Coming Back to Bless Me

“What is that?” Nathan asked.  “Oh, it’s apricot and almond galette,” I said proudly.  “It’s for dessert tonight.”

“Oh, so fruit pizza.”  Flashback to the 80’s Fourth of July parties of my youth: rolled out 9×13 rectangle of puff pastry, or maybe Pillsbury dough, with cream cheese topped with strawberries and blueberries in formation to resemble the stars and stripes.  “Um, yeah, sorta,” I said.  But not really since I made my own almond cream and everything.
This day snuck up in the best way possible. June is always busy with school ending and summer beginning. There wasn’t time to worry about my baby brothers delivering me a piano from two states away.   Imagine how many things can go wrong when a grandpa and a young adult try to get a piano out of a victorian house built in 1902. Forget the interstate commute, just that descent down the side porch stairs alone is worrisome.  But Dad’s a carpenter and really smart about this stuff.  He drilled boards into the stairs for a supremely stable ramp. Apparently he was going to replace the stairs soon anyway.  He set them up for success at least.

I love them so, these youngest two brothers, born when I was 15 and 20 years old.  They are not much alike. Christian’s energy fills a room. Extroverted, pierced, passionate, quick to loudy laugh, he lives intensely in the moment.  Nathan is taller, thinner, four years younger, quieter, introverted, mellow, academic, and just a smiley, pleasant teenager to be around.  Nathan’s the guy you never get tired of, a brother you always want to be around.  They haven’t always gotten along mostly because Christian spent most of his youth being the kind of brother no one in the family wanted to be around–dominant, aggressive, antagonistic, difficult.  But Christian has matured and seems to be making it up to his little brother, even tossing around the idea of moving to the same town as Nathan when he goes off to college next year.

This was a gracious gift.  Not so much the piano itself as technically it’s just on loan and someday I’m going to have to get to Ben, another brother.  But moreso the gift of free delivery–like the Amazon Prime of family perks. I simply picked a day and Christian, who turns 22 later this summer, did the rest.  I had thought of renting a u-haul but they figured Dad could use his boss’s covered trailer for free. Christian wouldn’t let me pay them either. “No no no, we’re family,” he asserted cheerily last month when we went over details.

This was the first time being an older sister felt like a return on my investment.  I poured myself into loving on these boys.  And for the most part, despite my teenaged angst and big-family loathing, I loved them not on principle or out of duty, but because there they were in my life and wanted to sit on my lap after dinner and in the bike seat behind me on my mom’s old ten speed for a ride.  All those Wednesday nights of babysitting Christian in high school so my parents could have dessert at Cracker Barrel*, all that time in the kitchen loading and unloading the dishwasher of all those plastic cups used only once, trying to curb the chaos, to find the calm–the clean– beneath the clutter, to stem the tide of mess, it seemed like it all came back to bless me when I’d forgotten all about it.

Today it all redeemed itself in a free piano delivery that was on my part effortless, in which everything fell sweetly into place, the way things rarely do in life, especially in my family.  This must be what its like to have adult children or grandchildren who after all the work and stress of raising them come back to bless you in ways you could never have dreamed up.  This must be what its like when your kids come back to rescue you from a need you thought you were above having.  Some day my own children will bless me this way–in ways too big for them to understand, in ways that are a wink from God.

So they showed up, those baby brothers of mine, with the piano trailing behind them, hidden in that swanky silver pod. We went inside and loosened the wenches (yes, there were even wenches!), lifted it onto a most-appropriate, perfect-for-the-job little wheeled scooter that came, it seemed, from heaven above. With a quick lift they got it on the scooter and guided the piano down the trailer’s built-in ramp. They pushed it across the paved-last-week street to the driveway toward the house. Then my husband and Christian alone lifted it up slowly and carefully up a step to the porch and then one more step up into the house.  And then there it was–that old piano that seven kids and countless students and even my dad, but most importantly, my mother–had played on, from which hymns were played, with which voices were raised–now here in my house.  A little grimy, a little dusty, but rich in sound, in voice, in history, in potential, here was that piano in my house.  I asked if it was in tune. Nathan played Moonlight Sonata to test it out–not bad at all for being tuned last three years ago and spending the day in a trailer pulled 150 miles at high speeds. This upright Yamaha from 1978, the sound, the fixture of my childhood was here now in my house.

For the rest of the day before they went home I kept wanting to sit and visit with them, those baby brothers of mine. But they are not in a life stage that appreciates sitting yet.   Maybe you have to be a parent to really appreciate stillness. Or maybe it’s just age. Creeping ever closer to the middle of life my tendency is to invite guests to sit on the patio and relax.  They kept getting up for a round of Clue, to ride bikes and scooters on the new slick street**, to play basketball with my kids.  It’s a funny kind of thing having siblings so young.

We had a crockpot dinner of chicken and rice. Then my husband made coffee and we had the galette, which turned out stellar even though I’d never made it before.  We sent the leftover dessert home with the boys for our parents since it was their anniversary (which I’d forgotten) and their piano.

It was a day of anniversaries. Thirty-nine years to the day (the piano movers informed me) my parents were wed and received this very piano as a wedding present.  Less significantly, three years before, also to the day, my husband, kids and I moved into this house. All this added up to a day that was unceremonious, but seemed somehow sacramental. It was a day that–more than most–bore the mark, the weight, the taste, the sound of blessing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s four days later and I get this text from my dad:

Thanks for the fruit pizza. Nice flaky crust ūüėÉūüėÉ

 

 

*My mom, I’m sure, wants you to know that she always paid me for babysitting.

**I meant to tell Christian to bring his longboard skateboard (is that how you say it?) but forgot–the one hitch of the day.

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first a tanka, then a haiku

Commute

morning cloak of fog

lends a needle-sharp focus

demanding we gaze:

pale young grape vine leaves reach up

crying-newborn’s hands outstretched

 

Schoolyard Squirrel

to dry fur this is

good post-dumpster-dive self-care:

paws at nape and pull

 

 

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Towels

She isn’t usually a competitive shopper. She doesn’t do Black Friday or Groupons or buy in bulk. 

But when a wedding shower invite comes she wants to be the first to buy from the registry. She feels a sentimental attachment to giving the bride and groom, any bride and groom, new soft bath towels. 

She doesn’t think she knows why this is and then she remembers the first days of her own marriage. The canary yellow bathroom, the honeymoon UTI that she didn’t want to treat while traveling and was so bad when she got back that she could hardly move. And then the allergic reaction to the antibiotic. Fever and rash. New town. New apartment. New spouse. New health care plan. New doctor. No job. All of this at once. But there were also those new plush towels. 

 Filthy black gunk was backing up into the canary yellow bath tub again after that Russian landlord said it was fixed. She sobbed about into the phone of her husband who happened to be out at a movie that night. The weight of it all felt like too much for a newlywed alone in that canary yellow bathroom. His gentle words calmed her. If this man she loved so much said everything was going to be alright she would trust that it would be. 

 Every day after every shower she stepped  onto that new cushy bath mat and wrapped her body in one of those new fluffy towels. And it was going to be ok. 

She texts her sister, feeling a little type A and neurotic for getting on this task so early, almost two months before the wedding shower: 

do you want to go in on a gift together? I know the shower isn’t for over a month but I love to buy towels. Marriage is hard but towels are soft. 

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Provisions

I don’t believe it’s coincidence.  My very social child is grieving the first deep loss of her seven-year life. No one has died but her classmate friend and neighbor since age four is moving away. Meanwhile, a first grade girl with a five-year-old brother and one-year-old twin siblings moves in across the street. My daughter is a girl who cherishes babies, dogs, hamsters, anything that breathes and can be cared for and named (but preferably hugged). I see her across the street holding one of the babies and jumping on the trampoline with the children of this new family and I know her emptied cup is getting full again. 

 I don’t believe it’s coincidence that when the breadwinner of a family loses a job that it just so happens that their chickens are laying eggs so prolifically, so abundantly that they are giving them away. They invited us to their generous table for a brunch of quiche and deviled eggs. These are friends who give when it’s hard and inconvenient because their inclination is to share. They took all four of us in for days when six years ago an ice storm left us in the very literal cold. 

These are the custom-fit provisions of God from his full and gracious hand. 

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What the tomatillo is going on?

I think she was 5 or 6 when she asked me what a chicken nugget was. It must have been 5 because by age 6 she would have seen kids eating them in the school lunch room.

I’m still pretty sure my kids don’t know you can get anything but hot chocolate or coffee from a drive-thru window.  But before you hate me for making cooking a priority, let me tell you that there is a bag of Tyson chicken nuggets residing in my freezer.  It is a weapon I might need to wield in the coming weeks.  Hold on, I’m getting to that.

Let me go back to those glorious days when my kids would quietly eat anything we put in front of them.  When our firstborn was a little tot we gleefully bought a food mill from Amazon so that no matter what what the Hubs or I had made for dinner she could have it too.  This was a trick I learned from my own parents who did this with their seven children not only because it was a quick and easy way to feed the littlest family member but also because it was way more economical than jarred baby food (these are the secrets of big families that Target and Babies R Us don’t want you to know).  I’ll never forget how pleased we were with ourselves as parents when our first daughter ate gazpacho that the Hubs had made from our homegrown cucumbers and tomatoes. It’s so satisfying to see your children eat food you’ve grown. It still warms my heart–jalape√Īo style–to think of the sweetness of that time. The food mill’s success at our table grew into what I see as our family philosophy of eating.  We eat dinner together (all at the table at one time) that one of us has prepared for us all to eat.  This worked so well for us for eight years that I took it for granted.

Now, we are so far away from our kids eating gazpacho.  How did their little prot√©g√© palates wander so far off the well-eaten path?  How do they now want only chicken nuggets or sloppy joe or shrimp (strangely) or everything as plain and unherbed, unspiced as possible?  How is it that I used to put olives and saut√©ed spinach and bell pepper and sausage and fresh basil and rosemary on pizza and now they just want cheese (“…and pizza is the only thing I like with melty cheese. I don’t like creamy things…”)?

We have not just an eating style wrapped up in home cooked meals, but I’d venture to say that our whole way of parenting and strategic family life is centered around the idea that I will make a meal from scratch every evening and we will sit together and eat it.  This is a major reason why I don’t work full-time in a corporate office until 5 every day and instead spend my part-time work hours sweeping salon floors and booking appointments.  In this house we believe in cooking and eating real food. Real food takes time.  It takes time to plan menus and shop for produce.  It takes time to plant and pick and weed and preserve.

Somehow we’ve gotten to the point where every dinner’s main feature is complaining and crying.  Yes, these days real tears fall during the whole meal because little people don’t want to eat it and don’t think they should be forced to eat it. Every dinner is a battle of wills.  I can see this happening when they were maybe 3 and 5.  But now?  When they’re 7 and 9?  I thought we’d be way over this by now.

Full disclosure: the exception, the time when I take every short cut and barely cook is when the Hubs is out of town for work.  That’s when we get fast food or we have chicken nuggets or grilled cheese. These are the promises I make on ordinary nights when their dad is in town and they don’t like what’s for dinner.  Until recently the chicken nuggets I bought were actually “chick’n” nuggets because I felt less guilty than buying the big red bag.

But this cook has had just about enough.  Last night at dinner I told the littles that they have this week to stop complaining about dinner and just eat it.  If that doesn’t happen I’m done cooking for the foreseeable future.  They can microwave their beloved nuggets for themselves every night of the week.

It is amazing how quickly the food standards you work so hard to maintain go the way of the EPA in the Trump Administration if you aren’t patrolling the kitchen at all times. On Monday morning the nine year-old plopped a box of Happy 150th Birthday, Canada! birthday-cake-flavored Fruit Loops on the counter.  “What are you doing? You can’t have Fruit Loops for breakfast,” I said*.  “Dad let me have it for breakfast yesterday!” and so began a week of her starting the day with birthday cake Fruit Loops.  I think I would have preferred her actually eating a slice of birthday cake.  At least there would have been some egg protein.  Now see what I mean?  How did we get here?  And I’m not even going to get into the younger daughter’s habit of asking for 2 or 3 slices of cheddar or salami just as I’m saying goodnight and leaving the room when I put her to bed.  She gorges on deli drawer selections and then immediately conks out for the night. And no, she doesn’t brush again after.  The hygienist says it’s not so bad because its not sugary, but still…say it with me this time…..how did we get here?  

So in about an hour I’m going to be making a new recipe: Pappardelle with Chicken Rag√Ļ, Fennel, and Peas from the April issue of Bon App√©tit.  I will enjoy every minute of preparing it. It’s exactly how I want to spend late afternoon on a cold wet late April Sunday.  Dinnertime will roll around, and just as I’m setting the table, excited to pair the meal with Verdun, a Bi√®re de Garde from Brewery Vivant with “a light anise aroma,” the kids will burst into the house, out of breath and flush with cold, hungry and disappointed about what we’re having.  But the Hubs will love it and tell me sincerely multiple times throughout the meal just how much. And that will keep me cooking at least for this week.

*I’ve always tried to maintain that sugar cereals are dessert and no one would ever eat it as a meal anymore than a person would have ice cream for breakfast. This is very hard to maintain when your husband works for the food company that makes the stuff.  In their eyes I’m basically married to Willy Wonka. He is literally their Sugar Daddy and this stuff ends up here without my consent. This time I rolled my eyes and let it in the house because a Canadian cereal box covered in Quebecois French text is well, adorable. Saveur G√Ęteau D’Anniversaire— who can say no to that?

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Fissures & Wings

“Open me up and you will see / I’m a gallery of broken hearts / I’m beyond repair, let me be / And give me back my broken parts.” –Ingrid Michaelson, “Be OK”

“Sam is a swirl of every age he’s ever been.” –Anne Lamott, North Park University, April 1, 2004

“There is no other cosmic possibility.” —True Love, about our upcoming wedding, 2003-ish

Preface: I don’t write this to glorify the past but to aknowledge it as a way to live more freely, more fully, in the present. Also, I realize that generalizations and tidy dismissals of any subgroup (stereotypes) can happen any time there is a lack of effort to understand another’s viewpoint and place in the world. What I describe as our culture’s view of mothers is just one example.

I was doing a quick search for an aquaintance on LinkedIn and Marino’s name and photo popped up under the search box because the first two letters of their names happened to be the same. LinkedIn thought I might be looking for him, a Virginian friend-turned-sort-of-boyfriend-but-it’s-complicated character from my college years. ¬†LinkedIn was very wrong.

Last time I saw his name was a few years ago. Right before he accepted my LinkedIn connection request he changed the profile picture to that photo. That’s a funny happenstance, huh? In the photo he is seated on a stoop or curb in sunglasses, looking stoicly upward-ish. This second time I’ve seen it–caught off guard–I’m reminded of the one photo I took of him. He had to do research at the Ball State library on a warm spring Saturday and invited me to come along. It was late afternoon when we were leaving, the sunlight a low glowy honey gold. I requested he sit on the curb for the shot. He felt awkward and unnatural in front of the lens but I wanted to distill the moment and him in it.

Social media has that cruel and creepy way of unknowingly reminding us of who and what we’ve worked hard to forget. ¬†At night I have dreamt of people long forgotten because Facebook put their face in mine, recklessly boomeranging a situation long passed back to the present. How is it that technology worms into our sleep? What have we lost to an internet so invasively personal?*

I briefly rifled through old memorabilia looking for that picture and did find it boxed up with old photo albums and so many journals in the back of my closet on the floor. True Love’s hanging dress shirts stand guard above them. With the two photos side by side the similarity was notable, confirming my hunch. A journal entry from a post-break-up lunch was nearby in the box. It was probably my idea and I was looking for closure. Apparently, we ate in his campus cafeteria and I had a baked potato. It didn’t go well. He dismissed himself for research, but then I passed him on the road as he was gassing up his new pick-up truck. According to my written account, as I drove up I-69 I composed my own fictional ending in my head. ¬†I imagined him rushing out to beat me to my apartment to “profess his undying love.” I don’t remember this. I just read it and hoped I’d meant to exaggerate. I do remember (and didn’t write) that on the drive home I took out my rhinestone nose piercing and forgot about it. I tried to put it back in the next day but it was too late. The hole had closed.

I’m not sure what I was projecting on him in those years. I wanted something he couldn’t give: affection, gestures of thoughtfulness or kindness, whatever comes after intellectual conversation. I had a lot of demands I guess. (By way of context, the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris was wildly popular and influential at our conservative Christian college at this time, particularly among male students. Weren’t we Taylor girls lucky!)

I was very close to God then, but intensely longing–as I suppose most young adults do–for human belonging.¬†I may have been obsessed with something and thought he could cure it. I may have been depressed and thought he could revive me. I have no idea why I fell so hard for him. As a girlfriend he never really treated me particularly well, but I wanted to win. ¬†I am an efficient person; I didn’t want my enthusiasm for an “us” to be wasted. ¬†I was young enough to subconsciously believe I could demand from the world a return on my investment. Wasn’t that a character builder to learn one can’t will another’s love and devotion into existence.

I’m aware of how pathetic this appears, how bad this looks. You’re probably embarrassed for me. I am a mother after all and married to my love of seven lifetimes were that possible. ¬†But no one ever tells you that the old–not stress fractures exactly, but shin splints–in your heart never really heal and become inconveniently, unexpectedly reaggrevated once in a while. It’s not the kind of injury that needs medical attention or derails the train of daily structures. It’s just an annoying twinge that surfaces from time to time in an otherwise whole, deeply blessed life.

I once heard Anne Lamott say of her son that he was never just one age. He was always all the ages he’d ever been. That is true of everyone. I’m 37 but 21 is still in here. Nineteen and 30 and seven are still in here. This doesn’t particularly jive with our societal characterizations of motherhood or of aging wives. We don’t tend to paint mothers with strokes of depth and complexity that we attribute to the rest of humanity. When the ring goes on and even more so when the kids show up and grow up, you are written off as irrelevant, uninteresting, unstoried. This is despite us marrying later in life (if at all) and having fewer children thus shortening the time we are actively mothering and lengthening the amount of time we spend back in what most would call “real life.” Womanhood has changed quickly but outside perceptions of it have not.

Meanwhile we women are too busy scrubbing toothpaste blobs out of the sink, scheduling swim lessons, packing lunches, frying chicken, completing overdue online field trip forms, dashing to work, picking up toilet paper from Target and dirty socks from the floor and getting everyone to sign Grandma’s birthday card to notice. ¬†Until we do. And then after the kids are in bed and we finally have a chance to pee we catch ourselves in the mirror, noticing how we are physically seen by the world. We sigh and head to the couch with our wine or hookah or chocolate and a screen.

Going to hockey games with True Love makes me happy. I really enjoy the pace of the game, the element of danger about potential rogue pucks sailing into the stands and fights between players. I like the Zamboni and the sound of the sticks and skates on the ice and of course the soft pretzels and beer and conversation with my very fine companion. We like the laid back but reverent atmosphere of hockey games here in Kalamazoo and its primarily working-class crowd. As a carpenter’s daughter and Chicago South-Sider it’s comforting.¬†But I never remember that I remember.

I don’t remember that I sit down to enjoy the game and then think of the first hockey game I ever attended–a Fort Wayne Komets game as a freshman at Taylor with Marino and his entire dorm floor and their dates in the school-sanctioned group date format known affectionately at Taylor University as Pick-a-Date.

In early March True Love and I went to a Wings game. We faced the Toledo Walleye. Toledo is where my sweet but now mostly estranged friend Bethany** lives. She was an exceptionally gracious and loyal friend who took me and other assorted classmates home with her on many weekends. Those times in that big white house with her large family throughout the year helped center me as I fumbled through that first year of dorm life and higher education.

So it was a fantastic date night but required some mild suppression of a little fringe of heartache for dear ones from almost two decades ago. I went to the bathroom at half time and taped to the back of the stall was the Wings schedule for the rest of March. As I sat there on the pot I saw that March 24 and 25 their opponents would be none other than the Norfolk Admirals. Guess who was from Norfolk and liked hockey? Geez. Of all things. Of all the stalls in all the bathrooms in all the world . . .

It satisfies me greatly to report that Kalamazoo swept Norfolk in that series by a score of 5-3 both nights. Their victory on March 24 secured their place in the Kelly Cup playoffs set to start April 14 against, yes, the Walleye in Toledo. Go Wings, go!

Thanks be to God for the uplift of leaving it all on the ice, for the shadow of mercy under the wings of our Father of blessed forget-fullness. All praises be to the One whose grace fills every fissure, every chasm in the universe, whose wingspan of forgiveness is as vast as the expanse between east and west.

*Yes, I realize the irony of making such a statement in a public blog post.

**In the Bible Bethany was the town where Jesus’ good friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived. It is thought that the name means “house of figs” in Hebrew. What a beautifully fitting name for someone with such a hospitable and generous heart.

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Fez

We’ll take separate cars. I’ll meet you there. We’ll be the only ones on a pre-work morning date. Your brew born of some artisan drip (“We probably need a new laptop”), mine Italianly pressed and milked (“Let’s go to Fez and see the Medina!”) then kiss-and-fly goodbye in the parking lot.

This mating pair of doves on the back fence (white prefab, plastic, picket). They fluff and puff for warmth against snow falling from gray to ground. 

Orchid in hair, feathered in to stem the tide of petal longings. Spring still feels far.

Our child of seven years tries on a mic-ed pastor’s passion in her out-loud prayers, “Thank you, thank you, God, for your shining grace.”

 Fat Tuesday party of two for thirteen wedded years. The Biblical reassurance of seven years’ completion which harkens back to scripture read at my father’s table 25 years ago. He draws peace from The Word’s numeric themes. Thank you thank you for your shining grace.

East and West coast Times removed from the West Wing. My friends, your accountability is blooming, shining, taking flight.

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