Month: November 2009

My things in piles

My facebook status this morning proclaimed that I had clawed my way through an enormous pile of email and was ready to tackle an enormous pile of shipping. The statement was accurate, but due to the short space requirements, incomplete. Also pending was a big pile of accounting, a big pile of laundry, and a big pile of dishes. Things do tend to stack up when I step outside my usual round of tasks for a holiday weekend.

Oddly this accumulation of things to do feels like an interesting challenge rather than a burdenous slog. My triumphant feeling about the email was repeated upon the completion of the shipping. That’s as far as I got before the kids got home and rearranged my priorities. The rest of today will be spend housekeeping and mommying. I just hope I can keep up this energetic streak so that I can tackle more piles tomorrow.

Part of a larger picture

There are some days where events fit together as part of a much larger picture.

The speaker in church talked much on personal revelation, that we each can receive inspiration to direct our actions and guide our lives. This is something I believe in strongly. I’ll admit that I was only giving the speaker half of my attention, as the rest of my attention was on Gleek’s artistic explorations into cross hatching. The kids require lots of encouragement to remain non-disruptive. But in the midst of showing Gleek the different effects that can be achieved by cross hatch density, I suddenly found myself listening with full attention. The speaker spoke of building life habits around seeking inspiration. This is something I’ve tried to do in my life. Because of it there have been times when I have felt clearly and strongly about things I needed to do or say. Lately it has all been a muddle. I haven’t felt strong or clear about anything. Mostly I’ve just been trusting that part of myself that says “do this next.” There hasn’t been time for quiet thoughts or big perspectives. What came to me while listening to the speaker is that the “do this next” voice can be every bit as inspired as the quiet, calm, perspective-driven decisions. I’ve trained myself to recognize and respond to that quiet inner voice. It makes sense that I would keep responding even when there isn’t much time for thought. I also realized that I miss having the larger perspective. If I want it back, I need to carve out some time for it to exist in. I resolved to do some quiet thinking during the rest of church while I was away from the kids.

Quiet thought during church was not to be. Instead I was asked to be a last minute substitute for the primary class that I used to teach. I agreed without a qualm. I love those kids and I know that they really need someone who understands the particular personalities involved. The class had gotten more challenging, not less. Later in the evening I spoke with my backyard neighbor who is their regular teacher. We got to compare notes and discuss the needs. The conversation was helpful in spinning ideas about how to help the kids in the class. It sparked ideas both in her and in me about things that could be done to further help. That conversation would not have happened without me being willing to drop my plan for quiet contemplation.

Directly after church our home teacher came to visit with us. Home teaching is one of the community building activities of our church. Men are paired up and assigned families to visit once per month. This builds friendships and also provides a conduit for information and help in times of need or crisis. We don’t often need much from our home teachers, so the visits tend to be a social visit with a lesson attached. The home teacher arrived and his lesson was tailored just for our family. He spoke about burdens and engaged all of the kids in the discussion. He touched on all the angles that Kiki needs when contemplating school. He gave Gleek direct attention and praise, which she needs. His lesson even let me share my story about the handful of meal and a little oil, that we can somehow give of ourselves and not turn up empty. It was a really good lesson that answered the needs of several family members. Only he had no idea of the needs he was answering. He had no idea how burdened I’ve felt of late, or how various things he said applied to the various situations of our family members.

So in one day I had an insight which has potential to make my life feel more peaceful. I was given the opportunity to answer a need. Then someone else unknowingly answered needs in our family. These are the times when I can sense the larger picture of which I am only a small piece. It has been a good sabbath.

Patch’s spaceships

I was watching Firefly with six year old Patch snuggled up next to me. He loves to watch the space ships. Some of the other stuff in the show was a little scary to him, so I paused the show to explain how it is all pretend. He turned wide eyes to me in disbelief and said “You mean space ships aren’t real?!”

It was like someone had taken away Christmas. I had to explain to him that we do have real space ships, but that they don’t look like the ones in movies. So we googled some pictures of the space shuttle and I told him about it. I told him what I knew about space shuttles and how they work. I told him how my dad dragged us kids out of bed at four in the morning so we could watch space shuttle launches on live television. I told him about watching the space shuttles land at much more convenient west coast hours. I told about the time that the space shuttle was transported via plane over our house and I watched it fly by. I remember what an amazing miracle it was to have a space ship that could be used more than once.

My stories convinced Patch that all was not lost in the space ship department. I wanted to give him more to be excited about, so I went to netflix to find documentaries about space. The documentaries arrived only to disappoint. They were nostalgic and historical. There were images of space ships, but most of the screen time was old guys talking. These documentaries did nothing to make my son excited about real space ships.

This makes me sad, because the fact that human beings travel into space is a miracle. It has become one of those routine miracles that few people pay any attention to. We entertain ourselves with fantastical visions of futures filled with flying cars and space ships when high above us people are orbiting beyond the reach of gravity. If we want our future to include amazingly cool space ships, we need to be making kids excited about space. I wondered at the lack of documentaries explaining to kids what space exploration has done and why it is cool. I wondered at the lack of a Carl Sagan or a Bill Nye or an Adam from the myth Mythbusters to make space science accessible to kids.

Lacking an exciting documentary, I took matters into my own hands. Today we had a family outing to the Hill Air Force Base Aerospace Museum. This museum is devoted primarily to airplanes rather than space ships, but it is worth the trip. We got to walk right up next to hundreds of historical aircraft. The one Kiki loved was the 1948 era plane of the kind used by the “candy bomber” who dropped packages of candy to children during the Berlin airlift. Gleek was creeped out by the mock up of the first atom bomb. It was truly creepy looking even before reading the plaque. Patch was delighted by the whole experience. He would have been happy to wander for hours just looking at the airplanes. But the true joy of the trip for him was the hands on exhibit where he got to climb into a bomber cockpit simulator and play with all the switches. If he’d grinned any wider, his face would have split.

I was once again amazed at the marvel of airplane engineering. I was a little saddened that so much of it is devoted to ever better ways to commit violence. I think that is why the portions devoted to space travel were my favorite. Space ships are all about making sure that no one gets killed. I mused on all of this as I sat waiting for the kids to be ready to leave the hands-on exhibit area. Then I noticed that in the waiting area there was a video playing. It was taking the viewer step by step through a space shuttle launch and doing so interestingly. I asked one of the docents and she told me that the video was The Big Space Shuttle. I have now added that to our Christmas list. It is more similar to How It’s Made than to Bill Nye The Science Guy, but it is much better than the documentaries I found before.

The outing was a success. Patch even acquired a little pewter airplane that he has been playing with all evening. He cornered me to tell me all about it, including the fact that the plane had a giant laser on its back which no one could see, but which could blow up anything.

I don’t know that any of my kids will become scientists or engineers. I don’t know that they will ever work in an industry related to space. But I do know that they will some day vote, and I want them to have some idea of the marvelous accomplishments which have come from the space program. It would be sad to have manned spaceflight come to an end merely because the voting public considers the miracle too routine to be worth funding.

List of things for tomorrow

Ship store orders: These have been stacking up in the last two days while I was eating turkey and then digesting it.

Answer email: Ditto

Wash children/clean house: It is time to vaccuum and clean up so that we can face the holidays in cleanliness

Take kids to Hill AFB Aerospace Museum: There’s a longer story involved here. I’ll tell it tomorrow when I can include scenes from the museum.

Pick up Link from BestFriend’s house: Conveniently near the Aerospace Museum

Make sure Kiki gets her homework done: Almost caught up. Almost.

Spend time with Gleek: She’s been feeling neglected lately with all the time I’ve been having to spend on homework for the oldest two.

Spend time with Patch: Ditto.

Put up Christmas tree: Not sure this will actually happen. It depends on how gung ho the kids are to get it done.

Thanksgiving Memories

When I was little, Thanksgiving was all about the food and the company. My benchmark for “Good Thanksgiving” was set during the year that cousins came to visit and we had two tables packed with people. I loved sitting at the kid table with my cousins and friends. I think I was about eight and it was hard for follow up feasts to match that one. Then during my teen years we spent several Thanksgivings in a row at my great-grandmothers retirement trailer. I remember complaining about this. I remember that it didn’t even feel Thanksgivingingish because there was not room for us to sit around her tiny table. Instead we loaded paper plates and sat in whatever space we could find available. In hindsight, I am glad that we spent Thanksgiving with Great-Grandma. She did not live long after that. By about the third year I finally absorbed the fact that delighting an old woman was more important than sitting around a single table.

I still remember the Thanksgiving of my freshman year at college. There were three siblings at BYU so we met together in my empty kitchen, my roommates all off visiting relatives. The food was lacking, but we were together. Being together was even more important when the news came of the house fire in our childhood home. One pet died and much in the house was damaged beyond repair, but all the people were fine. We were very thankful that year.

The year I was dating Howard I learned the meaning of “big Thanksgiving.” I went with him to a relative’s house where they crammed five tables and at least thirty people into their front room. In later years the people were familiar and friendly, but that first year I only spoke to Howard and his brother. We had our own little pocket of fun in the crowded space.

When the kids arrived I had my own chance to shape Thanksgiving celebrations. I learned that none of my kids are fans of the southern cornbread dressing that I considered an essential part of the feast during my growing years. I also learned that kids will be mortally offended if I serve a roasted chicken instead of a turkey. It seemed logical at the time. There were so few of us to eat the bird. I only did it once, but to this day the kids double check to make sure that there will actually be turkey for Thanksgiving.

There have been small feasts and big feasts. There have been celebrations full of people and lonely ones. There have been sad events and happy ones. And yet somehow it is always Thanksgiving. A thread links through them and ties them together. I love that we have a day which celebrates gratitude. I love that we have a day to look around at our circumstances, whatever they may be, and find cause for joy. I am thankful for many things today, but among them I am thankful for Thanksgiving itself. Because the holiday is more than just the food and the company.

The arrival of the holiday season

This may not come as news to most Americans, but tomorrow is Thanksgiving. On one level I knew that the holiday was coming. I saw it on the calendar. I planned my week around the fact that the kids would be out of school. But somehow I did not really wrap my head around the notion that the holiday season would be arriving so soon.

I used to start thinking about Christmas gifts as soon as Halloween was over. I liked to have all the shopping done before Thanksgiving. Nothing was out of stock yet. Everything was lined up and planned. I’m afraid I was internally smug about my organization, although I never felt judgmental about people who ran their holidays differently. I had a system and it worked.

Somehow that system has fallen apart the last few years. Part of the system breakage is due to the fact that I am much busier. I don’t have much time for planning an event three months in the future. I’m too busy scrambling to cover stuff for this week. Part of the shift is because the kids are older. When they were young I could plan what everybody would give to everyone else. These days the kids need to do their own participation and gift planning. They have their own gift strategies and I have to let go of control. The letting go of control is a big part of it. I’ve had to embrace the fact that while I am the organizer of family events, there are aspects of the holiday celebration that I should not attempt to control.

Even though my holiday strategy has shifted, I am still left feeling like I ought to have done my shopping by now. I’ve been so busy this fall that I honestly have not had a thought to spare. This leads me to worry because the next few weeks will be even busier. I still won’t have thoughts to spare, but I’ll also have holiday shipping and holiday events as well. I’ll have to cram the holiday shopping thoughts into my brain on top of everything else. Perhaps for the first time I understand what feeds some of the Black Friday hysteria. The drive to hurry and get the shopping done during this time off from work.

On the other hand, taking each of the kids out on a shopping trip has some appeal. I picture each of them with their own several-hour-long outing where we partake of the holiday mood while selecting gifts. Only that brings me back to the issue of time, and brain space. It is one thing to take a child out for a relaxed couple of hours, it is another to force march a child through a store to acquire gifts on a schedule. I’m really not sure how I’m going to managed to get this holiday pulled together on time and under budget, particularly since the budget is tighter this year than in the past two years. We didn’t have a Fall book release this time.

Part of me is ready for the holiday season. I’m ready to decorate the house and play holiday music. I’m looking forward to burning down the advent candle while reading stories to the kids. Yesterday and today have had a holiday feel which is nice. I love that warm, relaxed feeling. It is the associated task list which I’d be happy to skip.

Inconvenient needs

When Howard left the house, there were still two hours before the kids were due home from school. Even better, I had already gotten all my business tasks for the day done. I could feel my brain stretching out, relaxing. It was a chance for me to do whatever I wanted without being on call. I could be alone with my thoughts and perhaps even write.

Then the phone rang. The noise was almost a physical sensation. It cut across my developing calmness.

The call was from Kiki’s school. She was having cramping pain and I was needed to go retrieve her. My first thought upon hanging up was a wordless irritation. In one stroke my quiet space was gone. It was particularly regretted because it is the last opportunity for alone time before the kids are home for five days. But duty called and I got into the car.

Being in the car reminded me of the conversation I’d had with Kiki just that morning. Kiki was complaining because Gleek had the front seat. Gleek had displaced Kiki from the copilot spot because Gleek injured her knee over the weekend and the knee hurts when she bends it. This injury did not impress Kiki who was convinced that Gleek was exaggerating to get attention. I turned to Kiki and said
“You’re just irritated because the injury inconvenienced you. If you still had the front seat, you wouldn’t mind it.”

My statement floated through my brain as I drove. It was now Kiki who was in pain and I was the one irritated. The tables had turned and I had a chance to find myself hypocritical or to choose to let go of the irritation. I’d scolded Kiki for her lack of sympathy. Now I had to do better and I discovered that it was not so easy.

I frequently find myself inconvenienced by other people’s pain. My day can be completely rearranged by an illness, or a sadness, or an injury. I can choose to be irritated and angry. If I do, some of that anger spills onto the injured person, as if it is somehow their fault. Obviously the better way is to reach inside myself and find sympathy. I must let go of my schedule and know that, inconvenient or not, I should respond with kindness to the needs of others. This is true even if my response is “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to take care of that yourself.”

Kiki is home from school now. As I expected, her presence here has already presented multiple interruptions to my quiet state of mind. And yet, I am still writing. I am finding the calm spaces in between the needs and it is good.

Kiki and Link have an adventure

“See Wendys is over here and the art store is here by the grocery store. So if we go to the art store first, then we can stop at Wendys on the way back.”

Two heads were bowed in concentration over the hand drawn map. Kiki and Link both had money in their pockets and they were planning an expedition. All of the locations in question were within walking distance and the big street to be crossed made the trip sufficiently adventurous. This was the night-before planning session. The trip was to be executed the following afternoon.

After the planning was over, Link came to me with a nervous smile.
“I was thinking that Kiki and I are going together and it is just us. It is kind of like a date, cause we’ll be going together and getting to know each other.” We then talked about dates and dating. We talked about how a date with a sister isn’t quite the same thing, but how it is similar in other ways. Mostly Link was thrilled that Kiki wanted to share this outing with him. He was very sad when she turned the corner of teenagerhood and stopped playing games with him. But now he is rounding that corner as well and is discovering that once again his sister is ready to include him in her plans.

The next day arrived and all the intervening events (such as school and chores) were dispatched. The two explorers geared up to head out. I reviewed with them their routes and admonished them to be home before dark. Then I watched as they dashed out into the neighborhood. I was nervous. This trip was farther afield than I am accustomed to letting my children wander. But I can not hope to help them build independence if I hold them so tight that they never have the chance to test their wings. They had planned well. The neighborhood is a safe one. They would stay together. So I let them go.

They returned triumphant 90 minutes later, blown into the house on a gust of chilly air. Their eyes were bright, their cheeks were red, and their smiles were broad. They felt strong and independent and triumphant. They each clutched a bag of Wendy’s food purchased with their own money. They’d decided to bring the food home because they wanted to be home before darkness fell. Happy energy filled our home as Kiki and Link shared fries with those of us who had stayed home. Kiki also shared spoonfuls of her cookie dough milkshake. They chattered about their adventure. And Kiki displayed her spoils.

Art supplies had been the driving force behind the trip, but she had also acquired nail polish and mascara. These treasures were displayed along with a request that maybe I could show her how to use the mascara. Kiki hasn’t been interested in makeup until just lately. Link didn’t buy anything at the stores. He was in it for the the food and the adventure. He took the mission to get better acquainted seriously. Apparently he asked conversation-starter questions like “what do you like to do?” Which made Kiki laugh. But they giggled and goofed and made it home safely.

The happy mood was contagious. It spread to the whole family. I truly hope that this is not a singular event. I hope to see many more outings of this nature. I hope that even though it will make me nervous every time. If I want to see them fly, I have to let go.

The sound of silence

It is eleven o’clock. Everyone else in the house is already asleep and the house is quiet. It is so tempting for me to stay up. I want to revel in the fact that for the next eight hours no one will be asking me to do anything. No one will call on the phone, or ask me to pour milk, or need me to find something. I can just sit and listen to the sound of silence. I can hear my own thoughts. I can compose words without interruption.

Unfortunately 6:20 am will come at the same time whether or not I’ve slept. Tomorrow will arrive and it will have demands upon me. I will be much better equipped to meet those demands if I’ve had a full night’s sleep. So I should go to bed. I really should. But instead I stand at the window. I stare out into the darkness and wonder if we will get snow tonight. I’m not ready for snow. I want more sunshine. The house is already chilly, so I head toward my bed. But then words collect together in my brain. They come together and crystallize, much as molecules of moisture freeze together in the million beautiful patterns of snowflakes. The words are there. If I crawl into that warm bed, they will melt away.

I step lightly down to my office and I type. I type and capture the words. I pin them to the page so that they will retain their shape. When I am done, I will go sleep.

A little oil and a handful of meal

We each have a limited amount of time and energy to spend. Choosing to do one thing invariably leaves less energy and time for everything else. It is a very simple calculation. We grab handfuls from our store and spread them around. When we run out, we must rest or do something else to replenish our reserves before we can hand out any more.

And yet this week I have experienced the miracle of the widow who fed Elijah. I encounter a great need in someone close to me and I empty out my reserves to respond. But need followed need without stopping. Each time I was sure that I had used the last emotional energy that I had available. But when the next need arose, I went to my store I discovered I had just enough to manage. It happened again and again all week long.

This week has not left me much time to rest or rejuvenate. There have been no spaces to process. I have poured myself out to answer the needs of others and somehow I am not empty.