Guys Holding Babies

 

“He’s just like his dad,” she said. “He loves to hold babies.”

 

She was describing my grandson, but a memory of my own dad flashed into my mind. He would stand at the back of the chapel, a baby cradled in his arm as he shook hands with folks leaving.  Even though he had carried around seven babies of his own, if there was a baby in the room, he delighted in holding it. 

I’m thankful to have grown up in a culture, in a community, in a family that valued, cherished and loved on babies.  I’m thankful now to be part of a community of friends who teach both their sons and daughters to hold their little siblings, to comfort them when they are distressed, to give of themselves to these little ones.  In fact, around our parts it is such a common blessing that it almost goes without notice.  

But I look. And I see. 

I see the Matthews and the Lukes and the Adams and the Dannys and the Steves and the Gabriels and the Michaels and the Nathans and the Jesses and the Micahs – all those older brothers who comfortably and naturally tote the little tots who are their sisters and brothers.

Because, you see, I was once the little baby who was held and cherished and protected.  I had my own Dave and Johnny and Jimmy and Danny who found joy in carrying me from the car to the house, who picked me up when I was too tired to trudge forward, whose arms went prickly dead while cradling my sleeping form through a church service. 

We often think of the nurturing of children as a strictly female occupation.  But there is a particular security in being noticed and graciously treated by a father, a grandpa, an uncle, a big brother. 

If I were evaluating a potential husband I would watch closely when he was around children.  Certainly there are different levels of ease depending on how much experience and time he has been around little ones.  But there is a general disposition which will come out.  And a friendly exchange, a playful banter between a three year old and that potential husband would melt my heart faster than a dozen roses or a box of chocolates any day of the year.


 
My beloved holding our second son after he cut the cord, etc.

It is such a joy to watch my son as a daddy; he’s one of the best!

My dad holding his firstborn.   JWH, October 3, 1922 – February 14, 1987

Intentional Television

The first 29 years of my life were lived without a television in the house.  As a teen-ager I didn’t miss TV, but I hated being weird; I was allergic to otherness.  One day in high school the teacher decided to do an on-the-spot survey of TV viewing habits.  One by one, she queried the class and students gave the hours watched the day before.  The usual replies were between two and four hours. I cringed as she came closer to calling on me.  Joe Fritz, the guy in front of me, had been sick the day before and figured he watched 8 1/2 hours. 

“Carol?” she droned.  “How much did you watch?”

I looked a little off to her left and said, “None.”

This threw her off her stride, but evidently interested her.  “Wait a minute. Were you not home yesterday?”

I bit the inside of my cheek.  “No. I was home.”

“Is your TV broke?”

“Um…no.”  [Please, please don’t make me admit I don’t have a TV]  With each question I slid a quarter of an inch lower in my seat.  I focused my attention on a spot on the floor.

“Well, how much did you watch the day before?”

Better face the music.  Big sigh. I looked up and admitted,  “None….we don’t have a TV.”

“You DON”T HAVE A TV?”  She searched for a diplomatic way to ask about our financial status.

“Carol, is there a reason your family doesn’t have a TV?”

“Yes there is.  My dad doesn’t want one.”

A similar conversation a few years ago made me laugh instead of cringe.  I was at my desk at the pharmacy where I work entering numbers on Excel.  There were two twenty-something co-workers in the office.  One is what my husband calls a Chatty Cathy.

“[celebrity’s name] had a baby girl yesterday.”

I kept working and replied, “Oh. Good.  [pause]  Is she one of our customers?”

Pepsi came spewing out of her mouth as she choked and said, “Carol. You don’t know who […] is?”

I paused and looked at her.  “Should I know who she is?”

The twenty-something intern jumped in.  “Don’t you watch Friends?”

“Well, I’ve seen a few minutes here and there, but I’ve never watched an entire episode.  I’m sorry, but I’m unfamiliar with […]”

The shock of it all disoriented them.  They shook their heads trying to process the wonder of it.  Giggles kept erupting from them over the next half hour. I chuckled, shrugged, smiled, and sat up straighter as I continued with my number crunching.

~          ~          ~         ~          ~           ~

This is not a screed against watching television. 

This is a rant against mindless viewing habits.

 Roseteacup’s comment “TV is a thief to be reckoned with” has been reverberating through my week.  After we got a TV, the pendulum swung and for a period our viewing diet was omnivorous.  We considered getting rid of the TV, but favored controlling it over chucking it.  We established (and re-established – you know how slippage happens) some household rules:

1.   The kids do not have open access to the TV.  They need permission to even turn it on.

2.   Watching TV during a meal is a rare exception.  There is something precious about eating around a table and talking to one another.  When the World Series is on, we’ll eat while watching the game in the living room.  It’s fun, but it’s not normal.

3.  The TV is never on for background noise.  The world is full of beautiful music to listen to.  Silence allows you to mull over ideas.  Serenity is nigh impossible with a TV on.

4.  People always trump programs.  When someone knocks on the door the TV goes off.  No. matter. what. We honor our visitor by listening and looking at them with our full attention.   When we talk on the phone we leave the room if the TV is on. 

5.  Decide the level of intake in advance.  When we’re tired, weary, bored, etc. the default response is not to turn the television on.  It grips, it sucks, it scoops you in – but it rarely satisfies.

We have found this to be a part of life which requires regular, systematic evaluation.  There are some great shows to watch.  But they don’t always remain great shows to watch.  Television is a medium which delivers some that is profitable and much that is wretched. Too many times I have watched a program that was substandard, but was too passive, too engaged (or is it disengaged?), to click Off.  When I go to a nursing home I notice the comatose habits of the residents in front of the box; I **so** don’t want that to be the way I live life at age 75. 

Thoughts?  Any yeahbuts? 

Things My Father Taught Me

Recently Donna  asked what our moms taught us.  It was easy for me to answer, but I could appreciate the awkwardness of those whose relationship with their mom was strained.   My own  relationship with my father was…….complicated.  I used to think I understood it, that I had made sense of the confusion.  But it inevitably comes down to a co-mingling of love and stubbornness, open and closed hearts, effort and apathy on both ends, mine and his.  When he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer it was time to clear the chess pieces off the board, to begin again, to affirm our love, to cry and say good-bye. 

Privately, secretly, I used to resist the notion that I was like my dad; there remains no doubt that I am my father’s daughter.  I acknowledge both the strengths and weaknesses I’ve received and am grateful for these lessons:

1.  To love the Word of God.  My father had an incredible mind and knew Scripture backwards and forwards.  We used to give him a verse and he would supply the reference (something BTW that I do horribly).  We would find obscure, really buried verses and he would tilt his head back, fix his gaze on some spot on the ceiling and work his way verbally to the verse: “Leviticus 10…no, 9, and, um, verse 22—somewhere between verses 20 and 25.”    He was right so often that when he missed we marked it on the calendar.  12 years after his death, I received his Bible.  It was falling apart, bits of papers tucked here and there.  Reading through it, reading the notes in his writing, gave me a view of his heart that healed my own heart more than I can tell.

2.  To play the piano by ear.   I can close my eyes and hear my father’s rendition of Jesus Loves Me full of diminished and augmented chords.  He influenced my playing more than anyone except Audrey St. Marie.  My favorite story: he was the speaker at a church conference.  For some reason the pianist was missing and he offered to play.  As he played the hymns by heart, he had his Greek New Testament open and was reviewing some verses before he spoke!

3.  To be frugal.   My father did the grocery shopping on his way home from work.  We called it the Suburban Safari: each day he took a different route home and stopped at grocery stores to pick up their loss-leader bargains.  When I was a young girl he taught me how to cut a whole chicken in pieces, feeling the leg joint before cutting.  For some odd reason, I also learned to save every grocery receipt.  My dear MIL finally convinced me that it was OK to discard the receipt.

4.  To rise to the need.   My dad taught at a very small Christian college.  His classes were notoriously difficult (i.e., Hebrew and Greek).  At times a subject needed to be taught and no teacher was available to do it.  More than once, he took on challenging assignments as a way of helping out.

5.  Books make the best gifts.   Every birthday and Christmas brought a special book.  I regret that I only have two of all the original Little House books that I received this way.  He enjoyed the best children’s books and passed that love to all his kids.  The finances were necessarily tight, but there was always money for music and books.

6.  To always be prepared.   When you hear that phrase you may think of a Boy Scout with a Leatherman tool on his belt.  To me it means never, NEVER, go anywhere without a book to read.  One never knows what delays may come up and one must be prepared!

7.  Meet grief with few words.   It’s always hard to know what to say when a tragedy strikes.  Sometimes the best thing is nothing at all. One time a colleague at the college lost a young child.  This colleague told me how comforting my father’s visit was.  My dad came and sat with him for the evening.  He never said one word. 

For years I struggled with the whys and wherefores of our difficulties.  I can say with honesty that it doesn’t matter anymore.  Maybe I’ve learned to trust God with the details and to let it go. 

Memories


I had two trips down memory lane this weekend.  I was cleaning my desk and came across this picture in the most unexpected place.  Here is my mom holding me with my six siblings, taken around 1959 (?).  Doesn’t everyone look happy?  Except me!  My brother the tenor, BTW, has his tongue out!  When I see this picture, I have so much admiration for my mom.  My dad was hired to teach at a college in Illinois but there was no money to move the family from Michigan.  So he stayed at the school during the week and came home on weekends.  He worked all day Saturday repairing broken items, preached a sermon on Sunday and then returned to Oak Park. What they had hoped would be a short-term solution turned into a couple of years.  Can you imagine raising seven kids by yourself?  Mom was resourceful, capable, and, above all, cheerful.  And in the midst of these cares she had a vibrant ministry to many other women.

The second memory trip was related.  My sister just returned from vacation in Florida with my aunt and uncle.  She called Saturday to tell me about it.  After the news and updates she mentioned that my aunt had told her a new story about….me!  I had not heard this story and I have no recollection of it.  My mom died suddenly when I was 10.  When I saw her body in the casket I am reported to have said, “That’s not my mom.  My mom is in heaven.”  My aunt stored that comment away and just recently shared that.

I don’t remember this, but it triggered many thoughts.  When someone close to you dies, the clear memories you had become fuzzy and most of them dissipate into thin air.   That’s why photos and stories from others are so precious.  They are a way to sharpen some of the fuzzy edges, one moment of clarity. Decades after she passed, I am still so thirsty to hear stories about Mom, to know her better than I do.  What remains are vague but solid impressions.  The smell of coffee on her breath.  The smiles we exchanged, looking up from reading.  The sound of her humming while she worked.  The exasperation in her words, surveying another mess. And knowledge that resides deep in my bones.  I know without a doubt that she loved me.  I know that she wholeheartedly trusted God.  I know that she is in heaven with Christ.  These are good memories.

Sweet Girl

Our pastor’s youngest daughter is a delightful girl.  She is loved abundantly and loves freely.  Yesterday I was in the back emptying the offering box when she came up to me and gave me a hug.  And then another hug.  I squatted down so we could look eye and eye for a little chat.  Eventually this 4yr old (?) wanted to know what I was doing.

“I’m putting the money away.  Would you like to help?” 

I had left the zippered bank pouch up front with my things but I found a plain white envelope.  I put the currency and checks in the envelope and let my young friend put all the coin in it.  We closed the box and, with both hands, she carried it over to the closet where we put the offering box away.  From there she walked, holding my hand on one side and the envelope on the other, to the front.  We passed her mom, who was conversing with people and never saw us.

“Look, Mom, I’m helping!” her little voice chirped as she lifted the envelope over her head.  It really didn’t faze her that there was no response.  Then she shared her wisdom with me. 

“My mom helps EVVVrybody.” 

“I believe you.”

We came to my pile and I opened the zippered bank pouch for her.  She placed her white envelope in it and I could tell the wheels were turning. 

“Why do you do this?” she wanted to know.

I showed her the bank logo on the side and explained that I would put this money into the bank.

“Why do you do that?” she pressed.

My mind whizzed as I tried to come up with an understandable explanation.  Bingo!

“We use the money to pay the pastor.”

She sucked her breath in audibly. “Oh!!  MY daddy’s a pastor!”  I just nodded and smiled.

And she was off, ready to move on.  That brief encounter with joy, wonder, curiosity, and enthusiasm was one of the highlights of my day. 

Oops!

 

When Carson was in third grade his class did the Wizard of Oz as a play.  Carson was cast as a munchkin.  I was 35 and had never seen the movie. I don’t know why I didn’t rent the video and do a little research…   In my mind a munchkin sounded like a dwarf.  So I dressed Carson with big, baggy clothes stuffed with pillows to give the impression of short and chunky. 

When the kids came out on the stage I had my first hot flash!  OhmygoshIwassoooooembarassed!   Carson is nothing if he isn’t resilient and he weathered all the laughter and teasing without once reproaching me. 

Songs From My Youth


Here are two songs I sang growing up.  They weave together well if you play them in the same key.  Hum them and make strong and what the same note. See what you think…  Which child do you think is me?

Jesus loves me this I know

For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to Him belong,

They are weak but He is strong.

What can wash away my sin?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

What can make me whole again?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Yes, Jesus loves me!

Yes, Jesus loves me!

Yes, Jesus loves me!

The Bible tells me so.

Oh, precious is the flow

That makes me white as snow.

No other fount I know,

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

 

The Snake Story

We all have different memories of this classic family story.  Something like this happened.

We all went camping in October and the Daddy and the Grandpa were deer hunting.  Christopher (that’s what we called him back then) was 5 and Carson was 3.  One afternoon I took the boys on a walk down a dirt road near camp.  The sun was warm and life was fair.  We discovered that a snake was also enjoying the sunshine on the road ahead of us.  Christopher bolted and ran back about 50 yards.  I stayed put and was semi-paralyzed.  Carson picked up a stick, charged forward and started to hit the snake.  I think he persuaded the snake to leave the road and go into some bushes.  Did he kill the snake?  I can’t remember.  I don’t think the snake was a threat, he seemed to be sleeping.

  

 

I feel like I’d better fulfill my promise to give y’all a story.  About Carson.  My sand-paper child whom I dearly love.  The first 11 months of his life he was just about the happiest thing you ever knew.  We quipped about how he knew how to be content whatever the circumstances.  He still has that quality and knows how to make the best of a situation.  He’s a good shrugger.

So, funny story #1:  We were visiting relatives in San Diego in 1987.  It was Christmas time, we’d been in several different homes.  Road weariness was descending upon us all.  One evening Carson blew a gasket.  I took him back into a bedroom and we had a “talk”.  Carson’s eyes were shining fiercely and intensely. Three years old, he announced, “I’m serious at you.”  Trying to keep a smile off my face, I asked him to repeat what he said.  “I’m SERIOUS at you.”  Well.  Obviously, there was a gap somewhere.  “Are you seriously angry, Carson?”  “Yeh, I’m SERIOUS.”  Oh-kaaay.

It took a while for me to make the connection.  He was mimicking me!!  Whenever I gave a command that was reeeeeally important I would annex it with the little phrase, “..and I’m serious.”  His little mind saw my face and translated that word in a way that made sense…anger.  It’s incredibly humbling to see your sins manifest in your children.  Lord, have mercy.