Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Speaking cursive

Cursive has dominated our house for the last week.

The big one is learning it at school, and let me tell you, it's about time.  The big one has long been at odds with the written letter form.

"I really have to make it that way?" he asked once again, as I, also once again, showed him how to make a five with two interrupted lines, the first stroke traveling down from the top before swinging into a hook followed by the lifting of the writing instrument from the bottom of the numeral and replacing it at the top in order to add the hat.

"Yes.  You really have to.  Otherwise your fives look like ses."
 
Eventually (perhaps forty-five minutes later after hand-to-hand combat and many tears),the big one sighs and grudgingly forms a five as directed.

"See.  Was that so hard?" I ask.

The big one glares at me.  Apparently so, his eyes say to me.

Of course, his paper full of numbers came home that night littered with ses--34, 3S, 36, etc.

Other things came home as well, like notes from the big one's teachers asking if we could work on his handwriting.  Of course, we work on his handwriting, but I do think it's a lost cause until he learns cursive and can write fast, which is how he likes to do everything and which is how it was for both his grandfather and me.  At some point, I think I believe this is genetic, and maybe even a trait that is fading.  I mean, yes, his teachers are sending home notes, but so far we haven't had to redo anything due to handwriting.  I used to have to redo whole worksheets, sometimes two and three a week, because my handwriting was so bad (I later became a calligrapher.  Isn't it ironic?).  But even then, I was an improvement on my own father.  His teacher complained that his handwriting made her nauseous.

But anyway, back to the point.  The big one is finally learning cursive, and it is confusing the letters right out of the little one.  To the little one, all letters translate to speaking.  He has seen people write English and Korean.  Therefore, English and Korean can be spoken.  But he has never heard anyone speak cursive.

When he asked me, "Who speaks cursive?" I did my best to explain.

"'Cursive' just means shortened.  Cursive is a faster way to write.  There is cursive English and cursive Korean too.  Most languages have a form of cursive.  We don't actually speak it."

"Yes, we do, Mommy," he persisted, as if he wasn't the one to ask the initial question.  "Hey, brother, can your teacher speak cursive?"

The big one pondered for a few minutes and then responds, "Yeah.  Sometimes."

The little one nodded and then added, "My teacher can't.  That's why they keep her in kindergarten."

Of course, this has progressed.  The little one tried to speak cursive to the big one and almost got decked for his troubles.

"You know they're not real words, don't you? He's just making up sounds," I tell the big one, who had tried to do the decking.

"I know," counters the big one.  "But it doesn't sound very nice."

After reiterating the talking cursive story to my father as he drove me home, I stuck my key in the door lock only to hear, "Bilidil-lidil-lidil!" from the inside.  It was the big one's voice.

"NO-O-O!" shrieked the little one.  "STO-O-OP!"

I ran back to my father's car as he pulled away to report, "Now the big one is speaking cursive to the little one!"

But it got me thinking about something else.  If cursive is a shortening, then we really do speak cursive a lot--in inside jokes, programmed responses, and literary allusions.  And in our family, we speak cursive best through code switching.

According to general linguistics, code switching is the interspersing of more than one language into a conversation.  Obviously, it's usually done by speakers of more than one language, and it's usually (or perhaps "often" is the better word) seen as a failure on the part of one or both of the participants to know the word  in the other language. 

Sociolinguistics sees code switching a little differently, as the interspersing of one or more varieties or dialects into a single conversation.  The rationale for code switching in this case is different.  Sometimes it is a way to locate something in the other culture, to say definitively that "this" that you are talking about always belongs to culture A regardless of whether you use language A or language B to talk about it.  It simply doesn't translate.  I do this a lot, particularly with cooking.  Kaji simply are not eggplant, and corn syrup and mulyeot are both used so differently and also react so differently that perhaps they shouldn't be translated.  Translation gives the illusion that the other person, on hearing the concept in their own language and within their own cultural context, knows what you're talking about when you allude to the concept from another culture.  This is simply not the case, and code switching helps break that illusion.

The other method of code switching is a cursive or short hand way of asking, "Are you one of us?"  This is the most common use studied in sociolinguistics, and it's the way my children use language.

Whenever our immediate family seems to be changing, my oldest son immediately begins to speak the language that the fewest people around seem to speak.  You may call it a ploy, and it most certainly is one, but he started doing it at age two when we moved to Korea.  Having essentially grown up in the house with his Korean-speaking father and cousin (they do also speak English, but they certainly didn't do that at home), my oldest son knew Korean.  He just chose to speak English to weed out those who either didn't belong to his family (as evidenced by the ability to speak both languages) or those who didn't truly love him (and became bored with him if he didn't conform to their expectations).

He did it again at ages 3 and 4 when our friends would come to visit.  If they were Asian, he would speak English, if non-Asian, Korean.  They passed inspection when they replied in the other language.

Once again, the big one did it when we arrived in the US.

Every time, it's a way of feeling out who we know and where we belong.

I had hoped another form of code switching would work the reverse in expanding my children's social group rather than limiting it when we joined a local karate club.  The particular kind of karate relies on Korean words and terms.  I had hoped that it would encourage the kids to think that Korean was okay to speak even in America.  It's gradually starting to work, but it had some limitations at first.  You see, I hadn't bargained on the American accents of the instructors obscuring their Korean pronunciation.  After coming home the first day, I asked my little son how he had liked the lesson.

"It's great, Mom," he answered.  "But why does everybody down there speak Spanish?"

Monday, January 30, 2012

Hero

 My elementary school was one of the few “walking” elementary schools left in southwestern Pennsylvania when I was growing up.  We lived about a half a mile away—a quarter of a mile on the main road and then another quarter down a little paved path past the junior high athletic field, the junior high proper, and across a huge asphalt expanse that bridged the gap between the junior high parking lot and the paved play surface of the elementary school.   It took most kids about ten minutes to make the whole trip.  I took about half an hour.

I was never a fast walker, and I meandered home at a rate only a turtle would admire.  On this particular misty-rainy afternoon--the kind of afternoon the Pittsburgh area is known for--I was daydreaming while I walked, meaning that it took me about half an hour to get over to the junior high’s athletic field.  Cold and anticipating a thorough telling off from my mother, I decided to cut across the real grass field instead of walking around it.  I paid nary a thought to my new penny loafers with their shiny copper discs in them.  Of course, I started to think about them a little more when I was about a third of the way in, and it was getting harder and harder to pull them out of the muck.  But I was already in this far, and I wasn’t going back.  By halfway, I had lost one shoe and couldn’t lift either foot out of the mud.  I would have licked my salty tears from the corners of my mouth, but it was raining so hard there was no salt left.

I was imagining spending the night there when he came out of the side door of the junior high.  Someone from the inside was yelling after him, and he ducked his head in defeat as he tripped down the small embankment between the school building and the field.  He had nothing to be too happy about.  He was headed out of detention.

He was about a quarter of the way toward the other side of the hill when he noticed me in the field.

“Are you okay?” he called.

Hiccuping too much to talk, I just shook my head.

“Are you stuck?” he guessed.

I hung my head in shame.

But he never looked disappointed or said a word.  He just took his hands out of his pockets and walked across the field to get me.  I noticed that his feet never seemed to stick in the mud and that his shoes had ties.  I remembered what my gym teacher had said about loafers.  I didn’t run better in tennis shoes, but athletic fields did seem to like them better. By the time I had finished thinking, the boy had made it to me.

“Hold on,” he instructed, scooping me up easily.  He carried me across the field and set me on the track.

“I lost my shoe,” I told him.

Without a word, he walked back, circled the mud a bit, and then bent over to pry a little loafer out of the muck.  Coming back to the side, he set it on the track beside me and I slid my foot in.  I noticed that he didn’t even have mud on his hands.

“Are you okay?” he asked me again.

Wiping my nose with the back of my hand, I nodded.  He turned away from and headed toward the hill to the other housed street.  His head was held high as he looked back and cast me a final wave.

I never said thank you, but I never forgot.

He was more than a kid coming out of detention.

He was my hero.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Home Sick

Young children are essentially bioreactors.

Viruses infiltrate their systems, take up residence, make improvements to themselves, and then look for bigger and better hosts to move onto--namely the siblings or parents of the bioreactor in question.

I live with two such bioreactors.  They play with other bioreactors, whom I just cannot send away, so we are always fighting off something. 

However, I hope not in complete disregard for public health, I almost always send the children to school.  Once you have had children with issues, you learn how very important routine is.  By very important, I mean that routine is the difference between going to bed smiling and laying your head down with chunks of hair missing (whether the hair was removed by children or self may vary).

But this last week, the big one became very whiny, and the big one is rarely whiny.  Then the big one didn't want to eat--even stuff that the big one really likes to eat.  Then the big one was too tired to play.  Okay.  So the big one stayed home sick.

And I have to say that I did enjoy it a bit.  I got nothing that I expected to done, but I enjoyed it.  I liked the cuddles, appreciated not having to reprimand but giving in a little more.  I laughed at his jokes, smelled his hair as I read him stories, covered him up on the couch, and just relished the him-ness that is he is as he simply rested for the day.  Okay, "rested" may not be completely honest.  If you've ever watched a hyperactive child try to rest, you may notice some contradiction.  He tried to stay still, but his body just needed to move.  So he would try to move, but then he would quickly tire and lay (almost) still.  We cycled through this repreatedly.  We came up with creative solutions to his normal coping mechanisms for his sensory issues.  I bounced him on my knees, wrapped him in a coarse, scratchy blanket, and rubbed his hands and feet.  It wasn't quite a normal day, but it was a good day--as good a day as an adult can have after watching endless episodes of "Street Sharks" and "Spider Riders."

Sometimes you need the child next to you to remember how funny and sweet he can be. 

Today, the big one was back at school, and the little one was home.  While they may be cut from the same cloth, their nap is reversed.  Where the other one is generally nonverbal, the little one is verbose--very verbose.  He likes it that he doesn't die very often.  He thinks you can't kill wild turkeys because they are just too wild.  Well, maybe, he amends, you might be able to get one if you had a very big slingshot.  We have a tiger living around the block (a stripey-looking rescued greyhound), who is very nice and doesn't eat children often.  When he is finished "bestroying" all his enemies, he might read me a book.  And why isn't school over yet?  This would be much better if his brother were home to play with him.

After a day with the little one, I wonder what planet I live on.

But he can tell me.  "We're in the American world now.  When we live in the other world, we speak Korean.  And there are other worlds, too, but they all speak Spanish."  He still has not discovered who speaks cursive, but he is looking.

"My teacher doesn't speak cursive, just English," he confides to me.  "That's why they keep her in kindergarten."

And even though there is much to be done and I didn't get a whole lot of it accomplished, I have rediscovered the joy of my children, recalled their idiosyncrasies, and remembered the individual traits I love about each of them.  Perhaps I recovered from a sickness as well--the illness of forgetting your blessings even when they are staring you in the face...sometimes literally...at a distance of 2 inches.

Of course, having recovered from this illness, I am ready for the bus to come tomorrow morning.  But I'll be a little sad to see them both climb aboard.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Unto Us a Child Is Born: Flash Mobs and New Years (Solar and Lunar)

NOTE: The names in this post have been changed to protect the identity of those mentioned from those who don’t already know them.

Eight days before Christmas, I was in line at the grocery store and the man ahead of me, busily supplying gift cards to the cashier for activation, commented that he couldn't stand the mall crowds, the holiday traffic, and the flash mobs.

I definitely agree with some of the comment. In fact, I hate ALL traffic and might be content if I didn't need to drive again. But I had recently been to the mall, and while I didn’t like being bowled over by cell-phone-yacking teeny-boppers-turned-soccer-moms, ignored by overworked and under-enthused salespeople, and bumped into by busy, stopping-on-the-way-home dads, I enjoyed the light in the eyes of the children I passed by and the occasional adult lovingly caressing an object—clearly not for themselves—in the anticipation of their beloved’s surprised response on receiving it.

And as I reconsidered what the man said, I sincerely pondered the flash mobs, particularly of this flash mob:



Surely, the angels’ appearance to the shepherds was one of the most spectacular flash mobs ever. And if I had witnessed it, what would I think? I doubt I would believe it. I might be in too much of a hurry to stop. If I recounted the experience to my doctor, she might put me on an anti-psychotic and tell me to avoid stress.

But not every unexplainable event is discountable.

Three years ago this month, my lovely friend held in her arms for the first time her sweet, if screaming, newborn son—shiny, eyes closed, full head of hair, and did I mention loud? When the baby was presented later at the church, I had never seen a father as proud as her husband nor a mother as lovely as Faith. Of course, Faith looks pretty awesome all of the time, but motherhood had made her even more radiant. “It’s the exhaustion,” she said when I told her how good she looked. “But it’s not really that bad. He just eats every two hours.” And while I know that’s completely normal for a newborn, and all mothers who breastfed nod along with me, I have never heard another mother say, “It’s not really that bad.” In fact, most women I know believe siblings come to be out of amnesia and accidents. We do not knowingly put ourselves back into the rounded and then deflated state with our full cognitive abilities working. We forget. But Faith, ever Faith, never complains, never says a bad word, never dashes a hope, or breaks a heart.

Originally, my family was assigned to Faith and her husband, who were the deacons, to look after us at the church we attended in Daegu. But I learned quickly how much more than a deacon Faith was. And while I was impressed by her kindness and energy, I didn’t become close to her immediately or even slowly. Our friendship would develop much later over the phone and internet.

During the time she and her husband served as our deacons, my little one would begin having seizures—approximately half a dozen between Christmas Day 2007 and the Fourth of July 2008 (also my birthday). After that summer seizure, the doctors simply recommended very frequent checkups, the immediate use of antibiotics for any flare in the throat or ears, and frequent dosing of antipyretics at the first sign of any discomfort or change. Following this advice controlled the little one’s seizures for the next eleven months as my family and I got to know Faith and her family a little better.

Then, on my little one’s birthday in July, another seizure struck. I was interviewing a student who was about to join our program. My husband called to tell me that the little one had begun convulsing at the daycare as my eldest sister-in-law had been picking him up. She was going with him to the emergency room in the ambulance, and my husband was coming to get me. I tried to convey what was happening to the mother of the student, who just did not seem to understand. I could not move her out of the house with any sort of speed. I was in my shoes, at the preparation area of Korean apartments, holding the door open, and still she wandered around the main room asking questions about the camp’s curriculum and her daughter’s ability. Later, when I rather resentfully asked my husband to apologize to her (I still thought she should have moved faster), he asked, “Why? She thought it went great. She had no idea you were hurrying her out.” I sighed.

When the little one finally saw the ER doctor, my husband promised him a toy if he could stop crying and be brave. The waterworks miraculously evaporated, and the little one asked, “Will you buy me an ambulance?” Following the doctor’s advice, we stripped him down to his diaper and sponged him off again and again. We spent his birthday in that ER, where, once he was finally no longer being stabbed by a resident trying to draw blood and had been given fever reducers, he happily pranced around among the other patients, offering them pretend kwaja (cookies) from under his clear umbrella. At 3:00 AM, they finally discharged us with antibiotics and antipyretics. Relieved, we drove home, only to find that our oldest son had a 104 fever as well.

This was a turning point for me. I suddenly recognized two things. First, that the root problem behind the seizures was controlled but not gone. And secondly, as I looked at the clothes we had just bought for my little one, my youngest son had not grown at all in the eighteen months since the seizures had begun.

Everything I had ever read about failure to thrive came back to me, and in desperation, I took him to the church for prayer and anointing. Many surrounded us and laid hands on that child. Faith was among them, now a mother with a six-month-old son. I still didn’t know her well, but even at that time, I felt her heart—God’s heart in her. And I felt a connection that we would be needing one another. Perhaps it was God’s sign to me then of what was coming.

We spent another year in Korea and thought we had the seizure problem licked.

Until Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving. At 2:00 AM Chuseok morning, the little one convulsed uncontrollably. Depositing our eldest son with the younger of my two sisters-in-law, my husband and I sped with the little one to the emergency room. Let me tell you, once the danger is past, it’s kind of funny staying in the ER on a holiday because the most random of injuries come in. Parents, distracted by their holiday responsibilities, ignore children, or worse, put them in the charge of their older siblings. “Yes,” one mother abashedly explained to the attendant. “He and his brother thought it would be fun to try jumping over the wall from the roof.” Neither was seriously hurt, thankfully. Once again, after blood draws, antibiotics, and antipyretics, we were sent home, and as we drove down the highway and I looked at the cellphone to call my in-laws and tell them we were coming home, I noticed the date. “Happy birthday, honey,” I said to my husband, and we both knew that our present was the beautiful, still-breathing boy sitting in my lap.

This was the year of the Swine flu, which arrived, surprisingly, two years AFTER the Golden Pig Year which comes every half millennium or so on the Chinese calendar. It’s supposed to be lucky, but you’ve got to wonder. Because of the little one’s response to fevers (seizures) and because both the swine flu and its vaccine for young children were accompanied by high fevers, we were advised NOT to have the children vaccinated and to pull them both out of school during flu season—October to March. That meant that the children were supposed to stay home or in open areas and should refrain from going to any enclosed places with lots of people. No church for us then, and it was a long time before I saw my friend Faith again.

Then, on one Sunday morning in December, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to go to church; I just had to. This was a problem because my little one also has separation anxiety and panic disorder although we didn’t have the label for it then. Simply put, when I left him, the little one would freak out and eventually make himself sick. So, I couldn’t just leave him and go to church on my own. Eventually we decided that I would take just the little one and go to the afternoon service where there were very few people and little chance of the little one picking up anything. So we went. When we were done, I began to walk to a place to get a taxi with little one when my husband called and said he was in the nursery with our oldest son talking to Faith and playing with her baby.

Faith left before I got there. We said goodbye to a few people and got into our car and began the ride home. Sure enough, though, there was Faith carrying her son on the side of the road. We picked her up, and it turned out that this weekend only, we were going in the same direction. Her in-laws live just a few miles from mine. We dropped her and the baby off and were heading home when we noticed that she left her wallet on the central console of our car. So, after a lot of calling, we finally got Faith’s cell phone number and called her to set up a return of the wallet.

It was not a coincidence. I would never have gotten her cell phone number otherwise. We didn’t go to church again until just before we left for the States, and I haven’t actually seen Faith since that time. But that number connected us. And the next day she discovered that that beautiful screaming child that she had held eleven months earlier, the one who had played “meh-rong” with my children (a game in which children stick their tongues out at one another) in the car on the way home, had ocular cancer.

God works in funny ways. We don’t always see Him. He doesn’t come in ways that we expect, and He doesn’t necessarily do the things that we want. But He comes.

Even though Faith and I were separated, sometimes I would just know she needed something. I remember texting a verse to her one day and having her text back, “How did you know? Our son was just admitted to the hospital again.” Later, she would know about me, giving me a call in America just when I would need it. This continues, back and forth, to this day.

Yes, God comes. Sometimes, He comes creeping in small ways; other times, He’s everywhere.

Faith wasn’t the only one who knew about me. Hope and I had begun to share manuscripts with each other about a year before I moved back to America. As I prepared to return to the States in 2010, our family moved back in with my in-laws. My children both have special needs of differing kinds, and my eldest’s anxiety—and the side effects it has—became fully apparent after this transition away from his home, his school, and his daddy (who was tying up business in Seoul). As his distress and violence increased to the confusion and dismay of his Korean grandparents, his brother, and me, I was at wit’s end. I was really looking forward to an international call with Hope. Alas, as international calls are wont to do, the connection fell through, and I couldn’t talk to Hope. Rather hopeless (and Hope-less), I lay down and thought about sleep. But I felt a gentle nudging. “Don’t go to sleep. Call Aimée.”

Aimée is a friend of mine from college. Before she had married, she could be immediately located by her Eastern European consonant goulash of a last name. Alas, she married and took the ubiquitous last name of her husband. And trust me, her real name is even more common than Aimée Jones. But, by a stroke of luck, we had found each other, after nearly fifteen years, a few days before, and I had her phone number.

I called. She answered. As busy as she is, that in itself was a miracle. As we began to talk, it became apparent that she had dealt with issues like my son’s. She began to give me concrete advice and to name names and label issues. She gave me something to grasp, approaches that would work, and a place to start. When I got off the phone with her, I literally fell to the floor thanking God for hearing my prayers. I had hope for the first time in a long time.

I was so amazed that I called my mom. “Would you believe it?” I asked her. “What are the odds?”

My mom, so typically my mother, did not answer my question. Instead she asked, “Is this the friend you made the quilt for?”

Leave it to my mother. I had made that quilt fifteen years earlier as a wedding present. My mom had never even met this friend, but she remembered the quilt!

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, tell her that I’ve been praying for her. For the last week, I just can’t get her and her family out of my mind.”

And so, in the complete oddness of that night, I called my friend back and left her a message. When she called me the next day, she said, “You don’t know what that means to me. I don’t know what to do with my daughter. We are having to make an awful decision right now, and I just felt so alone.”

But you see, we are not alone, and sometimes, we need to look up to see this, and to listen in order to show it.

Again, I think back to the comment about flash mobs. I’ve never witnessed one personally, but I have been a part of improv. For a glimpse of that, take a peek at Charlie Todd’s “The Shared Experience of Absurdity”:



The one thing that always strikes me about improv, being part of a performance, or being in a musical group is the conviction that we are a corporate body, that in those moments together with a single purpose, we are a part of something larger, of an energy or striving that pervades the human spirit and unites us in something bigger than ourselves. It’s easy to forget that, lost in our own little worlds. But when we, in Todd’s words, look up more, we see that we are part of something incredible.

Nearly a year after our return to America, my own world would be rocked by all kinds of things. But on the day before everything really hit the fan, I got an email from Aimée—just to say hi, a message from Hope—to say she was praying for our family, and a call from Faith—saying that she and her husband just couldn’t get us out of their minds. And so, when everything looked terrible and my children sat in the backseat crying, I turned around before I pulled out of our parking spot.

“Do you remember that God says He puts His angels around us? Do you remember that God said He would never leave us?”

The boys nodded mutely.

“Well, I’ve gotten messages and calls from my friends. They told me that they were praying for us even before this happened! Do you see? God has called out His warriors to fight for us even before we knew that we needed him.”

And I was suddenly reminded that our struggles are not against flesh and blood. No, they most certainly are not. And we, whose spirits are only encumbered by the illusion of flesh and blood, are united in ways that we cannot begin to understand—nor begin to see without listening and looking up.

Faith and her husband would face incredible trials and pain together. It would not all go as planned, and, as there always is in an illness with no definitive cure, there was talk and judgment along with the hope and love and reaching and supporting. But Faith never complained.

The week before Christmas brought that home to me. Almost a year ago--MORE than a year ago--I went to the Korean church we were attending with two Bibles in my purse. Strange as that sounds, I brought two because I wasn't sure if I was going to sit through the English or the Korean service, and my brain just does better if I can try to keep to one language at a time.

Well, because of the proximity to my separation-anxiety-stricken five-year-old’s classroom and my ability to monitor his screams through the accordion partition of my classroom, I sat in the English service. But I could only find my Korean Bible. I was just able to follow along, and it was a good thing because I knew that I knew that I knew, in the way that only a hunch or an intuition or something sub-rational is, that what the pastor had to say was for Faith and her family, now in California.

But I wouldn't believe it. I refused to look up and refused to listen.

Even though when I got home, there was my English Bible RIGHT BESIDE my Korean Bible in my purse. I didn't think of it as a miracle or a message that I could only find the Korean version. I thought I was deluding myself that the message was for Faith. And I thought I should clean out my purse.

Yet the words kept surfacing to my conscience. Again and again, I refused to believe, refused to write that message, refused to look up at the message of the angels in front of me.

Only when I was praying with a friend, who knew nothing of these other friends, and she began praying for Faith’s EXACT SITUATION did I realize that if I wouldn't let God use me, he was going to use somebody else.

So I sent the message. It was a message of hope.

That hope suffered a great blow Easter week when Faith learned she was pregnant just three days before her firstborn returned to the arms of his heavenly father.

And then, eight days before Christmas, she called me. Just hours after the man’s comment about flash mobs, Magnolia Love had come into the world. Like Christ, she was a promised child. And yet, she was almost missed--even by the doctor. If her father hadn’t rushed into the hall and dragged the nurse back in, he would have caught Magnolia himself.

If the angel chorus wasn't the biggest flash mob, then I don't know what is. But, like me, not everyone responds to the angels. Samson's father thought the angel bearing word of his son-to-be's birth would kill him (Samson was not known for his intellect, and we know why...). Not everyone sees—or perhaps we do our best to ignore them. The servant of Elisha feared the king until Elisha prayed his eyes would be open to see the angelic guard surrounding them.

And when Faith called me, she said, “Do you remember what you said to me a year and two days ago? That I would yet praise the Lord in the land of the living? This is that promise.”

And I, facing my own tribulation at that moment, was reminded of how sometimes God comes knocking in our lives. You can call Him what you will. You don't have to call Him God.

But He will find you. And I don't mean like a stalker.

Like flash mobs, like improv, I just mean that He will meet you where you are—in the world, not necessarily the church or the theater.

I mean that He is there. I mean that the whole world, everything we do--moment to moment--is like one giant flash mob of God crying out His love to us. We don't always see it. We don't always believe it. But it is absolutely there. Especially when you think that it isn't.

And sometimes, we are called to be a part of it.

So it was important that I was obediently a member of the flash mob to Faith a little over a year ago. She needed to see God. And, in return, she was a member of one to me a year later, when I needed to know God was there.

We are called to look up, or we will miss it, to be a part of it, or it will pass us by.

And it was appropriate that I took the boys and a family cousin out for a drive that very evening to look at the Christmas lights. A local family invites members of the community to walk through their yard and enjoy their decorations, including literally HUNDREDS of life-sized wooden cartoon characters (one is a Sylvester the Cat that I made as part of the art club in high school. I am shocked and amazed that it has lasted all of these years!). After we had walked through the yard to everyone’s enjoyment and the boys were escaping, we got into the car and just drove around the area, presumably to enjoy the nylon inflatables and flashing lights. And I believe our cousin did enjoy them.

My children, however, were not tuned into the lights.

“Mommy! This is not the way home!” the big one hollered.

“But just look at these lights! And did you know that penguins could fly airplanes?”

“Did we have to go up a hill to get here, Mommy?” the little one asked. “I don’t remember any hill.”

Our cousin giggled. She, at least, was enjoying the trip—both the goofy lights outside and the goofballs inside.

“Here,” I said, heading down a cul-de-sac. “Just look at this nativity. It has all the animals AND purple neon palm trees.”

The star blinked over the manger as I slowly eased the car around the curved end of the road and head back out. In the back I heard a deep sigh and turned around to see the big one with his head in his hands.

“I told her we were lost!”

But all was not lost. We did make it home, much to the relief of my eldest son. Nor was the evening completely lost on them.

Last week, the little one asked me, “Mommy, do you remember the bunny that was up on the hill that was on the way home that wasn’t really the way home? Do you think we could find him again?”

And while, no, I don’t think we can find the bunny for the little one, we reflect the light of the Lord to the world, twinkling like stars in the universe and pointing the way to the Savior who still waits.

Look up and see. Stand up and shine.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kid logic

"No, Mom.  I have to have MONEY today."

"You have money.  It's in your account.  You just give them your name, and they take the money out for you."

"Nuh-uh!  They said I need real money!"

"WHO said you need real money?"  I begin rooting through my purse for quarters and writing a note about the status of the little one's lunch account.  As I finish the note and come up with exact change, I shove it all into a plastic bag and thrust it toward the little one.

"Here.  Give this to the lunch lady.  She'll call me if there's a problem."

Suddenly, the little one looks sheepish.  "Maybe I don't need money."

I scrutinize his face.  "Did the lunch lady tell you that you needed money or did someone else say that?"

He ducks his head.  "It was Brandon.  He's a lunch buyer AND a packer, like me.  He said you have to have money."

"Well, that's between Brandon's mommy and the lunch lady.  YOU just need to give the lunch lady your name.  That's your mommy's deal with the lunch lady."

The little one hands the baggy back to me.  "Okay," he said, and the tears from this encounter abated.

But don't worry; there are more tears this morning.  Apparently, we need to have a note outside our door.  We need lots of notes.  Sometimes these notes are for Daddy:



Sometimes the notes are for the neighbors (in case they would like to try karate moves):


This morning, we have a checklist that I cannot quite figure out:



But it provokes tears because we need to write this note with a pen because that's what adults use to write notes, and there's a problem with this.  You see, the pens that Mommy has work by gravity.  The ink flows down to the paper so that you can write.  And the problem with the little one's activity is that he insists upon writing the note on the door where he has posted it above his head.  Hence, the ink in the pen would need to flow up, not down.

"NO, MOMMY!" he screams as I try explaining this to him.  "I NEED A NEW PEN!"

I keep three pens in my purse.  None works.  Surprise. 

"But we have to get this done," he insists.  "Or else my brother won't be able to ride the bus!"

I don't quite see the logic to this, but I respond with all the patience in the world...NOT.

"If you don't get moving right now, YOU'RE not going to ride the bus, and let me tell you, young man, if you miss that bus, I am not driving you.  No, sir!  You will walk to school!"

I grab his hand and drag him up the street with me.  The tears are streaming down his face, and I wonder how long it will take for them to freeze there this January morning.

The bus pulls to the stop when we are still a hundred yards from the corner.

"Hurry!" I prod him.

"Hug, kiss!" he hiccups.

I half hug him, half lug him toward the bus stop and kiss him on the knit cap.

"Hug, kiss," he hiccups again.  This time I get his cheek.  The hug deposits him on the bottom step of the bus.  I wonder what horrible things the bus driver thinks about the callous mother I am as the teary-eyed kindergartner makes his way to his brother's seat where they squeeze in three butts together--little one (butt halfway in the aisle), big one, and big one's best friend--because apparently it would be too distant to sit in one of the five surrounding seats which are sitting empty.

And as I walk back to the house discussing the morning's drama with the neighbor ("It's like the old joke," he says, "that while we were spending millions developing a pen that would work in space, the Russians beat us there because they decided to use a pencil on Sputnik."), I begin to think about other kid logic--"If I am really nice to you, you have to buy me a dog," "All boys drive their mommies crazy, right? That's why some mommies have girls," and "It's daytime in Korea now, so I don't have to go to bed because I'm half Korean"--and how it has an element of truth to it. 

Kid logic isn't wholly wrong.  I might have promised my son a reward for good behavior; it just wasn't a dog.  Every child sometimes drives a mom crazy, even though boys and girls tend to drive their parents different kinds of crazy and the vast majority of us still leave the gender of our children entirely up to fate.  And it was daytime in Korea at night, and he is half Korean.  It just doesn't mean he can stay up all night while he lives here.  It's the partly right piece of kid logic that both makes it so entertaining for adults and also so confusing for children.


One of my favorites is "Mommy was afraid of the dark.  That's why she married Daddy, and he has to sleep in her room."  It reminds me of religious dogma.  God has to do something.  We can't help but do something else--often something terrible like the Spanish inquisition or the torture of prisoners.  Don't get me wrong.  I thoroughly believe that we hear from God.  I just think that, like kids don't completely understand their parents, perhaps we don't quite have the full picture.  And I just wonder. How much of our logic is kid logic?  What would God say if he heard or saw us?  And if any of that makes us squirm, then maybe we should rethink our positions.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Things I Carry

I can't tell you how many times I have had to read the first chapter of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, and for all its description, and I don't care how many writing teachers tell me otherwise, it does not do the book justice.

It did, however, have me pondering the significance of what I lug around.  I am fighting wars of other kinds, and the contents of my purse do reveal most of them.

The fight against old age: moisturizer, lip gloss, hand cream.  My cosmetics, hastily thrown in, betray not only the war against stereotypes in culture (that I am trashy if I don't make myself up at least a little--but not too much because that's another kind of trashy) but the war against myself, the constant struggle against my ever four-year-old id who would prefer not to wash her face or get dressed.

There are the scissors and gluestick that I keep to ward off the hyperactive whiny-cry-ies from my two young sons--tools which we actually used during the Christmas Eve service because the program apparently needed a red-lopsided star, cut from the crimson oaktag remains of a gift card backing, glued over the stable graphic on the front.  Surprisingly, these tools also emerge when I have surrendered, at least for the time being, in the battle against what I consider to be unrealistic expectations for young children in public and a general lack of empathy on the part of everyone--my children need to try to be quiet for the sake of those who would like to listen just as we young and middle-aged need to allow our seniors spots in the front where they can hear and on the aisle so that they can move and adults in general need to allow for a little wiggling on the part of youngsters because their bodies can't just sit still all the time but the practice, in small doses, teaches them to become well-behaved.  But when I have dismounted the cavalry of my independence-doesn't-justify-lack-of-empathy high horse, my sword becomes safety scissors, and my children begin the war against the cuttable (and it is surprising what, in fact, is cuttable with safety scissors).

Out comes the Children's Benadryl for the war against allergies and runny noses, hand sanitizer to fight the germs, moisturizer to fight the dry skin left by hand sanitizer. 

My stash of coupons waits to fight the scourge of inflation and nickel and diming (although I generally end up buying the generic brand which is still cheaper than the name brand after coupons). Change lurks in the corners and along the seams to escape the reconnaissance of my coin-loving five-year-old.  My keys, separated to prevent my locking the house key in the car, routinely alter their positions to thwart my search for them.  My cell phone sentry perches in an upper pocket.  A screwdriver waits in reserve at the bottom.  You never know when you'll need one.

My wallet, devoid of cash, yawns in the center section, crammed on the sides with receipts, store coupons, discount cards, and children's memberships.  Bubblegum bribes line one pocket while dum-dum suckers line the other.  I'm never sure who the dum-dum is after I hand them out, but if I can be a moron in silence, I'll take it.

There's a note of encouragement from an anonymous friend that I read and reread when I'm not sure where the next battle will take me, and old grocery and to-do lists, filled with my hopes for the day and my husband's suggestions, remind me where I've been.  Scrawled on scraps of paper are numbers of friends with good advice and business cards of people who will listen (or vice versa). A pocket New Testament hops in and out--certain young hands snatch it for the motorcycle on the front cover (a reminder to me that Jesus was unorthodox and also that there might be something to "zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance").

And, thus armed, I am ready to leave the house...or so I believe until I remember what I've forgotten.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Spreading a Different Kind of Wealth

Okay, this keeps coming back to me, so although it's not refined in any way, I think it's important enough to just say.

As much as I don't like those who don't share and then complain that they are not universally loved, I do see the point of most of my conservative friends when they claim that there is something strikingly hypocritical about the baseness of the enlightened masses as exemplified in the Occupy movement.

A novel idea--which is not mine--has now been brought to my attention repeatedly (and when that happens--uh-oh!).

Simply, it is this: Share what you have.  If you have no material things, share the spiritual things.  What you have given will come back to you overflowing.

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (courtesy of BibleGateway.com, emphasis mine).

The world is crying out for love.  Some people tell me I look like an idiot because I smile at everyone, but I can't tell you the responses I get.  People are longing for affection, for kindness, for patience.  And even in the very small amount I am able to supply, it is repaid!  I had never thought of it as an economy before, but in many senses it is.  "Store up your treasures in heaven...."  We are abundantly supplied for...as long as we share (and I don't just mean money).

I have a friend who is the epitome of all that was good with the Occupy movement.  She is out there teaching, doing what she can to be responsible, giving back.  I have other friends who are both politically and religiously conservative who are also out there doing what they can, being responsible, giving back.

In the end, it is not even a strictly Christian idea.  Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

So, in the words of Nike, "Just do it."  Be the change.  Share it. 

No excuses.  Don't let taxes hold you back.  Don't let a bank account keep you from sharing a joy with your neighbor.

Against such things there is no law.
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