Friday, August 15, 2014

to the guy who rammed my daughter in the bumper cars

And then there's you.

I write a nice post about chivalrous men, and then my daughters come home from a day at the amusement park (with Grandma, thank God, and not me), and I hear about you.

The guy in the bumper cars, who gave my daughter (and Grandma - *frown!*) whiplash by rear-ending them.  

And I want to throw up my hands and lambaste every one of your gender for your neglect of one of the most basic tenets of manhood:  Protect women and children. 

How could you?!

I will assume you (a grownup, at an amusement park) have a drivers' license, and therefore no excuse for poor driving skills.  I will also assume that you, having a drivers' license, have adequate vision, and therefore no excuse for not looking out for women and children in your proximity, especially when they are in front of you.

Fortunately in my life, I have experienced more chivalry than barbarity from men, so that you, Boorish Bumper-Car Driver, rather than converting me to feminazism, serve as an illustration of the maxim "The exception proves the rule."

I believe most men out there are (or want to be) chivalrous*.  A desire to protect women and children is in their blood.  Sometimes they are scared off from their instincts by poor role models or rude women.  Sometimes they are confused by conflicting cultural messages.

Perhaps (I could choose graciousness, I suppose), that was the case with you, Bumper-Car Man.

Or perhaps Grandma and the girls didn't see you well in the dim bumper car arena.  Perhaps you aren't a man, after all.

Perhaps you are still a boy.

*Chivalry, according to Google:  the combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, especially courage, honor, courtesy, justice, and a readiness to help the weak.  (And if that last word bothers any of you women, as I expect it might, try arm-wrestling any of your male peers.  Weakness of body need not be equated with weakness of intellect or will, and I am quite certain that your average man certainly never mistakes it for the latter.)

to the old guy at the Dollar store

It was a cool, sunny day in August (which, before this year, I wouldn't have said was possible).  Sugar, Nice, and Lil' Snip had chosen and purchased gifts for Spice from the dollar store.  [Lil' Snip, knowing her heart's desire but ignorant that my Farmer and I had already taken care of it, told me that he wanted to buy her a bike.  With his quarter.  Sooooo sweet.]

We headed to the van with our birthday booty, well-concealed by bags and body-shielding.  As the children buckled up, I glanced back at the store and made an executive decision.  "Wait here.  There's something else I want to get.  I'll be right back."  And walked briskly toward the doors.

I saw you - an older gentleman (well, to be fair, you didn't look particularly gentlemanly; just another t-shirted old guy with a bushy mustache) - headed in the same direction.

You reached the doors before I did.

Opened one.

And held it for me, waiting.

I could have gestured "Go ahead."

I could have taken offense, assuming that you thought me weak and in need of assistance, and, by association, feeble-minded as well.

I could have accused you of sexism and rudely explained that I can open my own doors, thank-you-very-much.

But I didn't.

I smiled.  Said "Thank you!"  Walked in and bought that can of Pringles (my executive decision).  Walked back to the van to share them with my children, thinking about courtesy and other old-fashioned gestures.

To me, a man holding open a door for me (or offering to catch me when I stumble, or to keep me from inadvertently endangering my unborn child) is not an insult to my abilities.

It is a public testament to my value, to the value of all women, and to that man's commitment to care for and protect all women, because of his respect for us.

So thank you to the old guy at the Dollar store, to those few remnants of civilization, who offer me their place in line, hold doors for me to go through, stand to offer me a seat in a crowded room, pay for my meal on a date (only my Farmer does that, now!), or otherwise defer to and serve me.

(My Farmer, for instance, has started a charming new evening ritual of offering to bring me a snack from the kitchen when he is headed there to find one for himself.)

You are a noble breed.  I want to raise my son to be one of you.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

my little boy

He is running down the walk toward the barn, sack of colored chalk in hand, racing to meet Nice and make "goo" together, strong brown legs pumping with heart-stopping speed.

It's the knees that undo me.

Most of Lil' Snip's shorts are manly-length, just a hair or so below mid-knee.  With his sleeveless shirts, he looks like a tiny man going about his tiny man-business, digging in sand (or dirt!), pulling his wagon behind him in search of treasures, pushing a dump truck around the driveway or down the sloped cellar doors, filling watering cans with water to do the earnest work of giving thirsty plants a drink.

But today he is wearing shorts that are a little, well, short.  His knees show, and he is transformed from tiny man to boy-child, dressed in short pants.  As he trots about his play - the work of a child - the sight of his knees soften my usual critical-instructor mode to an almost grandparently fondness.

A nostalgia, almost, for what is nearly gone.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

rest, redefined?

It's a funny thing.  You'd think with all this resting, the place would be going to pot.  But my house is in order (as much as it ever is) and the flowerbeds have never looked better (which, I caution you, is not saying much).

I keep putting myself on one of those porch rockers to gaze at the trees and the sky, watch the birds and the cats and the boy, air out my thoughts and watch hopefully for cars slowing down to pull in our driveway and ask for a kitten (per our sign:  KITTENS:  free to a good home).

And I keep jumping up to do things.

The other day, for instance, I swept the driveway.  (And hold your "big deal" - we have probably 3500 square feet of driveway - or cries of "OCD" - the driveway is under the canopy of no less than three 60-feet tall mature nut trees & is the constant recipient of twigs, tree flowers, leaves, and nuts, making our driveway less than hospitable to the bare feet that frequent it).

I was going to enumerate the other things I've jumped up to do, but realized that that was borderline ridiculous, because it would no doubt look like an abysmally small list to some of you.  Suffice it to say, not as much resting is occurring as I thought might.

However, I seem to be making some headway when it comes to banishing "should."  So when I swept the driveway, it wasn't because I looked at all the debris and thought (as I normally would have), "I should sweep that driveway."  [insert sigh].

Instead, I was sitting on my rocker, drinking in the colors of summer along with some deliciously unseasonable cool air, saw the driveway, and thought to myself, "You know, I could sweep that.  It would look nice swept clean....."

So, progress.

Also unusual was another day this week, in which I was with company morning, afternoon, and evening.  And if that doesn't strike you as anything unusual, you don't know me very well.  I spread out my doses of social verrrrry carefully.  I love my people, and I love my spaces in between my people.

But this particular day I had three doses of very different people, including some little people (which usually threatens my sanity), and I somehow maintained both composure and calm.  I even enjoyed it - all three times!

I do believe that this is evidence of God working His Sabbath into me.  (and this, from a not very "thus saith the Lord" kind of girl!)

Seeing this breathes life into me.  I will continue to seek God through rest.


And somewhere down deep, the seed of hope begins to swell with life ....

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

a horizon

[written one Sunday afternoon in June...]

I've never been sure enough of myself and my impressions to be a “thus saith the Lord” kind of girl, but in the past few months I've felt a sort of divine invitation to “come away for awhile and rest.” As you might imagine, this is a smidge on the tricky side for a stay-at-home mom of four (who also has sole responsibility for their schooling).

But gradually, it's happening. With the counsel of my Farmer, I've been reviewing my commitments and slowly but surely releasing myself from them.

Not surprisingly, my social sphere limited as it is by my current vocation, most of my commitments were at church.

I wrote to the prayer ministry coordinator and asked that I (and my Farmer) be removed from the after-church prayer schedule. We found substitutes for Sugar in the church nursery. I told our moms' group's leader that I wouldn't be available next year to help plan the schedule, call speakers, maintain the blog, pray before meetings, or do the secretarial work.  I let the co-leader of the Sonshine Girls know that I would be taking a sabbatical from non-family responsibilities.  

We broke it gently to the children that we may not be participating in church clubs next year.  The gentleness turned out to be unnecessary – they are far less attached to these activities than we think; it is their relationships with family and close friends that matter most to them, and the way they see it, this will give them more time with both! 

Those were all things that I loved. In the past, I have accepted positions for wrong reasons: someone told me I'd be good at it, I wanted to see what it would be like, or the worn-out old “they need someone to fill it.” I learned that lesson the hard way several years ago when, juggling too many responsibilities, I heard my young daughter ask wistfully as I slung my purse over my shoulder and grabbed the car keys, “Are you going to another meeting?”

I want to be present for my family.

Flashback to my childhood: my father, the younger of two bi-vocational pastors at a small country church, spent what seemed like many evenings away from us taking care of church business, and while home, many hours ensconced in his study, working on church business. In case you're not familiar with bi-vocational pastorates, it means that he worked full-time as an electrical engineer during the week, and divided his free time between church and home responsibilities.

He took this on the year I turned one, and was still pastoring there when I left home after high school for a mission assignment.  That's nearly two decades of meetings.

[caveat: I was a child, seeing my dad through a child's eyes. I don't know what his hours actually were, and there are photos to prove that he also played with us. I remember him reading the Little House books to us, and later, the Chronicles of Narnia. His study door was closed, I believe, but I always knew I was welcome to come ask for a sip of his coffee or help with a broken doll, to share a contraband kitten, to settle a disagreement between my siblings, or get an opinion on a book.  I did feel cherished by him - I just would have liked him to be there more often.  This post is not about his choices - which I honor - but about mine.]

I recognize that I don't have a whole lot of control over what my children remember of their childhood, and of me – our memories are extremely selective, and unreliable. But I do have some say in the matter, and I didn't want them to remember me running off to committee meetings, so I freed myself as soon as I could from as much as I could.

But that was several years ago. Why am I disengaging now??  Everything I was involved in, I loved doing. 

The problem is, my margin had disappeared.

No book on the market will print lines out to the edge of the page – you couldn't read it. The margin helps you to make sense of what's written. In music, there's the rest. In art, negative space to set off the focal point.

In life we need margin, too. Going non-stop leaves no time to reflect, no time to weigh decisions. Without margin we react instead of responding.

And being more reflective than some (go ahead, ring the "introvert" bell), I need more margin – more space in which to think about my life, and the life my Farmer and I are building for our family.  I want to have time to feed on God's word rather than merely read it.  I want to have time to watch my children instead of just keeping an ear out for cries of distress.

Every mother of us has been admonished by some well-meaning older woman (usually while we're juggling a baby, a toddler and a diaper bag, at least), "Enjoy them while they're young!"  Well, I can't seem to enjoy them, really, when I don't even have time to observe them.  And over a decade into this parenting thing, I can see that time does fly, and the only way I can slow it down is by slowing down.

So we're taking a sabbatical. 

 For the rest of the summer (and possibly longer), we'll be free from our usual commitments (although my Farmer will continue to serve out the remaining months of his term on the church board). Unentangled, we'll see what happens to us.

One thing that I've been challenging myself with is doing nothing.  “Do nothing all day. Then, rest from it.” reads a quote in my purse notebook, written months ago when a friend prescribed it to me. To my surprise and disappointment, doing nothing is difficult for me!

Especially inside.

Have you ever (and you have my permission to think waaaaay back to your childhood summers) sat outside and gazed at the clouds, or the trees above you, or into the flames of a campfire, or at far-away hills and just let your mind roam? Peaceful, isn't it? Calming and oddly refreshing, too.

Now try to do that in your living room.

The indoors is just not conducive to reflection. I see the cobwebs in the corners, or the toys that Nice left out, or the papers that need attending to. I think, not about eternity or the meaning of life, but what to make for supper, and whether I should return those calls now or wait till tomorrow.

So I'm happy to be outside today. Yes, this time with my laptop and something to say, but outside nonetheless.

In the past few weeks I've been learning the art of the porch rocker, the gaze toward the hills, letting the mind come out for an airing (interrupted by Lil' Snip's observations regarding sand, bugs, and new flowers in the flowerbed, true, but I take what I can get). I'm not good at it, yet, but I'm getting better, and I know one thing for sure: you've got to be outside if you want it to work at all (although a good view through a window will work in a pinch; I just haven't got any window views with adequately placed seating - yet!).

And the further you can see, the better. 

 Today I can see several miles (okay - two, maybe) across farms and fields to tree-covered hills that still exist, where the roads are not. I feel a breeze under this maple tree, and see puffy white clouds slowly spreading across a clear Caribbean-sea [colored] sky. Birds chirp (and occasionally sing) and the heat quivers over the cornfields. 

A blackbird bursts out of the wheat growing beside me.

A biker pedals by silently.

A white cabbage moth flutters through sunlight in contented commonness.

A vulture rides the wind,
gnats hover over the keyboard,
a jumbo jet thunders distantly overhead.

Swallows flit playfully past,
a breeze rustles the leaves of a line of walnut trees.

Horse-drawn Amish carriages (“buggies” to us locals) go at a slow Sunday walk, home from church or a visit.

“The health of the eye,” says Emerson, “demands a horizon.”

And so, I think, does the soul.

     --- < O > ---

And now, after an hour or so of reveling in the horizon and the birds and the artistically-leaning fencepost, it occurs to me that Quiet Time is halfway over, and my Farmer is probably sitting in the unimaginative living room eating ice cream, and that it would feel fine to leave my dappled shade now and join him.

And so I do, buoyed with plenty of horizon now, plenty of margin to frame the living.

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