Thursday, January 29, 2009


I think I was in second or third grade when my dad announced he would be taking me and my brother to a concert. No, it wasn't a symphony concert or a children's concert or anything wholesome like that. My dad was serious. He was taking us to see John Cougar Mellencamp. On a school night! It was our initiation into the world of rock 'n' roll.

And what an initiation it was. I put on my favorite outfit and got ready to go. It was something totally inappropriate for a rock concert, I am sure, but my parents didn't let me wear black leather in elementary school. We parked and walked into our local concert venue, a huge place with stadium seating. It was dark and smoky, our seats were right under the speakers, and though it was way too loud for my little girl ears, I had a blast. Dad, my brother and I were singing along with the songs. Somewhere in my elementary-aged brain I thought I was as cool as all those older people there, and I couldn't wait to rub it in to my classmates that I had stayed out way past my bedtime at a concert. The only puzzling thing about the whole night was my mom's reaction when we got home. She sent us straight to the bathtub and scrubbed us down hard. Turns out I didn't know the smell of marijuana yet, but my mom sure did. She had lived through the 60's, after all.

In the years to come, my dad would take me to many more concerts. As I grew older, I worried less about looking cool and more about enjoying good music, even if my friends thought it was weird music. Most of the concerts weren't big rock concerts at huge venues. Usually, we opted for quieter, more interesting artists in small places, like the Down Home. Many of my favorite memories involve listening to artists like Gillian Welch, Iris Dement, Lyle Lovett, and Townes Van Zandt with my dad. His willingness to take me to hear live music from an early age definitely influenced my love of good folk, rock, and bluegrass.

It made sense, then, that I would do the same with my children. I still regret the fact that I didn't take Calvin to hear Doc Watson when he was just four months old. But he has seen him since. Hobbes was initiated at seven months, when we took him and then 2-year-old Calvin to their first concert. Who better than Earl Scruggs and friends to initiate my boys into the world of music? My boys hear more bluegrass, folk, and good rock at home than children's music. They love the Beatles and Doc Watson, the Wailin' Jennys and Eddie From Ohio. Although, just like me as a child, they insist that Bob Dylan can't sing at all. In time, dear ones, in time.

And so it is at our house. That's why I bought tickets this week to go hear the Cowboy Junkies with my sister-in-law. I never miss a chance to see them live. My husband is not a fan, so he will stay home and have some bonding time with the two older boys. Me? I'll be taking our newest music enthusiast in a sling and heading out to a small theater in my minivan, no more cool than I was in elementary school. But I don't care. Little dude will be six weeks old. Time to start the initiation.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lunchtime Conversation

Calvin has always been a talker, and his conversations are becoming invaluable to me as a way to gain insight into that amazingly complicated brain of his. I'm not sure what this one revealed, but I wanted to record it before I forgot it. I had just finished telling Calvin to please eat with his fork, not his hands. His space obsession continues, and we have regular adventures to Pluto, where we always interact with the Plutonians.

"Mommy, Plutonians eat with their hands and open their mouths to show their food. They also put spikes on their doors to put away their clothes. That's not an appropriate way to set up a home. We need to teach them the right way. They are doing a bad thing"

(Here is where I try to teach some Intercultural Communication skills and instill the virtue of observing before passing judgment in another culture.) "Well, maybe on Pluto eating with hands is considered polite. And maybe they have the spikes up for a good reason, like to keep monsters away from their houses."

"No, mommy, they have spikes all over their doors and walls because they don't like earth people."

"Well maybe they are just afraid of us because they don't know us. We need to show them that we are nice and nothing to be afraid of."

"Well, mommy, they don't love God. They just love each other."

"Honey, God tells us that he is the source of love. Even if people don't realize it, when they love each other, they are loving God."

"Well, what about people who don't know about God? Some people don't know that Jesus is his son. We need to tell them."

"That's a good idea, Calvin."

"But what if people think God is a made-up story? God is everywhere, all over the world. That's a very hard thing to believe. No man or woman can be everywhere all over the world at the same time, so that's a hard thing to believe about God."

"That's true, honey. Believing in God is not always easy."

(Now we hit the sudden topic shift that eventually makes sense. This is common in Calvin-ese.) "Guns are not an appropriate way to deal with anger, not even pretend ones."

"That's right. What is an appropriate way to deal with anger?"

"Just go to your room and be by yourself."

"That's a good idea."

"But God is angry at the Plutonians because they have spikes on their doors."

"No, honey, God doesn't get angry about things like that. Do you know what really makes him angry? When people hurt each other, especially when people hurt weaker people, like children."

"Do you know what makes God most angry? When people hurt babies or kill them. (A note, we have never discussed abortion or the pro-life/pro-choice debate in front of this kid. He just came up with that.) But God doesn't stop loving people just because he is angry."

"That's true."

"God is really powerful. The most powerful. And he has a plan. Do you know what one of his plans is?"


"His plan is to turn the bad guys into good guys."

"That's right. How can he do that?"

"He can turn the bad guys into good guys with just his voice. He must have a really powerful voice to be able to do that. But he won't ever turn good guys into bad guys."

This is not a complete transcript, by any means, but it gets the gist of our conversation. Obviously, I need to work out some colonializing tendencies in my four-year-old. But sometimes he understands more than I do, or at least has a fresh way of putting it. Yep, God's voice, his "Word" must be really powerful indeed. And he is turning all of us "bad guys" into good guys. Even me.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Christmas Birth Story

I never wrote the birth stories for Calvin or Hobbes, though every detail of those hours is still clear in my memory. Perhaps I will go back and write their stories one day, for them if no one else. Our beautiful baby (I still need a blog name for him) turns one month old today, I am coming out of the fog enough to write his story.

You weren't due until New Year's Day. Our "New Year's Baby" is what I called you, but all along I had a feeling you might come on Christmas Day. It wasn't just because nearly everyone who heard my due date commented that you might be a Christmas baby. It wasn't just because Calvin wanted a Christmas baby, though he definitely did. Even Hobbes said you were coming on Christmas, but I think he was a little confused between you and the Baby Jesus. (Don't let that get to your head when you are older.) Though plenty of people speculated that you might be a Christmas baby, something inside me, call it mother's intuition, seemed to know it for sure. I would be in labor on December 25th, thinking of Mary doing the same thing in a stable in Bethlehem.

I woke up at one o'clock in the morning with contractions. Since I had been having them on and off for a couple of weeks, I wasn't sure this was the real thing. But they kept coming every ten minutes, steady and just strong enough. I tried to sleep in between. I woke your daddy at around four to let him know what was going on. We decided to sleep a bit more then get up and get ready to go, hoping we could get in an early Christmas morning with your brothers before heading to the birth center.

It turned out that we didn't need to worry about the "early" part. After packing and getting showers at six, we slept a bit more, finally waking at around eight to call the midwife and to tell your Auntie __, who was staying with us, that this was the day. Contractions were still ten minutes apart, so we decided to let your brothers sleep. I cooked the Christmas breakfast, country ham and biscuits and cinnamon rolls, while I waited, for you and your brothers. Calvin and Hobbes woke up and came running out for their stockings. We opened presents, ate breakfast, and timed contractions while I sat in my rocker. Still ten minutes apart. Still steady and just strong enough.

By the time your Uncle __ picked your brothers up at eleven o'clock, I was starting to wonder if you would ever come. We had called Nana to let her know to head on over. We decided to walk and try to speed things up. It was a warm, sunny day for December, and I am thankful for that. We walked and walked and walked around the neighborhood, stopping to chat with our friends from church who lived nearby. Contractions sped up to five minutes apart with all of that walking, so your daddy, aunt, and I headed over to the birth center.

When we arrived at two-thirty, I was sure I would be pretty far along from all of those contractions. When the midwife told me I was only three centimeters, I almost cried. Instead, we went outside and walked some more...and walked and walked and walked. Contractions were four to five minutes apart after an hour of walking, so we went back inside. Still three centimeters. By this time, another midwife was on call, who was older and more experienced. She suggested we try going up and down the stairs. There we were, you daddy bearing my weight, your faithful aunt timing contractions, and me climbing up and down the stairs, fighting off tears and fatigue, wishing something would just happen. An hour of stairs, contractions two to three minutes apart, and still only three centimeters.

It was five-thirty. I was exhausted and frustrated. The midwife was wise and calm. It turns out you were making things complicated by having your hand up by your head. The midwife pushed you around a little bit and told you you could suck your thumb once you were out. Then she sent me home to lay on my left side to see if you would move your hand. I couldn't be checked in until I was four centimeters.

Turns out we didn't need to go home. On the way there, I started having serious, painful contractions. By the time we got home, I could barely get in the house and to the couch. Your Nana arrived at the same time we did. I lay there, unable to talk or breathe through the pain while your daddy called the midwife. She asked to talk to me and realized right away that we needed to get back. Immediately!

I am pretty sure your daddy has never driven like that, speeding and running red lights as I screamed in the passenger seat. There is nothing more miserable than having active labor on a bumpy road. Auntie ___ was following us in her own car this whole time, wondering if she would get pulled over by a cop and how she would explain it. She obviously had no pregnant woman in her car.

When we arrived back at the birthing center at six-twenty, I could barely get in the door. The midwife checked me, and I was only four centimeters. I didn't care. I was ready.

It was a blur from there. Your daddy started filling the birthing tub and got into his swim trunks. I got out of my clothes as quickly as I could and got into that hot water. Oh, the water! I could not have made it through this labor without it. The next hour was like one long contraction, pain upon pain upon pain, more than I thought I could bear. I could not focus to breathe through it all. There were times when all I could do was scream. I really just wanted someone to shoot me and end it. It was that bad. Worse than with your brothers. The midwife had to yell at me to focus a couple of times. She kept reminding me there was a baby at the end of this. I kept gripping your father's hands and leaning back into him, completely unable to think about seeing you, just wanting it to be over. Needless to say, I was not meditating on Mary and her labor with Jesus.

The pain. The pain. The pain. A second to float in the water then it all came again. I thought it would never end. I COULD NOT DO IT. And then, suddenly, I had to push. I didn't care if anyone wanted me to or not. I just did. I pushed and your head was there. I pushed again and you were out. So fast. Only two minutes according to the midwife. Only an hour after we returned to the center. At 7:22 p.m. your eight pound, four ounce, dark-haired, squirmy, red, beautiful self came up out of the water and into my arms. And, though I was just as overcome with love and joy at the birth of your brothers, I have never been more relieved in my life for something to be over.

Then I was shocked. Dark hair? You didn't look like one of my babies. In fact, you looked an awful lot like Auntie __. Oh, but you were so beautiful with those dark, alert eyes and that gorgeous coloring. You cried so loudly right away. We cuddled and admired and enjoyed you.

Then the family arrived. Nana, your brothers, Gram, and Auntie __. Your brothers adored you from the start, though Hobbes was a little sad to have to leave us at the birthing center. While everyone admired you and took their turns holding you, I rested. Oh, how tired I was. Gram had brought Christmas dinner with her, and turkey and dressing, green bean casserole, and candied yams never tasted so good.

Everyone left, and it was just the three of us and a nurse. We stayed at the birthing center for about four hours after you were born, just enough time to take care of the paperwork, get all of us dressed warmly, and enjoy being alone with you. We haven't had much time alone since, little one, except after your brothers go to bed. But we are enjoying you nonetheless. You are such a sweet, mellow, beautiful baby. Your brothers, especially Hobbes, love to comfort you and talk to you and kiss you.

We cannot imagine our family without you. You are here. We are five. Welcome to the world, my Christmas baby.

(And I promise to never wrap your birthday gifts in Christmas paper.)

Friday, January 23, 2009


Calvin to his Daddy in the car: There are three stages to life, Daddy. The first stage is when you are kid and you do what your parents tell you to do. The second stage is when you are an adult and you have to do the things adults have to do. The third stage is when you get thrusters on your feet and can fly.

I want to remember these images. You, flying down a hill at Gram's on a makeshift sled, laughing, arms up in the air, fearless. You, thrilled to stand up after following my instructions and seeing your first snow angel, wings spreading far. You, trudging back up the hill carrying that heavy piece of black plastic behind you, ready to go flying again. You, stopping halfway up when a patch of unsullied snow caught your eye. You, flopping down on your back on that clean, white canvas, spreading arms and legs and standing again to enjoy your creation. You, doing the same thing over and over again until Gram's yard had a half-dozen angels and even more sled tracks. You, hat tilted back so your ears won't be covered, rosy cheeked and smiling as the sun turns the white yard to diamonds. You, shining brighter than it all, so full of life and joy and adventure. You, ready to fly.

I want to remember, because I so rarely see this anymore. So often you are angry or frustrated or sad or serious beyond your four and a half years. So often we spend all of our days yelling and fighting and crying instead of laughing. I don't know what we have done wrong, your daddy and I, that we don't know how to teach you well without bringing out such anger and defensiveness. But I do know that the boy I see most days is not really you. The boy of clinched fists and wrinkled brow, angry words and violent temper. That is not really you.

You, goofy and smart and sensitive and curious, ready for an adventure, throwing your arms up to the sky. That is how He created you. If only I could help you find that boy. Unclinch your fists and fly.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Observations on a Snow Day

For the benefit of those who have never lived in the South...this is what happens when snow comes our way.

Snow in NC equals a holiday, almost always. Such was the case when we awoke to fast falling flakes Tuesday morning that didn't let up until midday. We ended up with four inches. Schools were closed yesterday and today. Hardly anyone went to work. Banks were closed. Movie theaters didn't show any movies after five o'clock.

Of course, the benefit of our having lived in Illinois for a few years is that we know one can actually get out and drive in this stuff. Really, the interstates and main roads were clear. So after the inauguration, we packed up the kiddos and headed out to the in-laws to enjoy the winter wonderland while it lasted. There aren't a lot of hills in our part of town, so their place was the best chance to get in some sledding. I enjoyed a walk in the snowy woods with Hobbes. Calvin played alone in the snow, the sort of thing that appeals to him more than anything. And we warmed up by the woodstove while I nursed the baby, then sat down with some neighbors and the in-laws for a dinner of stew and homemade bread. It was better than Christmas. And the boys and I got to enjoy it again today.

Summers may be unbearably hot here. Winters may often be rainy and dreary. But snow days are perfect! I love that snow in January is considered "inclement weather." I love that most people get the day off. I love that neighbors' kids play together in the snow while parents share hot cocoa and cook chili for the crew. I love that everyone rushes to the store to get bread and milk even though we could get it easily the next day. I love that my boys are finally old enough to enjoy this spontaneous holiday in North Carolina that those of you up north and in the Midwest call "winter."

The forecast for tomorrow? Sunny and 51.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This Moment

Half asleep on the couch with a sleeping newborn curled up beside me. Looking down at tiny fingers in the early evening light. A quilt, pieced together by my grandma to warm my dad as a boy, now warming granddaughter and great-grandson. The sweet, milky smell of new baby. The feel of silky, dark newborn hair against my cheek. A quiet house save for the sounds of baby dreams. Long eyelashes fluttering against cheeks just starting to get chubby. A dinner lovingly prepared by a new friend who awaits the coming of her own babe. Doing nothing.

Rest. Quiet. Peace.

There is so much to do before Gram arrives to return older brothers and join us for dinner. Groceries still need to be put away. Laundry needs to be folded. The house is a disaster, and the Christmas boxes still need to be packed up for the year.

There is so much to do before this life looks like I wish. I have so far to grow in becoming a patient, loving mommy. My boys have so much to learn about being kind and loving and respectful.

My house is not how I want it to be. My life is not how I want it to be. Yesterday was terrible, full of yelling and impatience, no one happy. Today was rushed and busy.

But right now. This moment. This is where I need to be. This is perfect.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Random Thoughts from the Newborn Fog

We are all finally well. I'm praying we stay that way. We've have our share of sickness this season, and I am happy to be able to smell again. (Thanks for your prayers!)

On a related note, newborn baby heads really are the best smell in the world. Really. Go find a newborn right now, go up to a stranger with a baby in the grocery store if you have to, and inhale deeply. I mean it.

While I'm smelling baby head, Calvin is learning to play chess from his dad, and he already understands it better than I. Once upon a time, I was smart. I think all of a mother's brain cells get transferred to her offspring. Apparently, boys take more brain cells than girls (I read that somewhere at some point in this pregnancy).

Sleep depravity and brain atrophy mean that it was the 16th day of Christmas when I finally took down the tree. I wish it were for reasons as thoughtful and contemplative as this. But I am not as cool as Catherine.

Or Farrah. I don't know how mothers parent more than one child without using a sling. How would a person get anything done? Thank you, Farrah, for my beautiful handmade sling.

This adjustment to three is much easier than I thought, and it's not just the sling. This baby is the most mellow of all of mine, and I am thankful. Some sleep is nice. Boys who love cuddling with their baby brother are nice.

Not taking responsibility is not nice. Completely unrelated to baby things, what is up with Illinois' governor? At some point, you just need to give up, even if you have the maffia on your side. I really don't miss living near Chicago, even if some snow would be nice.

No snow here. It's raining a lot, and we are stuck inside with no plan. It is time for a schedule again. Kids really do need it. After Christmas, a week with my mom here, and this week and the next with the hubby working half days, we are all ready. Not that I am in a rush for my husband to go back to full-time work.

What should I do with my "free time" next week while hubby is home. Should I read "The Shack"? Everyone's doing it, at least in Evangelical circles (which usually makes me NOT want to read something). But several folks I really respect have read it and found it worth the time.

I really need to update this page, tagline, links to current blogs in my reader, new design. Oh to know how to do those things without my husband's help...maybe I should learn.

New Year's Resolutions. Are they worth it? Is now the time for me to be making plans for improving myself (or learning to do CSS designs)?

Are you still with me. If so, you must have too much time on your hands. Wanna come clean my bathrooms?

If you have stuck around for this dry spell, I hope to be back sometime soon. I am not enough of a planner to have written posts and have them in the wings for the postpartum days. Maybe I'll repost some old stuff for a couple of weeks until we get our footing here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

For Epiphany

I have a lot of thoughts in my mind these days, but none of them are very coherent. Today was Epiphany, the day we celebrate Jesus coming as the light to the nations, first revealed to the wise men from the east. I am reposting my thoughts from last year.

An Ordinary, Simple Life-An Epiphany Reflection

They were two insignificant people from a backwoods, no-count town. If the play were being cast, their roles would not be the ones any big name actor would choose. The king of the nation, the religious leaders who held influence over the people, even the emperor's governor who lived in the capital, any of these would be better than a carpenter or a young woman of unimportant birth.

And theirs were not roles they would have chosen either. He was a man preparing to marry, building a house and accumulating possessions in order to take a young wife and make his place in society. She was a young girl, looking forward to the time she would become a wife, the maker of a home, a woman with a role in her community. They were ordinary, simple people preparing for an ordinary, simple life. Neither one of them asked to see angels, to hear an upsetting message from God, to be caught up in a story larger than their own.

Maybe she was working on some embroidery for her new house or sewing part of the dress for her marriage ceremony. Maybe she was daydreaming about finally getting out of her parents' house or of becoming a wife and a mother. Perhaps she was praying in preparation for that day. Then a stranger appeared and told her that all of these dreams were ruined. She was already a mother, a pregnancy forced upon her, her reputation ruined, her betrothed ashamed to take her as his wife.

Maybe he was dreaming of the home he would build and the bed he would lovingly craft for his new wife. Maybe he was dreaming about his new status at the city gate, his place secured by his role as "man of the house." Maybe he had drifted off in prayer for his future bride or his future firstborn, a son of course. Then he had a dream not of his own making. His betrothed would have a son as her firstborn, but it would not be his. In fact, she was already pregnant. He had a choice. Any smart man would leave her, denounce her for her unfaithfulness, and start again with a new woman, a more virtuous one.

That could have been the story. An unwed woman and illegitimate child made outcast, no man to protect them. A man shamed by his unfaithful betrothed, having to seek a new wife. But it was not. She accepted the message of the angel willingly and with a glad heart, though she must have known the rumors that would surround her and her child for the rest of her life. And even more amazingly, he chose to accept her anyway, to take on her shame. He practically confessed that this child was his and that, even if it was not, he was crazy enough to take this woman as his wife anyway.

No one would want to associate with them. What could they do? No one would believe God had spoken to them; they were too insignificant. God spoke to religious leaders or crazy prophets, not to carpenters and young women. Maybe a few close friends believed them. At least one relative did. But they would spend their lives surrounded by rumors, ostracized because of their questionable past. Their son would endure sneers. "Is that the carpenter's son?"

And yet they chose it. This man and this young woman, two insignificant people from a backwoods, no-count town. "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Theirs were not the roles the big-name actors would choose. They were not kings or queens, religious authorities, or ruling governors. They were a carpenter and a girl, on the verge of an ordinary, simple life, yet there they sat, with kings bowing before them and the King on their knees.