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Our Family Read-Aloud
  • The Hoboken Chicken Emergency
    The Hoboken Chicken Emergency
    by Daniel Pinkwater
I'm Reading...
  • Your Five Year Old: Sunny and Serene
    Your Five Year Old: Sunny and Serene
    by Louise Bates Ames
  • Book of Days: Personal Essays
    Book of Days: Personal Essays
    by Emily Fox Gordon
  • The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (La Leche League International Book)
    The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (La Leche League International Book)
    by La Leche League International
  • Gilead: A Novel
    Gilead: A Novel
    by Marilynne Robinson

Ready or not

“This is like the Advent for winter,” WJ said to me as we lay in my bed one morning looking out the window at the dawn of a dull and blustery fall day.

The clocks had moved back over the weekend but not the one inside this child.  Mothers and fathers near and far know these early moments alone with children for whom the changing of the clocks mean nothing.  The first number on my clock that morning was still five when WJ climbed into bed to share his big ideas about hosting a hot chocolate stand and several realizations about words that start with C but sound like they start with S.

But his company was somewhat welcome.  I had been spending many of the early morning hours alone and awake.  As he babbled next to me I fought back exhaustion, replaying the fitful night and realizing that it was entirely possible that I had gone to the bathroom four times between 3:20 and 3:40 AM. 

As the calendar pages had been flipping by, I had begun to feel like I had been pregnant forever.  WJ’s recognition of the hints of the coming winter drilled that home and I felt weary.  I started this pregnancy at the end of last winter.  And now it felt as if winter would be here again soon.


Waiting can be an attitude but sometimes it is just a verb.  This particular waiting had become a challenge for me.

One week and four days past the due date written neatly on our calendar.  Those of you who have carried children into the 41st week know of these things.  Of getting a super-manageable, short haircut in time for the baby to arrive and having it grow out to shaggy and messy while you still are waiting.  Of emptying into your tea cup the remaining drips of the milk carton from your fourth, and maybe even fifth, stock-up-before-the-baby-comes shopping trip.  You know the unique torture in these last weeks of speed bumps and flights of stairs and tying shoes and keys dropped on the ground as you pull them out of your bag.  You know about long walks and acupuncture and spicy foods and a reluctant friendship with castor oil.

WJ lay next to me thinking of the fall as an Advent for the winter, full of anticipatory hints and momentary glimpses of light and goodness to come.  But my waiting felt more a moment in Lent. Lent in the middle when the joy of the discipline has worn off but the hope of the Good News is just not yet breaking through.

Sometimes waiting is a chore we endure.  We trudge through it; we grumble; we hang our heads and fix our eyes on the difficulties and rockiness of the path.

And sometimes when we finally look up, we see that for which we have been waiting and the joy comes as a delight and a surprise.




The gondola

This post was originally published on September 7, 2009.

“One of the important keys in understanding the remarkable smoothness of a Five-year-old is that he has an almost uncanny ability to judge what he can and cannot do… With tremendous accuracy he judges what things are and what are not within his ability, and he tries only what he is sure of.”

-Louise Bates Ames, Your Five-Year-Old

I have been reading my book about 5 year-olds and was struck by this statement.  What a lovely quality, to know yourself and live in this truth.

Normally, I would say that the years of my life have brought me to a place where others might describe me with these same words.  I know myself and live comfortably within my limitations.  As I was reading this statement and thinking about WJ, I found a deep pleasure in knowing that this time in his childhood would be characterized by such peace.  I was thinking about how I would need to be certain to trust him in these coming months as he declared his limitations.  I had noticed already a new bravery in some instances and also his matter-of-fact rationale for passing over an opportunity.

But then we saw the gondolas and I forgot to trust him and, even worse, I forgot to trust myself.

We had set out for one last summer getaway out at a discounted off-season ski resort.  Everything was perfect.  As we batted around ideas for our final morning, sipping hot coffee out in the Adirondack chairs and enjoying the cool morning and the view of the mountain, Dave noticed that the gondola lift was running.  It was carrying mountain bikers up the hill to their treacherous trails.  Dave had read that one could purchase a ticket to ride on the gondola lift.  For fun. 

I know myself.  I know that there is no way such a ride would be fun. Nevertheless, we wandered over to the bottom of the hill to investigate.  I think maybe I thought that we would find it was only for the bikers.  Or maybe that there would be an exorbitant fee that would offend the frugal sensibilities of my Dutch husband.

But I think mostly I was just trying very hard to honor my husband, to respect his ideas for our plans, to participate in one of the things that he finds enjoyable.  There are wonderful benefits reaped from our opposites-attract kind of relationship.  But sometimes it just gets us in trouble.

Looking up the mountain at the gondola cars waggling up and down on the limp wires, I mumbled that I didn’t think I could do that.  And WJ echoed.  No.  Not fun.  Not for us.  But Dave was talking to the operator, who had lifted his eyes begrudgingly from a book, and had taken out his wallet.  Four dollars for all three of us.  What a bargain. Dave was stepping on.

WJ and I followed aboard.  The doors closed.  There were no seats and no window panes.  The floor was a grill and the green whizzed by underneath.  I held on with both hands and Dave lifted WJ up so that he could have a better view.  Dave asked me something, something like, “Isn’t this fun?”

I began to chuckle but it turned immediately into the hysterical laughing of an up-too-late junior high girl at a sleepover.  I couldn’t stop; I gasped for breath; tears streamed down my cheeks.  The laughing lasted only a moment, though.  It quickly changed to outright sobbing.  I called out the name of the Lord, and not in vain, as the gondola car swayed. 

WJ was worried too.  I tried to comfort him.  “We are almost at the top!” I exclaimed with false composure, “When we get to the top we will be halfway finished!” 

“But going down is more scary!” he replied.

As if he had to tell me.

When WJ began to sob too, I pulled myself together.  “Do you think there is a way to walk down?” I asked Dave hopefully.  Maybe, was his reply.  As the gondola slowed into the station at the top of the mountain, Dave called out to the teenagers supervising to learn that we could probably walk down.  Probably was enough.  We stepped off of the ride.

It took forty-five minutes to climb down from the top of the mountain to the valley resort.  It was a steep, rocky fire road, littered and overgrown.  Have I mentioned yet that WJ was wearing Crocs?  It felt like we were searching unprepared through the wilderness for help after abandoning a broken car.  Our hike felt somehow desperate. 

But my feet were on the ground and I became myself again.

Slowly WJ became himself again too.  He spotted a frog and chased it.  Then a moth and a very fuzzy caterpillar.  In one of the happier moments of the walk, he took my hand and said, “I wish I could be like Daddy.  I wish I could like the gondola ride.”

I wish that too. 

Sometimes a five-year-old knows himself and his abilities but, for the love of the one he admires, he pretends as best he can to be someone braver.  It can happen to you when you are thirty-six as well.  Sometimes you can pretend hard enough.  But sometimes you have to walk back down the mountain.

This post is part of Steady Mom’s 30 Minute Blogging Challenge.  If you are a blogger, why don’t you give her Tuesday carnival a try?  It is a great way to get a midweek post up without ignoring your other responsibilities… for more than 30 minutes anyway.  


Is it time to conga?

As I sit here with my feet up, there is a party happening in my belly.  And for once it is not the result of my indulging in some decadent recipe found during my daily trolling of the food blogs.

I am very pleased to announce, to those of you who have not yet heard our good news, that our family is waiting.  We are waiting for a lot of things.  We are waiting still for kindergarten.  6 more days, six-year-old WJ will proudly tell you if you ask.  We are waiting for our annual family Labor Day weekend getaway.  All of us look forward to a day at the pool.  We are waiting to soundly have an understanding of what it means to take life slow.  We make progress here and then forget a lesson or two.

But it is with the most joy and hope that we are waiting to meet in earnest the baby who is, as I type, getting down-you might say-at her own personal dance party that can be found just above my bladder and just below my rib cage.  I am beginning the eighth month of this pregnancy and our daughter offers at every possible opportunity a reassurance of her vitality and strength. 

Praise be.  It is good to wait.


Just pokey?

When WJ was in the middle of his first year of preschool, I watched his class walking down the flight of stairs from the classroom to exit the building.  A group congregated outside, children in a line, holding hands with their partners.  They looked ready to walk to the park.  But the class did not yet move.  They were still waiting for WJ and the handful of other children trapped behind him as he dawdled down the stairs.  I watched this scene every day but on one particular day the preschool director stood next to me and asked, “Is WJ just pokey?”

WJ had always been a bit of a slowpoke.  A careful child.  Not a big risk-taker.

I saw it with my own eyes and wondered about it.  But hearing an educational professional make note turned my wondering into worrying.  I spent the next several months going over his developmental milestones in my head.  WJ had always reached gross motor markers just about the day before the parenting books said it was time to worry.  He was always within normal limits, but often at the very far end of those when it came to physical development.

At his four year-old check-up I mentioned my worries to his pediatrician.  I explained the school director’s questioning of his speed and a comment or two from his teachers about his avoidance of gross motor activities.  I explained my own worry about his speech development, which seemed to also be in this late but normal range.  I expected her to respond with her customary and reassuring every-child-is-unique kind of way.  Instead she took off her glasses and explained that if we had concerns in more than one developmental area, which we did—gross motor and speech, it would be wise to rule out any underlying cognitive issues and she wrote a referral for a complete battery of evaluations at the local child development institute. 

In shock, I went home and began scheduling appointments: developmental/cognitive assessment, speech evaluation, hearing test, language development assessment, occupational therapy evaluation, physical therapy evaluation. 

Here is what we found out.  WJ has some low muscle tone which makes some physical tasks more difficult for him to master.  Exactly what we had suspected.  There were no major problems but several of the evaluators suggested that a few months of therapy would help him build strength and muscle tone and help us as parents better know how to support his growth at home. 

What they suggested was true.  Within several months, we noticed WJ running and climbing with friends and fewer people asking me to translate his speech. 

Watching WJ work to exhaustion in his speech and physical therapy sessions that year brought me to a new level of understanding about what school must have been like for him.  That pokiness on the stairs manifested itself in other places in the classroom as well.  He would often be in the role of observer. Like a sports commentator, he liked to watch other children work and to talk about what they were doing but he was slippery about getting involved himself.  He took a lot of breaks, wandering around a bit.  WJ often seemed to be off in another world, daydreaming.

I began to wonder if these behaviors were the result of physical exhaustion.  Simple tasks like climbing up and down the stairs, sitting crisscross on the rug during circle time, controlling scissors and manipulating hard clay, all of these tasks were just a little harder for WJ than for most and took a little more of his physical energy to complete. 

While it may seem illogical to bring issues like climbing skills and running speed or a child’s grip on a crayon and ability to mold clay into the decision about school placement, I would argue that these issues are more important that we may think.  Physical and mental energy are connected.  If your body is tired, your mind is less available to learn, organize thinking and problem-solve. While it is true for all of us, I believe this affects young children especially because their coping skills are still so immature. Perhaps WJ’s adventures in La-La-Land were less about being a dreamy child and more about a lack of energy and strength.  As I researched this, I felt a stronger pull toward the decision to wait for kindergarten. 

With validation that WJ reaches milestones in the physical realm a little later than many children, we were able to see that some extra time to develop physically would help him to be ready to engage as actively as possible in the social and cognitive work of school.  You cannot rush development; you cannot teach strength.  But you can wait.  Growth takes time.



Photo by SF Knitter

If you are a mother, and probably even if you are not, you know the joy of finding the impossible moment when you can do just want you needed and wanted to do.  For me that is usually a long walk. 

The stars aligned today.  A good night’s sleep, waking on time, clean exercise clothes, a couple of hours when my child would be busy with someone other than myself, work completed, a silent cell phone, cooperating weather, even a few extra minutes to update my iPod (which was charged) with new music.  Impossible.

After delivering WJ to school I set off in the sunshine for a brisk walk along the waterfront.  Did I mention the weather?  Warm sun, cool breeze.  Impossible.

It was in the middle of this impossible moment when I spotted the springtime ducks swimming in the river.  There is just nothing like the fuzzy sweetness of a downy duckling swimming obediently behind its mother.  Multiplied by seven, I had to stop and watch.  And stopping I saw more.

Mama Duck was slightly frantic, more than slightly, as she ushered these seven young ones along the Hudson River.  “Relax!” I wanted to yell to her,  “Look around at this day!”

But it was I who looked around.  Behind her and the new babies rose up the skyscrapers of a metropolis.  Yards beyond her in the water, ferry boats zoomed commuters to work.  A giant barge chugged by.  Strange debris floated all about.  The strong current pulled out towards the sea.  The mother’s eyes darted in search of safety.  Her pace was too quick.  And the ducklings were pulled unexpectedly close, touching her and each other as they swam. 

Photo by Katherine "Cody" RobinsonIn that frantic mother duck, I saw myself.  I saw most of us.  I am bringing my child up right here right alongside of her.  Steel and concrete tower around us.  People and time zoom by and we dart along trying to keep the pace or keep out of the way.  I walk my child down streets that have known screaming and hatred and parked SUV’s that sometimes smoke and sometimes tick and sometimes are filled with destruction meant for the likes of me.  Cars crash, planes fall out of the sky, children vanish, the media bombards, abuse poisons.  Mama Duck and I, and probably you, face an impossible task.

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending a benefit concert for New City Kids Church, an amazing ministry in this area that is making an impossible impact on the lives of the children about whom we often forget.  Kids growing up right here, along with mine, along with the ducks.  Recording artist, Sara Groves, sang these lyrics that night.  They were on my iPod this morning thanks to those extra minutes and aligned stars:

"We are pressed on every side; Full of fear and troubled thoughts; For good reason we carried heavy hearts."

For good reason. 

Heavy heart and darting eyes.  I too search each moment for the safety I can find, places to huddle and hide.  And I pull my child close.  Maybe too close.  And I move fast.  Too fast.  For good reason.

I have good reason to think it impossible to offer freedom and independence to my child.  I have good reason to hold him too close.    


Do you wonder about this?

Do I have the hope and trust that I need right now to provide enough space for my child’s roots to grow without crowding?  Can his sprouting leaves catch the sunlight or does my shadow hover too close?  Will his trunk grow strong around its broken places or will it wither and bend as an overzealous gardener pokes and prods too much with misguided protection?

It seems impossible to me, and probably to Mama Duck too, but the time is coming when we will let the ducklings wander a little farther from us.  And soon even out of our sight.  And soon even off to make a way of their own.  Will the Mama Duck rejoice as they waddle away?  Will she swell with anticipation and pride?  Will I? 

I hope so.  Because there is good reason.  Sara Groves’ song continues:

"For good reason hope is in our hearts… For good reason this joy is in our hearts…"

Letting go begins at birth.  It begins before birth when everything happening to the child is tucked away and hidden and there is no way to know if all is well.

For good reason I hope.  I have joy.  I relax.  This child is not mine alone.  It is an impossible task for me but it is not impossible.

What seems impossible to you?