“I think I’m going to write a blog about smoking,” I told my son. Soggy and sandy from our day at the beach, the two of us were alone in our van.
“Hmmm,” my 13-year-old son replied, hardly vibrating his vocal cords and barely nodding his head in acknowledgement of my having spoken.
“You see,” I went on, “I actually think folk have the right to smoke if they want. I have my own share of unhealthy habits.”
At this my son perked up. (He does so love a chance to disagree with me.) “Yeah, but Mom, do your unhealthy habits make other people unhealthy?”
In truth, my unhealthy habits could cause my family members pain in the future. If I do not choose to eat right and to exercise, I could suffer the physical effects of such bad behaviors. Some forms of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other diseases are caused by unhealthy habits. If I were to contract one of these diseases, my family, my loved ones would suffer unnecessarily because of my negligence.
But that was not what my son meant and I knew it. He had asthma as a young child but had outpaced it as he grew up. Still, he remembered the times he had to duck through doorways and rush through parking lots to avoid errant fumes. Yet this time, he was not referring to his own struggles. This time, we were both frustrated by the limitations forced upon his sister by the unhealthy habit of others.
“What I mean, Baker, is that I am not prepared to say people don’t have the right to smoke. It’s a choice they should be allowed to make. The problem is that this choice puts my child at risk.”
“Right. Because they chose to smoke a cigarette on the beach Margaret could have an asthma attack. She could wind up in the hospital.”
Our frustration was at a high point because we’d been unable to find a place to park our umbrella that was not downwind from smokers. They were everywhere. Margaret had to stay in the water or at least in the surf to avoid the fumes.
And it was not just the beach. Later we went out to eat, to a non-smoking restaurant of course.
“Mommy, smokers,” Margaret whispered to me when we were 50 feet from the entrance. Yep. Cloaking the entrance with a cloud of wheeze-inducing funk, were several folks tugging the last puffs from their smokes. They had every right; it’s a free country. Yet there was no getting in the place without walking through their haze of freedom: a haze that placed significant bonds on my child.
Lest you think I’m an over reactive mom, know that once last summer we were in a restaurant whose (ahem) smoking section was on the opposite side of the room from their non-smoking (or what we would call their Not-Quite-As-Dense-But-Still-Really-Smoky) area. We opted to stay. The kids were hungry; it was late; and Margaret had been breathing effortlessly (something, I can’t not mention, that the rest of us do without note). Fifteen minutes later, we paid what we owed and left—with a wheezing daughter who wound up on breathing treatments for the three days following the dining debacle.
Life experience. I try to learn from it.
But back to our week at the beach. It seems to have set the tone for the summer. Everywhere we have gone, we’ve had to dodge smokers. Admittedly, Margaret has had a hard time with her asthma this summer, and I am hyper aware, but geez. Smokers greet you at the mall, the drug store, the convenience mart and the grocery. They stroll over the grounds at Biltmore Estate and cheer in the stands of ball games. And hear me here: I think smokers have a right to smoke, I do. But what is my kid supposed to do to be able to breathe?
I tell Margaret life’s not fair and that we all have to deal with stuff. I remind her that considering what others have to deal with, this isn’t that bad. I tell her we could get her a filter mask thingy to wear. (She says she’d rather wheeze.)
I tell her those things. I do. And I believe smokers have rights. I do. But first, I’m Margaret’s mommy and when she’s fighting to breathe because secondhand smoke has triggered an asthma attack, I forget all those things. Because when it comes to balancing her right to breathe and the right of others to smoke—I don’t care squat about fairness. ‘Cuz I’m a mother, that’s why. And it’s my right to play favorites.
“Similarly, the spirit also helps us out in our weakness. For example, we don’t know beans about praying, but the Spirit himself speaks up for our unexpressed concerns. And he who x-rays our hearts understands the Spirit’s approach, since the Spirit represents Christians before God.” Romans 8:26-27 The Cotton Patch Version
Clarence Jordan (translator of The Cotton Patch Version) is right. I don't know beans about praying. Prayer absolutely blows my mind: God, the creator of the universe, wants to be in communication with me? I really can't grasp that.
But I pray anyway. I pray to music. I pray Scripture. And I pray for loved ones. I pray for Barbara and her two boys—their husband and father died suddenly this past January. A friend who has pitiful insurance and horrific health problems. Cathy whose younger brother died way too young leaving a wife and children. Teachers whose salaries have been cut or who have lost their jobs—particularly those among them who are single parents. A loved one in a new job. My nephew-in-love who goes off to college next year and his dad who has Parkinson’s disease. Niece Rachel who is about to start her senior year. My mother-in-law with MD. And then there’s this: my friend Kim who beat breast cancer last year just before her son, now 11, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer—the same Kim who has just been diagnosed with colon cancer. This week, her son, who was just denied access because of his age to clinical trials that might save his life, will be going to NIH in Maryland to explore further treatment options with his dad (Kim’s husband) while Kim faces her own cancer surgery back in Oklahoma.
Yeah, I gotta tell ya. I don't know beans about praying.
But thanks be to God, knowing is not necessary. Romans 8:26-27 (NRSV) says “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (emphasis mine)
And when I read that I sigh: a sigh of relief. I sigh because suddenly I remember, I’m not alone. I sigh, I breathe, remembering that Barbara is not alone, and Cathy isn't and neither is my nephew.The Spirit is sighing with me, magnifying those sighs, translating them into words that I can't seem to find, building them into bridges from the hearts of the hurting to the very heart of God. I sigh knowing my Rachel has a bridge and my mother-in-law can cross it too cause this bridge is seriously wheelchair accessible. And I sigh so deep within my spirit, beyond the flood of tears that chokes my heart for a little boy who just wants to play baseball with his brothers and for his mother who wants to watch him. I sigh with relief because as I do, I find that the Spirit is already there. The bridge is already built. The words don’t have to be found. “And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes” for me.
Even though I don’t know beans about praying.
15 May 2009 Here’s a conversation Margaret and I had on the way home from school one day last week. I thought you might enjoy eavesdropping. (I’ve changed names and identifying details of all other kids mentioned—well, except for Charlie who is indeed a kid in his own mind . . . and I suppose in ours too. . . .)
“Hey, Mommy! Hey, Charlie! Come sit with me, buddy. That’s a good boy.” Margaret buckled up as our beagle stepped into her lap.
“Hey Margaret, how was your day at school?”
Margaret shook her head. “Not so good: there was a tornado warning.”
“Yeah, I heard about that.”
“It was awful because I needed to go to the restroom, but we had to sit in the hall with our heads down and we were in the downstairs hall with the kindergartners and first and second graders and it was really crowded and hot and boring.”
“You had to go to the restroom?”
“Yeah but at first I didn’t have to go that bad so I told Mrs. Seals I could wait but then after like 20 minutes or something I told her that I really did have to go and so I went but it was so embarrassing because there were girls sitting in the bathroom—because see the hall was so crowded that some girls had to sit in there the whole time—and so all those girls knew I was going to the bathroom. . .”
“I bet that was embarrassing.”
“Yeah, it sure was. Oh, but Mommy, some kids were really scared about the tornado and some were even crying. I’m talking about kids who don’t ever cry, they were crying. Like Natalie she never cries but she started crying because she has family in Black Mountain and somebody said the tornado was headed out to Black Mountain, you know, and so she started crying and Brandon he started crying—you know Brandon he is that big tough boy—and he never cries, you know, he never cries, ever, and he cried, because he was worried about his grandparents, because they don’t watch TV or listen to the radio, so he was scared they would be caught in the tornado because they hadn’t heard about it, and how would they hear about it if they didn’t listen to the news, you know? and then of course Taylor cried because her family lives in a mobile home and, I don’t know if you knew this Mommy, but—did you know this?—it is really, really, super dangerous to be in a mobile home when there is a tornado, and her whole house could have just blown away, so of course she was crying—I mean, who could blame her?”
“Yeah that was really scary for her. A lot of kids were crying . . .”
“Were you scared?"
“Not at all? Come on.”
“Well, I was a little worried about Charlie.” Hearing his name, Charlie turned to face her, expectant. “Yeah, I was worried about my little buddy,” Margaret told him, scratching his ears as he leaned into her.
“Yeah, Charlie pretty much freaked out,” I told her, “You know how he gets in a storm.”
“Was he shaking?” She asked, knowing. She wrapped her arms around him, pulling him close.
I chuckled. “More like quaking.”
“Poor Charlie,” Margaret said shaking her head, “I knew it; I just knew it.”
“So that was all you were worried about, really?”
“Yep,” she said, repositioning Charlie so his white-tipped tail could swing free.
“Good for you, Margaret. I’m glad you were not fearful.”
“Well,” she said, shrugging her shoulders and stroking her beagle’s back, “I figured if there was anything to be worried about, Daddy would take care of it.”
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Matthew 5:26-27
It was like any other day.
Daddy said we would have a big surprise later
And I thought maybe we would go get ice cream,
Or go to the Five & Dime to buy paper dolls,
Or maybe company was coming.
I colored pictures and I played in the kitchen center.
I listened to music and watched the record going round and round on the player.
I heard the office phone ring.
It rang the same way it did on any other day.
“Aileen, Dawn! Your Daddy is on the phone, come quick.”
And we did.
I reached for the phone, black and heavy, its top half snaking across the desk.
Tippy toed, I pressed the receiver to my ear.
“Hey, Girlbaby!” (Daddy always called me Girlbaby.) “Guess what?”
“You have a baby brother!”
I was a big sister now.
But really, it was a day just like any other day.
It was the day my brother was born.
Becoming a big sister.
I stood on tippy toes to reach the phone, still corded. Daddy gave me the news: “It’s a boy!”
Learning to read.
The letters were right there in colored chalk. “C-A-T means this.” My sister stood beside her chalkboard, pointing to a picture she had drawn of a cat. And in that moment, I got it.
Losing a pet.
I tried to get Pickles, our Cocker Spaniel, to come back; she kept running after the car. Straddling the banana seat on my bike, I called and called to her. But Pickles never came. “Do dogs go to heaven, Mama?” and “Will I ever stop missing her?”
Falling in love.
In the end, she didn’t know any of us. No matter: loving Grandmama for better or worse gave me sweet joy and made me a better me.
Becoming Aunt Aileen.
Nothing. Nothing prepared me (has prepared me yet) for the joy of it.
Believing beyond Meredith’s birth.
When Meredith was born twinless, my faith quivered at its core. This one was to be two, this tiny singleton sans sister who fought for her life in NICU. Praying through the questions, working through the doubt, set new roots to my faith. (Meredith—one of my 12—is all grown up now. Thanks be to God.)
He was only 3 years and 7 months old when he died on April 6 2008. I still wish the truth were a lie--I wish that Paxten still lived on, growing bigger, getting stronger. I do not want it to be true that he's gone. Yet while losing him hurt like nothing I'd experienced before, it was loving him that changed me: Love fast, Live now, Laugh anyway, Linger a little longer. I loved loving Paxten. I love him still.
Originally posted 4-6-09
Originally posted on April 2, 2009
On April 6, 2008, Paxten Andrew Mitchell slipped from his parents embrace into the gates of heaven. This time last year, no one was talking about Paxten getting well. He was home, with his family, with hospice. I miss him.
When Paxten was still well enough to be in the hospital, I visited him about once a week. I’d come bringing fresh Playdoh® or new dinosaur stickers. (I still catch myself looking for stickers or checking for a bargain on Playdoh® before I realize my reason for buying those things is no more.) Paxten and I would stick the stickers all over ourselves and anything else we could find; we’d sculpt new creatures with the Playdoh®. Actually I would sculpt, or Amy would, as Paxten directed our efforts. We made funny faces. We wrestled—careful not to disconnect IV cords as we played. And we laughed. We laughed a lot, Paxten & I. Eventually though, I’d have to go home to my children, often leaving Amy by herself with her boy.
In the hospital bed (it seemed huge when Paxten was in it alone), Amy slept with her boy curled into her. No doubt she did all night what she did all day—checked his temperature with her mommy hands and diagnostic kisses, glanced up at the monitors to see if everything was normal (that is, as normal as it ever got for Paxten), and readjusted his tubing so he was not lying on it. . . When Paxten stirred during those long nights, I bet he had the same conversation with his mother that he had several times every hour during the day.
“I Wub You.”
“I love you too, Paxten.”
March 31, 2009
Today I led the call to worship for our chapel service at Gardner-Webb Divinity School. As I prayed this week about what I would say, I kept coming back to the wonder that Almighty God calls out to me. In response, I am to come out of myself, away from my busyness, and into God's rest. I'm ashamed I don't always answer that call. Yet amazingly, God still calls.
A Call to Worship
Now is the time.
Answer the call to worship.
You who are broken, burdened, bereaved.
Come out of frenzied chaos and
Into sacred peace.
Come out of the mundane and
Into the magnificent.
Come out of the pressure of the daily and
Into the presence of the divine.
Come because you are called.
Called to worship.
Published March 22, 2009
Yesterday, I spent a few hours with a library cat named Dewey. I was driving back from a conference—a five hour trip—and as I drove, I listened to the audio book, Dewey the Library Cat, by Vicki Myron. I'm a sap for a good animal story (see last week’s post); in addition to that, I absolutely love libraries. Dewey then seemed a perfect fit. Yet, after just a chapter or two, I found myself strangely envious of the foundling kitty. Why? Dewey got to live in a library. Sigh.
My mother took us to the public library when we were wee ones; my heart still races with remembered anticipation when I think back on those special days. All those books! Shelf upon shelf, row after row, one room then another. Heaven on earth.
Indeed, while some kids played princesses and others played pirates, I played librarian (well, when I wasn't playing student to my sister the teacher . . . but that’s another story). A few years ago, I wrote a story about a time when I took my library play to a new level. Enjoy.
Library in a Box
©July 2006 Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore
"Wow! That is so cool." I could not believe something so completely wonderful, had landed at our little house. After all, Daddy was a Baptist preacher, and Mother just worked part-time as a substitute teacher. Where did we get a treasure of this magnitude?
"You like it?" My parents beamed at the new sleeper sofa they had purchased for our family room.
"I love it! Do we get to keep it?" My 10 year old mind stirred with plans for our new addition.
"Well, of course we. . ." my mother turned to face me, and saw I was not looking at the sofa. She started backtracking. "We are going to keep the sofa, is that what you mean?"
It wasn't. Forget the sofa. I wanted the box. It was huge. It had walls. It had a floor, a ceiling. It was big enough for at least five kids. I could see it already. The circulation desk would be at the entrance to the box. I could draw shelves on the floor and use bookends to hold the books in place. I would track usage of books using note cards and I would assign each of my friends a library card. It would be perfect.
Mother could not refuse and I got to keep my cardboard library. To my surprise, the neighborhood children were not nearly as excited as I was about my library. Thus, circulation numbers remained manageable. The lack of community involvement didn't bother me too much though. It was my very own library and I loved it. And hey! It came with a sleeper sofa.
Published March 9, 2009
Over the weekend, I took my youngest, now 11, to the swimming pool at the YMCA. She went with a friend one day; we took brother Baker with her the next. Both days, I took the kids, signed them in at the pool, then went upstairs to exercise. Blissful. Watching parents of younger kids do the locker room shuffle—get the bathing suits on the kids, get them rinsed, get their towels and goggles—then head out to the pool to swim with their little ones, I was reminded of one aspect of parenting preschoolers that I do not miss: the swimming pool rigmarole. I did it, because I really felt like swimming was an important skill to learn, but I really did not like it. Set aside the major frustration of managing three kids in the locker room; I don't like to swim. (Actually it’s the getting wet that I don't like but they seem to be connected.)
So, in recollection of those bygone days, I thought I'd pull out a classic from six years ago when my kids were 8, 6, and 4. At that time, I was teaching a kids’ fitness class at the YMCA. Enjoy—at my expense.
UGGH! I've been known to walk into a store, hand over my wallet, and promise the clerk that if she will just find me a suit in which I would feel moderately comfortable, she can claim the purse as her own. I really don't like it. Not one bit. That's why I've had the same two bathing suits for years.
So, you can imagine my frustration when I took the children to the indoor pool last week and realized I'd forgotten one of the two suits I will wear in public. Trellace, my 8 year old, had the solution, "They have extras you could borrow, Mama! Just look in lost and found."
Ahha. The lost and found. Great. Well, it was Spring Break. I'd promised to take them swimming. What was a Mama to do? I dug through the Lost & Found barrel (working there, I know everything in there has been laundered) and found a suit in my size.
In the locker room, careful not to pass on any negative body messages to my two girls, I said, "I don't know if I can wear this swimsuit, girls. It looks like a granny bathing suit."
"Mama!" Trellace said. "It looks like Gangi's bathing suit; I like it."
"Trellace. Gangi is my MOTHER!"
"Right. But she's not a granny or an old lady or something."
Would that the story ended there.
"Mommy I like that bathing suit," Baker said when I exited the locker room.
"With that skirt on it, you look like a ballerina."
"A ballerina? Thanks Baker. We'll go with ballerina then."
But there is more.
"Hey Miss Aileen!" One of the children in my homeschool gym class had just joined us in the pool area.
"That bathing suit looks exactly like my mom's!"
"It surely does," Mom said. "But I lost mine. Can't find it anywhere."
Originally posted on March 3, 2009
I knew the day was coming; I just expected to have a little more notice. So when Baker came into the kitchen on Saturday morning, having grown overnight, and announced, “Hey Mom, look! I really am taller than you now,” it surprised me that he was indeed right. After all, Baker may be turning 13 in a few weeks, but he was just born a few moments ago.
Baker weighed nine pounds at birth and was three inches shy of two feet long. By the time he was three months old, he was in size six months clothes; nine months later, he was still wearing clothes for kids twice his age and was as tall as his three year old sister, Trellace. Over the years, his older sister caught up with him a time or two, but never for long and now never again.
From day one, Baker’s hands stretched way beyond the fingertips of the other babies in the nursery; his feet edged past the toes in other cribs. In no time, he began measuring his hands by mine, noting that his first grade fingers were nearly as long as his mommy’s. By the time he was 10, I could wear his shoes—and that’s no small feat (pardon the pun) as I’m rather sure footed myself at a size 9.5-10.
So there we were last Saturday, me, looking up at my son, his shoulders an inch and a half above mine. We stood side by side, looking in the mirror.
“Whoa. You are—no kidding—taller than your mother,” I said to my baby boy. “Come on, let’s go show Trellace.”
“Look Trellace.” Baker and I stood before her, shoulder not quite to shoulder, expectant.
She looked back, not getting it.
“Baker is taller than I am!”
She nodded, smiling a little, “Hmmm, he sure is.” She paused, knowing what a sap I am about my kids growing older, cocked her head to one side, then said with a smirk, “But don’t worry Mom, maybe you’re just losing bone mass.”