Cemetery Reading Program

I’m not sure that it could be otherwise. I think I say that a lot, but it seems so obvious, in a very strange but, well, obvious way. Jonah will learn to read by sounding out the names on headstones.

This was all him, mind you. We’d just spent a good half hour in G’s little strip of paradise…

…during which time Jonah chatted up the policeman who “protects” the workers on his day off. I wasn’t aware backhoe drivers needed an armed officer. J ran with the idea and started into tales of the baddies getting hold of backhoes and smashing cars and people “until they’re dead.” I know. Gruesome. He then launched into a series of questions concerning jail locations and size as Gabriel studied the machines, every now and then squealing in delight or asking a question I couldn’t understand through his pacifier.

I suggested the cemetery next as it’s on the way home, and I thought, heck, why not make an afternoon of it? G also has a thing for grave diggers. As we walked through, Jonah wanted to know what every headstone read. Tell me the letters, I said. Thus it began. He sounded out “Weber” first.

It occurs to me now that it’s the letters and words on all those stones as much as the peace of the place that draws me. Maybe him too. That, and his fascination with dead people. Cemetery means “sleeping place” in Greek. We are strangers to the dead buried here, but in our way, we offer our own Memory Eternal and thanks to them for bringing J a step closer to literacy.

(I couldn’t resist putting these photos through the cyanotype filter.)


I’m going to write about the idea of Home for a spell, though this might not be possible now, because G is using a hammer (I think) to play his xylophone. It’s amazing the din a two-year-old can create. Okay. Pause. Must intervene…

We discovered robins building their nest in our garage, on top of the mechanical contraption that operates the garage door on the side we never use (a peculiarity of our property is a rather monstrous four car garage—four deep, not four wide—which is especially amusing since we only have one car). We can get rather lazy about closing the door we do use, so the robins had been waiting and building in increments. They wait in the redbud or the nearby fence until we pull out; then they head in.

Thankfully, they’re still in the building phase. No babies. So last night John did his best to gently untangle and dislodge their beautiful mess that was slowly becoming a beautiful nest. This morning I watched mama robin in the tree, twig in beak, waiting for John and Jonah to pull out of the garage and head to school. She still didn’t know her nest was gone. Eventually she found it perched between the gothic slats of our half-botched/still-not-finished fence. It was windy like Kansas here today, and every time the nest fell to the ground G would run over, pick it up, and proclaim “Ird! Nes! High!” [Translation: Put the nest back on the fence!]

Several times a year, for varying lengths of time, I mourn the physical distance between my family (that would include dear friends) and I. This usually coincides with a change in season or some other transition. Jonah comes by his resistance to change quite honestly. Last week spring came early and strong to Ohio. The magnolia, pear, and redbud trees bloomed. We mowed our lawn as the temperature hit 85 one day. My sister came to visit in the middle of that. Right after she left, the weather bottomed out and the temperature dropped 50 degrees. I haven’t been the same since.

When I get sad, I go inside. Being the kind of person I am, I carry my home inside. I used to spend time alone every morning doing the work of keeping up my house. I would read. I would write. I would stare out the window, which served to blow out the cobwebs in my brain. When Jonah came to us, and then Gabriel, it seemed my life turned inside out. But that is only seeming, because I still have that inside home. I complain a good bit about the lack of time I have for myself, but I’m getting a little tired of hearing myself grumble.

Of late, I’m coming to a new awareness of the effect of my person (and my own struggle to keep my house in order) on the ones closest to me. John. Gabriel. Jonah. We all must abide each others’ weaknesses, but there sometimes comes a point when something more must be done—for the sake of ourselves, for the sake of the ones we’re trying to love best. I can no longer count on solitude to maintain the delicate balance by which my interior life hinges. Its time will come back round, but I don’t have the luxury of years to wait it out.

So this is me, thinking about home. The way it moves and changes. The way it stays the same, and the way I must move and rearrange myself to meet it. It’s hard to change—to take a step in a direction other than the way I’ve always gone. Hard to consider others before myself, truly, not in theory or by a bright and hollow pronouncement. I must come to it the hard way, through my own failures and weakness. But there’s a kind of clarity in going through the darkness. Maybe this is part of what the Orthodox Church means when it speaks of the “bright sadness” of Lent. Seeing things true.

I hope the robins are building a new nest nearby, high up in safe branches, but I will do my best to keep the garage door closed. Sometimes we have to save each other from making the same poor choice twice, in order to find the way forward.


My sister is finishing up a three day visit. She lives in Kansas. She is soon-to-deliver a boy come May. She is too far away most days, but today she is Right Here. She is taking a much deserved retreat (it’s funny to see the word “retreat” applied to anything that goes on in this house). Carrying a (third) baby is Hard work. She does it gracefully, and I’m honored she chose to spend her last time away from home for awhile with me.

I tried to teach Gabriel to say her name, in preparation. Beth. Aunt Beth. That day the B just wouldn’t come. So I went with Aunt Liz (I think I’m about the only person in the world who calls her Lizzie some times). He caught right on to that. “Aunt Iz! Aunt Iz!” he proclaimed in his robotic 2-year-old dialect. But as soon as she arrived, he went rogue: “Gra-ma Iz! Gra-ma Iz!” he shouted at the airport, then commenced to running in crazy circles with his brother.

I imagine Gra-ma to be his catch-all endearment for female family. Both he and Jonah instinctively catch on to kin. I love that. “Aunt” doesn’t mean a whole lot to a careening toddler such as G. And Beth doesn’t seem to mind (too much) the alteration, though I caught her chuckling to herself several times and saying, “Here comes the pregnant Grandma.”

G’s use of language reminds me of a passage from The Education of Little Tree, a memoir of the Cherokee way as told by a young boy who grew up in 1930s Appalachia. I’ll just quote and hope the backstory is evident enough.

Granma’s name was Bonnie Bee. I knew that when I heard him late at night say, “I kin ye, Bonnie Bee,” he was saying, “I love ye,” for the feeling was in the words.

And when they would be talking and Granma would say, “Do ye kin me, Wales?” and he would answer, “I kin ye,” it meant, “I understand ye.” To them, love and understanding was the same thing. Granma said you couldn’t love something you didn’t understand; nor could you love people, nor God, if you didn’t understand the people and God.

Granpa and Granma had an understanding, and so they had a love. Granma said the understanding run deeper as the years went by, and she reckined it would get beyond anything mortal folks could think upon or explain. And so they called it “kin.”

Granpa said back before his time “kinfolks” meant any folks that you understood and had an understanding with, so it meant “loved folks.” But people got selfish, and brought it down to mean just blood relatives; but that actually it was never meant to mean that.

So call me the lucky one, because I’ve had kin and kin. My sisters know me, maybe better than anybody. And they can make me laugh like no one else (except maybe a sister or two who aren’t blood kin, but darn near close). They—to use a word that’s nearly been ruined by cereal advertisements—fortify me. And I am blue to see them go, so very far, back to Kansas.

Which leads me to other words. These of a poem by Linda Gregg called “At Home” (published by Greywolf Press).

Far is where I am near.
Far is where I live.
My house is in the far.
The night is still.
A dog barks from a farm.
A tiny dog not far below.
The bark is soft and small.
A lamp keeps the stars away.
If I go out there they are.

And from Jonah, as we were driving off from the airport, having left Beth at the gate:

I’m about to make sad.”

(Our best cheese)

Brave and Strong and True

Overheard: “Is that a Ninja monk?”

That has nothing to do with this post, but I couldn’t help myself.

Today we went to the dentist. And I learned an interesting tidbit: development of teeth in utero can be adversely affected by a high fever in the mother during pregnancy.

“Inasmuch as fever is an accompaniment of many disease states, it is possible that it alone may exert a significant influence on the developing oral structures.” Prenatal Influences on Tooth Development, by Seymour J. Kreshover and O. Wendell Clough

So there’s nothing definitive in that statement (and only the first page of the paper is online), but when I mentioned to the Best Dentist in the World (we love you Dr. Fran!) that I had the flu while pregnant with Jonah and had run a high fever for about five days, she immediately stated that my fever probably has something to do with the sorry state of J’s teeth.

So imagine a boy who is hardly ever still in a dentist’s chair. Add to that the uncertainty surrounding the dentistry tools and the sequence of events surrounding tooth cleaning, drilling, filling, etc. Add to that oral sensory issues (watching Jonah eat a bite of rice and beans together makes a heart ache—his face contorts, even as he answers my “Does it taste good?” with “Yeah Mom. It tastes great!”).

He woke up at 5:30 this morning, and I’m sure it had something to do with the anticipation of his 4 o’clock appointment. He had an “antsy” day at school, as his intervention specialist put it. In carline, he told his teacher he didn’t want to go to the dentist, but he had to go get some cavities and that he was brave and strong and true. Once in the car, a dozen questions were set to repeat: “How long will it take? Will I cry? Will it hurt? How many minutes? Why do I have to lie down? Will tears run down my face? Will I bleed? Dr. Bruno [the dentist who pulled one of his teeth last year] looks like a little kid. Does Dr. Bruno look like a kid? Will you hold my hand? And Dr. Fran’s helper with the funny glasses will hold my hand too. How long will it take? Twenty million forty eighty-nine hundred? Is that a lot? How many is that? I don’t like going to the dentist. Will it hurt?”

J’s been to the dentist far more than most kids his age. It’s not that he doesn’t know the answers to most of these questions. He’s anxious. And when he’s anxious, the questions flow like snowmelt in spring. We talked about being flexible. We talked about being patient. I told him I didn’t know how long it would take. So we talked about being flexible and patient some more.

And Jonah amazed me. Again. He got x-rays. He had three teeth drilled into and filled. He suffered through a wad of gauze jammed between his tongue and teeth to keep the saliva off so the filling would take (this was actually the most painful part for him). He had his teeth cleaned. He had to put a foam mouthpiece filled with bubblegum flavored flouride into his mouth, biting down for a full minute. He held my hand. In his other hand, he held a mirror so that he could watch Dr. Fran do her work. He asked about the tools. He asked would he die if he swallowed the bubblegum flouride in the foam mouthpiece. He asked if the red ball of goopy cleaning paste was blood. He swished and spit and swished and spit—his favorite part.

The dental assistant said she wished they could video tape him because he’s their favorite patient. Dr. Fran said she knew it was going to be a good day when she looked at the schedule and saw that Jonah was on it. Yeah, I’m tearing up.

As they took off his dental bib he exclaimed, “No tears came down my face!” When we came home, he told our friend who had been babysitting Gabriel, “No tears came down my face!” He wrote his daddy an email:

Dad, Everything went okay. And Dr. Fran used the tools and it didn’t hurt. And we love you so much Dad. I didn’t cry. I got three stars [the dentist’s name for fillings] and I don’t want to say bye, but we have to go to the cheese sandwich shop.
Love, Jonah Caedmon Estes (and mom)

That about covers it. Except to say that Jonah Caedmon Estes is most certainly brave. And strong. And true. The truest. Quite possibly, the bravest too.

A Day

It was the kind of day when you drop your favorite oddball silver sugar spoon you like to stir your coffee with down the drain and get a little over-eager with the garbage disposal, so that if you actually tried to use the spoon (after heating it up so that you could bend it back into some kind of discernible spoon-like shape), your lips would end up a bloody mess. Not that mine did. Because I left the spoon bent in half on the windowsill by the kitchen sink. A reminder for Patience. Or at the very least, a sign that reads Slow Down.

Which is just to say, it was a day when stuff happens, like stuff inevitably happens when you live and give it what you have and then some so that all you can do is collapse on the couch when the kids are in bed. And after collapsing and letting yourself sink into the Regionals episode of Glee (where have all the good songs gone?) while your husband sleeps peacefully beside you after his own day of days, you come to the conclusion that yeah, it’s worth it. Let’s get up and do it tomorrow.

Bobby’s dead

Funny thing, the way certain events filter themselves through the mind of a certain six-year.

It was a big day for the J-man. There was a field trip to the symphony. That event alone informs much of how the rest of the day turned. Jonah does amazingly well on trips. He gets terribly excited, but they take a toll. We’ve been on the edge of meltdown since school let out.

Walking home, we happened upon J’s new friend L. She and her mom (who will be J’s elementary teacher next year) and sisters were also walking home. The two clasped hands and off they went—running far ahead, carefully looking both ways (I trust L far more than J on this front) before crossing several streets. Of course we had to walk to L’s house before we headed for ours. Of course Jonah had to go inside to see L’s “horsey room.” How could it be otherwise? I ended up having to drag both he and G out of the house, practically kicking and screaming.

Onward home. J began obsessing about the girls (across the street). Would they be home? Was their van in the driveway? Could they play? Were they home? “I think their van must be in the garage,” he postulated. “Can I play with them? I’m sure they’re home. Can I play with them?” There are days when he just won’t/can’t stop himself. He only thinks about seeing them. He imagines hearing them from inside the house: “Did you hear that? I think it’s the girls! I think they want to play with me!” Today was one of those days. He hung on the gate, watching their house. He perched himself on a rock in our driveway and watched their driveway with doleful eyes.

Meanwhile, G attempted escaping over the back wall in our yard. Somehow he managed to move three very large rocks off the wall without crushing his feet (though later he did a good job of that while carrying/dropping a wooden box full of tools on his bare toes). Shortly after, Jonah tried to scale the wooden slats that wrap around the rest of the yard. Much to everyone’s surprise, a splinter lodged itself in his palm. A minor procedure with needle and tweezers over the kitchen sink ensued.

Merciful Lord, I kept muttering under my breath. How will I survive them?

But all of this is just to say, Bobby’s dead. And we didn’t find this out until bedtime when an exhausted J was finally still enough, long enough, to process what his brain had been bombarded with in the course of the day. I’m starting to realize that it must, some days, feel like bombardment to him—all of the activity and emotions and people and schoolwork he works so hard to attend to. No wonder his body goes berserk.

Bobby is the classroom rabbit. He died Sunday, it seems, at the home of one of the classroom aides. In her words (according to Jonah), Bobby died of being old and tired. Another aide went so far as to tell the children that “Bobby is looking down and watching you from heaven.” Seriously? He’s a rabbit. Why not use this opportunity to talk to the children about death instead of pumping them with useless cliches? Talking about a rabbit dying is a whole hell of a lot easier than broaching the topic for the first time when a grandparent or friend or, God forbid, parent dies. But I digress.

Bobby’s dead, and tonight, seemingly out-of-the-blue, it’s breaking J’s heart. I don’t think J and B were particularly close, but it doesn’t matter when you’re a boy of drama and you’ll use whatever you’ve got to keep either mom or dad in the room a little longer so you don’t have to go to sleep alone.

Don’t get me wrong: those were real tears J was crying. But he has this knack of getting himself all worked up (he learned from the master—or should I say mistress?—of the house).

He creeps to the door. Opens it ever-so-slowly.

“Mom? I can’t sleep. Bobby’s dead.”

I tuck him in and lay down to chat.

“I’m so sad. I keep thinking about Bobby. I miss him. He’s dead. I can’t sleep because I keep thinking about Bobby. And he’s dead. Petting him made me happy. But he’s dead. And I can’t sleep because Bobby’s dead.”

This is when I learn that Bobby is looking down on us from heaven. Then some gibberish-y talk about a friend being serious and how J needs to be more serious, except J is funny, and he needs to be serious. I’m thinking maybe Jonah was acting silly when the aide was talking to them about Bobby and J got reprimanded by said friend.

It’s unfortunate that J’s teacher has been out sick for almost a week. It’s unfortunate for her, obviously, but also for the kids. I think she would have handled the situation beautifully. As it is, Bobby has made himself known to us in a way he never did when he was alive. Expressing emotions with words is hard for J, so hearing him say petting Bobby made him happy melted my mama heart a little.

Long live the memory of the tubby bunny Bobby, who took refuge behind the wall of cubbies when all of those wiggling, poking, stroking, and ear-pulling hands were just too much to bear. I feel for you B.

Verluisant, Etsy