Friday, August 31, 2012

one and a half.

Dear Jasper,

You are one and a half.

You don't say much with words yet, but you communicate well. This morning you found your shoes and brought them to me. "Would you like help putting your shoes on?" A happy grunt and nod. You crawled up in my lap. I put your shoes on, you got down, and you stomped around doing a little happy dance. "Now that you have your shoes on, do you want to go outside?" A happy grunt and nod. I guessed two things we might do outside before guessing right: a stroller ride. Great! Thanks for planning our morning.

You like all kinds of foods, but especially Ketchup. You saw the bottle on the table at dinner tonight and went for it well before we had a chance to order. Your dad is such a pushover. He started squirting it onto his finger and letting you lick it off. I suggested that others around us might find that less than hygienic, so I hid the Ketchup bottle after a few more squirts. The Rainforest Cafe must pay someone to walk around and restock Ketchup bottles because speedwalkers had dropped off three more bottles before I had a chance to stop someone and tell them about your Ketchup addiction. "We're good on the Ketchup front. I've been hiding them under the table because my son likes to eat it straight." And then I gave the lady a pile of Ketchup bottles and returned to my seat. Classy.

Last week you clapped with us at the end of Come, Lord Jesus and you were quite proud of yourself. You dance on command, love spinning in circles, and climb everything. I just ordered more foam shape books because you destroy those pieces with your teeth and by bringing them in the bathtub. I leave one of the books in your crib every night - this is probably why you're so attached. A book in your crib means you're able to entertain yourself for quite awhile in the morning before getting bored and calling out. I love that luxury.

Your animal noises include a horse (which is uncanny), a tiger, and a dog. You could live on yogurt and pretzels. Your favorite board book these days is Duck and Goose: How Are You Feeling? When we get to the "angry" page, you press your forehead against ours and look down - just like the characters in the book. The last page is "loving", which you look forward to. A big hug and a nuzzle noise for whoever reads with you!

We stopped into Lego Land tonight and your Cousin Tommy would be proud! You won over every employee with your glee for that bottom row of the Lego Wall. We were there for an hour and you couldn't get enough of the orange pieces. They gave us a big Duplo piece to take home as a souvenir. They know you'll be back!

You start at daycare on Mondays and Tuesdays next week and I'm so excited. You're going to love this place and learn a lot being around 19 other toddlers all day.

I could get out your baby book and write this all down, but I don't. I forget. I'd rather spend my daytime with you and by nightfall I'm browsing through pictures because I already miss your Ketchup smeared face. So I pull up this blog instead. It's one way to make sure I mark how lovely you are at one and a half. I'm in awe of you, Mister. Thanks for doing things your way. I am learning a lot about your perspective from that bottom row of the Lego Wall. It's awfully wide - filled with good things - and only the beginning!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

welcome to the shitstorm.

I go to a text study on Wednesday mornings. It's at a little Irish coffee cafe so beautiful you'd never guess it used to be a porn shop in its previous life. It's all the way on West 7th in St. Paul, which means I must really like these colleagues if I'm willing to wander that far east before a long day at work. And I do.

I've been pretty hit and miss with text study this summer. But Wednesday I showed up on time ready to be fed by a perfect latte and really smart friends. Every time I show up they fill me with Spirit words I can't get out of my head and heart. I need those words this week because this work has been extra raw. Good, but raw. And these preachers are in the thick of it, too.

The texts for this Sunday are about clean and unclean laws. Why do we do what we do? Why do we bitch and moan and judge other people for what they do? What is the point of getting together and being the Church if we look goofy while we do it and confuse more than we clarify?

In the reading from Mark's gospel, Jesus and his disciples are eating without first washing their hands. The Pharisees get grossed out and offended, so they bring it up. Jesus gets crabby, quotes Isaiah, calls them hypocrites, and tells them to back off.

You could stop right there and decide the morale is, "Be pious about not being so pious", but that's a lame sermon. So we wandered a bit further and noticed Jesus says 'Evil comes from the human heart'.

Weird. Super weird. Because we live in a culture where people say, "Follow your heart" if that's a map that makes sense...and here Jesus is saying evil lives there.

This is where things usually derail at text study and derailing is my favorite part.

We talked about the divisive political culture - the horrible slander and violent assumptions groups make about each other. The mudslinging is exhausting and there's nothing substantive about this season in American life. People in the pews are hungry from something more honest and communal...even if it turns out to be complicated.

We talked about helicopter parents sending their kids to school this week. So many of them have baptized their children into this crazy faith and yet the last thing they want is for their kids to need saving. They try all day and all night for decades to ensure that their kids will never, ever need saving. Like the candle that was once slid back in the box and packed in a keepsake trunk, they tuck away God's promises for sweet memories or extreme emergencies. They try to handle the rest themselves.

We talked about our love of infant baptism and all got a little bit jealous of Marc, who has one on Sunday. He can talk about this reckless world and all the hard things that might befall that baby girl someday. He can hold her in his arms and be honest about what's she's up against...but that she's not alone.

Then we wrote our own mock-baptism liturgy. "As a sponsor hands her a candle you should say, 'Welcome to the shitstorm, little one. Here's your flashlight. It can get pretty dark out there.'" (And then we sang Welcome to the Shitstorm to the tune of Welcome to the Jungle by Guns n' Roses. Duh.)

"Welcome to the shitstorm. Here's your flashlight." That's the truth! When we come around someone at the font, we don't pat them on the back and say, "Follow your heart". No. That would be dangerous and lonely living.

Instead we give them a small flame and speak words of welcome. We promise that we're all in this together - no matter how weird and hard life gets. Baptism drenches you in waters that refresh for a lifetime. They are enough to carry you through every evil - every division, every disagreement, every judgement, every trial. They are enough because they call us together so our light grows brighter and breaks through the storm.

I drove west later that morning convinced that I am not alone and I am guided by much more than my own heart. I rolled the windows down and smiled with gratitude. I am in the thick of it with all the right people, a very faithful God, and a trusty flashlight that breaks through the storm.

Friday, August 3, 2012

where are we going?

There were lots of reasons I didn't need to drive north Wednesday night. First of all, it was Wednesday. It was 8:00pm. I was sweaty from another long and beautiful and exhausting evening at church. I had decided not to go to the Boundary Waters with my cousins this weekend. My husband's soccer season started that day, which means the "Meta Show" is not filming new episodes for awhile. It's Matt's turn to be engulfed by work - to come home late and sometimes bring work with him. I've had six months to focus on this new call and now it's time to get balanced.

I drove to Duluth. My kid wore pjs and chugged a bottle and then, as the sunlight faded, his light snoring filled the quiet car. I traded my sunglasses for the real deal and relaxed into the rhythm of I-35. So why was I driving north, anyway?

I still didn't know when I got there. At ten thirty, Mark and Beth came outside, eager to see little Jasper and to help me unpack my car for the night. These are my cousin's in-laws. And they're super hospitable and kind and wise and good at cooking. Their house functions as an underground B&B, filled with extra bedrooms that welcome weary travelers of all kinds. They loan out canoes and rope and maps to friends (and friends of friends) venturing further north. They put coffee on early and their pancakes are shaped like hearts. If you're Scandinavian, you probably take that for granted. You're used to vafler. But those hearts mean something, man. There's great mercy in breakfast that friendly-looking.

They pulled out old toys and Jasper was wildly entertained. And then I fell into conversation with Beth about motherhood and church and working and loving what you do and boundaries and rest and the village of loved ones who make it all happen.

It's good to listen to women who have done and are doing the things I hope to do. It's good to be in their homes, wondering about all those little choices they made that manifested a big picture over time - little brush strokes and consistent rituals that paved a relationship between work and family, the public and the personal.

I drove away from Beth and Mark's gaining confidence in my choice to take a day for writing and reading and conversation up north. A strange Thursday apart from the crossroads of August 1 in my life back home. I needed to discern and listen and research. A sweaty Jasper fell asleep as we weaved through the green streets of Duluth toward Aunt Gudrun's house. She and Geof and Laura and Vibeke had more to teach me about good roots and habits for autumn.

I've written about Gudrun before. She is an Earth Mother and a chaplain and a free soul who proclaims a sense of contentment in a world that's filled with dissatisfaction. Her statements are loud and joyful and they invite you to join her in this freedom. So I do. Sometimes I just invite myself up because I need a dose of this beauty. And then her daughter Laura comes over and the party starts. Laura brings an energy that compliments Gudrun's, filled with sass and compassion and the softness of motherhood. Vibeke is Jasper's age with bright blue eyes and a mischievous grin.

We talked about some of the same things I'd asked Beth earlier. I thought a lot about the habits Matt and I are forming in front of an increasingly aware Jasper. I thought about the way he whines and clings to my legs every time I put shoes on or jingle keys...because he's certain I'm leaving without him for a long day at work. I thought about how many times he was looking at me with glee yesterday, touching my cheek, and grinning widely as if to say, "We're on a trip, Mommy. We're just hanging out, you and me!" I thought about the way he's getting more comfortable at church - more friendly with members and familiar with the building. I thought about how often those worlds - Jasper and church - will blend and blur this fall. And I thought about how that makes me feel both out of control and totally fine. He'll come to some meetings or hang out during funerals or bring nursery toys into my office some mornings.

Here's what I learned this weekend.

1. Choices.
No. Women can't have it all. But we sure do have a lot of choices. And there are pros and cons to each of those choices. And whenever we make a choice, there are ten women and blogs and professionals lined up to critique that choice. So when you make one, own it. Live it out with confidence. And when you feel tempted to stand in line critiquing someone else's choice that's different from yours, stop. Think about why her choice makes you insecure about your choice. Then take a deep breath and pour a glass of wine and toast her for also taking advantage of the choice menu. I studied Women's Studies in college. I'm just now sensing the challenges and benefits of being a women in this time and place. I need to start owning them with grace and gratitude.

2. Rest.
I love sleep. And I love a lake rich with waves. And I love time away from my computer. And I love being around my kid when he's got a runny nose because wiping it after a big snot rocket is strangely satisfying. I need to take more "1 day vacays". Even if I don't drive anywhere. I need to get out of my routine because it surprises me with joy and seems to have the same affect on Jasper.

3. Matt.
I have a fabulous partner. Matt and I are so different in some ways, but our values align well. We co-parent in ways I'm very proud of. We both get to do what we love, so it's easy to support each other when it comes to weird hours and student loans. I'm ready to find balance so I can support him this fall like he's supported me this spring.

4. You know a lot.
There's a lot of goofy information out there about parenting right now. Like fad diets, people get really into this method or that method. They swear by it. It's universal. It's superior. (It's exhausting. It's divisive. It's overrated.) People have been parenting FOREVER. And the most lovely and bright and experienced parents I know all have one piece of advice that stands out: trust your instincts. When I don't, I regret it.  When I do, I gain confidence and balance finds me in the midst of chaos.

5. Good humor.
I have a dear friend with a newborn right now and she's rocking it. The truth is, she's so tired and stressed and beautiful and emotional and multi-tasking, she doesn't know that she's rocking it. We're both oldest daughters who like control. We expect a lot from ourselves. We've been called well rounded and take great pride in that. But that personality combined with a newborn is like a sucker punch in the face every three hours. Suddenly, nothing is done as well or as timely. We get self-conscious about the ways our relationships change and the dishes pile up in the sink. "Does it get better?" she asked. "I mean, when will I feel like myself again and able to do all of this?" My heart ached and I loved her even more. What a woman.

Sorry, sweetie. I'm not there yet. And we might never be. Our new life report card will include C+ and D- scores now and then. But you know what we can ace? Self-effacing humor. An increasing ability to let things slide. Supporting each other. 

One of Jasper's favorite books is called Be Happy. I think it's written for tired adults. "Make friends. Share what you have. Don't compare yourself with others. Never give up. You never know what tomorrow will bring. So have fun. And be happy about being you!" Each page makes me smile. Especially the, "Be happy about being you!" page. Because I am. I really am.

Sometimes it takes a drive north to regroup and move that content joy and gratitude out front.

This morning Geof and Gudrun and Jasper and I walked down to the beach. Geof threw sticks for Sally to retrieve (always in her own time) while Gudrun talked with neighbors. We stood on a wide open beach that filled quickly with their love and kind presence. The waves were rowdy and warm. Jasper grinned from behind his Nuk each time I swished his feet in the water and pretended to drop him into the foam. Our clothes were wet and he cuddled with me for warmth.

This is why we came, Buddy. Now let's go home and see Daddy.