Monthly Archives: October 2007

Pick Me!

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Caleb and I have a little ritual. The Pick Me ritual. When he climbs into my lap for a cuddle, when we’re dancing around the living room in crazy circles or playing at the park, when I tuck him into bed for the night, sometimes I’m just overwhelmed by waves of mushy mommy love for this irrepressible tornado of a boy that God has given me.

“You know what?” I ask him.

“What?” he replies, already grinning because he knows what’s coming.

“If I could choose any little boy out of all the little boys in the whole, wide world to be my son, I would pick….YOU!

Me?” he asks, smiling big.

“Yes, you,” I confirm, before we both collapse into tickles and laughter. I soak up these moments like rays of fall sunlight, knowing that four years old quickly becomes fourteen and that time swallows up childhood rituals faster than Caleb eats chocolate chip cookies.

Sometimes it’s Caleb who initiates the exchange. Especially when we’ve had a tough day, a day filled with “don’t”s and whining and mutual irritations, when he and I are at odds with each other and obligation has temporarily eclipsed delight in the parent-child bond, I often find him at my elbow, looking up at me and asking, “Will you pick me, Mom?”

So I do.  “You know what?”  “What?”  Big grin.  We go through the whole thing again, and by the end of it we’re both smiling, remembering once more the joy of being loved for exactly who you are.

Sometimes Caleb asks me to “pick” Katie, or Daddy.  He listens as I choose Katie from all the little girls on the planet, as I single Paul out from all the world’s “grown up boys.”   I think it’s his way of affirming and enjoying the sense of being part of our family. He reminds me that we all belong to each other, that we are drawn together out of the world to make this unit, this place of safety and acceptance and growth and trust. The four of us.

It’s a good feeling, being picked. I want my children to grow up knowing that feeling. That way, I hope, one day they’ll be able to fully recognize God’s love in picking us to be His children. They’ll take hold of His invitation with both hands. They’ll fearlessly give themselves up to belonging to Him in the same way.

They’ll pick Him back.

Fighting Fair

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Our first married fight had all the usual elements of a tantrum: tears, yelling, overly dramatic accusations of fatal character flaws, and two people completely and irrevocably convinced of the moral superiority of their own positions.

We hadn’t been home from our honeymoon very long, and we were only beginning to learn what it meant to evolve from a dating couple to a married one. We were both still students, and our apartment just off campus allowed us to remain involved in all of the social activities and friendships we’d enjoyed throughout our college experience. In fact, many nights found Paul back in his old stomping grounds, hanging out at the guys’ dorms, drifting from room to room to shoot the breeze, mooch pizza, and play video games.

I didn’t have a problem with this, at first. I’d arrive home from a seven o’clock class, stir up some Ramen noodles for myself, watch a little TV, do my homework, and busy myself with the hundred wedding gift thank you notes I had left to write. But as one hour turned into two, then five, and midnight came and went with no word from the man who was supposed to be sliding into bed next to his brand new wife, mild irritation would turn to worry, worry would turn to anger, and anger would dissolve into tears as I started to imagine all the terrible fates that could have befallen him. Just about the time I was imagining what I would say to the police officer who came to give me the bad news that my young husband had been struck down by a gang of murderous bikers, in he would walk, smiling broadly and goofily unaware of the tempest of emotions roiling inside his hapless bride.

The first couple of times it happened, the relief of finding that he was okay eclipsed everything else, and the leftover bit of honeymoonish glow that still suffused our tiny apartment quickly swept away the anger I felt. Finally, though, things came to a head.

It was two in the morning on a weeknight. I had worried, I had wept, I had even called around to a couple of his friends’ rooms to find out if they had seen him–only my fear for his well-being overcoming my aversion to an act that, to me, had “naggy wife” written all over it. And, to be honest, I was embarrassed to admit that my girlish fantasy of true lovers wanting to spend “every moment together” was already riddled with holes, pierced by the reality of life with a flesh and blood man instead of a fairy tale hero. Paul had never stayed out so late without calling before, though, and I was sure that this time he was lying in a ditch somewhere, his life’s blood ebbing out in a dark and widening pool as he struggled to remember the license plate number of the long haul trucker who had run over him. When he finally walked through the door, he walked into a full-blown hurricane.

I won’t go into detail about what was said, mainly because the merciful fog of years has faded the memory a bit. Somewhere amidst all the hard words and tears and recriminations and hot defensiveness, we each managed to make our points. We were new at the whole arguing thing, so we might have wasted a few words and thrown a couple of low blows, but when the smoke cleared at last, we had reached an understanding. Paul promised to let me know where he was going and when he’d be home, and I promised not to call out the National Guard if he was a few minutes late.

One issue down, five thousand two hundred ninety-nine to go.

***

Our marriage group topic this month is The Healthy Handling of Conflict:

Icebreaker: Can you remember the very first argument you ever had as a married couple? What was it about?

1. Do you, as a couple, have any rules for “fighting fair”?

2. As individuals, we start learning our patterns of handling conflict when we’re children, from watching our parents fight. What habits, good or bad, do you think you’ve carried over from the way your parents argued with each other?

3. Many conflicts have their roots in unmet expectations. We each come to our marriages with certain presumptions about our partners and our relationships. Describe a time when you and your spouse encountered a difference in expectations. What did you do to resolve it?

4. Some relationships are characterized by a pursuer-withdrawer dynamic, that is, one partner is more likely to bring issues up for discussion, while the other tends to avoid these discussions or pull away during them. How does this play out in your marriage? What compromises can help a couple to break out of this pursue-withdraw pattern?

5. Every marriage seems to have one or two “hot button issues” that come up over and over and never get resolved. How do you handle these sensitive topics in your marriage? How important is it to reach a resolution on those issues?

6. What is one positive change you can make in the way you and your spouse deal with conflict?

Dirty House Friends

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“Company’s coming!”

As a child, I knew what that meant. My mom would put us to work picking up clutter, vacuuming the carpet, and cleaning the kitchen, while she ran to the pantry to survey our stores and choose ingredients for a meal worthy of visiting dignitaries. The house took on a shine that it never wore when it was just the five of us, and we gathered around the table to marvel at the pristine tablecloth and the regal centerpiece looking like some foreign piece of art sitting there, where, on normal days, we folded laundry, did homework, and played with Legos.

Now, as an adult, I also love to invite people over for dinner, and the ritual is much the same. I press Paul and the kids into service to clean the apartment from stem to stern, trying to see it through a stranger’s eyes and discovering dirt in places I usually overlook, like on the baseboards and inside the stove’s fume hood. I scrub the toilet, sweep the floors, eradicate the rapidly reproducing dust bunny population, clean the tub (as if dinner guests are going to take a shower while they’re here), and order all the kids’ toys confined to their room for the duration. I even light candles to make it smell as if I bake.

Then, since I used up all my time cleaning instead of cooking, we order pizza. But that’s another post.

The point is that while I enjoy special occasions and inviting new friends and acquaintances over to showcase my masterful housekeeping and pizza ordering skills, when it comes to socializing, my favorite moments are those I spend with my Dirty House Friends.

Dirty House Friends are the ones you call up on a whim to ask, “What are you doing? Come over and watch Phantom of the Opera with me!” And they come, despite the fact that you’ve made them watch Phantom of the Opera six times already (rewinding all the good parts with Gerard Butler.) They sit on the couch next to your unfolded laundry with their feet resting on the wooden blocks and puzzle pieces and Happy Meal toys that are scattered around the living room like shrapnel from an explosion in Santa’s workshop, and they don’t see a thing. You never say “Sorry about the mess!” to a Dirty House Friend, because they don’t care, and when you’re with them, neither do you.

Dirty House Friends let you glimpse their clutter, too. I always rejoice when a friendship crosses the boundary of company clean into the intimacy of Dirty House-ness. When I walk, invited, into a friend’s house to see crusty dishes in the sink and stacks of papers scattered over the dining room table, I smile inwardly, knowing that I have stepped into the inner sanctum of my friend’s genuine living space, her real and disheveled and authentic life.

And that’s what I love most about Dirty House Friends. A friend who’s not put off by my messy house won’t be scared away by my messy life. A friend like that can take it when you lose your keys, lose your temper, lose your mind. A friend like that will be around when you’ve really screwed up, passing over recriminations in favor of a much needed hug and some help in picking up the pieces, knowing that you’ll be there when the pieces are hers. A Dirty House Friend won’t think you’re a bad mom when you drop the kids off at her house just to get an hour or two alone. She isn’t freaked out when you burst into tears, and the word “overshare” doesn’t apply to her. She’ll take you seriously when you tell her to call anytime, and the resulting conversations will cover everything from peanut butter brands to deep spiritual struggles.

A Dirty House Friend sees the clutter in your home, in your mind, and in your life, and loves it all. Loves you, the you that lies beyond your Yankee candles and your clean baseboards.

So if you’re thinking of inviting me over, do me a favor. Don’t bother to clean. Let’s just clear a space in the mess, pull up some chairs, order pizza, and talk.

Let the dust bunnies live to see another day.

***

*Dedicated to my own dear Dirty House Friends. You are such a blessing to me!

Blurgglpplarfff!

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I hate that noise. That juicy, splurching, glorpish noise that makes you sit bolt upright in the middle of the night suddenly certain that one of your kids has just coated his bed, his pillow, his pajamas, and his poor, poor Tigger with the remains of his dinner. That noise informs you that you had better wake up, because the next twenty minutes of your life will be consumed in a flurry of activity: peeling off gloopy clothes, stripping down slimy sheets and blankets, starting the washer, making the bed (or, if it is still drying from its furious scrubdown, throwing a sleeping bag out on the floor), and bathing and combing and dressing your darling in clean, sweet-smelling pajamas before you finally tuck him in to sleep once more.

The only thing worse than hearing that noise at 12:30am is hearing it again at 3:00.

Moved!

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Isn’t it annoying when someone you know picks up and moves without your permission, forcing you to dig through drawers and cabinets all over the house to locate the ancient address book you’ve had since the seventh grade, the purple one with the frolicking kittens on the front and the words “Purr-fect Pals” scrawled across the top, only to scratch out their old address (written, of course, in permanent ink) and copy down the new one underneath it? What a hassle. And I’m sorry.

Thank you to everyone who contributed an opinion to the great Blogger vs. WordPress debate. After a week of deliberation so tortured you’d think I was considering pulling the plug on a living, breathing person rather than a motley collection of digitized prose, I’ve decided to move my blog to WordPress.

Both sites offered some great tools, and I’m sure there will be things I miss about Blogger (like being able to edit my own CSS), but there are a lot of new toys to play with at WordPress (like onboard blog stats, customizable music player, a flickr photo plug-in, and lots more.)

Maybe, despite all my raillery against change, I’m just another neophile after all.

The Care & Keeping of You

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In the wake of our recent frank discussions about puberty and sex, I thought it was a good time to back up Katie’s accumulating store of knowledge with the written word. I found this book some time ago on Amazon and bookmarked it so I would remember it when the time came:


It’s a great book, very matter-of-fact and informative, full of useful information on personal hygiene, physical changes, and body image issues. There’s a great chapter on shopping for your first bra and another on what to do when you get your period. All of it is written in a comfortable, conversational tone designed to demystify the nebulous countryside that lies along the path between girlhood and womanhood.

I gave the book to Katie this afternoon after school, with encouragement to come to me if she had any questions. She disappeared inside it for a couple of hours when her homework was done, and every time I sneaked a peek over at her, she was wearing the same look of rapt concentration. A good sign, I think. No questions yet, but I think I’m ready for them, and I’ve got Google on standby just in case I get stumped.

Thinking back on my own turbulent adolescence, and the scant two years or so I have before Katie meets hormones for real, I only have one question: where’s my book? You know, the one called How To Survive the Preteen and Teenage Years and Still Be On Speaking Terms With Your Kids When They’re Over. I’ve been all over Amazon and I can’t find it anywhere. And I’m getting just a little nervous.

Judy

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“A smile is the light in the window of your face that tells people you’re at home.” ~AnonymousHer name is Judy, and she’s definitely at home. I met her that first day as I have met her many days since, across the counter at the Chevron station, where she handed me my receipt and woke me up by starting an actual conversation, as if she and I were friends leaning across the back fence, with all day to shoot the breeze. There was interest in her face, in the smile lines around her eyes, in the friendly way she really looked at me, as if seeing an honest-to-goodness person and not just another debit card paying for beef jerky and a tank of gas. It reminded me, all at once, that she was a real person, too, not some robot behind the cash register. It made me see her—and not just her, but everyone else who entered my sphere as I went on my way.

That first time, it was the sign outside the Chevron that brought me to my favorite corner convenience store. It said “FREE POP WITH FILL UP”. I had an empty tank and an empty 52 ounce 7-11 Extreme Gulp keg just begging for cubed ice and Diet Coke gurgling and fizzing up to the rim, so I stopped. But it was Judy and her particular brand of cheerful solidarity that kept me coming back.

That was six years ago.

My Extreme Gulp cup (affectionately nicknamed “Big Red”) eventually developed a terminal leak, so I bought another one, this one an all black model with OC Choppers on the side that makes me feel a lot cooler. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Judy in hundreds of five minute increments, and my first impression of her only grows more indelible. She calls me Kat, the only person in my life who does. And it’s not just me she treats to those amiable smiles and flashes of warmth. Judy’s “regulars” are many; I’ve seen her greet a steady parade of them by name as they come through the swinging glass doors. She’s bought gas for a stranded motorist, shared her lunch with a hungry friend, and listened to more hard luck stories than a bartender. She remembers them, too, asking after husbands and children, checking to see how the job interview turned out, noticing new outfits and lost weight. Judy has her own stories, as well, and if you hang out long enough or often enough you’ll probably hear some of them, and appreciate the smile she usually wears even more.

This past year, for my birthday, Judy bought me a scratch-off lottery ticket, my first. Using a nickel, I scratched it off there at the counter with her looking on. (“You’re not supposed to scratch it in front of me, Kat! Think how I’ll feel if you don’t win!”) It wasn’t a winner, as it turned out. But looking up at the smiling stranger-turned-friend standing in front of me, I couldn’t summon up any disappointment at all.

The world could use a few more Judys.