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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hiding from the Children

Photo by Alexandru Panoiu
      I am hiding in my bedroom from my children.
Well, from two of the three. The youngest is downstairs holding the TV remote like it’s My Precious and stretching her little body as far as possible in every direction to maximize her enjoyment of the entire sofa all by herself.
That’s until her two older siblings, who just started attending the same middle school, arrive home. Any minute now.
Which is why I’m hiding.
Oh my Hand-Me-the-Vodka gosh. They walk in the door every afternoon like a couple of five-foot-something tornadoes full of p*ss, vinegar, and whatever the Wicked Witch of the West’s mangy cat barfed into her shoes. Because they have to ride the bus together, and neither one of them is physically or psychologically able to just freaking ignore the other one.
So they stomp the two blocks home, both trying to get here first to regale at me the unforgivably heinous crimes of the other.
Given the opportunity either would gleefully sell his/her sibling to any random passerby, like Joseph’s brothers who faked his death and hawked him off to Egyptian slave-traders. I don’t think that’s hyperbole. At all.
I had to hide from them for a while back in their elementary school days, too. I’d escort them home from the bus, then excuse myself to go powder my nose. If one of them came looking for me too soon, I’d yell, “You don’t want to come near this bathroom. Trust me. I had a broccoli and jalapeño burrito for lunch.”
I could usually catch up on a few games of Words With Friends while I was in there.
Back then I hid because all three of them fought to talk to me first and loudest and longest. They had stuff to say, and by the skin of their siblings’ chinny-chin-chins (or whatever other skin they could get a swipe at) no one was getting between them and the mom.
It only took a couple of weeks of me sequestered in the bathroom to reset the after-school reintegration into the home. Once they got used to Mother being unavailable during snack, they forgot about the whole competition for my attention. I could then divide and conquer, spending a few minutes alone with each one at my leisure and discretion.
So here we are, five years later, revisiting the same state of affairs.
I read once that children’s behavior as toddlers previews their conduct as teenagers.
Dear God. Please. No mas.
Anyway, yesterday was the first day I hied myself out of Dodge when they came home. I faked napping up in my bedroom. One peeked in, then gingerly closed the door and backed away. They have learned well that no one will be happy for a very long time if Mama gets un-hibernated early.
So yesterday afternoon went swimmingly. They didn’t even talk to each other after they got home.
Sweet.
Okay. I just heard the door. They’re here.
ZzzzzzZZZzzzzZZZZZZzzzzz.

     (Hey! I found a seven-letter word in my tray! A-B-Y-S-M-A-L. That’ll play right here next to P-A-R-E-N-T…)

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Goodbye, Mark


My mom called me yesterday morning to give me the staggering news that my cousin had died in his sleep the night before.
Mark and I were the same age. We grew up together, sitting at holiday dinners around the miniature square table that our grandparents bought when we and my other two cousins, David, and Mark’s younger brother Aaron, were toddler-sized.
The four of us sat at that ridiculous “kids’ table” until the boys’ legs wouldn’t even fit under it anymore. I think Mark, the largest of us, only graduated to the big table after he brought a wife home with him.
Thanks, Jodi, for getting the rest of the cousins invited into the grown-ups’ company, too.
My earliest memory of Mark took place in my bedroom, when we were about four years old, and the adults banished us from their conversation after dinner.
(I’m seeing a theme emerge here.)
Anyway, while unsupervised Mark and I decided we both needed haircuts. He played beautician first. I always felt a little gypped that I’d barely gotten one snip in on his mane before we were caught and the parents took the scissors away.
I may have a problem with grudge-holding.
Mark and I shared a slightly off-center sense of humor that caused some eye-squints and head-shaking among our family members. His dad told me about the time he and Mark passed a display of sample doorknobs at a home supply store. Mark took a step back, put his hand over his heart, and yelped, “Ack! It’s a Jehovah’s Witness nightmare!”
Because of his marvelously kooky perspective on life, I could joke with Mark in ways other people might not appreciate.
Once Mark and I went out in a boat on his parents’ lake. We were nineteen or so, and after a while Mark became understandably weary from rowing, so I offered to take the oars for a bit. “Are you sure?” he asked, always a gentleman.
I insisted.
Before long we passed a group of people our parents’ age, sitting out in their lawn chairs and enjoying an afternoon beside the water. I decided to get Mark back for the hair-cutting debacle.
(I already admitted I have a problem with grudge-holding.)
I yelled at him. “That’s pretty good! You take me out to the middle of the lake, then tell me if I won’t put out I have to row back!”
His eyes popped and he hissed, “Shut up! I know those people!”
Gotcha, Cuz.
Despite all the mischief we managed, Mark was always a solid rock and leaning post when you needed a friend. When I found out that my college boyfriend, who I thought was The One, had a couple of other Ones as well, Mark was a shoulder to cry on and the person who told me I deserved way better. Then, when I stupidly took the groveling weasel back, and six months later he stepped out on me once more, Mark stood by me again. I sobbed that I’d been so stupid to let that lying snake into my life again. Mark said, “No. You were forgiving. You offered him a second chance. That’s admirable, and shows what a good person you are. The rest is on him.”
Thank you, Mark. You always looked for a reason to see the best in people. Even when your foolishly lovesick cousin had actually been really, outrageously stupid. I’m going to miss that about you.
It hasn’t really hit me yet that Mark is gone. That Jodi has lost her husband and their daughter has lost her father. That yesterday I lived the first day of my life without my cousin on earth with me.
I imagine I’ll say “Goodbye” to Mark in moments and fragments, like when we pull out the card table for the kids during family gatherings.
I’ll see them there, with their cousins, and wish I could have just one more meal around that old, little table with all of my cousins.
Go with God, dearest Mark.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Mrs. Keffler’s Food Rules, or Oatmeal and Peas for Everyone!

I didn't serve them together. Really.
Photo by thebittenword.com

I talked to a friend today I hadn’t heard from in a while. He’s the primary stay-at-home parent at his house, and was starting to make dinner for his four boys. He described the variety of food preferences and dislikes among his progeny, and lamented that they’re never all happy at once when it comes to meals. “How do you handle that?” he asked me.
How do I handle that? I tell my adorable little urchins to either stuff it in their mouths or stuff it altogether.
Those who occupy the chairs around my dining room table have two options when it comes to meals: take it or leave it. I am no short-order cook, and I don’t even like kitchen work very much, so by golly don’t you even think about trying to send something back to the kitchen, my short little friends.
Okay, the boy is officially taller than me now, so I guess I can’t call them short people anymore. Darn.
I once fed my children plain oatmeal and peas (separately, not mixed—I’m not that odious a parent) for dinner for an entire week. Why? Because of the extremeness of my fed-up-ness with their unbelievable ingratitude.
On the fourth day of oatmeal my sad son said to me, “How much longer do we have to eat oatmeal and peas?”
I knelt down (because he was still shorter than me then) and got nose-to-nose with the wretched lad. “Until everyone appreciates the food I put on their plates,” I responded, enunciating each word with the precision of a marksman on a firing range tapping a paper silhouette in the head and heart. Moments later I overheard the two older kids coaching the toddler in fervent whispers, “Tell Mom the oatmeal and peas are really good! Tell her they’re the best thing ever!”
Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!
To squelch her children’s grumbles, another friend of mine only has to threaten, “Do you want me to serve you guys oatmeal and peas like Mrs. Keffler did her kids?”
“Nooooo!!!” they cry.
Again, bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!
I can already sense the frowny vibes of disapproval coming through the computer screen from those who think mothers should never scowl, raise their voices, or allow children to be anything but delighted and comfortable: “You’re a cruel, hard woman whose kids deserve better.”
Well, that’s probably true. I often wish my children had the benefit of a better mom.
But I still stand by my food rules:
You try at least one bite of everything on your plate.
You eat everything on your plate before you get seconds of anything.
You clean your plate before you get dessert. If dessert is offered.
And don’t even think about complaining about what’s put in front of you, unless you cooked it yourself.
I’ll send a kid to bed hungry if he refuses to eat what I offer. I got no problem with that. Because as our Best-of-D.C.-Area, senior-M.D.-at-the-practice pediatrician once counseled me, “No child will starve himself to death. When he gets hungry enough he’ll eat what’s served to him.”
And frankly, considering the number of children in the world who’d give anything to get a serving of oatmeal and peas every day, the last thing I want to do is raise a bunch of ingrates who think they got a raw deal if their burgers arrived on wheat buns instead of white.
So hey, friend who’s in the kitchen preparing a meal for the wee ones—make whatever nourishing, well-balanced, and reasonable comestibles you choose. You’re the parent, you’re the cook, you’re the provider. And here’s a few words to keep in your back pocket in case the kiddos complain:
“Go to your room and think about how blessed you are to have food on your plate at all. We’ll see you at breakfast.”

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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Spiritual Giants & Disoriented Sheep

Print by Katherine F. Brown

An article about Joyce Meyer came through my Facebook feed recently. It contained a number of clips from her teachings, where she said things that seem to contradict Scripture, or that could be interpreted as heresy. The author meant to discredit her and convince people to abandon her ministry.
A few months ago Beth Moore found herself the target of public censure for a prophecy she’d spoken.
In fact, history is littered with the corpses and re-animated zombies of spiritual ‘giants’ who fell under the weight of either their own sin-crippled vainglory, or via mostly undeserved attacks by the foolish, the petty, and the vindictive.
But let’s give credit where it’s due.
The truth is, we’re sheep. We all sniff the air and scan the hills for the nearest appealing shepherd, and then we follow that shepherd whether s/he leads us to verdant meadows or over a cliff. Our chosen herdsman might be a person, like Joel Osteen or Kim Kardashian or Tony Robbins. It may a philosophy, like altruism or patriotism or feminism. It could even be an experience we seek to repeat over and over again, like self-actualization or pride or a sated adrenaline rush. But every single one of us has something or someone to which we’ve hitched our camper and trail like groupies.
If we’re Christians, that’s supposed to be Christ. Not other Christians.
The Bible is painfully direct on the topic of people:
“None is righteous; no, not one.” (Romans 3:10)
“… the help of man is worthless.” (Psalm 108:12)
“… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
Every created human being will fail. S/he will fail you, fail me, fail God, and fail him- or herself. It’s a foolproof, without-exception given. So why are we ever so righteously outraged by others’ flaws?
Get thee to the Word, Christian.
Let’s stop looking to other people to teach us and grow us and perhaps turn us into little homunculi of themselves. The Bible is the repository of wisdom, the revelation of the intentions and nature of God, and the final word on how to live in a right relationship with God and others. We’re supposed to pattern ourselves after Christ’s example as recorded from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.
Teachers like Joyce Meyer and Beth Moore and Billy Graham and our local pastors are meant to spur us deeper into the Word, and help us understand it when we don’t. They’re not to be a replacement for it, or an addendum to it, or the molds into which we try to cast ourselves.
Yes, we are to test the spirits, and weigh teachers’ words against Scripture’s, but not so we can point our fingers and say, “Aha!” and fashion ourselves into chest-thumping spiritual authorities.
We’re to gain knowledge, seek wisdom, and practice discernment in order to correct ourselves, and avoid error in our own lives, and bring our characters into closer alignment with the example of Christ.
You know, get the logs out of our own eyes.
So, every word out of Joyce Meyer’s mouth isn’t perfect? Big deal. That shouldn’t bother me too much.
Because Jesus’s words are perfect. And he’s the one I’ll make my Shepherd.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Glimpse of Heaven on Turtle Lake

Photo by US Fish & Wildlife Service
My parents live on a small, quiet lake in northern Indiana. It’s perfect for fishing and pontooning and watching the riot of birds and other creatures who make its water and shores their home or rest stop.
Some years ago, long before husband and kids, and fresh off a trip to Australia with newly acquired scuba skills, I decided to practice snorkeling and free-diving at my folks’ lake.
I found out that despite its many charms, it’s not really a super place for underwater sightseeing.
Duckweed floats on the surface, swirled about by a meandering current from the river that enters at one corner of the shore and exits another. Reeds and lily pads and thick tangles of water flora rise and fall everywhere around the edge, a paradise of swamp and shadow and feeding-field for insects and amphibians, fish and reptiles.
The floor of the lake swallows your feet and sucks at your ankles if you venture to walk on it. My youngest daughter met her first leech this week after a wade next to Grandpa’s pier. I’m impressed she pulled it off herself. Made of stern stuff, that girl is.
Unlike the Great Barrier Reef’s yards of crystal blue transparency, my parents’ lake offers swimmers just a few inches of brownish fog. A turtle and I came centimeters from bumping noses before either of us saw the other. I think he might’ve soiled himself in his haste to flee, but it’s hard to say, given the general ambiance of the depths.
In the unclouded ocean off Australia’s coast you’ll see man-sized turtles and clamshells; sharks plenty big enough to make a snack of you if they decide you look worth chewing through metal air tanks and neoprene; warm rills of golden sand sprinkled with sea cucumbers; coral forests of hues that make watercolorists salivate; and fish as varied and decorated as a tropical garden sprung magically to life.
The lake holds forests of pondweed and algae, tasty bluegill and perch, frogs and snakes, and an occasional beaver or mink. But you’re unlikely to see much of the flora and fauna on a swim. Your best bet is to sit quietly in a shallow spot, on the dock or in a boat, and wait for something interesting to wander by.
One recent morning I drank my coffee on the pier under a pink and orange sunrise. A turtle, about the size of my hand, surfaced for breath a few feet away.
I felt a bit sorry for the little guy.
If he could swim once in the sparkling, diaphanous seas of a sunny ocean reef, he’d never again be satisfied with murky waters, I thought. Paddling around in a lake can’t hold a candle to exploring the ocean.
I’d like to tell that turtle, “There’s a place, a wide-open expanse, with colors you’ve never seen and creatures you can’t imagine. It’s bright and warm there, and you can see for miles. It’s beautiful, little turtle. You’d love it.”
I suspect my shelled friend would tell me there’s no such thing. He’s seen the world, and this is it. That I’ve fallen for a dream, or a lie. And even if this thing called “ocean” actually exists, lake dwellers can’t live in salt water anyway, so what’s the use knowing about it?
Maybe he has a point. If you’ve never seen the one, the other is all you know, and all you have, and all you live for.
Earth and heaven.
Shadow and light.
The pretty-nice and the perfect.
When you don’t know any different, how could you know the difference? And why should you even want to?
But for those of us who know, who’ve seen the real thing, these shadows, these minor chords and pale reflections serve to remind us: there is more. Earth is just a hazy apparition; heaven is the real deal. That’s where we’re going, and that’s what whispers into our dreams and our hopes and our souls.
Then we can’t help but pity those who’ve never seen it, don’t suspect it, and aren’t interested.
Because we’ve glimpsed it, and it’s breathtaking.