Superhero Housecleaning Goddess

Tyler pointed to a cluttered spot in the living room.

“Mommy, when is Olga coming?  We need her.”

Olga is our Superhero Housecleaning Goddess.  (I long to address the check to her with that title.)

But Olga does not come to our house every other week so she may pick up my children’s collection of unkempt toys.  Nope.  My kids will need to go ahead and take responsibility for their own messes.

Olga polishes away the effects of people and life in our house, but not our careless decisions.  She’s not there to organize the toy shelf or make the beds.  (Although she does an incomparable tidy of the top bunk, better than anyone I know.)

“Nope, Tyler.  You need to take care of that situation on your own please.”  There ensued the conversation of why we have a housekeeper if she isn’t there to make his life easier.

I’ve given this more thought.  Forgive me if I am over spiritualizing, but I can’t ignore this parallel.

If Olga comes along and cleans up after Tyler’s every wayward toy and spilled drink, he’ll grow up without an understanding of how to do this himself.  He’ll grow up with the expectation that such a partnership is part of life.  He won’t realize that messes don’t clean themselves, and he won’t appreciate the gift of someone who could do it for him.

This makes me think of living by grace or by the law, of what it would be like to try to keep my life and my thoughts clean enough to deserve God’s love.

(Stay with me here.)

In Genesis, God gave Abraham the promise of righteousness, the gift of eternity with God, as a result of Abraham’s faith.  The gift of grace was there all along; Abraham only needed to believe, and he received a promise on behalf of all of us who would believe after him.

Then the Israelites traveled a million miles in forty years with Moses, and God gave Moses the Law: The Ten Commandments, which really seem to be the Top Ten of all the countless rules they followed to earn God’s favor.  (See Leviticus for the suffocating list of can-and-cannots.)

And then we started to overthink things, and people still wonder which is true: the promise of grace by faith, or the promise of redemption through the Law?  Can we really receive eternal life by simply believing, or is there much more to do?

After all, both are present in the Bible, and the people of the Old Testament spent a lot of time measuring their actions to see how they measured up.

They never could.

That’s why God gave them The Law: so they could see how wayward they were, how many mistakes they made each day, how incapable they were of perfect righteousness.  He gave them The Law to show them their sin.

So later, when he gave his son as a gift to the world, essentially, he offered them a metaphorical cleaning lady.

All this mess you’ve been trying to keep up and hide and sweep under the couch and stuff into the closet?  You don’t have to worry about that anymore.  I’m sending you a better plan that will make everything easier on you.  

But you wouldn’t have appreciated it unless you had spent years trying to polish away each spot and blemish that kept popping up again anyway.  My grace was there all along, all the way back to that promise to Abraham, but I gave you the Law so you could appreciate the gift when the Law was erased.

All you have to do is call on me.  You only need to believe.

(I only need to call Olga, and the impossible is done: my baseboards are polished, my ceiling fan is dusted, and my floors shine like they never would have otherwise.)

And even if the rest of this is a stretch, two things are true:

My kids will need to put their own toys away and clean up after themselves until they are old enough to hire (and thereby appreciate!) a Superhero Housecleaning Goddess of their own,

and I believe Olga is evidence of God’s grace in my life.  :)

Best Writing on TV

“And I’m scared. I know that you’re trying to make everything okay for me. You always have. Our whole lives. And I love you so much for that.

But.

You have to let me be scared.

I want to be able to come to you and just say, I’m really scared today. And I just want you to hear it.

I don’t want you to tell me to think positive or that everything is going to be great. Because right now I’m not sure that it’s going to be.

And I just want to be able to feel scared.

That’s what I need from you right now.”

– Kristina Braverman, Parenthood

A Picture for the Classroom

Tucker’s teacher met me on the sidewalk as the children streamed out of the school.  She had her arm around Tucker, and they walked with the unified stride that says, “We’ve got to tell your mom about the day you’ve had.”

He had been agitated.  Wiggly and squirmy.  Bothersome to his classmates, poking into their personal space.  We talked about it.  We agreed the three of us would work together to help Tucker with this kind of impulse control.

Then she said, “Hey, Tuck, I see your brother on the playground.  How about you run and play with him?”  She sent him running on his way, and then her eyes met mine.

She told me more of the story.  He had been so impatient for the children to leave so he could talk to her.  “Mrs. Herr, my daddy died.  He died at Christmas in the bedroom and he breathed his last breath and my mommy held his hand.”  She said it all came spilling out of him.  She said his tension and agitation were gone as soon as he had been able to say these words out loud.

She said, “I think he was really thinking about his dad today.  I think he didn’t know what to do.  It was too much for his body to hold today.”

My sweet boy.

He had told her, “Mrs. Herr?  I think you would like my dad.”

“Yeah, Tuck?  I bet I would.  What can you tell me about him?”

“He had a red and brown mustache.  And he made me laugh.”

“Do you look like him?”

“Mommy says I do.”

“Then you have the best gift of all, Tuck.  You can see him every time you look in the mirror.”  What a beautiful way to say this.

Mrs. Herr looked to me.  “He was a good dad, wasn’t he?”

“He was a great dad.”  Tears spilled underneath my sunglasses.

“I can tell.  Tucker remembers that about him.”

“For the record, Mrs. Herr, you would have liked him very much.  Everyone did.”

“I have no doubt, dear.  No doubt at all.”

When we got home that afternoon, I gave Tuck a picture of him with Robb.  It was Tucker’s half-birthday – the day he turned 18 months old.  We had bought a little wagon and some sand toys, and we had come to the playground to play – the very playground where the boys play at recess everyday.  Robb climbed ladders and tunnels, following our toddler everywhere.  I, very much pregnant with Tyler, took pictures.

Tucker took the picture to school the next day.  He and Mrs. Herr found a special place in the classroom to keep the picture.  She let him visit the picture any time he needed to.  He showed a few friends, but he made no grand announcement.

(Some things are too sacred to say out loud.)

Here’s an amazing detail to the story: Mrs. Herr is a substitute.  Tucker’s first grade teacher has been on a medical leave, and Mrs. Herr has stepped in to fill the gaps and sew the seams together in the classroom.

She taught for 35 years, she retired because it was time but not because she had had her fill.

I spent a season as a substitute teacher, and I know an investment is a choice: you can punch the clock and check off the lesson plans, or you can engage and teach.

Thank you, Mrs. Herr.

Leaning Toward the Farmers Market

I was so puffy.  My sinuses felt like rocks or raisins or something that had been pressed through a particularly difficult process of drying and hardening.

I had wept the night before.  I had spread myself across the shadow of Robb, where I said goodbye to him, and I wept bitterly.  I saturated a t-shirt with tears and snot, leaving streaks on the carpet and strings of yuck on my face. Sometimes it’s really that awful.  I wept until I could not breathe.

And now it was the morning after, and every part of me felt the hangover of such a battle the night before.

A friend of mine has written a book that will be released this spring, and she has given me the honor of reading it before the rest of the world falls in love with it (Renewed, by Lucille Zimmerman).

Lucille writes about the times when negative emotions join us once again.  Instead of pushing past them, she invited me to care for myself in a way I would nurture someone else.  To wrap my arms around those emotions and say, “Welcome, old friend.  I know how to care for you.”

I’m a nurturer at my core, so this language makes sense to me.  Take it easy, Tricia.  Emotional grief takes a lot of space.

I sat on the deck with a cup of coffee, a pumpkin spice muffin, and Brennan Manning.  Or, his thoughts inside a hard cover.  (You know how I am.  Books are my friends; authors are my breakfast guests.)

The boys were tumbling and tossling, doing their thing that is so rarely quiet or peaceful, until they realized I was both quiet and peaceful outside.

“Mommy, can we come sit with you and eat something?”  It’s difficult to know which they wanted more.  I said yes.  Come, and bring food.

“Guys, I’m having a rough morning today, and I need your help this morning.”

Tyler hands me a Gogurt, waiting for me to tear it open at one end.  The yogurt always spurts out over my fingertips.  I lick it off, even though I hate yogurt.

“Boys, I cried a lot last night.  I cried really hard.”

“But, Mommy, I didn’t even hear you crying so hard.”

Well, dear one, that’s because I don’t let myself cry where you can hear me when you’re sleeping. That’s because you should get to be a little boy.

My sweet Tuck, ever listening and ever watchful to make sure his mom is okay, even after he has fallen asleep.

“Can you guys take care of me today?  You can do that by obeying, listening well, and not fighting. Those are great ways to take care of me.”

“Yes, and we could go to Chuck E. Cheese or Pump It Up.”

This is not what I was planning; these are not examples of my personal self care.

“I don’t know . . . I was leaning more toward the farmers market.”

I entice them with promises of fresh baked goods and the hope of a face-painting booth.  They’re in.

(Hours later, the trip would go reasonably well, resulting in green tomatoes, White Chocolate Mint Bread, gourds, squashes, pumpkins, three flowering mums, and a long silky skirt that I bought from a college student who needs money for books.  I always feel a little like a hippie when I stroll and shop among this eco-friendly community.  The farmers market leaves my skin warm and my spirit charmed.  Every time.)

Tyler has disappeared from the table for a moment, and he returns with Table Topics, our box of conversation starters.

He sets it down on the tile table, presenting me with the gift of conversation.  I laughed out loud.  “Oh, Tyler, I love you.”  He couldn’t know that I had been begging God to arm me with strength for this day, to show me how to be present with my children when I felt hardly present in my body.  Well, here’s one way I could start.

We pull out the first card.

Would you rather be funnier, smarter, or more athletic?

Tyler chooses funnier.
Tucker chooses smarter.
Tyler changes his answer to match Tucker’s.
I am feeling okay with my sense of humor and smarts, so I choose to be more athletic . . . since never in my life has the bat met the ball.  I imagine that to be one glorious rush.

Next question.

What is something you admire about your parents?

Tucker says, “I admire you when you take me to Chuck E. Cheese.”  (Nice try.  I’m so very seriously not going there today.)

Tyler needs clarification on what it means to admire.  He says he admired daddy for playing horsey with him.  This is Tyler’s most vivid memory of Robb, one he talks about every day.

And I have to agree: I admire Robb’s willingness to play on the floor with them – every single night – in ways I just couldn’t do.  There’s a rough housing (that’s a strange phrase) that comes with the testosterone, and I can’t come anywhere near meeting that desire.  (But I was always close by to nurture when the housing got too rough.)

Next question:  What would be the positives and negatives about a new baby in your family?

Tucker says, “There would be so much poop.”

It’s true.  There would be a lot of poop.

I say, “I wouldn’t get to sleep very much, because babies need a lot from their moms at night.”  (The boys don’t see this as a problem.)

Tyler says, “I would be a big brother.”

Tucker says, “I should drink diet Coke.  Then I could shrink and you could be the bigger brother now.”  (This reminds me of a question I overheard, “If you shrink, does your happiness shrink with you?”)  They launch into a diatribe of names for a younger sibling.  Their choices include Lily and Z-Lo.

“Mommy, if you ever have another baby, would you love him as much as us?”

“I sure would.”  None of us is sure how that’s possible, but I know it is.  It just always is.

Tyler interrupts me.  “Mommy, can you please be quiet now?”  He is holding a pink Verizon cell phone to his ear, a toy whose origins I don’t really understand.

“Oh, are you on the phone?”

“Yes, and it’s a very important call.”

By all means, buddy.  By all means.

Exceptionally Wise Drug of Choice

“But what I like doing best is writing. Period.

Sitting here before the computer and transferring onto the screen the things that I hold in my head and heart.

Nothing matches this feeling.

Nothing brings me this particular kind of joy.

And I need it. I crave it.

When I don’t have it, I suffer. I feel like a drug addict with an exceptionally wise drug of choice.”

– Elizabeth Berg, Escaping Into The Open