Monday, August 16, 2010

Time Out, Spaghetti, and Baby Jesus

A couple of years ago when our oldest two kids were toddlers, their Gram, who had been a preschool teacher in a previous life, thrilled the kids with a sweet Christmas craft. Using Quaker oatmeal containers (and don't all good preschool crafts begin with Quaker oatmeal containers?), they created little mangers for Baby Jesus, filled them with straw, and placed a perfectly-sized baby inside. Little Davis and Zoe had a wonderful season of playing with the baby Jesus and his cozy manger.

When, sadly, it was time to put away the Christmas decorations, I carefully wrapped and packed the mangers for use the following year. The baby Jesus? He stayed in circulation, a decision I have come to regret.

In the years that have followed, "Baby Jesus" (for he retains his name despite his lack of contextual manger), has become fully engaged in the life of the Kirk family babies. And may I digress here to inform the patient reader (hi, Mom!) that our gaggle of babies includes the unfortunately named "Mafen" and "Spaghetti." I'm highly concerned about the nomenclature of my future grandchildren. But more on that another time.

So, Baby Jesus being an integrated member of the Tribe of Babies, I regularly hear comments such as, "Mom! Look at Baby Jesus doing a cartwheel!" or "Mom! I just dropped baby Jesus in the sink!" or "Mom, Baby Jesus and Mafen are having a cage fight. I think Baby Jesus is totally going to take her."

Humorous, yes, but in that uncomfortable even-though-the-DaVinci-code-was-sort-of-an-entertaining-book-I-don't-think-Baby-Jesus-should-be-marrying-Spaghetti kind of way. If you know what I mean.

Next topic. Emma Kate. She's two, almost three, and boy, has she had a summer. In the span of 14 days, she potty trained, moved into a big girl bed, and gave up her pacifier. The trifecta of change. When a girl can no longer pee in her pants, sleep in a cage, or suck on a binkie, she's got to do something to express her feelings, so express she has.

But wait, there's more. Bye-bye nap. Take two hours of sleep from her life, add exhaustion to the miasma...well, let's just say we have considered some lovely boarding schools for toddlers.

We, being enlightened and veteran parents, have recognized the stress of transition and exercised additional patience with her, at least in our best moments. (Our best moments occur at least once a week. We're good like that.) Despite our sympathies, within appropriate developmental limits, she is expected to obey her parents. It's hard. We know that. She would rather not. We know that, too, and even identify. But, believing it is in her best interest to develop this skill, we have held her to the standard.

Thus, she's spent about 1/3 of her waking hours in time-out, carefully and deeply considering, (even though may look to the untrained eye like she's just yelling her head off) ye olde fifth commandment about honoring her parents so that she may live long. I really like that last part.

Now, our dear girl is a non-stop talker. As the summer has worn on, her primary topic of endless one-way conversation to to all those under her domain: the importance of obedience. There aren't many that fit the category of "under her domain", but if you do, chances are that you, too, have been relegated to time-out on the bottom step recently. Today, the pool toys were all given firm discipline and were sent to the pool-equivalent of the "bottom step of doom." (We don't really call it that. "Hell" has a much zippier ring to it.) Fascinating stuff as a parent, to see your words and actions reenacted and directed to the pool noodles and plastic sharks.

It has actually been encouraging and amazing to watch her begin to process this obligation she has to obedience. In the midst of this, be not concerned. We delight in her and laugh with her and read to herand play with her. She is joyful and chatty as ever, fearless as she jumps off the diving board, overjoyed to be a ballet student in her sister's "class", curly blond hair now long enough for a little ponytail, endlessly playing CDs, singing songs, and doing the hand "lotions." So she's a happy, loved girl. She's learning.

Now for the moment you've all been waiting for, the magical moment when I bring these diverse threads together. It happened this evening as we were preparing for a quick errand, the whole family to pile in the car for an exciting ride to the auto repair shop. All of the children had chosen a companion for the car ride. Davis had his Chickie, Zoe had her Mafen. Emma Kate was in a tight spot. She had a recalcitrant subject to deal with.

Finally she announced, "Well, Baby Jesus obeyed me so now he is allowed to go for a ride in the car."

Lighting flashed. I'm thinking Baby Jesus better get back to the manger, and on the double.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Something for a Song

They've asked me to write them a poem, my boys have. In four-four time. And it will not, in fact, be so much of a poem as it will be song lyrics, lyrics written for the music they have already written during one of their music sessions in the basement.

They are on their instruments a lot lately: Will on the guitar (acoustic or electric) and Everett on the drums. Will plays even more frequently, as he broke his ankle five weeks ago and so has missed baseball season (well, he played in two games) and can't (for the time-being) juggle his soccer ball. Everett's visits to the drum set are more dutiful, but he's broken through a barrier of some kind. His teacher reports being consistently impressed by our guy, who is inventing new rhythms (imagine!) and Really Enjoying Himself.

And now they've written a song. At least one, maybe more. I don't know how many, in truth.

But they need lyrics, so they've asked me.

I've given it some thought, of course. My writing has fallen off in recent weeks: my bi-weekly visits to the Larger Project, visits which have sometimes rendered as many as 1000+ words and other times fewer than 200, have been almost non-existent in this last month; and the month ahead, which includes end-of-school activities and the senior trip to NYC and honors project symposiums, not to mention countless papers to grade, doesn't seem to offer much in the way of writing time. June, I tell myself. June is the month for me.

But a poem can't be that hard, right? Poems are short. Easy. Ha. Well, I've tried my hand at poetry, at stripping away my language to its essential roots, at finding the word that encapsulates and crystallizes, the mot juste, as my dear old writing professor would say.

Writing poetry-- good poetry-- is Very Difficult Indeed.

Still, I have thought about it. And what comes? Bill's hands, resting for an unnecessary moment on my shoulders just after he's tied or buttoned something for me. My back is to him and I am knowing his hands there for just a moment before I am tearing myself away, racing through breakfast and out the door for another day at school. What comes is Emma Grace stretching, her face contorting in that wrenching twist that means drawing her out of sleep. I am sitting on her bed, talking softly to her, trying to wake her into another day, and I am thinking-- as she subconsciously draws the back of her hand across her face-- that she woke just like this when she was a baby. What comes is Everett on the new swings in our backyard, going there voluntarily before and after dinner, trying with his feet to reach the newborn leaves that dangle before and behind him. What comes is the leaves themselves, newborn, that make that sound when the wind comes.

Can I make that into a poem, do you think? And can that poem be song lyrics? And would those be words sung by adolescent or nearly adolescent boys?

Friday, April 23, 2010

On the Edge of the Crowd

The boys and I attended Transportation Day this morning. It's an event put on by a local church preschool, and involves a parking lot full of every kind of vehicle imaginable, as well as some of the heroes who drive them (garbage truck drivers, policeman, school bus drivers, etc.). A number of my mom friends invited us and I was sure that Evan, my two and a half year old, would absolutely love it.

And, he very likely did. But, his method of enjoying the day was so vastly different than most of the other children there. The other boys and girls clambered over each other trying to get in and out of the different cars and trucks. They were allowed to start the siren on the police motorcycles and to make the stop sign move on the school bus. High times for little people!

Evan stood, stock still and silent, in the middle of the parking lot. His head swiveled slowly and he studied each vehicle in turn. His hand never left mine. I tried several times to prompt him into a closer inspection, but he shook his head 'no' each time and continued to watch. (Christopher, my center-of-the-action baby, was in the carrier on my chest and squirming madly to get out and crawl in the direction of the shiny lights.)

After an appropriate observation period, Evan agreed to walk to the playground next to the church. Once there, we stood still at the edge and watched. (Lest you think my child never gets out, I can assure you that while a parking lot full of trucks, buses and automobiles might be novel to him, a playground is surely not.) Evan held my hand firmly and watched. And watched and watched. After ten minutes of watching, I was able to gently coax him toward a bouncing plastic horse and from there to the slide. From then on, he melted into the crowd of preschoolers with no reservation.

But, as I stood and watched him from the edge of the playground I reflected on how much he is like me, and how I have so carefully disguised this part of myself. The fact is, I am a very shy person. My husband didn't believe this for the first couple of years he knew me. I have worked hard to overcome my inherent fear of new situations and new people. When I was working, my job revolved around being outgoing. Personally, I meet new people frequently and enjoy our conversations. But, in my heart of hearts, I would much rather stand in the center of the crowd silently and take it all in, or linger on the edges until I am comfortable.

Having grown through this metamorphosis I have no qualms about Evan's always-slow warm-up period, or his frequent wish to observe new things from a distance. I am respectful of his need to enjoy things in his own way and at his own pace.

While I was watching Evan, several of the moms I knew spotted Christopher and me, and we all chatted comfortably for a few minutes. Piled back in the minivan and headed home for lunch, it occurred to me that while I had loved seeing them, I was also secretly grateful for the quiet minutes I was able to spend holding my little boy's hand and taking it all in. And grateful to see a secret part of myself in him.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Date Night

Flashback. Same mall parking lot, same time of year, same red-haired, blue-eyed boy. Date night with Mama. That time he was three or so, and the date was just a run to the mall for ice cream on a glorious spring evening. As we walked hand-in-pudgy-little-hand through the parking lot, I observed aloud, "Oh, Davis. Isn't it a beautiful evening? The air is warm, the sun is just going down..." "Yes," he agreed, and then he added in a wistful voice, clearly absorbing the spirit of my thoughts, "and cars and trucks..." My dear little guy was as entranced with the parking lot full of shiny metal vehicles as with the warm air and the birds overhead, and it was a delight to be with him then.

And tonight. Now is a lanky six year old boy. Same gorgeous red hair and beautiful blue eyes. His hands are no longer pudgy in the least, but I hold one in the parking lot nonetheless. It's not really necessary anymore, but I'm not telling. Tonight, date night for the two of us involved a game of tennis followed by shopping for summer Crocs, a visit to the bookstore where he talked me, rather easily, into a new chapter book, and then, finally, the ice cream. Over the course of the evening we have happily chased tennis balls, many of which he hit rather impressively, and talked in the car about how everybody sometimes feels self-conscious and debated the merits of red versus orange crocs, deliberated long and hard about which book to buy and which ones might be too scary, and then decided together that the gummy bear topping would go best on strawberry ice cream, not the chocolate. It's a sweet time with my boy yet again. As the evening ends, we find ourselves in the parking lot, crowded with shiny metal vehicles. It is again a lovely spring evening, but this time it is Davis, my observant boy, who looks up and gasps. "Oh, Mama. Look at that sunset." And I do look at the sunset, and I'm so glad for those gorgeous colors in the evening sky. Really, though, what makes me even gladder than the sunset and the warm air and all the shiny vehicles for miles around is the strong and growing hand still holding mine.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Effects of the Eighties

We were in the car on the way to school, listening to Mute Math's latest (Armistice. Have you heard it? If you haven't, you should get it. It kicks our corporate boutakis over here at the Stevenson house), and I was dancing, as any normal commuting mother should when listening to Mute Math's latest offering on her way to work.

It's tricky to dance in the car, but it can be done. It is trickier still to dance while driving but, yes, I can do it. Mostly with my head.

Which is why Emma Grace pipes up and says, "Mom, how can you do that thing with your head?"

And I'm thinking-- as anyone does who is dancing in the moment and so therefore is not really aware of How or even What one is doing but is just aware that one Must Do-- I'm thinking, "I don't know," and suddenly I'm wondering what I was doing with my head and maybe beginning to come up with an answer when Everett makes answer for me, his voice sounding above the volume of the song,

"Emma, Mom was around in the eighties. She knows how to do things like that."

And I really don't know what that means. No Idea.

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Little Scientist

Sam left a couple of Bibles at church accidentally this weekend. When I asked him if he had managed to recover them, he said yes; they were right were he had left them.

"That's the nice thing about having our own building," I replied. [Until this fall, our church didn't have its own building but rented a school. You never knew where--or if--you'd find something left behind.]

Luke chimed in right behind me. "That's the nice thing about gravity. When you put your books down, they stay right there instead of floating around in space."

Friday, February 12, 2010


I took the couch cushion outside to shake out all the graham cracker crumbs from a certain four-year-old's snack, saying "You're such a little mess-maker!"

I came back inside, replaced the cushion, and my sweet son said, "I'm the mess maker but you're the mess clean it upper."

Nail on the head, little boy.