Thursday, February 27, 2014

What Must Be Acknowledged

You may not realize it, but librarians are "professionally trained" to avoid unsolicited comments on your books.  As in, it's considered bad form to remark in a personal way about your selections, no matter how much we want to squeal that we loved that book you chose and just-you-wait-til-the-end-it-will-blow-your-mind, or to ask you how your recovery is going from this, that or the other if you check out a book about it.

Intellectually, I understand this concept and generally follow it.

Sometimes though, my heart speaks up, and while I feel a twinge of professional guilt, I'm not sorry to bend this guideline once in a while.  Because I am dealing with people here-not an Amazon order that gets delivered in a bland manilla envelope after being "handpicked" by a souless machine in a cavernous warehouse.  A person stands before me, and even with the option to avail themselves of self-check (and thus greater privacy) they still have chosen to set a stack of books before me for checkout.

I don't pretend to believe that this act, by itself, is an invitation to converse about said stack.

But sometimes, it is.  Experience has taught me the difference.

A while ago it was a gentleman with a stack of books about grief, funerals and eulogies.  I checked out his books and paused with my hand on top of the pile.  "I want to tell you that I'm so very sorry that these are the books you are checking out today.  I'm sorry you have any need of them."

He looks up and straight into my eyes.  He's a little startled, I can tell, but he says carefully, "Thank you so much for acknowledging that.  My family and I are a mess.  But we will get through this.  Thank you for saying something."

I never say "You're welcome," to that kind of thanks. My voice is always cracked up somewhere in the back of my throat and I can't trust it.

Today I have want of a similar stack.  I'd want books if they could cushion the battering my heart has taken.  If a stranger acknowledged my pain with the slightest gesture, I might be a little startled, too.

But we are all members of the same small tribe on this tiny planet in unfathomable space. We must observe and acknowledge each other.  Our stories may be the faintest whispers in the universe, but if we lean in closely enough, we can hear them.  If we can hear them, we can treasure them. And in this way, we are held.  First by each other, and then by God, who gave us the ears in the first place and tunes them for a whisper.

May I not miss the whispers.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

These are the Conversations that I Love

Both of these exchanges happened today with Landon.  They go in that, "The World According to Landon" file that I like to add little stories to because I know if I don't write them down, I probably won't even remember them next month....and I'd really like to.


"Mom, do you know what is Russian War?"

What piece of current events has Landon been inadvertantly exposed to now?  And how did that happen?

"Well, buddy...." I trail off, because I don't really want to give details to something as dark and confusing as war. "What do you think it is?"  It's an old standby, but sometimes it helps to gauge where he's really at before I pull out my verbal textbook.

"A mountain.  Carved with presidents in the rock.  Do you know this?"

It turns out Landon merely wanted to find out if I knew about Mt. Rushmore.  Not a Russian War.

Smiles and relief all around.

"Yes, buddy, I do know that about Mt. Rushmore.  I'm glad you know it, too."


I have recently decided that the Tooth Fairy will get to spread her joy around here when the time comes. Landon very rarely, if ever, goes in for flights of fancy. (He's the one who told ME (very gently) that Santa Claus was not real)  He is a lover of "true-fact" books and reality is in very sharp focus for him.  I've mentioned how anytime we pretend anything together he frequently stops to remind me, "just for tends, Mom."

So when he asked me today if the tooth fairy was real, I told him he should just wait and find out. He didn't seem convinced, but wasn't going to push it.

I pulled out one of his library books from the basket.  It was called Put Screws to the Test and showed a man using a large screw to drill a hole in an icy lake.

Trying to be funny I said, "I think this man is using this screw to find one of his lost teeth to give to the Tooth Fairy."    And I was rewarded because he laughed.

"That's not true, Mom," he predictably replied.  "Grown-ups don't lose teeth."

And then I laughed.  Maybe the Tooth Fairy has a chance around here after all.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Epic Surprise

I am not often surprised by Bill.

It's not his style, I guess.  Since I don't revel in surprises, I don't miss their absence in our relationship.

When a surprise does come along, it takes on an epic, legend quality that I can feel, even at the time.

Like the time my husband walked into the car dealership and bought our family a car that very day.

Oh, wait. That was just last week.  See how it already has the feel of a tale?

So that is how I shall tell it:

Once there was a girl who didn't like to shop.  For anything.  Ever.  Oh sure, there was a garage sale mood, a thrift store mood, or a used bookstore mood that struck once in a blue moon, but with the addition of two kids who found even that kind of treasure seeking completely boring, the whole enterprise had lost all appeal.

She married an analytical consumer who liked to research before he shopped.  The poor man would try to share his enthusiasm for the details of said research before bed, but was met with (at best) courteous quiet while he talked or (at worst) a glassy eyed stare as he clicked through lovely websites on his tablet.

But the analytical consumer did not lose heart. He did his homework. He arranged their finances. He talked to buyers. He read about sellers. And he settled on a vehicle that he thought was the right fit for his family.

On the day they went to test drive it, he didn't even bring his checkbook.  They were not buying a car.  They were investigating cars.  To his nonshopping wife, they were out lining up invisible ducks that needed to be in a row before any decisions would be made.

Surprisingly, those ducks lined up faster than they anticipated and they found themselves beginning to hope that they could do this thing.

The analytical researcher got in the ring and began negotiations for a price much lower than they hoped to pay.  When the manager came out to deliver the bad news of "no dice," to her husband, he hesitated for just a moment.

"I know you," his wife said. "That is the number you have in your head and if you walk out of here paying anything else you are going to regret it."

The dancing deal went on.  The sales manager went back to his fish bowl office. Who was he calling? His wife? His brother? In fact the General Manager who lives in Oz and approves these deals?  We never find out.  But after the final round he brought out the paperwork that listed everything the analytical consumer wanted, and not a penny more.

"We cannot pay anything tonight.  We didn't even bring a checkbook," her husband admits.

And then my favorite line of the whole tale:

"That's ok.  With a credit score like yours, your word is golden.  Bring the check by at your convenience."

I sit a little stunned.  We will be driving off with a shiny new car without paying them one penny?  Because my husband's word is golden?!

We are not wealthy people.  Bill is a teacher and I sub for a library district.  We're not going to pretend that replacing our 14-year-old wheezer of a car is not a big deal for us.  We won't deny that we have been saving for new wheels for years, have been budgeting for this day, and that one of us has considered the decision from every angle before we ever stepped foot in this place.  The fact remains that adding a car payment will require careful attention to a budget that already runs rather precisely.

All that aside, at that moment I felt extraordinarily rich.

To be married to a man whose very word is golden.  A man who responsibly manages all his affairs so that he has built a reputation for trustworthiness.

When they bring our lovely red chariot around I name her Ruby Valentine, in honor of the day we bought her, February 14.  It would be such a cliche if either of us had seen it coming.

But in fact, Bill has truly, generously, enormously surprised me.
(and maybe himself just a little, too)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Second Born

Oh my sweet second born
Can we celebrate you in a different way?

Countless pictures
A journal filled with excrutiating detail of every milestone
Professional portraits
Handprints and Footprints pressed into clay

Those were the birthright of the firstborn
The lavish, loving attention we had for the baby who turned our world upside down
We three sat under our newly created dome called Family and couldn't stop gazing at each other

You arrive
Dreamed of, anticipated, longed for, welcomed

And you turn our world upside down.
We four sit in a boat called Family and we paddle madly to keep afloat
We rock you to sleep even as you rock the boat
Everyone settles anew

As a brother
As a mother
As a father of sons--

Who will tell your story? What will I say when you ask when you first rolled over, sat up, crawled and ate solids?
My answers won't be sure.

But I will tell of how you woke laughing. How you bounced in rhythm with African drums before you could even walk.

How you rolled and crawled and climbed and walked with a speed and fearlessness that required a relaxing on my part.  I cannot hold you as close; you are my crocodile thrashing to do the next thing, to be, to become, to explore, to move on.

I will tell of how you went to bed laughing. Giggling under your knit blanket, pushing your fingers through the holes because you love texture.

I will tell of how you were our happy bird.  Singing when we sing, whispering when we whisper, laughing when we laugh, and not yet saying a word.

Except, "Wow."

And you are that to us, sweet second born.
One long and continuous wow.
That you are ours. That you are you. That you are such joy. That you are growing so fast and changing so much.
We say wow.

We may not be creating a documentary of your life, collecting a museum's worth of precious artifacts and a gallery's worth of perfect portraits,

But we celebrate you.

Parented with less pressure
Less scrutiny, more patience
You get more freedom
And less lonely.
Arriving with a first friend already waiting for you

This is your birthright as the second
To be a dream-come-true for three
Instead of two

The novelty of being rookie parents has worn off long ago.
The wonder of you will never fade.

Oh my sweet second born,
We celebrate you in a different way.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Slings and Arrows

 My husband may call himself a practical realist.  On a bad day I may call him a pessimist: a tendency to see the hole, the missing, the lack, the undone.

The truth is, he sees those things with an eye to fill, to replace, to provide, to complete. He makes a mental note of them (frequently aloud) and is often completely baffled when my insecure side takes his noticing as a personal criticism.

But it can be a vicious cycle. He wants to keep track of the things that need keeping track of. I don't want to be invited into his mental to-do list when my own (shorter) one seems overwhelming enough. He shows his love by being conscientious and vigilant.  I feel his love when he drops everything and puts people ahead of tasks.  He puts people first by doing the behind-the-scenes tasks.   

After hosting a recent game night at our house when I had finally figured out how to fit the clean-up into one night (instead of letting half of it spill into the next morning because the dishwasher was full), I was overly pleased and proud of myself.  We've done it!  Well done, Team Brown. We can get up tomorrow to this sparkly loveliness and be inspired for the new day.  

Bill's happy, of course.  He has helped with the clean-up and deserves to feel  proud, too. But instead of sharing my effusive self-congratulations, he offhandedly says, "Man. This floor. It is really taking a beating."

Every surface of our kitchen looks like it is getting ready for an open house tomorrow and he has his head down looking at the floor. I perceive this casual, uncalculating observation on his part as a flaming arrow of criticism and discontent. It wouldn't lead to a quarrel if it made sense.  (Just so you know that I don't think I should be taking his comments that way, or even letting them push the pendulum so hard.)  

Something inside me breaks.  Out come the "fighting" words we were warned about in premarital counseling: "You never," "You always," "I'm sick of,"

And the second half of each of those sentences feel like the most true, valid, and pertinent points of the evening.  Even when he wants to explain.  No.  I've got this verbal barrage going and it may be on semiautomatic. It's like an old magazine of ammo we should have dealt with years ago, but seems to keep getting refired when we least expect it. Unkindness shoots both ways. 

Do you ever find yourself here?  One minute you are both fine and happy, and less than ten later you are both feeling like you'd rather crawl away and nurse a few wounds?

It's a horrible feeling.  We can find solidarity to face "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," but it's a lonely night when the slings and arrows are from ourselves.

But like I told you, my husband is a practical realist.  So when the drama-emotional-hyperbolic side of my brain starts to take over and I fear that the chasm our unkindness has created may be an uncrossable divide, it will be he who calmly says, "We're going to get through this.  We can make it.  We've got work to do, but don't give up on me.  I'm not giving up on you.  Because you're still my Jode, and there's nobody else I'd rather do this with."

Marriage: it is a beautiful gift, a sacred union, a comfort and a joy.  It is also sometimes a bitter struggle, a painful humbling, a sharp reminder of the worst parts of ourselves we want to conceal, and the most demanding work we voluntarily sign up for.

In the end, I'm willing to keep at it.  I keep asking for God's help. I keep muddling through and on.  Because he's still my Bill and there's nobody else I'd rather do this with.