Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Words Have Tempers

In the book Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, Alice has a conversation with Humpty Dumpty about words.
“When I use a word,” says Humpty Dumpty, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
Alice replies, “The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” Humpty contradicts her, “which is to be master—that’s all.” Then he goes on to tell her that some words have tempers, and verbs are the proudest.

I think we can learn a lot from Alice’s interaction with Humpty Dumpty. How often do we speak without thinking? And although we’d like to think so, words don’t always mean just what we choose them to mean. Sometimes a word may mean one thing to me and something else entirely to the person I’m speaking to. And that’s where we get into trouble, because words do indeed have tempers, and they aren’t the only ones. People are very like those words Humpty Dumpty was talking about. And words aren’t the only ones who are proud either, are they? Sometimes we say something stupid or hurtful, and we know it, but we don’t want to admit it because we are too proud, so then we say more stupid things trying to cover up the fact that we are wrong.

It’s very similar, in fact to the passage in the book of James where he talks about the tongue. He says, “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the image of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?” (James 3:5-11)

In some ways, Alice and Humpty Dumpty are both right, and the question is both whether you can make words mean so many different things, and which is to be master. We can’t always make words mean just what we choose them to mean. Words tend to take on a life of their own. But, if we can’t control their meaning, we can still control who is master: us, or the words we say? Will we let our tongues go free and set a destroying fire to our lives, or will we quench it?

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Perfect Conversation

I was sitting in the living room on the chaise sewing a pillow. Izzy came over to me, saying, “Ma ma, after you’re done sewing…” he trailed off and ambled over to the other side of me.
“After you’re done sewing…” he said again. “When you’re done sewing.”
“When I’m done sewing, then what?”
“What should I do when I’m done?”
“After you’re done sewing…”
“Then what? What should Mommy do?”
“Yeah!” A pause. “When you’re done sewing…”
“After I’m done, what should I do?” I repeated.
“You’re sewing, ma ma.”

Once again, a conversation with Izzy has led to a dead end.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fantasy (as in Literature)

As it was not my intention to only write about my children, and because Aaron recently said something like, “Quit writing about the kids. I‘m sick of it. Write about something else,” I am going to divert the subject to something else entirely this time.

I have recently begun to read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. I have, of course, seen the old Disney cartoon, but I’ve never read the book before. In the particular copy that I am reading there is an introduction by some guy named Martin Gardner, who is apparently a science writer who wrote a column called “Mathematical Games”, which seems odd except apparently Lewis Carroll was a mathematical lecturer at a college in Oxford. So I guess that’s the connection.

A lot of times I don’t even read the introduction, but occasionally I get in the mood to read the entire book from cover to cover, even the introduction and whatever else might be there. This was one of those times, and I’m glad because he had a lot to say in defense of fantasy, which is one of my favorite genres.

He mentioned first that “Many adults dislike fantasy, preferring fiction about the real world.” And then he went on to point out that in spite of this, many literary classics are, in fact, works of fantasy. Such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Goethe’s Faust, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, to name a few. He mentions that “scores of fantasy novels have outlasted myriads of once admired works of realism.” Among children’s stories, the majority of classics are fantasies. A few more well known are Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, The Chronicles of Narnia, and of course, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Not to mention that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are some of the most popular right now.

Gardner also quoted G.K. Chesterton, who said “that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward; but that everlasting fiction about modern life is in it’s nature essentially incredible. Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is—what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world? The problem of the modern novel is—what will a madman do with a dull world? In the fairy tale the cosmos goes mad; but the hero does not go mad. In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos.”

When I think of a madman in a dull world, I think of the narrator in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. There you have a very ordinary world, a very ordinary situation. Except. The man has some sort of disease which has caused him to go mad and fixate on the eye of the old man he takes care of, driving him to murder him and hide the body, only to give himself away when he imagines he can hear the old man’s heart beating under the floor boards and giving him away. That’s just scary.

When I think of a “healthy man in a fantastic world”, I think of the Pevensie children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. They are thrust into a frightening situation, where myths and fairy tales are real, and animals can talk, and the world has been stuck in winter for 100 years or something. Yet, they overcome obstacles, become heroes, fulfill their destinies, and also manage to remain in their right minds. That’s encouraging. And hopeful, too, I think, to believe that there is a purpose.

For me personally, fantasy reminds me that there is more than what I can see. It points me toward the spiritual realm, reminds me that we aren’t just living on a planet spinning through the universe with no rhyme or reason. There is a God, and He has orchestrated everything down to the finest detail. Even when something doesn’t make sense to us, it’s part of His Grand Scheme.

Or, as Mel Gibson’s character in the movie Signs asks, “Is it possible, there are no coincidences?”

I think so.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

“Getting Fancy With the Spices”

The way the layout of our house is setup, you go through the kitchen to get to the back yard. My children have managed to take much advantage of this in the last few days. The problem is that if I am in another room besides the kitchen or the dining room, I don’t have a direct line of sight on them. And in those moments, when I am anywhere else, which I often am, they like to take things outside that shouldn’t go outside.

It was very quiet in the house, and the boys had been playing in the backyard for a while. When boys are happily playing for a long time, it usually means they are doing something they shouldn’t be doing. When I went outside, what I found did not make me happy. They had taken my salt, pepper, paprika and a couple of Mrs. Dash spice blends and dumped them all out in the dirt. The majority of them of them I had purchased recently and were mostly full. I cannot even say how angry I was.

I might not have been so angry, if I felt that Malachi had any remorse whatsoever. But he seemed very indifferent to the whole situation. Aaron helped him with that by taking one of his toys and throwing it to the neighbor’s dogs so he could understand how it felt to have something taken away.

All I could think of was that line in the movie Ratatouille when Linguini says to Remy, the rat/chef, “You were the one gettin’ fancy with the spices!” I hoped that it wouldn’t happen again.

This morning, Malachi went to the store with Aaron, and I was here with Izzy and Simeon. Izzy was outside and I was on the computer. Very soon, he came to me with an empty egg carton. I wanted to believe that he had gotten it out of the trash and it had already been empty. Unfortunately, that wasn’t so. If I wondered where the eggs had gone, I got my first clue when he mentioned his backpack. And then, the mystery was dissolved when he came dragging his Elmo backpack into the movie room. I looked inside, and sure enough, there are eggs in there. There are also eggs all over the floor of the back porch. Sigh. I go through all the eggs, throwing away all the broken and cracked ones, about eight or so. I wash off the ones that are still okay. There’s three. I clean up the eggs that are in a puddle on the floor. I give Izzy a spanking, though he doesn’t seem to think he deserves one. I feel strangely emotionless. I am not angry. I am resigned. Is this a bad sign? I’m not sure.

Thinking about it later, I began to wonder what they might take next. Maybe tomorrow they will dump out all my flour. Or the sugar. Who knows? Then I think, with all those ingredients, maybe they’ll bring me back a cake. Wouldn’t that be nice.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

At the Park

A few weeks ago I was feeling optimistic and decided to take the boys to the park. Now, normally, I try to never go to the park alone, and you'll soon see why. I got them all into the van, I had food for lunch, and I brought their skateboards and trike along. We were all set.

We got to the the park and I set myself up in the shade of the building where the restrooms are, with a good view of where they could or would be playing. It was a beautiful day, and things were going great. Then as I looked over to where the boys were playing on the playground, I heard Malachi say, "Izzy, give me the knife!" I looked, and sure enough, Izzy had a knife in his hand! My first thought was, "Oh my gosh--somebody left a knife at the park!" Then as I looked closer, I saw that Malachi had a knife as well, and it was exactly the same as the one Izzy had. That was when I realized that they must be our steak knives from home. I suspected that Malachi had smuggled them in the seat of his plastic trike. "That little booger," I thought. I ran over to them. Malachi saw me coming and knew he was in trouble, so he started pedaling furiously to make his escape. Thankfully, I am still a little faster than a four year old on a plastic tricycle, and I caught him. I removed him from the seat and lifted it up to see the evidence. He had like five steak knives in there! I was so mad. I recovered the knives, and put them in a safe place.

After that was resolved, not fifteen minuted had gone by before Malachi came to me with a handful of those little flags that stick in the grass to mark something. "Go put them back where you got them," I told him. Off he scampered, only to return bleeding when he somehow managed to stab himself in the big toe with one of them. I had no band-aids or ointment or anything like that with me, of course. But I did manage to find some gauze and tied it around his toe so he could keep playing.

By that time, Simeon had gotten hungry, so I got him out of the stroller to feed him. While I was doing that, Malachi decided he wanted to get his skateboard out of the van. I had left it unlocked, and he knows how to open the door by himself, so I let him go and get it. Unfortunately Izzy followed him and proceeded to get into the front seat of the van, pull out all of our CDs, and scatter them. As if that didn't worry me enough, Malachi then shut him in the van by himself. It wasn't a hot day, but it was warm enough that I knew he shouldn't be in there too long.
It was time to go.

Days like that make a great story later, but at the time it was very frustrating. At the time, three kids seemed like a lot. I have heard if you can handle three, you can handle any amount after that. I try to comfort myself with that, except I think it remains to be seen whether I can handle three or not. Just because I have avoided losing my mind so far doesn't mean I won't lose it later. Or tomorrow. Or right now perhaps? Sometimes it feels that way, like I'm right on the edge of sanity. Well, who wouldn't feel that way, with children screaming all around them at an unnatural pitch because someone took their book, or their toy, or their rock?

But I remind myself that someday it will all be worth it. Some day, when I am an old woman, none of this will matter. I won't care how close together my children were born. All the screaming, and the smuggling of steak knives, and the dirt, and the destruction of Cd's will just
be funny memories. All of the hard work now, the struggle, will fade away. It will be worth it.

To Izzy: "Do you want it on or off?"
Izzy: "Yes!"

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Toddler's Mind Works in Mysterious Ways

Yesterday I woke up not feeling so good. I felt tired (no surprise there) and achy (definitely not normal). Malachi was the only kid up, so I put on a movie and attempted to sleep in the papason chair we have in our movie room. Then I tried to sleep on the loveseat. Then I tried to lay on the floor. Nothing was working. I felt uncomfortable just being alive at that point, which is a pretty miserable way to feel. Finally, I took three ibuprofen and I was able to doze on the loveseat. Malachi was a good boy, and pretty much left me alone cuz he knew Mommy wasn’t feeling good.

It really would have been wonderful if I could have taken a sick day. But moms don’t get sick days, so I had to settle for being thankful that we have a backyard and that the boys were inclined to play outside.

They had been outside for a while, and I decided I should probably check on them and make sure they were having fun, but not too much fun, which might include killing each other. I peeked out the windows of our back porch to see Malachi throwing dirt in Izzy’s hair and pushing him. Izzy actually seemed fairly okay with this until I called out the window, “Malachi! Don’t throw dirt on Izzy, and don’t push him!” As soon as he heard my voice he came running and crying and he needed a drink and he wanted to watch a movie and he didn’t want to play outside. And I was thinking shoot! because I wanted them both to keep playing outside so I could rest. I got Izzy his drink, and then Chi came in and was upset because he wanted Izzy to come back outside and play with him. I began to try to explain to him that if he’s going to throw dirt at Izzy and push him, Izzy won’t want to play with him and that Izzy wanted to stay inside now because of that. He didn’t like that, and of course expected me to fix the situation. Ordinarily, I might have just let it go, but since I wasn’t feeling good and I too wanted Izzy to go back outside, I tried persuading him. That went something like this.

“Izzy, Malachi wants you to go out and play with him,” I say.
“No, I don’t want to,” he says in a whiny voice.
“Are you sure? Don’t you want to go play with him?”
“I don’t want to!” He’s a bit more adamant this time.
“Izzy, Malachi wants you to play with him, he misses you,” I tell him.
“I wanna watch a movie!” This is funny, because he doesn’t really watch movies, he just glances at them while he does other things.
“Izzy, Malachi will be sad if you don’t go outside.” How do I explain this in two year old terms? “You’ll give his heart an owie.”
To this, he replies, “But, I didn’t pinch him!”
I laughed and gave up trying to reason with him.

(After that, I did manage to get them both back outside using many tactical maneuvers, which included blankies and snacks.)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Not the Only One

Anne Lamott said in her book Bird by Bird, "Toddlers can make you feel as if you have violated some archaic law in their personal koran and you should die, infidel."That is pretty much how I feel most of the time. But there are usually a few shining moments in every day that make it all worth it.

One moment I will never forget happened a few weeks ago. We were getting the boys ready to go somewhere one evening, and I had had a really hard day with them that day. I had knelt down to help Malachi with shoes or something similar, and Izzy walked up to me, smiling his sunshine smile, like he had a delightful secret. He put his little chubby hands on my cheeks and said, “Mommy, you bright!” And the way he said it, I felt like it was the best compliment I have ever received. Especially because at that moment, I didn’t feel very bright. I feel more like a shriveled banana peel or a storm cloud.

Those moments are really important. As a stay at home mom, sometimes I feel like life is pretty monotonous. It’s not very exciting, I don’t get paid for it, and my children seem to scream an awful lot. At me. Every day. It can be wearing.

One of my teachers at Christ for the Nations, the Bible College where Aaron and I met, used to say, “Surviving can drop dead! I want to thrive, not just survive!” But most of the time, I feel like I am definitely more surviving than thriving.

Some days I am not sure my kids will live to adulthood. Other days I am sure they will, but I question whether I will still be sane when they do.

But I take courage, knowing that I am not the only one. I am not the only one who is going through this right now. I’m not the only mom who feels exhausted at the end of the day.

Sometimes when I’ve had an especially difficult day, and I feel like a terrible mother, I think how unfair it is. It is unfair that if Aaron had a job that he felt he just wasn’t at all good at and it wasn’t working, he could quit and do something else. But you don’t get to quit being a mom. Even if you really are a bad mom, quitting would make you a worse mom, not a better one. So you just have to keep going, and trust that one day, you’ll see some fruit from these little “plants” that you’ve put so much of your life into growing. I look forward to that day.

And I know, I’m not the only one.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Here We Go

How do I begin? Where do I begin? I meant to start this blog the day after my third son was born. I thought it would be interesting to write about the challenges and craziness and chaos...oh yeah, and the joy...of being a mother of three. That was five months ago. But, better late than never, right?

My kids are Malachi, Israel, and Simeon, whose ages are four, two and five months. They are wild and sweet and willful and wonderful and covered in dirt...well, all except the little one. They are boys. I love them. I try to remind myself of that when they sneak cookies out to the backyard, or throw Cheerios all over the floor deliberately, or when they shriek at an unnatural pitch when I tell them 'no' about anything. It's an adventure. And I'm going to let you in on it.

Here we go....