Christ is Risen Mary Karr

Gabriel convened a plushie meeting a week ago Saturday night (attendees had to bring their “yes” tickets as proof of invitation) to discuss our plans, each of us, for the following day.

His were concrete and Easter-basket driven: get up and have a special breakfast (pancakes or waffles count); wait for daddy to hide the Easter eggs; find the Easter eggs; come back inside and see what the Easter bunny brought (his belief in the power of the Bunny still rooted and strong).

J went next. J, with his grown-into, contrarian, slightly depressive (particularly as the day wears on) nature: Easter isn’t about a reedonkulous Bunny! I want to read the story about Jesus rising from the dead!

G proceeds to crawl under his bed, feelings hurt. John tells G that J has a right to free speech, and that we need to honor that. Come out, he says. Don’t get your feelings hurt. G crawls back out and puts his head on John’s lap. I admonish J for being mean about his free speech; we are in his bed cuddling as all of this unfolds.

My turn. I say that what G says sounds great. That I’d also like to read the Easter story, as this Lent has been a wash in many ways, particularly churchwise. [Birmingham is the nearest full-blown church (we attend a reader’s service in nearer-by Moundville—a church where the priest fell asleep in the Lord over a year ago), but the drive isn’t an easy one and I’m too tired to do it most weekends or with any regularity during the week. The church itself is on the rigorous end of the Orthodox spectrum, and I dread shepherding the boys through it, particularly since they’ve become accustomed to a much shorter reader’s service on Sundays. I only go to Bham when the boys are out of town or sick. So much for my parental and Christian responsibility for their spiritual formation. Epic fail? Perhaps. While I’m OK with that for now—gentleness and patience with myself being my self-chosen spiritual practices this Lent around—I acknowledge a change need be made in the near future).] In the moment, I don’t verbalize that last parenthetical. Instead I add I’d like to get up and have my coffee in my room and rise slowly to the day. Every one seems to approve.

Your turn Daddy, says G. I just want what you guys want, he replies. To the uninstructed reader, this may sound like a cop-out, but G’s cool with the answer, and considering I earlier unleashed my “I-feel-like-a-single-parent” diatribe on John just hours before, having taken the boys to a wondrous creek of a nature preserve by myself earlier in the day, I know he’s doing his best to do what he barely finds himself capable of doing. Suffice to say, I don’t know what it’s like to live his life, and best as I can imaginestand (my just-now-made-up word to convey how I try to understand his particular way of being in the world), surrender to our wishes is a spiritual discipline he practices quite regularly, willingly, and graciously.


The day itself comes quietly and peacefully. The sun couldn’t have been brighter. All progressed as most all of us wished: coffee in my room (served by John), check; waffles, check; egg hunt, check; Easter baskets, check; Mediterranean pieced-together feast, check. We didn’t get to the Easter story until Monday night, but we aren’t known for being timely. In the afternoon the boys and I vacuum up the spiders in their basement hideout, followed by my sweeping up buckets of pollen-laden fallen leaves and dried up blooms. Late in the afternoon I finish reading Lit, a book by Mary Carr about her journey to sobriety, community, and, in turn, the Catholic faith. The book ended up being my unexpected but welcome companion throughout Holy Week. As Bright Week progresses, I turn to Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty, by Kate Hennessy (Day’s granddaughter). Though I have no plans for such, I may yet end up a Southern Catholic of a sort, that being what’s available in this Tuscaloosa of an Alabama. My true home is forever Orthodoxy, but considering my Mennonite Baptist Methodist Presbyterian Episcopalian road trip so far, well, the Lord only knows.

Around here, Southerners like to part with a kind of conversational benediction. Rather than “Have a good day,” they up the ante with “Have a blessed day.” Maybe it’s simply that the novelty of it hasn’t worn off, but I feel a true intention in their words, like a prayer being said over me.

Blessed may it be.


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

The day before the day before

The day before the day before the first day of school was great. Laid back, ambling walk. Brothers getting along. The cemetery.

We spent the next day rummaging through what meager school supplies were left at Target before spending some time in the toy aisle. “We’re not buying anything today” must have been repeated more than a dozen times, followed by a near-meltdown because G could not get his hands on the Lego guys housed in a plastic-domed display case. I’m not sure why they think it’s a good idea to put all that goodness out-of-reach, especially since it’s not even possible to buy a Lego guy without also purchasing a Lego building kit.

But anyway…

I have made an annal of that day. Sweet, fading summer.

weird bug
I have no idea what kind of bug this is. Anybody? It flies, and I love it’s black-spindled body against the metallic of our deck chair.

man on a wire
Cartoon by Jonah. Gabriel really said that. We were watching a cable guy working from a bucket truck.
He was fiddling with a bunch of wires in an open electrical box.

bro walk
It was one of those mornings when the boys just got along. G kept checking the barometer of Jonah’s mood by asking, “Do you still like trucks?”

brothers in a box
Boys in a box, curbside.

creepy statue
G’s favorite “creepy lady.” Her posture exudes sadness and mourning.
If only her eyes weren’t black pools of nothingness. If only she had a nose.

grave read
We did a lot of grave reading.

best name
Maybe the best surname ever. I should write a novel about the shy, yet bold heroine, Anna Ever.

meet me in back
The boys particularly loved the mini-mausoleums.
They tried to find a way into every single one.

sleeping dog lies
I think this is a dog. Even if it’s not, it’s a dog to me. What better companion could you have at your grave? Gives new meaning to “Let sleeping dogs lie.” (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

infant son
Infant graves are the saddest; they particularly bring the sorrows of parents to mind.
I like how this one is in the shape of a key.

up against a wall
I swear Jonah didn’t pose for this. As for the filter, something essential about Jonah surfaces
when I use Color Pinhole 1.

trunk grave
This one really stumped the boys. Is it a tree? Is it a gravestone? A tree?

G on the go.

francis in grass
St. Francis in the bulrushes.

strange stack
One strange stack of a stone monument.

strange stack 2
Another view. I could have taken a dozen pictures of this one.

final rest
Final rest, so to speak.

Photo entry

As my detox continues and I attempt to stabilize a recent rash of gastronomical (read intestinal) upset, I have discovered the intense pleasure that can be had in drinking medicinal strength peppermint tea, lightly sweetened with raw honey. Dark roast yerba mate and an espresso-strength dandelion blend also bring their pleasures, but nothing quite like coffee. It’s nice to move about the world without that internal jitter, but waking up is hard to do.

However, my morning slogginess does lend itself to a particular kind of sleepy observation. I stared an inordinately long time at the top of my almond milk box (gave up dairy too) before pouring it on my cereal and read far more into their package instructions than I’m sure they intended: “Give it a good shake; separation is natural.”

Though it tends toward that particular strain of kitschy fortune cookie advice, this directive seems applicable to life in general, and relationships in particular. I’m not going too deep here. Like I said, I’m sloggy.

But speaking of the word too, I must share a funny interaction with J this morning.

ME: That is too much! (Can’t remember what I was referring to.)

JONAH: That doesn’t make any sense. Two isn’t much!

I hear my neighbor’s ladder squeak as he prepares to spend the day painting his house. And I best be getting on with what I have intended to do here. With summer sun and lovely days, I find myself farther from my computer. I’m doing less writing, which is okay, though I know my person misses a more regular routine of words. Images, on the other hand, have been collecting on my phone, so I will share them in a short kind of photo essay covering our last few weeks. What I saw, where we’ve been. A softer-edged view of the world I live in. Can’t help it. I love filters.chewy, with skull
One of many in a recurring theme. Doesn’t Chewie look dashing next to my prized cow skull?

darth magician  saber walk
Catching on to the theme? Meet Darth Bat-Magician, proprietor of all manner of Dark Arts.
They even battle when we walk, which gives me the chance to work on my bob and weave.

mary ann's tractor   tractor with garlic
Our friend Mary-Ann has the most photogenic tractor around (the kid’s not bad either).
I love the garlic drying in the background.

garlic   birth
Another shot of that magical garlic.
A cicada Jonah found this morning on his swinging tree, drying its fresh wings in the sun.

up the hill down the hill   pee break
Our friend M-A’s backyard. Jonah could have played “up-the-hill-down-the-hill” all day long.
G taking a pee break. He’s quite liberated. I see this view more than I’d care to mention.

jump  bow make
I call the first photo “Leap”. The day really was that blue.
Our best Jon Lincoln fashioning an arrow for J (John fashioned the bow). Along with the light saber interest-bordering-on-obsession, the boys have been loving Brave’s wild heroine, Merida.

minion   don't let the pigeon
Minion found on Sophie’s dog bed. The sort of deranged I feel sometimes after a day with the boys.
Don’t let the pigeon drink the currant liqueur! (M-A steeps a mean, sweet-tart of a summer drink.)

saber town
Our light saber collection, at present (not counting figurine- or Lego-sabers). Thanks to Matt and June Phelps, the Girls, Jonah, and John for their creative contributions.

lego guys
As they are. It took five tries in three different locations (during which time G smashed my toe and in the process knocked the whole lot down), but at least Gabriel let me take a picture of his works-in-process before destroying them (what usually happens). Note the Potter-Jango-Fett, Mr. Bones-Trooper, Harry Potter Knight, Yoda-Farmer, Faceless Spaceman, and Hedwig-Potter-Goes-Black-Tie.

trash truck wait   getting along
When they get along it’s swell, when they don’t it’s ______. Okay. I’m being dramatic, but it’s a wonder how the pendulum swings from one moment to the next. Brothers!

Puppy Love

Our dogs have this endearing/slightly gross thing they do. Sophie sprawls on her side (on the wood floor if she’s hot, on the dog bed if she’s not) and Lucy commences to lick out her ear. Lucy is thorough. She will spend maybe ten minutes cleaning and licking, and it reminds me of the way monkeys pick bugs off of each other, or of a mother rubbing her child’s back in slow, soothing circles. The gross part is the sound when Lucy’s being particularly fervant: sllrrrrrrp, sllrrrrrrp, sllrrrrrrp.

The analogy carries to this funny little ritual Gabriel and Jonah have fallen into. Overcome by love of his brother, Gabriel will grab Jonah by the neck (it usually happens when they’re sitting next to each other at the table) and bring him down, as you will see in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Directly following, he will sometimes play with Jonah’s hair or pick at Jonah’s ear. When he’s doing the ear picking I’ve several times told G to stop, to which J responds, “No Mom! I Like it!” The initial takedown is often followed by a period of chillin’:

Figure 2

As you can see from the picture, G’s right hand is still in motion as he plays with J’s ear. Jonah would stay in this position for a very long time, but Gabriel has moved on to the manic love phase, in which he pulls Jonah’s head up and gives him a proper (if strangulatory) neck hug:

Figure 3

Look at Jonah’s face. This may be the mellowest I ever see him. He’s moved (or been brought) down from Tigger land and is firmly inhabiting Pooh (this is an analogy his PT and OT use to help him recognize his emotions and general body commotion). When I see a picture like this, I can’t help but fast forward a bit in the boys’ futures. Gabriel is the big brother in this picture. Despite being four years younger than J, he may always be.

The lovefest continues as Jonah lets Gabriel gnaw on his chewy necklace. [Note the abiding Pooh-like countenance, and also the striking resemblance to his father.]:

Figure 4

We are seeing that day they said would always come. It’s nearly here. We glimpse it through the kitchen window looking out to our backyard. Jonah and Gabriel are becoming friends. Send them outside, and the odds are good they’ll play, together. They regard each other with a surprising degree of respect, even admiration. It’s all a phase, I know, but some of it will stick. I’ve never had a brother, but I know a little bit about sisters, and in the echelons of human relationships, mine occupy a place unto themselves.

[As I prepare to hit the Publish button, all hell’s breaking loose in J’s room. Trouble at the window box. Better head…]

100 Brothers

On the way home from school yesterday, Jonah asked, “Why don’t I have 100 brothers?” I reminded him that sometimes he doesn’t even want the brother he’s got, to which he responded, “Yes I Do!”—and then launched into questions about baby making.

“Can we make a baby when we get home?” Umm, that’s something only daddy and I can do honey.

“How do you make a baby anyway?” Why don’t you ask your daddy tonight.

“If you and daddy make one tonight, will it be finished in the morning?” I remind him that a baby has to live in mommy’s tummy for nine months before it can come out. I ask him if he wants a boy baby or a girl baby. Definitely a brother. I tell him you get what you get, and there’s really no choosing. He’s okay with that.

“The boy will be named Trampoline Tree,” he declares. To which I add Estes. What if it’s a girl J?

“Umm…the girl will be called, umm…Banana.” What’s her middle name, I ask. “Banana Caw. Not like caci (his word for poop, pronounced caw-key). Like the black birds that fly in the sky.”

So, Trampoline Tree and Banana Caw. We’re all set. Only, I’ve got all, and more than, I can handle. You’re probably going to have to wait for your own kiddos J, if you’re serious about this baby thing.

I like it when he gets chatty like that. With J, you can never force a conversation. If he doesn’t feel like talking, you’ll know—every question is met with an annoyed, “I don’t know.” But when he’s in the mood, it can be delightful. All the way through supper, he was a regular Chatty Patty. He even bestowed his Japanese fish necklace on me (a pink string strung with paper fish). Why is it a Japanese fish necklace? I asked. “Because I made it. Because the people in Japanese wear fish around their necks.”

Well, I guess that settles it.

O Brother

Overheard while trying to muster the desire to get out of bed: “But I don’t want that baby here! Why do you want that baby anyway?”

John’s reply: “Because we wanted you to have a brother. Because we made him and we love him.”

Two days later: “I want that baby, but it hurts!”

Jonah’s definitely sorting through the whole what to do with a younger brother thing. Gabriel’s just starting to get interesting…and capable of thwarting J’s best laid plans. Overall, they’re doing remarkably well. G thinks Jonah hung the moon. He brings him prize “gucks” and wants him to play “dirt.” Sometimes Jonah will shut his bedroom door and announce that he and G want “to do our Own thing.” We’re all for it; and as long as we don’t hear shrieks of anger or pain from either party, we consider it a blessed event.

The trouble comes when Gabriel doesn’t do whatever “game” Jonah has in his head at the time. His games are random and really nothing like what you would normally consider a game. They usually consist of some kind of jumping/rolling/crashing maneuver.

As it turns out, J is demonstrating himself to be quite the dancer—as in ballet or modern. I suspect him of being a natural at the pirouette; I imagine his grand jeté could be sublime. The trouble is finding a teacher and a class that won’t be complete frustration for everyone involved. Personal discipline isn’t exactly one of Jonah’s strengths. The pictures I conjure of him attempting to participate in a proper dance class with a proper teacher, well, they tend to dissolve before I can actually see what happens. But I know it’s possible, somehow. Jonah has this amazing unselfconsciousness that is simply beautiful to behold. Leaping and rolling and bounding come so naturally to him. He Loved the ballet production of Peter and the Wolf (click the link to see our favorite animated version) his kindergarten class attended. We may try to catch the Nutcracker tomorrow.

If ballet doesn’t work out, maybe parkour.