Published August 29, 2009 when Baker was 13 years old.
Over and over again that week at divinity school, I was asked how my summer had been. I was seeing folk I'd not seen since last semester and the question was more of a greeting than an inquiry. I knew that, but I stumbled every time to say something that could sum up the last three months. It was a hard summer in many ways, and it felt almost deceptive to dismiss the greeting with “Fine, thanks. You?”
Eventually, I settled on a response sort of like this: “Actually, it was hard: I experienced a lot of losses this summer. Most of them were minor, some were a little more unsettling, and one was nearly overwhelming. And yet, this summer I witnessed the goodness of God in remarkable ways.”
It’s true. The summer was hard, but there were some amazing, almost miraculous moments. I was able to see those moments, in part, because of a conversation I had with my son towards the end of July. It went something like this.
“Hey Mom I think I thought of something pretty profound.”
“Oh yeah, Baker, what was that?”
“Well I was looking at fireflies, ya know?”
“See, it’s like they are all around us in the dark, and we don't realize it. Then they light up and suddenly we know they've been there all along.”
“And I think that’s kind of like Jesus is. Sometimes, we can't really see Jesus because of what’s going on in our life.”
“Right. And then something happens to remind us that Jesus has been there the whole time.”
“Yeah.” Baker, hands on hips, grinned. “That’s pretty profound don’t you think?”
"I do indeed, Baker-boy, I do indeed."
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
John 1:1-5 NRSV
Published originally back in 2009 when Margaret was about to start middle school, this post reflects on her preschool days.
“Baker!” Three-year-old Margaret clutched her chest, staring at her five-year-old brother who himself was in the grips of laughter. They’d been playing hide-and-seek: Baker stone-still in a hidey hole just big enough to hold him, his little sister frantically seeking him out. Margaret, unbeknownst to me, had become increasingly convinced that Baker was lost forever.
“Baker!” She cried out when at last his giggles revealed him. “You scared my heart.”
Baker stopped laughing with admirable speed and reached for her, apologizing. She sunk into his arms, offering forgiveness. Then, eyes still shiny from tears unshed, she looked up at her big brother and said, “Now I’ll hide and you count, okay?”
As she ran off, Baker, charmed, came quickly over to me whispering, not for the first time, “Isn’t she just the cutest thing, Mommy?”
Cute. That’s our Margaret. Well, cute and not a little bit sassy.
Margaret’s sassy side made rules frustrating for her when she was in preschool. In her four-year-old class the teacher kept student names clipped to a color-coded continuum. Good behavior moved names up; misbehavior inched them down. Far too frequently, Margaret’s name found its way to the lower spectrum. I tried a variety of rehabilitation methods, with minimal success. Realizing how much Margaret loved her teacher, I tried a new tactic.
“Margaret, do you know what it means when your name is moved down?”
Margaret’s blue eyes gazed at me, waiting.
“It means you’ve made Mrs. Lynn very sad.”
Margaret’s face fell. She looked away for a minute, seeming to think the whole thing through a bit. Then, a smile taking over her countenance, she shook her blond curls from side to side. “No Mommy. That’s not what it means. It just means I was screaming!” She nodded, satisfied, and went on to tell me about her day.
The next year, Margaret went to Kindergarten. And she must have taken care of the whole rebellion thing back in pre-k, because she seldom broke a rule the whole time she was in elementary school (at least so far as you or I know). Her teachers said she was delightful, imaginative, an independent learner (nobody ever mentioned excessive screaming).
So I guess that means she’s ready for her next frontier: middle school. Still, as she grows out of childhood into the young woman she will become, I hope she keeps her spunky side: that part that says, “Wait a minute, let me think about this before I accept your opinion as truth.” And I hope she guards her heart. But when the day comes that she allows some boy other than her brother to scare her heart, may that luckiest of fellows be as gentle with this treasure of a girl as her big brother has been right from the start.
Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray. Proverbs 22:6 (NRSV)
Sometimes I pull older posts back up and promote them to new readers. I was about to do that with this four-year-old post, so I thought I would add a picture. I googled "Trailways bus, Georgia, Country roads." In seconds (amazing!) I had pages of photos that matched or almost matched my search criteria. Though I hadn't put the date in the search string, the pictures were mostly illustrating events from the forties, fifties, or sixties. Perfect! Except not really. The top ten or fifteen returns did include buses on country roads; the problem was, each depicted some form of violence: buses burning, riots, people being beaten. Hideous.
And from the midst of all that comes this story about my daddy, on a back road in Georgia, riding a Trailways™ bus.
It wasn’t something a boy got to do every day you know: taking the Trailways™ bus from his home to his grandparents' place 20 miles away--especially by himself, seeing as he had half a dozen siblings who would have loved to have joined him. But that’s just what my daddy did one Georgia day some decades ago.
“Was it 1947 or 1948?” Daddy asked himself, folding his napkin in half, then into fourths, then eighths before unfolding it only to repeat the process, this time on the diagonal. “Well let’s see. I know I’d been baptized.”
Daddy seemed to wander back through his memories arriving at the little Baptist church over the railroad track and down the road from his family home. “I was nine when I made my profession of faith.” (We all knew that. Daddy loved telling that story.) “But it took more than a year for the preacher to get around to my baptism.” Baptisms only happened in the summer when the creek was warm enough, but why Daddy didn’t receive the sacrament the summer after he walked the aisle is a mystery. “I reckon it was 47 or maybe it was 48,” Daddy declared this time with conviction. “Whichever it was, it was after I’d been baptized,” Daddy said, certain. “‘Cause I know I’d been baptized.”
So back in 1947 (or 1948) Daddy, soaped up and shiny for his special trip, boarded the bus. The bus was nearly full. Back then, segregation was law, and down in the Deep South Jim Crow ruled the buses with at least as much authority as he had in the classrooms. Daddy, belongings in hand, worked his way from the front toward the back of the bus looking for a seat, finally finding an empty one just inside the Whites Only section. He plopped his things down and took his seat. The bus started up again, chugging on toward Daddy’s adventure.
In those days, at least in rural Georgia, bus drivers would pull over occasionally to pick up riders. You see, folks needing a ride would wait along the side of the road, and then they’d pay a pro-rated fare for their truncated trip. Daddy looked out the windows, watching the Georgia terrain ease past. In the distance, Daddy could see a woman waiting. A child was with her: a very young child. The woman’s arms full of bundles, she still managed to keep hold of the child’s hand. The bus inched closer. Daddy’s view sharpened. The woman was black.
Daddy glanced over his shoulder. The section behind him, the seats designated for this mother and child, were all taken. The bus bumped to a stop. The woman, shifting her load to access her fare while still holding tight to her little one, climbed aboard.
“I remember deliberating on that thing, ‘Should I or shouldn’t I.’” Meanwhile, the woman got closer. “I’d been taught to respect our elders; she was an adult and I was just a kid. But mostly,” Daddy’s voice caught. He cleared his throat and gazed above our heads, “Well, I had the Holy Spirit. Because of that, I was guided, prompted. I knew what was right.”
As the woman got to his row, Daddy met her eyes. Picking up his things, he slid over to the window seat, leaving the aisle seat free. Her expression hardly changed as she placed her things on the floor, lifted her child into her lap, and took her seat: a seat in the White’s Only section of the bus, a seat given her by my daddy who was just an 11 year old boy (or maybe 12).
And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us . . . Acts 15:8 NRSV
“It'll get better,” the stranger said, punctuating his insightful comment with that know-it-all belly laugh that indicated he knew exactly zilch, “in about 18 years!” His laugh crescendoed, then faded into the distance as he walked away shaking his head, still snickering at his own joke.
I looked into the two-week old face of my daughter Trellace sheltered as she was by a tiny pink bonnet and a dainty lace shawl. Her chocolate brown eyes looked back at me, fluttering curly lashes three sizes too big. Better than this? Impossible.
He was confused, that stranger. Maybe he thought I resented rather than relished the neediness of my newborn. He might have thought I had postpartum depression, not the postpartum elation that really kept me up at night gazing into the bassinet, awed by the gift of this child.
Yet in a way—a sort of accidental way—my cackling advisor was right. Parenthood has gotten better. Because every day, the blessing has gotten more amazing; and every day I am more humbled by the beauty of it.
It got better the first time Trellace smiled at me and the first time she laughed. Actually, all the firsts grew the gift: the first hug, the first time she said “Ma-Ma,” the first steps, the first conversation. The newness of those moments have made parenting fresh again and better—surprisingly, impossibly, better.
Different, sure. But better, too. Better because I know Trellace better now than I did in those first moments of her life. Better because I know me better and hopefully have gotten a little more skilled at this parenting gig over the years. Better because as Trellace has grown past toddlerhood and preschool, past the elementary days and the middle school years, our relationship has grown as well.
Now, we like the same movies. Now, we have inside jokes; we laugh together. Now, Trellace knows things I don't, so I learn from her. Now, we can be quiet together and that’s okay.
All of this has caught me totally by surprise, because I loved the baby days—cooing, crawling, cuddling. And the preschool years—oh how sweet the preschool years were, punctuated daily by gargantuan delights in infinitesimal joys. Then of course the elementary school days—loved those: field trips, classroom parties, special new friends. With Trellace, even middle school was fun, because she really came into herself then. In fact, at every stage, I've thought, Better than this? Impossible!
So now when I see a new mom cradling an infant, I can look into her eyes and say, “You know what? It will get better. Really! As wonderful as this minute is? It gets even better.”
“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.
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.
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.”