Jonah Log

It’s been quite a couple of weeks in the Land-O-J. New school, new teachers, new faces (if not yet friends). Homework for the first time. Lockdown drills. Roller skating. Playdates.

Where to start? Who wants to talk school when there’s roller skating! Besides, our skate-o-rama rather encompasses Jonah and where he is right now—socially and physically. Because he loves a physical challenge, I brought up the school’s monthly skate party to test the waters. “Yes, I’d love to go ice skating!” Not ice skating love. Roller skating. “What’s that?” I explained, thinking that roller skating might actually help us work toward the ice skating dream. I’m not so sure I got it right though, because I can’t imagine anything being more difficult to learn for him than trying to control his body with eight wheels on the bottom of feet legendary for their near-constant skittering about.

With some regret that I had left my camera in the car when I discovered the lockers cost money (of Course the lockers cost money), I ended up being far more at ease participating than documenting. Besides the fact that it’s nearly impossible to take pictures while keeping a sixty pound flailing seven-year-old on his feet, I was able to enjoy the easy motion of the skates and the speed, our hair blowing and our fluid bodies. Even falling is a fluid motion on skates, and J did his fair share. He took some nasty spills, the worst of which included bomping the back of his head on a cinderblock wall when his feet got away from him. He must have fallen two dozen times, and mostly he wouldn’t let me (or the handful of sweet girls who offered) help. For the entirety of the night I trailed him like a ghost of a guardian angel, catching what I could and wincing with a certain prideful joy at his perseverance. Before bed, we discovered two narrow two-inch long bruises, one on each butt cheek nearest his tailbone.

But you know what? He got it. On the final skate of the night, he circled the inside loop of the ring twice. No wall or bar or mom to keep him steady.

And over the course of the night, kids skated past him shouting out, “Hi Jonah!” “You’ll get it Jonah!” “Want me to teach you to skate Jonah?” “It’s just like taking steps!” (Right. That helps.) Their sweetness warmed my heart and lifted an over-arching anxiety I’ve been feeling since he began at the new school. The kids like him. Okay, I know that if you know Jonah, right now you are saying, “Of course they like Jonah. Jonah is a likable kid.” (Not to mention adorable and oddly funny.) It seemed like everyone knew his name. At the end of the night, J asked me several times, “How did those kids know me?” You go to school with them don’t you J? “Yes, but they’re not all in my class!”

Maybe being the new kid has its benefits.

And then there was The Playdate.

We met a boy at our public library (I’ll call him B) sometime last spring. He and Jonah hit it off immediately. Both of them have been asking for a play date for months. B loves movies about as much as J loves movies, which it to say, A Lot. He’s a couple of years older than Jonah, but those are the kids J gravitates to. Always has.

So. It finally happened last weekend.

He and his mom came over for the afternoon. G was also ecstatic, though I knew his excitement would probably be short-lived because 1) he’s between four and six years younger than the pair of them, and 2) three is a tough number. Everything was pretty good until G walloped B with some sort of light saber/stick/bungee cord thing, mostly unintentionally. I hope. The kid just doesn’t know his own strength. What are you going to do with a three-year-old that looks like a large five-year-old? He just doesn’t get it.

So after the wallop (no bruises or red marks or lumps were visible on B), things decidedly took a downturn for G. It didn’t help that B, like G, is enamored with Lego figures and that G is incredibly particular about his Lego guys down to the very last detail (including hand color). B kept snatching them away and telling Jonah he couldn’t give them back to his brother. I won’t go into anymore details because, well, I might get mean. Let’s just say, it was clear that B doesn’t have a younger sibling/any siblings and somehow Jonah got in the middle of B testing the waters with G.

Which is to say that Jonah has very little capacity, as of yet, for standing up for himself, let alone standing up for his brother. B would tell him to do things, and even though I know he knows he wasn’t being nice, he did them. Because he was afraid B wouldn’t be his friend anymore if he didn’t. [I must add here that Jonah has stood up for me, even when he doesn’t need to. I have to be extra careful with my sometimes marital frustrations—mostly just stuff getting done around the house—because Jonah will start yelling at his dad to clean up the kitchen or give the dog a haircut or weed the garden.]

We’ve talked about this a lot, J and me. Heck, we’ve even got a social skills goal written into his IEP that involves learning to say “No.”

Whenever J gets into a situation where people are angry or upset or frustrated, whenever emotions are running high, he feels it acutely. He immediately tries to placate somebody, anybody. He knew that some of the things B was doing in regard to his brother were mean, but he played along and didn’t say anything. In his words: “I’m too scared to say anything. I’m a scaredy cat!”

I love his honesty.

So there’s work yet to do, but isn’t there always? Next time we’re meeting B at the skating rink. Even the playing field a little under the disco ball, blaring music, and black lights. G and I will have fun crashing into the walls of the practice lane.

panoramic J

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Two stops

The past week was the first I felt myself in too long awhile. The dogs are pleased the boys are back to school because they get a walk every morning, first thing. The stillness in those forty-five minutes every day begins everything for me.

The Orthodox theologian Pavel Florensky says what I mean:

Only the mysticism of the human center, which makes man accessible to grace and nourishes his core, corrects the personality and allows it to grow from measure to measure.
The Pillar and Ground of the Truth


flower wither
Our favorite flower garden’s throwing its final party of the season.

cicada stop
The boys and I love finding cicada skins in the darndest places. I like to think this particular specimen had a dry sense of humor.

A living want

As tomorrow is Sunday, and every Sunday I am woefully unprepared for morning Liturgy—the state of my mind and heart (the nous as my fellow Orthodoxians like to say when we’re feeling spiritually in-the-know) being completely taken up by shoes and socks and curly bed heads and negotiations over which one toy is church-appropriate to take  (i.e. won’t come apart and roll under the pew before or behind us and cannot be turned into anything resembling a hammering device) and non-debates involving the plaintive moan of “But I don’t want to go to church”—well, I’m sitting down to write a spell. It’s the only way I can figure to get myself in the right nous-space, if you will. Besides, I needed a reason to tear myself away from my new favorite BBC Masterpiece Mystery Series: Inspector Lewis. And it’s too late to work on the catalog.

[For those of you who care to know, the idea of the nous is something akin to the eye of the soul. Right. Like that cleared anything up. It is reason, but also more than just thinking. Some of the Church Fathers refer to the nous as the heart. As the Orthodox Wiki succinctly puts it: the nous is “the center of man and is where true (spiritual) knowledge is validated.”]

“The chief concern of the Orthodox Church is the healing of the human soul,” writes the Orthodox priest, Fr. John Romanides. When I forget exactly why it is I became Orthodox, when I lose my way and doubt begins to seep through the many cracks in the fragile casing by which I futilely attempt to protect my heart (which pretty much looks like self-isolation), when I finally come back round to knowing I need to repent but not knowing just what I’m repenting for because my soul is spread so very thin and prayer is non-existent, I am given to remember that healing bit. How much I need it. How the Orthodox Church is where I truly acknowledged that need for the first time and was presented with a way to work toward that healing. Something other than thinking myself into a castigating, guilt-ridden corner of my psyche, which usually included many journal pages filled with angsty pleas for help to God. Maybe those angsty pleas weren’t so pointless after all. God led me to the Church. He gave me my family.

Which brings me to Flannery O’Connor, the last person I would have imagined was capable of angsty journal entries. But hey, she was 20 once too. The New Yorker recently published some excerpts from (what seems to be) her prayer journal during that time and, initially, I was horrified. I am pretty sure that she would have never, I mean Never, wanted those entries read by anyone. But as most of the people who knew her or had any say in her literary estate have all gone on, as they say, I imagine there was no stopping it from happening. There are some interesting bits concerning her definition of perversion (“Perversion is the end result of denying or revolting against supernatural love”), and read closely, the entries are all prayers. All the more reason it shouldn’t have been published. But it was. And I guess I wasn’t horrified enough not to read it.

But I know her prayers. I have prayed some of her prayers myself. Most recently, “Dear Lord, please make me want You.” She goes on to incorporate the act of writing in relationship to this want:

It is easy for this writing to show a want. There is a want but it is abstract and cold, a dead want that goes well into writing because writing is dead. Writing is dead. Art is dead, dead by nature, not killed by unkindness. I bring my dead want into the place the dead place it shows up most easily, into writing.

I can’t tell you just what it is she’s saying here, though to me, it circles back to the fleeting nature of this world. To her belief that the only good in her God put there. That it is God praying these prayers through her. That everything is given.

And she’s so very stern with herself as she puts it all out there, but just a little funny too:

My thoughts are so far away from God. He might as well not have made me. And the feeling I egg up writing here lasts approximately a half hour and seems a sham. I don’t want any of this artificial superficial feeling stimulated by the choir. Today I have proved myself a glutton—for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought. There is nothing left to say of me.

Flannery O’Connor wants a living want, not the skeleton of a thought. Not just words. She wants flesh on those bones. Which is a way of saying she wants Christ. She’s been wanting him all along. Look at me! My evangelical roots are poking through!

She also wants to write a good novel. I like that about her.

This world of dew

What I learned today: splitting open a black walnut with your fingers will leave your fingers stained…bet you can’t guess!…black (which fades to a nice sepia after a spell). A friendly woman walking our way told us it won’t come off for two weeks. Actually, I never thought she was that friendly (I see her walking, intensely, on a regular basis) until today. And come to find out she used to sell books!

But Jonah and I take our inked fingers as a badge of honor, he and Gabriel and I having taken turns throwing the thing as hard as we could to the concrete in an effort to break it open but only finally getting the outer skin removed (the juicy bit where the ink resides). We all took turns hammering at the nutshell proper until it finally cracked, revealing its lovely, cubby-holed interior and an oil-black papery thin piece of something that would have been a nut someday. But what fun!

What I learned this week: a thrombosed hemorrhoid doesn’t hurt as much as giving birth without pain medication. Which is to say…No. That’s all I’m saying.

What I realized (I’d like to say learned, but learning implies a level of mastery) while taking what must have been my fourth sitz bath yesterday: I haven’t been writing enough, which translates to I haven’t been praying enough, a fact as clear to me as a perennially empty bank account or the reality of my family living nearly 1000 miles away.

It is catalog season, and I am at it. That, in correlation with the beginning of the school year has done a number on me.  Jonah and I have struggled (maybe me more than him); Gabriel has taken it in stride; John—well, he is a man of vision, and a man of vision at a small college means he is also a man of one thousand administrative tasks (each of which pokes a hole, draining him of vital spirit by week’s, sometimes day’s, end). A dear friend, far away, is struggling mightily. My mother’s knees are going out, my father’s back is too.

Sometimes when I walk at dusk as the interiors of houses glow out at me, I wonder about the worlds the people in those homes inhabit. I wonder about their children and their work. I wonder about their spouses. I wonder if they are suffering. I wonder if they are at happy, at peace.

Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) wrote,

A world of dew,
and within every dewdrop
a world of struggle

And it’s true, isn’t it? So, inspired by Pat in The Silver Linings Playbook (if you’ve only seen the movie, do pick up the book—if you haven’t seen the movie, read the book first), I am trying in my weary way to practice being kind instead of right. I failed a dozen times today, but here I go again.

diamond web

Also Issa:

This world of dew
is only a world of dew —
and yet

Uncommon

It is not uncommon to hear myself saying things like, “Yes, it is hard to sit down with a blaster in your pants.”

It is not uncommon to hear myself saying, “If you…then I’ll…” I know. You’re not supposed to threaten your child. I do it all the time. About throwing sticks and pointing guns at people’s heads. About taking Lego pieces out on the back deck (the spaces between the wood slats are just wide enough to lose all manner of things, forever). About taking Lego light sabers in the car (spent ten minutes taking the car seat apart yesterday to locate Darth Vader’s). About hitting your brother over the head with an eight pound hand weight (happened).

If you haven’t caught on yet, I’m writing about G here. The boy who inherited all my stubbornness but not my desire to please people, which I must say—while branding me a hypocrite at times—does a good job of balancing out my inherent tendency toward meanness when I’m hurt or sad or hormonal.

It is uncommon for me (not so much for Jonah) to actually get hit with one of those flying sticks. I guess yesterday was my lucky day, because  in the midst of busily raking the leaves our front yard maple has deemed necessary to let loose a good month early, I experienced a mammoth and startling thunk to the forehead. The weapon of choice was a foot-and-half-long tree limb about an inch-and-a-half in diameter. The kind that’s all stringy and green and pulpy inside.

After momentarily losing it (Jonah had gone to fetch some bags to pick up dog poop and was thrusting them in my face even as I was keeled over in pain—“Mom! I said here’s the poop bags! Mom, I got them for you!”), I dragged both boys to the backyard to work it out. I made G look at the lump on my forehead. He sat on my lap, avoiding my eyes and wanting me to get over it so I could cuddle with him and let him know everything was okay. Which it was. Eventually. I apologized to Jonah for telling him to get those #@*!-ing bags out of my face. I reiterated how bad it was that I had said that word, that I was reacting to the surprise of getting whacked in the head more than anything. We went back to raking and chasing and bagging.

It is not uncommon for Jonah to bite his nails down to the quick once school gets going—especially at the beginning and after Christmas break. It is happening now. Messages have been sent to teachers and helpers to offer alternative activities (pretzels stick anyone?).

It is not uncommon to find a pool of yellow “water” on the floor in front of the toilet by stepping in it while I am scrambling to have one minute alone in a room with the door closed. It is not uncommon to have Batman tell you he got pee on his cape, or his shorts, or his unders, or his shoes…Boys are disgusting. God I love them. But still.

It is not uncommon for holidays to be difficult. For me, especially. We’re all out of normal routine, John usually still needs to work, and I just miss my family. Doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas or Easter or Labor Day. I miss ’em, darn it. So what do I do? Spend three and half hours weeding our garden so that I can find the cucumbers (and the tomatoes and the strawberries that never berried). Physical exhaustion is a great mediator, and I discovered that J really gets into pulling weeds, even it means my parsley is a little worse for wear.

While it is uncommon to already be bagging leaves (up to 10 bags now) and for the birds to already be heading south (I’ve been told by several friends that these portend a long, hard winter), it is not uncommon for a twinge of personal melancholy to set in. While the change is invigorating, for sorts like me it means short days, less sun, and more grey skies. We’ve had a beautiful summer; I’m grateful for that.

In other news…

We discovered the Butterfly House yesterday, and serendipitously, a classmate from Jonah’s new school happened to be there. She said hello to him at least three times before I stepped in and asked Jonah who she was. Thank God for Jane. The BH is rather small, but you can try to tempt the creatures from their flowers with some sugar water on a q-tip. G and J were sweet enough (maybe it’s the calendula shampoo we use) for the butterflies to land on their hand and hair respectively. You can watch a monarch push out of his chrysalis, wings wet and curled.  You can watch a caterpillar hang and build her chysalis. The butterfly’s proboscis is actually in two pieces before they roll it around in their mouths to form a functioning tube. Saw it happen.

Just outside the BH is the Log-O-Fun playground. All logs, all the time. Pretty sure it was G’s favorite part of the day. While climbing a particularly tall stump, J said, “This is the Best Day.” We took a short hike, which G immediately said he was too tired for, so I ended up carrying him on my back for thirty minutes up and down and up and through, swatting at the gnats that were determined to lodge themselves in my eye holes, nose holes, ear holes…you get the idea.

I should have ended it with “This is the Best Day,” right?

monarch curls  j and j selfiejump!  butter-finger