Tuesday, January 3, 2012

For Posterity's Sake: Week (Humor Me) in Review 123

Well, crap. Audrey said something funny last night, but dinner was being brought to the table and I forgot to write it down. I remember Jason and I laughing and exchanging glances in a we-must-control-ourselves sort of way, which leads me to believe she attempted to say something quite grown-up, quite wrong. Now, the moment has passed me by.

I have begun this post several times, but in an attempt to not let Christmas, or Jason's vacation, pass me by, I've yet to get it all down. Now, back to an ordinary Tuesday, I feel a heft upon me that I imagine the local librarians must feel after returning from Christmas break to find the return chute jammed and the book carts teeming. The awaiting material is immense and Dewey hasn't laid my groundwork. So let's get down to the stacks, so we can move on at a more reasonable clip, shall we? The post, how it began the first time:

This summer, Jason grew red chili peppers. He mentioned drying them. After noting how they were strung from the doorways of shops in Rome, I came home, threaded a needle through the stems of our crop, and dangled the spicy necklace from a hook I attached to the window frame above the kitchen sink. Audrey told me it was cool.

Yesterday, she nearly smacked into me, breathless. "Mom, the peppers are ruined! You let them get ruined."

"Is that what Dad said?" I asked.

"No," she said. "You know how my sheets get wrinkled and I have to fix them and make my bed?" I nodded, confused. "The peppers are like my sheets. They're wrinkled. They aren't good anymore. You let them get wrinkled."

I should have told her the peppers were okay. I meant to. I might have. I don't remember. What I do remember are images of one of the strangest metaphors I've ever heard turning themselves over in my mind: shriveled red chili peppers and a little girl's wrinkled lavender sheets.

I remembered those two non-like things clumped together later as I dashed off to run errands. The last of the Thanksgiving dishes were finally washed and stowed, the holiday (and Jason's vacation days) were coming to a close, and I couldn't help but think ahead. If a to-do list could make a person itch, mine was crawling with bugs. Jason said he'd take the older kids to the neighborhood playground if I took Jack with me to run errands. I agreed. I packaged a gift for delivery, wrote a card, slipped a hat and blanket on a sleeping Jack, and restocked the diaper bag. By the time I pulled out of the driveway, Jason was waving to me from the backyard, just back from the playground. My cell rang five minutes later. "You forgot something important," he said. I checked my loaded passenger seat: package to be mailed, gift to be dropped off at a friend's, bags for grocery shopping, coupons.

"What did I forget?" I asked.
"Jack. He's in his car seat on the floor."

Sometimes, the holidays are like that: a juxtaposition of objects that don't go together - time meant for family and a to-do list that leaves them behind, even when I don't intend to.

I pulled into my subdivision two-and-a-half hours later, greeted by the newly strung Christmas lights of my neighbors. My first thought was that hanging lights might not get crossed off the list this year. But as I watched the lights play across their new landscape, I thought of the first lights: torches and lanterns used to guide one's steps, allowing a person to see clearly only what was before him. The narrow scope of those first lights would have forced the bearer to focus only on those objects directly in front of him - a fact I couldn't help but recall as I lit the candle that sits in the middle of our kitchen table and sat down with my family for dinner, focusing on those illuminated before me.

Our moments from the last two months:

Every child-rearing adult has their own method for convincing the kids around their dinner table to finish the food on their plates. My mother liked to employ the "eat three more bites" technique. At my neighbor's house, we strove to be members of the "clean plate club." Jason uses a tactic I call storytelling. One night, he tried to convince Audrey to eat her corn by informing her that if she ate it, she would see it again the next morning. She cleaned her plate. The next morning she walked out of the bathroom clearly disappointed by her lack of performance. "I wanted to see that corn!" she said.

Last week, she was asking Jason questions about Aladdin at dinner. "Why did he have to steal to eat?" she asked.

"Sometimes, kids don't eat all their pizza and talk through dinner, instead, so their parents kick them out on the street and they have to find their own food," he said.

"Oh. That's weird," she said. "So, how did he live without his parents?"

"He was raised by the monkey."

"Why did the genius (genie) make the tower fall down?" she asked.

"He was a mad genius," Jason said.

As always, when it comes to stories (or thoughts) on her mother, Audrey always has her own take:

One afternoon as Jason was watching college football, I was feeding Jack on the couch. A commercial for Xbox Yourself Fitness came on. "Isn't that what you used to do in Herrin?" he asked.

"I think so. I'm not gonna lie; it was a good workout," I said.

"I know. You did it all the time," he said.

"She lied all the time?" Audrey asked.

"Mom, you're clever," Audrey said randomly, sitting at the kitchen table. "What does that even mean? All I can think it means is smart."

One Saturday, Jason noticed some dirt stuck in the grooves of the sliding door. "We're disgusting," he said.

"Disgusting isn't a nice word," Audrey said.

"It's not nice to call someone else. It's okay if you say it about yourself."

"She is not yourself!"

The first time we took Audrey to the beach, I was stung by a jellyfish. While some stories bounce off the ears like rubber balls to cement, to Audrey, the jellyfish story bears frequent repeating. And question and answer sessions. She asked for one more rendition in November. I will spare you most of the stinging details and tell you this: we had been warned. The purple flag was hoisted above the sand. Friends had told us that the jellyfish were plentiful. They didn't tell us the waves had fingers. Jason had just run back to shore to take a turn watching Audrey so I could get into the water. I planned to stick to the shallow water when a sneaky wisp of a wave untied the top of my suit. I slid a little deeper into the waves, collecting the bikini strings in my hands. I had just finished knotting the back when I felt a searing hug from behind.

Per her request, we told Audrey the story again. As always, she asked more questions. I explained that I had gone too deep into the ocean while the purple flag was out. Jason explained that I had needed privacy to fix my swimsuit. Somewhere, Audrey got muddled. "What?" she asked, "her private joy?"

She also has thoughts about her father:

Audrey came into the kitchen one afternoon with her father's button-down shirt hanging loosely from her small frame. She grabbed his capped Mountain Dew and pretended to take a swig. "Look, Mom; I'm Daddy."

On Nathan's birthday, Audrey asked, "Is great-grandpa a dad?"

Jason explained before asking, "Do you think I'll be a cool Papaw?"

"No, not cool, but smart and a Papaw that knows stuff."

Jason made a trip to London in November. We picked him up from the airport.

"I'm so happy to be home," he said.

"Well, you're not home yet. You're at the airport," she said.

Other people and things, she's still trying to figure out:

"So Mom, I know Beth is my fairy Godmother, but what's the other name for Boo?"

"You have such pretty hair, you know it?" Grammy said while visiting one afternoon.


"You're supposed to say 'thank you,'" Grammy said.

"Oh. I still have a lot to learn," said Audrey.

One afternoon, Audrey brought her Bible to me. "I want the one with the three Americans, but I can't find it," she said.

"Honey, I don't think I'm going to be able to find it, either," I said. After a thorough questioning as to the plot of the story, I realized she wanted to hear the parable of The Good Samaritan.

Christmas, of course, brings its own opportunities for joy:

My parents gave each child a copy of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" with a sound recording of them telling the story. At the end, my mom says "Goodnight (name of child), Mamaw and Papaw love you."

Audrey listened to her book. At her grandmother's closing remarks, she responded, "Goodnight. Thank you." She listened to the story two more times. Each time, as the recording came to a close, she replied, "Goodnight. Thank you." After the third time, she looked at me. "Why aren't they talking back to me?"

Nathan also listened to his book repeatedly. At the end of each reading, he would cry upon hearing his grandmother tell him goodnight. He seemed to think his grandparents were stuck in the book, and for those first few days, no amount of talking to Mamaw on the telephone would convince him otherwise.

This year, Audrey participated in the Children's Sunday School Christmas Program. Nathan, too young to attend Sunday school, did not. Audrey played a shepherd. "Nate should be in the Christmas program," she told me.

"He's too young," I said.

"He could be a sheep," she said. "They just crawl around and stuff."

Audrey's part in the program required that she pass out props to the other shepherds. The props included a wooden spoon, dish cloth, Frisbee, and lampshade. One afternoon, we were going over her part. "What do you give each kid?" I asked.

"My friend Nolan gets a wooden spoon. My friend Anna gets a dish towel and Frisbee, and my friend Christopher gets a broken lamp."

The program's dress rehearsal was on a Saturday. Jason had returned from Paris the day before. In a rockstar dad move, he had let me sleep in while he got Audrey ready. I came downstairs to drive her to rehearsal. She was ready and waiting. "Mom, you're like Ariel when the shell opens and she's not there and she's always late, and I'm like the big sister - the one that says 'Ariel's in love.'"

The kids received an art easel from Santa and stockings filled with art supplies. Bright and early on the 26th, Audrey asked, "Mom, can I do anything on the weasel?"

These days, the boys can hold their own in the entertainment arena:

Nathan has decided to talk, after all. Sentences. Short and crisp. They began when he handed me a memory card featuring a beach ball. "It's a beach ball," I said.

"It's a beach ball," he said.

I screamed. I cheered. Clapping was involved. Nathan began randomly shouting out "beach ball" for days just to see what his crazy mother might do.

Now, his most common phrase is "Hi, Mama," most often said as we descend the stairs in the morning or pass in the hallway. I still can't get over the sound, small and clear and bigger than he knows.

A few of his more memorable phrases:

Audrey: Nate, say Audrey before you leave.
Nate: No, Ah-Dee.

One morning, Nate's shirt got stuck as I tried to pull it over his head. To keep him calm, I pretended we were playing a game (as I yanked and pulled and prayed I wouldn't have to cut him loose). "Where's Nathan? Where did he go?" I asked over and over to my silent, hidden boy. Finally, the shirt popped over his head. "Hello!" he said.

One night at dinner, Jason asked Nate if he could say "amen."

Jason: Say ah.
Nate: Ah.
Jason: Say men.
Nate: Me.
Jason: Say amen.
Nate: Oh jeez.

Jack, on the other hand, has spoken complete monologues since birth. We just don't know what he's saying. But a couple things are crystal clear: when in distress, he can yell "mama" as plain and loud as any eighteen-year-old, and this one has no plans of pacing himself. Two teeth, crawling, and pulling up on furniture under his belt, when we stand this little man up and give him two hands with which to steady himself, he bends a knee and lifts a foot as if he plans to walk on out of here. Regardless of lacking the appropriate vocabulary, this one makes his point known.

While Jason was in Europe, Jack woke up (after a long night for mama) at 6 a.m. The other kids were still sleeping. I tucked Jack in close to my side, attempting to convince him to join them. He spit out his pacifier and bit my nose.

Later that day, Audrey brought Jack's pacifier into the bathroom. "I need to wash this off," she said. "I used it to smash a bug. It was a fly. I thought it wasn't dead, but it already was!" Karma, Jack. Karma.

Dear son, I'm not sure what karma has in store for you for only sleeping a couple hours at a time and waking your exhausted parents with your awe-inspiring, wall-piercing moaning during the hours in which you do sleep. But when he or she arrives in thirty years bearing your sweet mischievous grin and insane ability to subsist solely on catnaps, call me. Just not at 4 a.m.

The holidays are over. The Christmas tree and lights, which Jason surprised Audrey and I with one day when we arrived home from a birthday party to Christmas carols playing and house aglow, have been returned to their boxes. Earlier that week, as I tried to compose an ambitious Christmas plan-of-attack, Audrey sat at the kitchen table, making her friend a birthday card. She oohed and aahed over its loveliness as she filled it chock a-block full of stickers. "I'm giving her my joy," she told me, happily. I decided to take her lead. I bowed out of several of the typical holiday traditions this year. Instead, I focused on a select few: the ones that brought me joy. I kept my focus narrow, a light cast directly in front of me, so I might have some joy to pass on in the every day - time for bedtime stories or one more game of memory or five more minutes of daydreaming with my little ones of the magic to come. Happy 2012, everyone.


  1. What an absolutely wonderfully enjoyable read! My favorites: Audrey's three Americans, Nate's oh jeez, and the thought of Jack's karma coming back in 30 years. Sometime we need to commiserate. My 8 month old is still getting up every couple of hours too. We are a couple of tired mamas.

  2. For the record, Shay LOVED it when Audrey "shared her joy." She still has that card tacked up next to her bed. And I LOVED this post. I laughed out loud repeatedly while reading it. Miss you, friend!