Friday, February 26, 2010

Goodbye Kelton

As you’ve probably guessed, Kelton is gone. His caseworker picked him up yesterday afternoon to deliver him to his uncle’s house. We all felt a little blue and deflated. A half-empty bottle sat on the ottoman. The cradle was empty except for a little hat that still smelled like sweet baby. Our arms felt empty.

This week was such a special treat for our family. When Kelton arrived he was scabby and remote, not at all sure he was ready to join this world of light and noise. When he left, he was rosy pink and engaged, ready to open his eyes and bond with his family. Those first few days of life on earth are so strange and rare and precious, and we got an extra chance to witness them.

Why is it that you can’t help but melt a little inside when you look at a newborn baby? It’s not just the cuteness. I think looking in that tiny face reminds us of an important truth. Something we often forget. A baby face shows us our real human condition. We all are as precious, as valuable, as potential-laden as that baby. With a core of purity and godliness just the same, even though ours may be obscured. This is who we really are. And we should treat each other as such.

{Fam: You can check the kids' private blogs for pics of them loving on the baby.}

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sad

I think I’ve told you before about when I woke up from a D&C procedure after losing a pregnancy and the nurse asked, “How do you feel?” and I said, with more honesty than she intended, “Sad.” The nurse responded, “Sad is okay.” Meaning that there in the hospital sad was acceptable as opposed to, say, the feeling of blood running down your legs or your heart seizing.

But I’ve always remembered “sad is okay,” because it is. Alma tells us that God’s people mourn for each other. Despite his holiness and infinity, God wept over a few of his wicked people. Jesus wept along with his grieving friends. Angry, ashamed, frustrated, unsure--these are all feelings that often clue us in to our own shortcomings or need for change. But sad sometimes means we’re doing the right thing.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Kelton

I'm holding in my arms a three-day-old baby. He was born drug exposed and is in foster care until his family life gets sorted out. I think there's a good chance he'll get moved to a relative's care today.
(I love how his ear is still flattened and folded.)

In the meantime, we are enjoying the rare treat of a brand-new newborn. The kids doted on him all evening long yesterday. When the kids went to bed, Mark and I turned down the lights and he opened one eye then the other. We watched his old little soul take in some of its first glimpses of the mystery of mortality. He woke many times in the night, and I'm doing that familiar detective routine of trying to read each clue offered by his wakefulness, fussiness, or hungriness to figure out his desires and routines. This morning I snuggled into the rocking chair with him to feed him a bottle, enjoying that decadent sleepiness of a night breathing and dreaming baby.

I'm learning that taking care of a newborn with a (relatively) healthy mind and body is a whole different game than doing it after the trauma of pregnancy and delivery. Seriously, it's just not that hard. For me, the most traumatic thing so far is that Kelton was apparently circumcised just hours before he arrived here--something that has not happened to any of my other babies. Frankly, I'm horrified. I've been positive but blase about our choice not to circumcise the boys, but now that I've seen this poor boy's mangled equipment I'm ready to start an advocacy group or something.

Just so you know, a newborn p*nis is supposed to be a wholesome, fleshy little nubbin that reminds me of nothing so much as a candy corn. Kelton's is an angry red, strangled by a little plastic ring. (Apparently this is one of two circumcision methods.) Seriously, I'm more distraught that his mother circumcised him than that she filled his blood with meth.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lent

After way too much build-up, I'll let you in on my little scheme. I'm observing Lent this year. (I started a day late, but since I'm not Catholic, I think better late than never.)

For Lent I am giving up negative words. For the next 36 days, I will not criticize, complain, or make any other negative comment.

I have kind of complicated feelings about negative words. I'm a big believer in keeping the air clear and confronting problems. I'm annoyed by people who let bad situations stand because they're too weak or frightened to address the problem. And I think women in particular need to be strong enough to speak truth, even the ugly truth.

But complaints and criticism are definitely also fraught, overused, and misused. I'm giving up negative words not necessarily because they're always bad but as an experiment to better understand them. Kind of like we give up food for a time when fasting in order to learn something deeper. I wonder what I'll think about criticism and complaint once the forty days are over.

(I considered adding sarcasm to the list, but as Mark pointed out, then he'd have to go work and tell everyone that his wife had taken a vow of silence. Apparently I'm not the only one in the family with a sarcasm addiction. Regarding my vow against criticism and complaint, however, Mark considered for a moment and then said, "That sounds like a worthy endeavor," which is a downright ebullient endorsement coming from him.)

I do ask for what I'd like ("Please stop doing that"), make observations ("I see that your sweatshirt is on the kitchen floor"), and give instructions ("Please go blow your nose"), mostly for the kids.

So far it's been hardest not to complain to Mark. I'm realizing how often I reserve him as my repository for all complaints and bad-mouthing of the day. I went to WalMart the other day and am heartbroken that I can't regale him with humorous but critical tales of the horrible things I encountered there.

Wait, was that negative?

Maybe I Will

I'm contemplating something. A new project/challenge for myself. Not quite ready to reveal it yet. But here's the background:

Exhibit A
I'm reading Julie and Julia (which I'm loving, though I do think Julie Powell has a bit of the Elizabeth Gilbert syndrome), which for me isn't so much about food or cooking or blogging or Julia Child as about jumping your life into a different place by committing to a project that's simple but not easy. Like living the Golden Rule--simple, but not easy.

Exhibit B
We have now lived in this house for four-and-a-half years, longer than I've lived anywhere, ever. And we haven't had a new child for almost four years. I've got plenty going on in my life, but I'm also feeling a bit stagnant, treading water.

Exhibit C
I'm starting to feel tempted by the things I'll be able to do in just a few more years when we don't have little, little kids anymore. But the time for those things is not yet. Mark and I feel strongly that one mistake parents of largish families sometimes make is quitting too soon. We've got to continue to give best efforts, total commitment, and full attention to the time-intensive needs of our young children.

For example, we recently had a pow-wow about how to organize life so Mark can have a few nights a month to prepare parts of his dissertation for publication. A few nights a month doesn't sound like much. But we came away with the conclusion that now is not the time for that. We're in the core stage of life, where we've got big kids with big-kid needs--not just art equipment and rides to karate but complicated social feedback and high school planning--and little kids with little-kid needs--consistent discipline, bedtime stories, routines. To really do it right, it takes both of us, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

So stay tuned for the big reveal!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

California

We did this with our dear friends the Flemings:
February is the perfect time to go to Disneyland. Not only because the weather is perfect and the lines are nonexistent but also because it's the perfect time to leave nearly everywhere else.

We did this, wherein I totally failed to appreciate how messy kids can get "wading" in the surf.
After driving up the coast to visit Mark's brother Troy and his family, we braved grumpy waiters in Chinatown.
Of course we did this.
For me a highlight of the whole trip was our visit to this little place, the Flying Fish Grill in Half Moon Bay.

flying-fish-IMG_5981 by Wright Reading.

After a long afternoon tramping through Chinatown and exploring the San Francisco waterfront, we drove down a long, dark, winding road to reach this place. It was well past dinner hour, I was tired, the kids were tired, and a sit-down restaurant with seven kids (ours plus Troy and Laura's) sounded like a nightmare. But Mark and I really wanted to treat the kids to some real, fresh coastal seafood, so on we went.

When we finally arrived, there was no table big enough for our group, so we shivered on the patio waiting for other diners to finish. But like Moses parting the Red Sea, within a few minutes half the restaurant had finished their meals and left.

In no time, our table was covered with mounds of fish and chips and fried calamari. The kids tucked in, too content to even contemplate whining or wiggling. Levi happily commented, "Everything in this meal can be dipped in ketchup!"

I didn't think of this until later, but often in a situation like this, when I tramp into a restaurant or store or whatever with a passel of kids, there's a palpable chill as the conversation lulls and everyone rolls their eyes and wishes we weren't there. Not tonight. No one seemed to mind us at all. Especially our adorable waitress with her red fingernails and long white braid down her back.

Everyone stuffed their bellies until we all fell into contented stupor. Roscoe slumped over the table. Jesse sagged to the side until he landed his head on my lap, half asleep. Levi melted onto the floor and rested his head on his chair. Our waitress walked by and tousled his hair. I think she enjoyed watching our restless kids turn into focused eaters and then sated sleepyheads.

It was a perfect night.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Disneyland

On Tuesday we drove across barren Nevada all the way to the Pacific Ocean. After all the stress and flurry of the preceding few days, Mark and I enjoyed even more than usual just sitting quietly next to each other as the road rolled beneath us. (Yes, the kids got a DVD player. Hence the peace.)

After a blessedly uneventful day of driving we arrived at our friends' the Flemings, then popped right back up the next morning to drive to Disneyland. We spent our free tickets on the best Disneyland day ever. No lines. Sunshine. Not too hot, not too cold. Nine kids but not one meltdown. We broke into two groups: A pack of big kids who literally jogged from ride to ride. And a flock of little kids who wandered, dithered, and explored.

Today: the beach. Tomorrow: San Francisco and Chinatown.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Happy Story

Last night I sat at the karate studio watching Roscoe's class. After running through some kicks and defensive techniques, the class broke to gear up for sparring. There's this one kid in Roscoe's class that I love. He must be seventeen or eighteen and he does the coolest karate you've ever seen. He's sharp, he's fierce, and it's beautiful. You can tell that he loves it. That he's just coiled up inside waiting to let loose a can of whoop-a** as soon as class starts. Also, I had just watched him doing defensive techniques with a kid about half his size. This guy coached and encouraged and complimented--in the sweetest way and with the handsomest white smile--the kid who he could have squashed like a bug.

So this guy ends up near me as he straps on his helmet and other gear. "Look at these foot pads," he says to a classmate. "They're just going to break in pieces any second. I've had them since I was, like, twelve. But, you know, no dinero."

Sparring begins. Now maybe this guy's dad picks him up from class in a Maserati, but somehow I don't think so. I get the vibe that he's pretty self-sufficient, that his presence in this somewhat pricey karate class is due to his own drive and mojo rather than rich parents.

And I get the idea, "I could buy him some foot pads."

Now I'm actually playing things pretty frugal right now. What little is in my bank account needs to stay there to fund this California trip. But actually, it occurs to me, I happen to have $35 cash in my wallet.

"I bet I could buy foot pads for $35," I think.

But it's crazy, right? The kid doesn't need me. He's probably just complaining about money recreationally. And it would be weird for me to buy him foot pads. But I'm starting to feel all keyed up and excited about my idea. I just have the feeling that it's the right thing to do.

I recently read this blog post about how being a good Christian is often a matter of saying yes. Yes, I'll react to this person in need. Yes, I'll step up to the plate. Yes, I'll be the person to choose the right. So finally, I thought, "Yes! I'll do it!"

I walked up to the counter and said to the receptionist, "How much does a pair of foot pads cost?

You'll never guess what she said: "Thirty-five dollars."

I start digging in my purse. "Can you do me a favor? Tell {kid's name} that someone bought him new foot pads."

The woman stops and looks at me, "Are you buying {kid} foot pads?" And now I know I'm right, because the ways she says this tells me that, no, this kid's dad is not picking him up in a Maserati and, yes, he could use some help.

"Yes. I am," I say happily.

"Well," she says, "There is an employee discount, so that's $29." Now she's speaking my language! We're in cahoots! I hand over $29 and she promises to deliver my secret for me.

It was the funnest thing I've done in ages.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Plenty versus Spoiled

One of my favorite family vacations is the one where Mark and I took little Roscoe and Logan to California to camp on the beach. This was during Mark's Ph.D. coursework and our family finances had about reached their nadir. But California was only eight hours away and gas was a dollar a gallon. I went to a thrift grocery store, packed a cooler, and we did the whole thing for one hundred dollars.

Despite the ravages of graduate school, which kept us under the poverty line for about the first ten years of our marriage, Mark and I have shared an unspoken commitment to giving our children a feeling of plenty. To making sure we never miss out on fun just because of money. I think this is partly because while both of us grew up in homes that were nigh unto perfect, neither of us really felt a sense of plenty growing up.

Fast forward to today: Yesterday I took the kids to the dollar movies--something that was a rare treat in my childhood--and the feedback I got was mostly along the lines of I'm-hungry-why-won't-you-take-us-to-McDonald's--something that was almost unheard of in my childhood.

Next week we're planning another trip to California on the cheap. We got free one-day tickets to Disneyland by doing the Give a Day-Get a Day program. Again, we're packing a cooler and gas is pretty cheap. But this time the kids are worried about the fact that we don't have a car DVD player--something we hadn't even dreamed of on that first California vacation. (Actually I'm a little worried about it, too, because this trip is going to involve about three days of driving.)

The kids used to have a car DVD player. And after Mark and I administered warnings along the lines of "If you're not more careful with that, it's gonna break" about a million times, it did. So it's hard not to think that if the kids weren't so spoiled, if they were better stewards who really felt the value of their material blessings, we'd still have our DVD player.

Our solution: The kids must buy their own replacement. I'm trawling craigslist and am willing to drive and negotiate. They came up with plans they hope will fund two portable DVD players. Roscoe is contributing by doing the entire after-dinner cleanup for the next five days. Logan, Levi, and Haley have committed to do the bathroom and floor chores I usually pay cleaning people to do. (Yes! I have cleaners come for an hour every week. It's divine.) Logan did five dollars of miscellaneous jobs yesterday just in case the players are more expensive than expected. He's hoping to pocket some surplus when all deals are done.

We pretty much let the kids work for as much money as they'd like to have. So hopefully they learn that industry pays, that plenty is available for those who work and are good stewards of what they have. It's a tricky line, isn't it, keeping the kids balanced between plenty and gratitude?