a belly or propped within the crook of Daddy's leg.  Sometimes we have competitions to see who can get you to balance the longest in a sitting position before you tip to the side, a Buddha bowling pin without the reflexes to reach out your arms to catch yourself.  You can grab your toes but you're not yet quite flexible enough to bring them to your mouth.  Your hips have opened and you roll easily from side to side (then you arch your back and strain your head back but can't quite seem to flip over).  You are still a font of snot but now, with the help of the Nose Frida we manually suck the boogers out a few times a day.  It's disgusting and deeply satisfying at the same time.

You will be five months old tomorrow and last night Daddy and I arrived unanimously at the Cry for Awhile Terminal.  I don't think either of us would be capable of letting you cry for hours at this point, but all you really seem to need is about five or ten minutes of shrieking before you turn yourself off--a water spout going full force and the suddenly without warning, nothing.  Silence.  You fall asleep around 6:30pm and then (the last two nights at least) I feed you once, between 2:00 and 4:00.  Then you wake around 6:30am and I feed you again and bring you into bed and Daddy and I prop you between us with a crinkly book and you blow bubbles at the zebra-with-the-girth-of-a-cow or the snail-with-the-snot-silver-shell and we doze in the darkness until we hear your sister's footsteps, down the ladder of her bunk bed and across the floor.  She always stands in the crack of our open bedroom door, dressed in a nightgown and fleece pants, holding Dog Do, hair lifted in the odd angles of sleep, until we see her and call her into us.  Then she crawls over me and nestles in between Daddy and I, facing you, and she sings and talks to you and you smile and smile.

The last week has been full of loveliness: Thisbe lumping through the snow of Lake Harriet with Gak and Ampa and Karu, making snow angels and running the length of the frozen dock; Anna and Martha walking you in a burst of warm weather, taking turns strapping you to the fronts of their bodies; Dot flipping crepe after crepe on the stove, passing us yogurt and syrup and cherry jam; John and Anna and Dot and Mark and Daddy and Mama moving down a snow-covered path in Excelsior, dark figures against a white board, night swift all around us, talking about Amy Adams' side boob and the re-making of the Self in American Hustle; your sister's joy on Christmas morning pulling princess fruit snacks out of her stocking ("He CAME, he really CAME!!!"); Thisbe squeezing drops of color into bowls of white icing; watching the Christmas eve service on a screen because our church was too full; Mama in the fall of snow on Christmas eve, shaking jingle bells in the cold porch light below Thisbe's window; Martha singing the final lyric of a song just outside the door of your room; loaves of french bread filled with artichoke and garlic and cheese, smoked turkey, pans of chicken and wild rice, almond bread, chocolate rum balls, Negronis and Manhattans, red and green M and Ms in a glass dish; your father's sniffling at the end of Frozen and your sister's peanut butter sandwich crust, crushed with sweat in the palm of her hand.

And there was the friction too, the places where we hurt one another, the smaller slights and the larger gaps in understanding.  On Saturday afternoon, Daddy brought Thisbe to a McDonald's to meet Gak.  The plan was that Thiz would spend a night in Minneapolis while we all spent one more night in Excelsior.  But by the time Gak showed up, Thisbe was curled in Dada's lap, crying that she just wanted to go home. 

All four of us, I think, are most grateful for this: to return to our home, to our routine, to the usual. Oatmeal with craisens and the familiar art table at school.  To the red formica table in the coffee shop and the mobile with polar bear and crocodile and bear and whale circling predictably.  To the staticky blankets and unvacuummed carpets and slightly empty, slightly sticky refrigerator shelves.  To the whirr of the humidifier and the chugging of the electric train and the creak of our own floorboards.

Yesterday we got to watch John preside at the church where he's doing his internship.  He was graceful and confident, raising his arms of the prayers, inviting people to sit and stand, lighting the baptismal candle.   The gospel text for the day was about the slaughter of the innocents.  The baby boys Herod killed out of his great fear.  But I am thinking today about what this meant for Mary, to have given birth in a foreign place and then to be told she had to go immediately to Egypt, to flee to further strangeness.  For her, there was no going home, no return to the routine and the regular.  And I am thinking today about the people in our world who have to live like Mary.  Not just the refugees, but those who are homeless or mentally ill and must move forward, always, into what is foreign, unfamiliar, uncharted; who must go, again and again, into unsafe territory.  And I wonder if for Mary, faith came because she needed a home and God was one, a place to rest, finally, that was familiar and sound.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Family Spa Time

Whenever I get stressed out or tired or feel bad, your father always suggests I take a bath.  I don't really like baths all that much but tonight I capitulated because you've been waking up about four times a night and I'm exhausted and achy and have that tickle in the back of my throat that signals impending doom.

And, because you were with Barb The Nanny for three hours today and I was feeling like I should do some sort of special baby bonding, I thought I would take you in the bath with me.  Everyone knows that bathing with your baby is a miraculous experience; you can snuggle and get a sense of well-being!

So I got undressed and got you undressed and we climbed into the bath together and I gazed into your eyes and moved you through the warm water and you smiled and then pooped everywhere.

I screamed for your father and then you started screaming because I was screaming and then there I was, standing with you in the tub while Daddy hosed fecal matter off of you and me and the tub.

Then Daddy whisked you away and I moved on to the "private tub-time" recommended by the article above.  First I dumped in some promising looking bath salts.  They had a picture of a bundle of herbs on the front and all the writing was in French.  The water immediately turned neon green so I squealed again and this time Thisbe came in and said "Ewww Mommy.  What did you do?"  But it smelled OK so I lay back in the flourescent water and listened to my baby cry in the room next door while my four year old turned and turned the doorknob of the bathroom while repeating the phrase "MommyIneedhelp" incessantly.

And I thought, through the haze of joy and relaxation, about the Henri Nouwen passage we read in our advent reflection book today.  It was all about patience and it was very Zen-like and wise about how impatient people long to reside outside the present moment.  And at dinner I nodded and thought about how impatient I am and how much I have to learn.  But later, I couldn't help thinking how Nouwen likely wrote that quote at a desk with a cup of coffee that hadn't grown cold and not while swimming in flakes of excrement.

And so my unheroic wisdom of today, Matteus, is this: patience is a good skill to hone, but there will be times in your life when you are in the poop tub, and when that happens it's also OK to long to reside in a different moment.  And it's also good to feel grateful to the One Who Washes Away the Feces.

(Note: my gift to you and anyone who reads this blog is to NOT provide a picture of this precious moment.)

Sunday, December 15, 2013


It was 8:34am on Wednesday morning.  I was trying to get your sister Thisbe out the door to school.  She was wearing her winter coat, her black hat with ear flaps and fluorescent flowers, and her mittens.  But no boots.  And we were late.  Not because I actually had to be anywhere by a set time but because the longer it takes us to get going in the morning, the less time I have for my own work.  So there you were in your exer-saucer and there was Thisbe in her winter gear and stockinged feet, doing a jig in front of you.  And there was Daddy, banging a maraca on a tambourine.  And you smiling like crazy and Thisbe dancing faster and bouncing side to side and making fish faces.  And Daddy beginning the chorus of Jingle Bells for the third time.  And there was me suddenly, yelling at the top of my lungs "STOP LAUGHING AND DANCING IT IS TIME TO GO!!!"

I'm such a winner of a Mama right now.  Winner of a wife too.  Daddy has been stressed out because he has papers to grade and a J-term course to plan and a book manuscript due January 1st.  So yesterday he asked for time to work and I said "yes."  But then he talked to the neighbor in the driveway for twenty minutes while I made lunch and as a result was late getting out the door.  But he still wanted the same amount of time.  So we fought.  Then I gave him an extra hour and said "just be to the party by 4:00."  And he arrived at the party at 4:15 and I was seething.  Hot reptiles slithering around inside me.  You were fussing and I was bouncing you and trying to have conversations about cookie baking and Thisbe kept asking for one more treat and one more treat and he just kept not walking through the door.  When we finally got home I went up to our room and closed the door and didn't come out for half an hour.  We put you and your sister to bed and then the babysitter came and we went to another party and saw people we loved and pretended we were speaking to one another.  Well, to be fair, your father was speaking to me.  I was a wall of mono-syllabic responses.  But pretending to be happy and delighted by the season OF COURSE.

I went to bed curled around my laptop while your father reapplied the Saab's driver side mirror in the dark and sub-zero temperatures.  This morning Thisbe had to sing at church at 8:15am so we were a whirlwind of dumping breakfast cereal into bowls and trading our mugs out from under the coffee maker and wiping snot from your nose and fastening buttons on your sister's velvet dress.  Somewhere in there, over by the coffee maker, your father kissed me on the cheek and said he was sorry and that he loved me.  I mumbled "I love you too" and then reached for you to put you in the car seat and you looked at me and then pooped loudly and with incredible force.

Thisbe did a lovely job singing Away in the Manger and some song about keeping the secret of Jesus in your heart (?).  Then we watched the older children present a pageant complete with fifth grade boys looking mildly awkward, mildly proud, and mildly humiliated to be dressed as shepherds.  At the end of the service Thisbe turned to me and said, "why didn't they show the part where Jesus comes out of Mary's tummy?"

And I whispered something back about how when you tell a story you have to leave some parts out because you can't possibly say everything.

But meanwhile I thought YES.  Where IS the part where the baby comes ripping out of Mary's vagina?  Where is the afterbirth and the oops she pooped in the straw?  Where is the argument Mary and Joseph had as they went inn to inn, finding no room because Joseph was in charge of making reservations five months ago and totally forgot but at least he did remember to get an oil change?  Where is the expression on Mary's face when a bunch of men she's never met show up to crowd her with their oily wool smell three hours after she's given birth?

I love the story of Jesus' birth.  I need it every season.  But sometimes when I go out with my family during the holidays, I find myself trying to form us in the image of the creche.  I want us looking like the pageant version of the story--full of humility and joy and awe (and flattering draped fabric and sweet melodies and glitter).  I am ashamed that the emotions we seem to be doing best in our household at this moment are instead anxiety and blame and rage.

I know this point has been made before.  But I am saying it again today.  I am hungry for the real amidst the cheer.  I am hungry for our telling of this story to include the the howls and sweaty breath of a woman in labor, the fumbling of a father who has to find a way to cut the umbilical cord, and the squalling red face of an infant who has too much starlight directly in his eyes. 

Birth is a beautiful thing but it is a hard thing too.  I wish we worked harder to make room for the confusion and impatience and pain, both in the way we hear the story of Jesus and in the way we hear the stories of one another.

Friday, December 13, 2013

At your four month appointment you were 14.6 pounds, 25.5 inches, big head.  You manage, most days, to insert your thumb in your mouth in what appears to be a fairly satisfactory way.  You lift your toes into the air and then sometimes the weight of them tips you to the right or left, onto your side, in a way that surprises you.  Right now you're wearing a striped orange sleeper that stretches tight across your thighs and a bib (featuring a bulldog and the words 'Ruff and Rough") to catch the flow of drool and snot that is ceaseless.  I nursed you at 12 last night and then you were awake again at 2 so Daddy rocked you and changed you and administered the hated blue bulb syringe to your nose.  You slept, finally, in your car seat and then woke again at 6 to nurse and then to lay against my chest, raising your head to catch my face and smiling hugely, delighted, finding me for the first time again and again.  When people hear your penny whistle shriek they turn (Yesterday, at the Tavern.  Wednesday, at church.  Tuesday, at Blue Monday.) and they smile.  They think this sound is a fluke, a blip, an odd little chirrup.  The do not realize that it is in fact the ONLY SOUND YOU MAKE (other than crying).  It's like living with Captain VonTrapp.  Only your sister singing "My Favorite Things" has not driven you to give up the sound, it instead increase in volume as though while Maria played her guitar the captain had decided to accompany her on his whistle.

Yesterday was a big day.  I invited my students over for the last day of class and they squeezed into our living room and ate brownies and Rice Krispie bars and baby oranges and drank homemade hot chocolate with gigantic marshmallows floating on top.  Gak carried you in the Bjorn and you listened politely to the first part of the class (then you began the penny whistle shrieking and she had to take you upstairs).  The students read their poems and then left in a shuffle of backpacks and hugs and drippy boots.  They were a lovely group and I'll miss meeting with them and hearing their work. 

Then we went to Thisbe's preschool for the Christmas sing.  They tapped sticks and shook bells and belted out songs about crocodiles and elves and candy canes from the masking tape "Xs" that mark their spots on the carpet.  Afterward, Thisbe ran so long and so hard that she finally fell and cut her lip and somehow ended up on the potty with a frozen penguin pressed to her face, Gak squatting in front of her, Daddy trying to dab her blood off his sweater.  Afterward the appropriate period of crying we went to the library and saw the model trains and then (after more meltdown) went to the Tavern for dinner. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Elves are Watching

Advent is upon us along with a half inch layer of sleet that is slowly turning to ice in the darkness as I write this.

Advent means many things in our household but perhaps the most important is my favorite manipulative parenting strategy: THE ELVES ARE WATCHING.  I've only employed it a few times thus far, most often around bedtime.  Thisbe will be squirreling around her room, hiding in her closet or head butting me and I'll look suddenly at the window, an expression of mild concern crossing my face.  "What?" says Thisbe.  "It's probably nothing," I say, "it's just that it kind of looked like...but it couldn't be."  "What?" says Thisbe.  "An elf!" I say.  Thisbe immediately presses both hands over her mouth.  "Watching ME?" she says between her fingers.  "Mmmm hmmmm" I say.  She then becomes an automaton of silence, getting dressed, brushing her teeth, climbing into bed with a haunted look on her face.

Tonight, after going through this same routine again, she made me sing her bedtime song in a whisper so she could hear if there was any sleigh movement on the roof.  Then she said her prayer, which went something like this "Now I lay me...Dear God, please don't let the elves see me when I am being mean.  And please bring the elves and the angels and the presents under the tree into my dreams.  Amen."

Jesus is not super proud of me right now but I bet my father is--right DAD?  My father was (and likely still is) the king of manipulative parenting strategies (though likely he wouldn't call them that, he would simply call it parenting).  His favorites were Nurse Kaethe (in which he lay on the couch feigning illness while I brought him stuff.  For hours.), Ground squirrel hunt (in which he took me to a field by the university where he taught and instructed me to watch for the squirrels to poke their heads up while he graded papers) and Nap Contest (in which the two players lie on a bed, facing one another, eyes closed.  The object of the game is to catch the other person with eyes open so I would open and close mine constantly, like a drunken fish, and he would simply fall asleep.)

When I told YOUR father about my elfish manipulation of your sister he scowled and said he thought it was creepy.  By the time you read this you'll probably be able to gauge what kind of person you are by whether you agree with your father's estimation (creepy) or mine (genius).

Though Jesus is likely not entirely impressed with me right now, he is quite impressed with you, sweet boy.  You were baptized this Sunday.  The first Sunday of advent.  Gak and I pushed your plump arms into the highly feminine baptismal gown that she wore and I wore and Uncle Michael wore and Thisbe wore and we cradled you over a round metal font at the front of the church.  Pastor Cheryl (a former cop) scooped water over your head (some drops from Northfield and some drops from the Jordan River) and Becky lit your baptismal candle and around you gathered Judy and Michael and Mark and Dot and Anna and Radhika and Karu and David and Uncle Michael and Agnes and Greg and Gak and Ampa and a bunch of kiddos from the congregation.  I lifted you up into the air and the Bethelites promised to support you and Thisbe and Lucy and Hattie splashed their hands in the holy water and Becky and Charlie promised to guide you and love you and Pastor Cheryl dipped her thumb in holy oil and made the sign of the cross on your forehead.

Then we went back to our house and ate a delicious pan of chicken and rice made by wonderful DeAne and a salad tossed with dried cherries and goat cheese from Dot and fruit salad and bread from Gak and a cake with buttercream frosting.  You took a short nap and then you were passed from arm to arm and lap to lap until finally you ended up in the exersaucer in the den with all the men, baptized into your first encounter with the Vikings.

Tomorrow is your four month check-up.  You will be weighed and measured, your eyes and ears will be illumined, the flexibility of your muscles and joints will be tested, the size of the soft spot on your head will be assessed.  We'll be given numbers and assurances, percentiles and words like normal or abnormal as a way of coming to know and understand this tiny person that you are.

It is something of a relief to believe that you are known already, known and loved entirely by a God whose love will be with you always.  Becky and Charlie gave you a book to remind you of this, gave you a card with their beautiful words to remind you of this.  Unlike the elves, God doesn't watch you to assess your niceness quotient.  God watches you because loving is knit up in knowing--and Matteus Mark, beloved son, we give you over to this God because we are human and sometimes we will fail at knowing you and thus understanding how best to love you.

Happy Baptism, sweet one.  You fill our lives with promise and we are grateful.