Gentle Parenting in Plain Sight

July 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

Galatians 5:22-23

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
We enter Saint S— from the back door and then come in at the front of the nave (sanctuary, for you non-Episcopalians). When we walked in today, we were greeted by a flash of smiles spread throughout the room. Those bright faces have made a home for us at Saint S—, a rest from the world outside. That is why we come to Saint S—, to recharge our batteries and bolster our spirits for another week on our own mission of love.

From my place on my knees two little feet entered my sphere. My son’s tiny toes, nails trimmed with two straight, quick snips, were framed by foot-shaped green flip flops.

“Mama??” came his sweet whisper, “Can I sit with my friend?”

“Which friend?” I asked him.

“The one who showed me those moves, you know, the one with the ball that has all the lights.”

I had no idea who he meant.

“J, if you go sit with someone else you need to be very quiet, ok? So they can pray? When people are in church they need to concentrate and pray. Can you sit with them quietly? And when you need to say something, remember to use whispers?”

“Sure!” came his excited answer.

“Ok,” I said. “And remember to walk, ok?”

“OK!” came his whispered exclamation. A few running steps turned into a walk as he disappeared down the side aisle.

I listened for him, but heard nothing. Where were his friends? Outside? Up a tree? There was always at least a little rustle around him. Then, from the back of the church, a tiny whisper traced its finger across the silence. There he was.

He sat with his friends for the entire service. Turns out, they were people from our confirmation class. He has grown very fond of Mike, whose easy open way makes lots of room for J. I gave a few looks to the back. Mike smiled and pointed to his tiny companion. Sounds of peace let me know that all was ok. I returned to prayer.

When it was time for communion, I went up alone. That hadn’t happened since J and I started going to church. As I knelt at the rail, my heart felt behind me. His silence was wound in with the music, contentment and adventure being brought through his devotion to God.Without my guidance, would he make it to the altar?

From my place back in our pew, I looked for him. I found him in line for communion between our two friends. My heart pressed up, pushing out my tears. My beautiful child. When it was his turn he took his place at the rail, little hands out and waiting. Tears streaked my face as I watched him. I’d never seen him from this point of view. His chubby little cheeks flexed as he chewed the bread. His mouth strained forward to sip the wine. It was all his own. He connected to his creator and his community of friends in worship and renewal. My child. God’s child.

The man he knelt next to walked by me in my reverie. I grabbed him with both hands as he passed, my eyes reaching for his. “David!” I choked, “Isn’t he beautiful! Isn’t he such a beautiful soul!”

My son’s devotion to God and church is very moving to me. His newness and tenderness is cradled in a deep love for peace and compassion. I have so much respect for the depth of his spirit, which has always been the oldest part of him. From the day he was born, something different showed in his eyes. Since then, I have watched it seek out the world.

hebrew alphabet poster

J at three-day-old

 

After communion, he sought me out. “Come on, Mama! Come sit with the friends! You are welcome to join us!” Half delirious with emotion, I followed. In the pew, I dropped onto the old, familiar comfort of a kneeler. It felt strange after many months on the floor in our family pew. My heart was on God, but on God as experienced through my son. Every breath was a wisp of magic as I joined him in his experience. Invited in. My cup was running over.

At the end of the service, Mike and Lucy turned towards the door. J wasn’t used to this. What about coffee hour? We still had more time together, right? But Mike and Lucy were going home to a busy day. They melted into the crowd and were gone.

“NO!” my little one cried. “I still want to be with them! Where are they going! I need to know!”

I looked into his pained face for an instant, then I grabbed his hand and we ran. From my taller place, I could see they were approaching the corner. My son and I, both with bare feet, tore for the door. Team Q! Catching up with our friends!

“LUCY! MIKE!” I called. They stopped and turned, surprised.

My sweet one let them know how much he was enjoying them, how much he wanted it to continue. They let him know that their day was busy and they really needed to go. And they did.

J collapsed in my arms. “No…” he sobbed. “I need to be with them and I WILL be with them! I will!”

I picked him up and carried him to coffee hour as he wept. I whispered to him as we walked. “You love your friends. You love to be with them! You want to be with them all day. It is hard to say goodbye. You don’t want to say goodbye. You want to be with them and be with them and be with them. I am so sorry they had to go.”

I talked at coffee hour with my child in my arms. He is four and kind of heavy, but my shoulder was wet with his tears. He was ready to be put down. I continued to whisper my words of comfort as I talked to a few friends. One dear friend, Cathy, listened with a face of compassion as I explained J’s unusual state. She is so good, so kind. It was hard to connect with what she was telling me about her upcoming absence from church with my little one still crying silently into my chest, but our souls were entwined as we stood there. In her face, I saw it all. Love, understanding, empathy and respect. The lessons I hope for my own parenting were being given back to me. Nourishment.

Finally, my arms got tired. I sat down on the floor with my child still pressed into my shoulder. I gave him more of what he needed, more understanding, more patience and more love. Finally, his head came up and he looked at me.

“Mama,” came his tear-strained voice, “you know what I want to do? Go for a walk!”

It was hot and getting hotter, but our town has a lot of shady trees along its streets. We got some water, some snacks, and I braced myself for the road. My sweet one needed cheering. How could I say no.

On our way to the door, we met one of the elderly women from our congregation. She stopped us to ask me about my stretched ears. As J listened to us converse, he raised his tank top over his head and then snapped it back down over his face with a smile. A few more times he snapped it, and then our companion erupted.

“NO!” she boomed.

I froze.

“NO! You do not take your shirt off in church! I am going to DISCIPLINE you!”

I couldn’t move for a second. Then I heard the crackles. They were coming from inside. It was the sound of her rapid chill thawing against the heat of my rising anger.

I used the tools I have learned from gentle parenting to calm myself quickly.

“No,” I said evenly, “You won’t. I am his mother. That is not your place.”

Her upset was irrepressible. “You don’t take your shirt off in church!” She didn’t address me. She was looking down into the face of my tiny, fragile child.

“He is FOUR,” I told her. “He is doing nothing wrong.”

“A few weeks ago he had his shirt off in church!” came her curt retort.

She was right. He did.

“I remember that,” I told her. “The collar on his shirt was stiff and was hurting him. He asked to take it off and I did. There is nothing  wrong with that. He is FOUR. It was hurting. I am not going to force him to wear something that is hurting.”

Honestly, I don’t remember the final words of this conversation. But I do remember a small, happy hand holding mine as we walked away. I remember gratitude for that tiny anchor, and I remember feeling the deepest of gratitude for the kind of relationship I have with my son, one that allows for him to choose a walk to lift himself on a sweltering afternoon. Or one that let’s him remove an uncomfortable shirt in church.

At some point on the walk, we both wore out.

“Mama, it is too hot to walk! I’m tired!” I knew this was probably the case before we started out, but he didn’t. In the process of his learning, we had enjoyed an amazing afternoon of conversation. Across the street, I saw someone selling local, seasonal berries. “Berries!” I cried, “Just what we need to keep going!”

With a small container of raspberries and one of marion berries, we pressed on. Sweet bursts of flavor punctuated our steps and we talked of our luck and gratitude. Cutting through a park, we saw a homeless man ahead. We were carrying two small containers of the sweetest berries I had ever had. I felt a force from within grab my arms and lead me. The berries were extended beneath his gaze.

His eyes met mine with surprise, and he blinked. “Thank you!” he said as he ate one.

Impulse grabbed me. “Hold out your hand,” I told him. He did, and I filled it with berries from our containers. Each movement of my hand felt like a lick of energy, a jolt that filled my entire being.

The man looked into his hand with grateful surprise, and then up at my face. Our eyes held one another in a flash moment of seeking; a touch was passed . I put my hand on his head. The words I said so often in church came out.

“God’s Peace”

“And to you,” he said, holding my eyes.

As we walked on, I didn’t feel the same. The impulse that had guided me was just that. Impulse. Its energy was still moving through me. I was keenly aware of my son’s eyes on me when I acted, and I felt a force beyond me move. J looked up at me. “Why did you give the man those berries, Mama?”

“Jesus told me to,” I said.

“Did he really?”

“Yes. I felt myself doing it without thinking. Jesus tells us to love each other. To give to each other. To take care of each other. When we do that for each other, we do it for Christ. That is what we are here for, on this earth. To love each other. Now, with each berry that man eats, he tastes God’s love inside of it. Isn’t that awesome?”

My child erupted in a fit of giggles. He leaped from the ground, twisting in the air.

“Yeah, Mama! That’s GREAT! WOW!”

“We’re almost there, babe!” I told him. “I knew we would make it! Team Q! Getting back to the car!” I turned my face to the sun and cried, “Hallelujah!”

“Hallelujah!” my tiny guru shouted.

And then,with his sweet berry-covered lips, he kissed my hand.

J strapping his "son", Jeremy, into the car. Jeremy is often mistaken for a real baby, but he is stuffing and plastic.

J strapping his “son”, Jeremy, into the car. Jeremy is often mistaken for a real baby, but he is stuffing and plastic.

Galatians 5: 25
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

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Slow to Anger

June 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

James 1:19

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 

I like kneeling in church. At Saint Ann’s, there were many parts of the service where we knelt. At our new church, there are only a few; still, I kneel at all the points in the service where I did back at Saint Ann’s. i feel more prayerful, sure; but I also feel more connected to the energy that first brought me into the Episcopalian fold.

Our pew at Saint S— is wide. It is a special pew for families, right up front. Rather than a kneeler, there is a wide space with a carpet runner for children to play during services. A basket full of toys sits on the floor, along with a tote full of crafting supplies. Children’s books generously donated by Mother K’s son sit next to hymnals and prayer books in the racks.

As I kneel, secreted in the curtain of my long hair, little cars make roads around me. Chubby hands push crumpled bits of glue covered paper beneath the veil. Sometimes, the privacy of my meditative curtain is pushed aside, and two dark brown eyes light up the space beneath.

“Mama? Mama?? Can you hear me? Watch this!” comes the small, urgent whisper of my son, He is reaching through the foil. He has found me.

My boy loves this set-up. This is the perfect mix for a kid like him. At once deeply spiritual, and yet only four, he can be four and still be a part of church. When Mother K moves down the aisle, he stops playing and moves toward her. If the time is right, she puts out her hand and he joins the procession.

Last summer, after the storm that changed our lives, we spent a few months living at Saint Ann’s. One late night my then 3 1/2-year-old son asked me, “Mama, can I be the one who stands up front and teaches about love and peace?”

I think I stopped breathing for a few small seconds.

“You mean the priest?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said. “I want to teach about love and peace. I want to be the one to give the communion.”

Since then, he has continued to tell me this. Whenever he can get involved more deeply in the services at Saint S—, he does. Bits of folded paper pile up around me, beads and feathers in my hands and shoes, but when Mother K moves, his energy shifts. He is ready to be mini-priest whenever he can.

Some at church are delighted by this. They can see his passion and they marvel at it. When he sprinkles them with holy water and unrelenting joy, the blessed drops fall like a living rain. “Your son!” they say to me during coffee hour, “He’s really something! He’s just so beautiful! So radiant!”

I don’t take credit for it. I am just as amazed at they. “He’s different,” I say to them, “He has a light inside.”

“Yes!” they say, “He shines!”

hearts with your hands

hearts with your hands

For some, a shine is dazzling. For some, it hurts the eyes. And ears. And any other sense that is touched by a child who is small, and four, and not completely still.

My son doesn’t sit in the pew next to me. He may crawl under it to get to a friend, or down the side isle to get to another. In our church, there are very few children. The few there are spend church in the nursery. J doesn’t want to be in the nursery. He wants to be with me, and he wants to be a part of the service.

We are a gentle parenting family. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it means that I am o.k. with him crawling down the side aisle, as long as others are not unduly disturbed in their worship. It means that I expect from my four-year-old boy behavior appropriate for a four-year-old boy, which doesn’t include sitting still in a seat in silence for 40 minutes. It means that no matter what I hope he will do or what I wish he would do, that I first consider what is developmentally appropriate before I respond.

And when I respond, it means I won’t respond with punishments. And I won’t respond with rewards (or bribes, whatever you might call them). I talk to my son like I want others to talk to me. I give weight to his position, his feelings, and realize that our priorities are probably not the same. We work for balance between us, and solutions that work for us as a team, not just forced compliance for the sake of saving public face.

Which is great for us as a family. We are Team Q, and we tackle everything together. When I need help, I call on Team Q. My sweet son never refuses to help me when I need him. He wipes tables, puts away dishes, folds clothes (that I usually refold later) and rushes to be a part of anything that needs to be done for the sake of the The Team.

I listen to him. What he wants matters. It matters that he needs to fold paper, or that he needs squish glue. As long as, in church, he can do it at a low volume, with respect to others, I call that harmony.

Of course, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I have also heard from a minority at our church that my son and I spend too much time together (Attachment Parenting) and that his activity in church requires Discipline.

Just this past Sunday, I asked a friend at church if she had some beginner piano books to lend. My sweet budding priest is also a budding musician. In great kindness, she gave us a set of books for him to explore.

As we stood there talking my son was losing his patience. He had already spent an hour in church, an hour after church, had helped wash the dishes and was ready to play outside. He is four. And really, that is a pretty long day for four.

As she and I talked, J pulled on my sleeve. “Just a minute,” I said. She was talking about Discipline. I felt my face getting hot. I was anxious to finish my conversation and make my point.

I am very aware of how some people view my son. When he exhibits normal impatience, my own impatience starts to rise and I can forget my Gentle Parenting Credo. Instead of telling my ADULT friend, who is practiced in waiting, to wait, I asked my tiny son: WAIT.

“I have home schooled students,” said our friend. “I don’t know what this one mother does, but when she tells her kids to stop they will stop on a dime. Children need to be disciplined.”

My sleeve got longer as my adult friend told me how important discipline was for children. My embarrassment grew with my sleeve as I asked J again to Wait.

“Are you saying J lacks Discipline?” I heard myself say, through my haze of discomfort and impatience.

My mind was too mucky to really hear my friend or my son. I was stuck in the vile place of parenting sin and parenting shame, looking like a bad mother to her and acting like a bad mother to my son.

“Mama! Please! Come see this!”

Different priorities. Now, he was making small, punctuated growls. And I was trying to make a point.

I don’t even remember what she said. But as she made her Grand Point, I was hit by a small, black shoe.

End.

She walked away, and I turned to my son. My connection button was disconnected. I was overstimulated. I could no longer think.

“MAMA! COME see THIS!”

I stood in shock for a second, and then said no. I chose the no over losing my cool. I chose it over venting. I said no, and I walked to the door.

Behind me came a flurry of tiny feet, and a tearful voice shouting, “MAMA!”

I stopped.

My little guru shouted through his tears, “We need to Stop and HUG, right now! Do it!”

And there it was. The clarity of gentle parenting. The clarity of scripture. The clarity of all that matters at the center of our lives. Love.

I stopped. I hugged. I reconnected. I found our center.

I looked into the face of my remarkable child.

“Mama,” he said, “Let’s try again.

And in this expression of God’s grace, we did.

hebrew-alphabet-poster-e&j

James 3:17

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Related articles:

http://asoftplacetolandparenting.blogspot.com/

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Woman, Heal Thy Sink

June 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

Acts 2:37-47

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day,…they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

 

Life in our new world has a lovely rhythm. Two mothers flow through the challenges of parenting in a hand-in-hand friendship that fills former gaps. I can almost hear the house sigh as it settles into a new peace, and stretches it’s ribs with warm new relationships, hugs and laughter.

About a week ago, we were enjoying such a day. Jessica sat on the floor in front of the refrigerator, sorting through the edible and beyond edible. I stood at the sink, receiving suspicious containers and produce, dumping them either into the trash or down the sink. The garbage disposal‘s deep growl created the back drop for our voices as we talked, sorted, chucked and laughed, taming disorder in the comfortable partnership we had recently formed.

Cucumber, I would come to hate you. Your pocked skin and moldy blossom end met the cut of my blade. Hunk by hunk, I fed you to the drain. Hungry blades made a meal of you, and swept you away.

Then it happened.

Suddenly, rather than going down, water was coming up. Wait a minute, now it was coming up on both sides of the sink. I shut off the disposal and stared at the two sinks now a quarter full of water. My formerly peaceful heart was now hammering on the top of my tongue. I tried to swallow it, but I couldn’t.

The effects of deep trauma and grief have compromised my ability to cope with normal stressors. Discomfort enters and I begin to collapse. Staring into the floating bits of cucumber, I saw my future. How could I be allowed to continue to dwell in this land of peace? I had just broken the sink.

Jessica’s eyes rolled as she swiped a hand down over her face. It was a gesture I was now well acquainted with. It was her gesture of exasperation. She rocked herself up from her spot on the floor.

“This has happened before,” she said.

“What do we do?” I asked in a voice knitted with fear.

She let out her breath in a puff. “Wait,” she told me.

I’m not good at waiting. I wasn’t good at waiting before all the trauma and I am less good at waiting now.

Do you know what waiting is? It is the space between the wondering and the knowing. And it is all filled up with the anxiety of the thing you are waiting to know. it’s like back on the farm, when i was being kept a prisoner. When he said I wouldn’t survive the night. I waited. It is like back in the NICU when they told me that there was one last thing they could try. I waited.

With the kinds of waiting I have done I have developed an aversion.

And here, in this new heaven, I waited. Had I just created a problem I couldn’t afford to solve? Visions of plumbers choked off my breath, tied knots in my intestines and painted sweat across my palms. I looked at the swirl of vegetable bits and thought of eating from dumpsters. I wondered where I would put our stuff. And I waited.

Hours later, the drains were still full of water, but it had gone down. I employed my non-toxic drain opening method immediately. This is supposed to be applied to a DRY drain, and has never failed me, but I couldn’t wait for a dry drain. I needed the sink fixed now.

I filled my largest pot and set it on to boil. This is the recipe for opening a drain without toxic chemicals

1. Put 1/2 a cup of DRY baking soda down the sink.

2. Add 3/4 of a cup of vinegar. Have a drain stopper on hand to cap the drain IMMEDIATELY as it will begin to fizz out and you need to trap this action in the drain itself. If you are working with a double sink, do both sides.

3. WAIT 30 minutes.

4. Pour a gallon of boiling water down each drain.

I’ve used this method before. I’ve used it when repeated applications of chemical drain openers failed and it worked. It has always worked. After 25 minutes (i couldn’t WAIT any longer), I poured the boiling water in. I watched the swirl of cucumber bits rise up to mock.

I talked to me. “Erika, don’t panic. Erika, breathe slowly. Erika, wait until the morning and try again.”

The next morning. i was jamming baking soda down the drain with a butter knife before Id even had coffee. By afternoon, I was teary eyed as I plunged the sink ferociously, cucumber bits flying up and sticking to the front of my shirt. Wet from within with sweat and wet from without with impossible sludge, the panic continued to rise. What was left?

The night before, I had reassured Jessica. My Uncle Ernest was a plumber. I would get his advice. I had a few more things to try. I would fix it.

At that moment, looking into the drain, I could hear Jessica’s voice in my mind. She would be talking to her grandmother. She would be telling her I broke the sink. I closed my eyes and took some breaths.

In the front yard, I heard the sound of our neighbor. Jack, a kind man who has developed an affection for this family, had come over to water the grass. I asked him to borrow a wrench.

Was there a part of me that hoped my request would be met with his offer to fix the sink? Of course. But there was another part. There was something deeper down. There was something more. There was a badly beaten woman who was still very much alive.

My hand raised up to touch my forehead. It protrudes more on one side than the other, a result of a severe beating back on the farm. It was a beating that left my entire face black and my forehead hanging over my eyes like a shelf. Sometimes I touch it, and I remember.

Remembering sometimes makes me want to lay down. It makes me tired and it makes me want to give up. Other times, it makes me take apart all the pipes under the sink.

I had done some reading.. The clog was probably in the trap. (That’s the curvy part, for those of you that don’t know.) When it wasn’t, I took apart more pipes. Soon, I was staring into a hole in the wall that went deep into the plumbing. I stuck my short, little finger in it and thought.

Downstairs in the garage, i rummaged for tools. Anything. Something stiff and long to poke into that hole. I found an old piece of T.V. cable and ran upstairs.

Back on the floor, I started feeding in the cable. About a foot down, it stopped. When i pulled it out, it was covered with grease. A grease clog. Not cucumber. It wasn’t my fault. And it was only a foot down. With the right tool, I could handle this.

Some people call them a snake. It’s really called a drain auger. Pictures I saw on line showed a coiled cable with a hand crank. I could use that. I got on the wire.

For such a fearful person, I know how to work a network. I emailed my priest for recommendations and anyone else i knew locally who was even remotely handy. Then, suddenly, I was struck by inspiration.

A few weeks ago, I was confirmed. I remembered a guy in my confirmation class, Mike, talking about his huge collection of tools. I grabbed the church directory (which I’d only just picked up) and sent him a text. Drain auger. Today. Do you have one?

He did.

My wee one and I had an unschoolers playdate. We were meeting several other unschooling friends at a great play space at Lifeworks for an afternoon of exploration and unwinding. I sent Mike the address there. He said he’d show up with the tool.

When Mike walked up I didn’t quite know what to say. He didn’t have a coil with a crank. He was carrying a big, heavy power tool that probably used to have a manual.

“You are going to have to tell me how to use that,” I said.

Mike blinked. “I’ve never used it.”

We stood in silence.

“Um….” said friend Mike, “Maybe this is more of a man tool.”

I began to heat up.

“Um…. This thing is really gusto….” he stammered, “You know, like Tim the Toolman Taylor… guys kind of like to overdo it. This probably too much for you.”

My dam of fear broke and my feminist rage flowed through it.

“UM….. No offense! You probably just don’t know about how guys are into power!” came Mike’s frightened response to the Amazon glare he was now under.

“Oh, yeah?” I said. “Just the other day I was bragging to my friend about how my hand mixer was 300 watts and hers was only 120! Give me that tool!”

There is nothing you can’t learn from a Youtube video. My sweet babe and I watched one about the Super Vee Drain Auger and I went to work. It took several tries and I had to go down 12 feet into the pipes, but I didn’t let anything stop me.

N, Jessica’s son, was in the kitchen while I was working. “Wow… that thing shakes your whole body….” he said.

From deep inside my wounded core I felt myself snarl, “You bet it does.”

He and J were outside playing by the time I put the pipes back together for the final time. I turned on the water, and I waited. I watched it gurgle down and waited for it to rise back up. It never did.

I ran out on to the deck and screamed down into the yard to the boys, “I DID IT!!!!!!! I DID IT!!!!!!!!” They joined me in my victory dance and we all squealed and laughed and tickled and hugged. I cleaned up my mess and spent at least ten minutes just watching the water go down.

Now N says to me, “Who fixed the sink?” and I call back, “I fixed the sink!” and the house is filled with the warm, round, connected laughter of healing in progress.

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Gentle Parenting in Plain Sight

July 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

Galatians 5:22-23

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
We enter Saint S— from the back door and then come in at the front of the nave (sanctuary, for you non-Episcopalians). When we walked in today, we were greeted by a flash of smiles spread throughout the room. Those bright faces have made a home for us at Saint S—, a rest from the world outside. That is why we come to Saint S—, to recharge our batteries and bolster our spirits for another week on our own mission of love.

From my place on my knees two little feet entered my sphere. My son’s tiny toes, nails trimmed with two straight, quick snips, were framed by foot-shaped green flip flops.

“Mama??” came his sweet whisper, “Can I sit with my friend?”

“Which friend?” I asked him.

“The one who showed me those moves, you know, the one with the ball that has all the lights.”

I had no idea who he meant.

“J, if you go sit with someone else you need to be very quiet, ok? So they can pray? When people are in church they need to concentrate and pray. Can you sit with them quietly? And when you need to say something, remember to use whispers?”

“Sure!” came his excited answer.

“Ok,” I said. “And remember to walk, ok?”

“OK!” came his whispered exclamation. A few running steps turned into a walk as he disappeared down the side aisle.

I listened for him, but heard nothing. Where were his friends? Outside? Up a tree? There was always at least a little rustle around him. Then, from the back of the church, a tiny whisper traced its finger across the silence. There he was.

He sat with his friends for the entire service. Turns out, they were people from our confirmation class. He has grown very fond of Mike, whose easy open way makes lots of room for J. I gave a few looks to the back. Mike smiled and pointed to his tiny companion. Sounds of peace let me know that all was ok. I returned to prayer.

When it was time for communion, I went up alone. That hadn’t happened since J and I started going to church. As I knelt at the rail, my heart felt behind me. His silence was wound in with the music, contentment and adventure being brought through his devotion to God.Without my guidance, would he make it to the altar?

From my place back in our pew, I looked for him. I found him in line for communion between our two friends. My heart pressed up, pushing out my tears. My beautiful child. When it was his turn he took his place at the rail, little hands out and waiting. Tears streaked my face as I watched him. I’d never seen him from this point of view. His chubby little cheeks flexed as he chewed the bread. His mouth strained forward to sip the wine. It was all his own. He connected to his creator and his community of friends in worship and renewal. My child. God’s child.

The man he knelt next to walked by me in my reverie. I grabbed him with both hands as he passed, my eyes reaching for his. “David!” I choked, “Isn’t he beautiful! Isn’t he such a beautiful soul!”

My son’s devotion to God and church is very moving to me. His newness and tenderness is cradled in a deep love for peace and compassion. I have so much respect for the depth of his spirit, which has always been the oldest part of him. From the day he was born, something different showed in his eyes. Since then, I have watched it seek out the world.

hebrew alphabet poster

J at three-day-old

 

After communion, he sought me out. “Come on, Mama! Come sit with the friends! You are welcome to join us!” Half delirious with emotion, I followed. In the pew, I dropped onto the old, familiar comfort of a kneeler. It felt strange after many months on the floor in our family pew. My heart was on God, but on God as experienced through my son. Every breath was a wisp of magic as I joined him in his experience. Invited in. My cup was running over.

At the end of the service, Mike and Lucy turned towards the door. J wasn’t used to this. What about coffee hour? We still had more time together, right? But Mike and Lucy were going home to a busy day. They melted into the crowd and were gone.

“NO!” my little one cried. “I still want to be with them! Where are they going! I need to know!”

I looked into his pained face for an instant, then I grabbed his hand and we ran. From my taller place, I could see they were approaching the corner. My son and I, both with bare feet, tore for the door. Team Q! Catching up with our friends!

“LUCY! MIKE!” I called. They stopped and turned, surprised.

My sweet one let them know how much he was enjoying them, how much he wanted it to continue. They let him know that their day was busy and they really needed to go. And they did.

J collapsed in my arms. “No…” he sobbed. “I need to be with them and I WILL be with them! I will!”

I picked him up and carried him to coffee hour as he wept. I whispered to him as we walked. “You love your friends. You love to be with them! You want to be with them all day. It is hard to say goodbye. You don’t want to say goodbye. You want to be with them and be with them and be with them. I am so sorry they had to go.”

I talked at coffee hour with my child in my arms. He is four and kind of heavy, but my shoulder was wet with his tears. He was ready to be put down. I continued to whisper my words of comfort as I talked to a few friends. One dear friend, Cathy, listened with a face of compassion as I explained J’s unusual state. She is so good, so kind. It was hard to connect with what she was telling me about her upcoming absence from church with my little one still crying silently into my chest, but our souls were entwined as we stood there. In her face, I saw it all. Love, understanding, empathy and respect. The lessons I hope for my own parenting were being given back to me. Nourishment.

Finally, my arms got tired. I sat down on the floor with my child still pressed into my shoulder. I gave him more of what he needed, more understanding, more patience and more love. Finally, his head came up and he looked at me.

“Mama,” came his tear-strained voice, “you know what I want to do? Go for a walk!”

It was hot and getting hotter, but our town has a lot of shady trees along its streets. We got some water, some snacks, and I braced myself for the road. My sweet one needed cheering. How could I say no.

On our way to the door, we met one of the elderly women from our congregation. She stopped us to ask me about my stretched ears. As J listened to us converse, he raised his tank top over his head and then snapped it back down over his face with a smile. A few more times he snapped it, and then our companion erupted.

“NO!” she boomed.

I froze.

“NO! You do not take your shirt off in church! I am going to DISCIPLINE you!”

I couldn’t move for a second. Then I heard the crackles. They were coming from inside. It was the sound of her rapid chill thawing against the heat of my rising anger.

I used the tools I have learned from gentle parenting to calm myself quickly.

“No,” I said evenly, “You won’t. I am his mother. That is not your place.”

Her upset was irrepressible. “You don’t take your shirt off in church!” She didn’t address me. She was looking down into the face of my tiny, fragile child.

“He is FOUR,” I told her. “He is doing nothing wrong.”

“A few weeks ago he had his shirt off in church!” came her curt retort.

She was right. He did.

“I remember that,” I told her. “The collar on his shirt was stiff and was hurting him. He asked to take it off and I did. There is nothing  wrong with that. He is FOUR. It was hurting. I am not going to force him to wear something that is hurting.”

Honestly, I don’t remember the final words of this conversation. But I do remember a small, happy hand holding mine as we walked away. I remember gratitude for that tiny anchor, and I remember feeling the deepest of gratitude for the kind of relationship I have with my son, one that allows for him to choose a walk to lift himself on a sweltering afternoon. Or one that let’s him remove an uncomfortable shirt in church.

At some point on the walk, we both wore out.

“Mama, it is too hot to walk! I’m tired!” I knew this was probably the case before we started out, but he didn’t. In the process of his learning, we had enjoyed an amazing afternoon of conversation. Across the street, I saw someone selling local, seasonal berries. “Berries!” I cried, “Just what we need to keep going!”

With a small container of raspberries and one of marion berries, we pressed on. Sweet bursts of flavor punctuated our steps and we talked of our luck and gratitude. Cutting through a park, we saw a homeless man ahead. We were carrying two small containers of the sweetest berries I had ever had. I felt a force from within grab my arms and lead me. The berries were extended beneath his gaze.

His eyes met mine with surprise, and he blinked. “Thank you!” he said as he ate one.

Impulse grabbed me. “Hold out your hand,” I told him. He did, and I filled it with berries from our containers. Each movement of my hand felt like a lick of energy, a jolt that filled my entire being.

The man looked into his hand with grateful surprise, and then up at my face. Our eyes held one another in a flash moment of seeking; a touch was passed . I put my hand on his head. The words I said so often in church came out.

“God’s Peace”

“And to you,” he said, holding my eyes.

As we walked on, I didn’t feel the same. The impulse that had guided me was just that. Impulse. Its energy was still moving through me. I was keenly aware of my son’s eyes on me when I acted, and I felt a force beyond me move. J looked up at me. “Why did you give the man those berries, Mama?”

“Jesus told me to,” I said.

“Did he really?”

“Yes. I felt myself doing it without thinking. Jesus tells us to love each other. To give to each other. To take care of each other. When we do that for each other, we do it for Christ. That is what we are here for, on this earth. To love each other. Now, with each berry that man eats, he tastes God’s love inside of it. Isn’t that awesome?”

My child erupted in a fit of giggles. He leaped from the ground, twisting in the air.

“Yeah, Mama! That’s GREAT! WOW!”

“We’re almost there, babe!” I told him. “I knew we would make it! Team Q! Getting back to the car!” I turned my face to the sun and cried, “Hallelujah!”

“Hallelujah!” my tiny guru shouted.

And then,with his sweet berry-covered lips, he kissed my hand.

J strapping his "son", Jeremy, into the car. Jeremy is often mistaken for a real baby, but he is stuffing and plastic.

J strapping his “son”, Jeremy, into the car. Jeremy is often mistaken for a real baby, but he is stuffing and plastic.

Galatians 5: 25
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

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Slow to Anger

June 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

James 1:19

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 

I like kneeling in church. At Saint Ann’s, there were many parts of the service where we knelt. At our new church, there are only a few; still, I kneel at all the points in the service where I did back at Saint Ann’s. i feel more prayerful, sure; but I also feel more connected to the energy that first brought me into the Episcopalian fold.

Our pew at Saint S— is wide. It is a special pew for families, right up front. Rather than a kneeler, there is a wide space with a carpet runner for children to play during services. A basket full of toys sits on the floor, along with a tote full of crafting supplies. Children’s books generously donated by Mother K’s son sit next to hymnals and prayer books in the racks.

As I kneel, secreted in the curtain of my long hair, little cars make roads around me. Chubby hands push crumpled bits of glue covered paper beneath the veil. Sometimes, the privacy of my meditative curtain is pushed aside, and two dark brown eyes light up the space beneath.

“Mama? Mama?? Can you hear me? Watch this!” comes the small, urgent whisper of my son, He is reaching through the foil. He has found me.

My boy loves this set-up. This is the perfect mix for a kid like him. At once deeply spiritual, and yet only four, he can be four and still be a part of church. When Mother K moves down the aisle, he stops playing and moves toward her. If the time is right, she puts out her hand and he joins the procession.

Last summer, after the storm that changed our lives, we spent a few months living at Saint Ann’s. One late night my then 3 1/2-year-old son asked me, “Mama, can I be the one who stands up front and teaches about love and peace?”

I think I stopped breathing for a few small seconds.

“You mean the priest?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said. “I want to teach about love and peace. I want to be the one to give the communion.”

Since then, he has continued to tell me this. Whenever he can get involved more deeply in the services at Saint S—, he does. Bits of folded paper pile up around me, beads and feathers in my hands and shoes, but when Mother K moves, his energy shifts. He is ready to be mini-priest whenever he can.

Some at church are delighted by this. They can see his passion and they marvel at it. When he sprinkles them with holy water and unrelenting joy, the blessed drops fall like a living rain. “Your son!” they say to me during coffee hour, “He’s really something! He’s just so beautiful! So radiant!”

I don’t take credit for it. I am just as amazed at they. “He’s different,” I say to them, “He has a light inside.”

“Yes!” they say, “He shines!”

hearts with your hands

hearts with your hands

For some, a shine is dazzling. For some, it hurts the eyes. And ears. And any other sense that is touched by a child who is small, and four, and not completely still.

My son doesn’t sit in the pew next to me. He may crawl under it to get to a friend, or down the side isle to get to another. In our church, there are very few children. The few there are spend church in the nursery. J doesn’t want to be in the nursery. He wants to be with me, and he wants to be a part of the service.

We are a gentle parenting family. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it means that I am o.k. with him crawling down the side aisle, as long as others are not unduly disturbed in their worship. It means that I expect from my four-year-old boy behavior appropriate for a four-year-old boy, which doesn’t include sitting still in a seat in silence for 40 minutes. It means that no matter what I hope he will do or what I wish he would do, that I first consider what is developmentally appropriate before I respond.

And when I respond, it means I won’t respond with punishments. And I won’t respond with rewards (or bribes, whatever you might call them). I talk to my son like I want others to talk to me. I give weight to his position, his feelings, and realize that our priorities are probably not the same. We work for balance between us, and solutions that work for us as a team, not just forced compliance for the sake of saving public face.

Which is great for us as a family. We are Team Q, and we tackle everything together. When I need help, I call on Team Q. My sweet son never refuses to help me when I need him. He wipes tables, puts away dishes, folds clothes (that I usually refold later) and rushes to be a part of anything that needs to be done for the sake of the The Team.

I listen to him. What he wants matters. It matters that he needs to fold paper, or that he needs squish glue. As long as, in church, he can do it at a low volume, with respect to others, I call that harmony.

Of course, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I have also heard from a minority at our church that my son and I spend too much time together (Attachment Parenting) and that his activity in church requires Discipline.

Just this past Sunday, I asked a friend at church if she had some beginner piano books to lend. My sweet budding priest is also a budding musician. In great kindness, she gave us a set of books for him to explore.

As we stood there talking my son was losing his patience. He had already spent an hour in church, an hour after church, had helped wash the dishes and was ready to play outside. He is four. And really, that is a pretty long day for four.

As she and I talked, J pulled on my sleeve. “Just a minute,” I said. She was talking about Discipline. I felt my face getting hot. I was anxious to finish my conversation and make my point.

I am very aware of how some people view my son. When he exhibits normal impatience, my own impatience starts to rise and I can forget my Gentle Parenting Credo. Instead of telling my ADULT friend, who is practiced in waiting, to wait, I asked my tiny son: WAIT.

“I have home schooled students,” said our friend. “I don’t know what this one mother does, but when she tells her kids to stop they will stop on a dime. Children need to be disciplined.”

My sleeve got longer as my adult friend told me how important discipline was for children. My embarrassment grew with my sleeve as I asked J again to Wait.

“Are you saying J lacks Discipline?” I heard myself say, through my haze of discomfort and impatience.

My mind was too mucky to really hear my friend or my son. I was stuck in the vile place of parenting sin and parenting shame, looking like a bad mother to her and acting like a bad mother to my son.

“Mama! Please! Come see this!”

Different priorities. Now, he was making small, punctuated growls. And I was trying to make a point.

I don’t even remember what she said. But as she made her Grand Point, I was hit by a small, black shoe.

End.

She walked away, and I turned to my son. My connection button was disconnected. I was overstimulated. I could no longer think.

“MAMA! COME see THIS!”

I stood in shock for a second, and then said no. I chose the no over losing my cool. I chose it over venting. I said no, and I walked to the door.

Behind me came a flurry of tiny feet, and a tearful voice shouting, “MAMA!”

I stopped.

My little guru shouted through his tears, “We need to Stop and HUG, right now! Do it!”

And there it was. The clarity of gentle parenting. The clarity of scripture. The clarity of all that matters at the center of our lives. Love.

I stopped. I hugged. I reconnected. I found our center.

I looked into the face of my remarkable child.

“Mama,” he said, “Let’s try again.

And in this expression of God’s grace, we did.

hebrew-alphabet-poster-e&j

James 3:17

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Related articles:

http://asoftplacetolandparenting.blogspot.com/

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Woman, Heal Thy Sink

June 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

Acts 2:37-47

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day,…they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

 

Life in our new world has a lovely rhythm. Two mothers flow through the challenges of parenting in a hand-in-hand friendship that fills former gaps. I can almost hear the house sigh as it settles into a new peace, and stretches it’s ribs with warm new relationships, hugs and laughter.

About a week ago, we were enjoying such a day. Jessica sat on the floor in front of the refrigerator, sorting through the edible and beyond edible. I stood at the sink, receiving suspicious containers and produce, dumping them either into the trash or down the sink. The garbage disposal‘s deep growl created the back drop for our voices as we talked, sorted, chucked and laughed, taming disorder in the comfortable partnership we had recently formed.

Cucumber, I would come to hate you. Your pocked skin and moldy blossom end met the cut of my blade. Hunk by hunk, I fed you to the drain. Hungry blades made a meal of you, and swept you away.

Then it happened.

Suddenly, rather than going down, water was coming up. Wait a minute, now it was coming up on both sides of the sink. I shut off the disposal and stared at the two sinks now a quarter full of water. My formerly peaceful heart was now hammering on the top of my tongue. I tried to swallow it, but I couldn’t.

The effects of deep trauma and grief have compromised my ability to cope with normal stressors. Discomfort enters and I begin to collapse. Staring into the floating bits of cucumber, I saw my future. How could I be allowed to continue to dwell in this land of peace? I had just broken the sink.

Jessica’s eyes rolled as she swiped a hand down over her face. It was a gesture I was now well acquainted with. It was her gesture of exasperation. She rocked herself up from her spot on the floor.

“This has happened before,” she said.

“What do we do?” I asked in a voice knitted with fear.

She let out her breath in a puff. “Wait,” she told me.

I’m not good at waiting. I wasn’t good at waiting before all the trauma and I am less good at waiting now.

Do you know what waiting is? It is the space between the wondering and the knowing. And it is all filled up with the anxiety of the thing you are waiting to know. it’s like back on the farm, when i was being kept a prisoner. When he said I wouldn’t survive the night. I waited. It is like back in the NICU when they told me that there was one last thing they could try. I waited.

With the kinds of waiting I have done I have developed an aversion.

And here, in this new heaven, I waited. Had I just created a problem I couldn’t afford to solve? Visions of plumbers choked off my breath, tied knots in my intestines and painted sweat across my palms. I looked at the swirl of vegetable bits and thought of eating from dumpsters. I wondered where I would put our stuff. And I waited.

Hours later, the drains were still full of water, but it had gone down. I employed my non-toxic drain opening method immediately. This is supposed to be applied to a DRY drain, and has never failed me, but I couldn’t wait for a dry drain. I needed the sink fixed now.

I filled my largest pot and set it on to boil. This is the recipe for opening a drain without toxic chemicals

1. Put 1/2 a cup of DRY baking soda down the sink.

2. Add 3/4 of a cup of vinegar. Have a drain stopper on hand to cap the drain IMMEDIATELY as it will begin to fizz out and you need to trap this action in the drain itself. If you are working with a double sink, do both sides.

3. WAIT 30 minutes.

4. Pour a gallon of boiling water down each drain.

I’ve used this method before. I’ve used it when repeated applications of chemical drain openers failed and it worked. It has always worked. After 25 minutes (i couldn’t WAIT any longer), I poured the boiling water in. I watched the swirl of cucumber bits rise up to mock.

I talked to me. “Erika, don’t panic. Erika, breathe slowly. Erika, wait until the morning and try again.”

The next morning. i was jamming baking soda down the drain with a butter knife before Id even had coffee. By afternoon, I was teary eyed as I plunged the sink ferociously, cucumber bits flying up and sticking to the front of my shirt. Wet from within with sweat and wet from without with impossible sludge, the panic continued to rise. What was left?

The night before, I had reassured Jessica. My Uncle Ernest was a plumber. I would get his advice. I had a few more things to try. I would fix it.

At that moment, looking into the drain, I could hear Jessica’s voice in my mind. She would be talking to her grandmother. She would be telling her I broke the sink. I closed my eyes and took some breaths.

In the front yard, I heard the sound of our neighbor. Jack, a kind man who has developed an affection for this family, had come over to water the grass. I asked him to borrow a wrench.

Was there a part of me that hoped my request would be met with his offer to fix the sink? Of course. But there was another part. There was something deeper down. There was something more. There was a badly beaten woman who was still very much alive.

My hand raised up to touch my forehead. It protrudes more on one side than the other, a result of a severe beating back on the farm. It was a beating that left my entire face black and my forehead hanging over my eyes like a shelf. Sometimes I touch it, and I remember.

Remembering sometimes makes me want to lay down. It makes me tired and it makes me want to give up. Other times, it makes me take apart all the pipes under the sink.

I had done some reading.. The clog was probably in the trap. (That’s the curvy part, for those of you that don’t know.) When it wasn’t, I took apart more pipes. Soon, I was staring into a hole in the wall that went deep into the plumbing. I stuck my short, little finger in it and thought.

Downstairs in the garage, i rummaged for tools. Anything. Something stiff and long to poke into that hole. I found an old piece of T.V. cable and ran upstairs.

Back on the floor, I started feeding in the cable. About a foot down, it stopped. When i pulled it out, it was covered with grease. A grease clog. Not cucumber. It wasn’t my fault. And it was only a foot down. With the right tool, I could handle this.

Some people call them a snake. It’s really called a drain auger. Pictures I saw on line showed a coiled cable with a hand crank. I could use that. I got on the wire.

For such a fearful person, I know how to work a network. I emailed my priest for recommendations and anyone else i knew locally who was even remotely handy. Then, suddenly, I was struck by inspiration.

A few weeks ago, I was confirmed. I remembered a guy in my confirmation class, Mike, talking about his huge collection of tools. I grabbed the church directory (which I’d only just picked up) and sent him a text. Drain auger. Today. Do you have one?

He did.

My wee one and I had an unschoolers playdate. We were meeting several other unschooling friends at a great play space at Lifeworks for an afternoon of exploration and unwinding. I sent Mike the address there. He said he’d show up with the tool.

When Mike walked up I didn’t quite know what to say. He didn’t have a coil with a crank. He was carrying a big, heavy power tool that probably used to have a manual.

“You are going to have to tell me how to use that,” I said.

Mike blinked. “I’ve never used it.”

We stood in silence.

“Um….” said friend Mike, “Maybe this is more of a man tool.”

I began to heat up.

“Um…. This thing is really gusto….” he stammered, “You know, like Tim the Toolman Taylor… guys kind of like to overdo it. This probably too much for you.”

My dam of fear broke and my feminist rage flowed through it.

“UM….. No offense! You probably just don’t know about how guys are into power!” came Mike’s frightened response to the Amazon glare he was now under.

“Oh, yeah?” I said. “Just the other day I was bragging to my friend about how my hand mixer was 300 watts and hers was only 120! Give me that tool!”

There is nothing you can’t learn from a Youtube video. My sweet babe and I watched one about the Super Vee Drain Auger and I went to work. It took several tries and I had to go down 12 feet into the pipes, but I didn’t let anything stop me.

N, Jessica’s son, was in the kitchen while I was working. “Wow… that thing shakes your whole body….” he said.

From deep inside my wounded core I felt myself snarl, “You bet it does.”

He and J were outside playing by the time I put the pipes back together for the final time. I turned on the water, and I waited. I watched it gurgle down and waited for it to rise back up. It never did.

I ran out on to the deck and screamed down into the yard to the boys, “I DID IT!!!!!!! I DID IT!!!!!!!!” They joined me in my victory dance and we all squealed and laughed and tickled and hugged. I cleaned up my mess and spent at least ten minutes just watching the water go down.

Now N says to me, “Who fixed the sink?” and I call back, “I fixed the sink!” and the house is filled with the warm, round, connected laughter of healing in progress.

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My Trust in You

June 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

Psalm 9

10 Those who know your Name will put their trust in you, *
for you never forsake those who seek you, O LORD.

The light of another rainy day is leaving us. Behind me, tall grass blows against the wide windows, flicking the glass with a cool evening spray. Across the long room, soft light shines through the scarf I’ve hung around the lamp. We are still lining the generous confines of this new nest with touches of our own.

The last time I wrote you, my son slept a few feet from me under the roof of the tiny 9′ x 11′ house. The occasional thud of a cat landing above kept company with the barks and meows of the family with whom we lived. We were warm, dry and loved; but my four-year-old ached for the space required for the active life of a young child.

My monk-like boy didn’t often complain. He spoke with love of every dog and cat who snuffled at our door. He ran to pet and hug any animal that would accept it, and my heart broke as I watched him. My beautiful child, a wellspring of love; he needed more. He deserved more.

What could I do? Starting over takes time. Building from the ground up with only ideas and faith happens slowly, one miracle at a time. My son would have to wait for a string of miracles to give him the things he needed to feed his young life, even simple things. Like space.

I looked at the houses we passed on our walks. I focused on the smallest ones. How much could it cost to live in a small place like that? Look at the yard… J could dig in that dirt. There is even a fence. But fence after fence kept us out. I squeezed my son’s tiny hand. We walked on.

God is always listening. God is always working. God is always weaving. And, if we listen, God is always talking.

We went to play groups, as many as we could. We went anywhere just to have a place to jump and tumble and stretch, things the tiny house did not allow. Most of the children there were younger than mine, children awaiting the day when they would start preschool. We are unschoolers. That day, for us, was not coming. We just needed a place to play.

At one of our groups, I started chatting with one of the other moms. We seemed to have a lot in common, or I hoped we did. I hoped that making friends here would be easier for different people like us. When I found this mom shared so many of my own philosophies, I thought I’d hit upon a match.

After group one day, I invited her out for fries. As I asked, another mother I had been talking to walked by with her own little one. As she looked up, I saw something in her eyes. It flashed for a second before she turned her eyes to the floor and moved on. I watched her get into her car and my heart stirred. I heard God speaking. I had made a mistake. It was to this woman I should reach out.

The next time, I asked the her to join us for fries. Her name was Jessica. Fries and the park led to invitations to her house. The friend I had been hoping to make rose up in front of me. I had put my own ideas aside and listened to a movement in my heart. The voice of God said, “Embrace Jessica.”

As I was helping Jessica fold laundry one day she said, “I’ve been thinking about your living situation. We have a lot of space, Erika. Would you guys consider living here?”

My first reaction was fear. Change. Unknown. I hadn’t known Jessica very long. Images of the tiny house rose up in my mind. The meows and barks and all the things that came with such a menagerie also rose up. I was afraid. As challenging as the tiny house was, our friend there had been in my life a long time. She was very familiar. Jessica was new to us. I asked to keep the question open.

A few weeks later, J and I were in our car, driving away from the little house. A sudden complication of circumstances required quick thinking, and I called Jessica. “Can we come over, just for the night?” She was ready.

When we got there, she showed us to the extra bedroom downstairs. The comfortable room had an even more comfortable bed sitting in the middle of it. My little one and I climbed into it’s luxuriously downy arms, and he fell asleep.

Later, on the back porch with Jessica, we talked over the tumultuous events of the day. Tenuously, I explored the edges of her offer. What would life look like in this new place? How would these two families work together while maintaining their own identities and habits? I watched Jessica’s dark eyes while she talked. My trauma kept my emotions high, but inside something else was talking. God said, “Listen. Look at her eyes. Look and listen.”

One car load at a time, we moved our things. Fear bit at my nerves with every gesture. I prayed. When the fear would rise I would close my eyes. “I rest it all on you, Lord. Lead me. I will follow You.”

As our boxes arrive, Jessica moved hers aside. When we took a tentative step forward, Jessica’s arm swept the path clear. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Packing and moving made me nervous. Jessica came with us to the old place for support. Her dark, determined eyes flashed over the tops of our well-traveled boxes as she carried load after load with ferocity and gusto. My friend had become a kind of champion. As I watched her move, I let a little of my fear slip away.

Upstairs, I can hear the soft voices of Jessica and her oldest son. The baby is asleep, now. This is their time. My own sweet son sleeps on the downy bed in the next room while I expand my psychic energy to fill the 25′ length of this room. If I need to use the bathroom, ours is just a few feet away. When I get tired, a soft bed waits. A kitchen and a refrigerator are only feet away. God has done this for us, God and Jessica.

Jessica is a young mother. She is new here; and the house was too big for them. Our presence here is medicine for her family. I am an older mother. We are new here, too; and our house was too small. Our life here is medicine for our family.

Talking to Jessica is changing me. I am seeing myself through new eyes. When she hugs me and thanks me for being here, I am stunned with amazement and gratitude.

I apologize for my deficits. I apologize for being too strange. She says they aren’t deficits. She says I am not strange. She says I am different, and magical, and wonderful. I think I have given up blinking.

A few nights ago, I sat with Jessica. All the children were in bed. She was showing me the string tricks she had been teaching to her oldest. It had been years since I had seen those old tricks. I thought of those old days. I glanced down at my hands.

When I was a child, I had rubbed the back of my left hand with a pencil erase until all of the outer skin had come off. A self-made, concentrated friction burn. Richie Mylar had shown me that trick. It was the trick of a child in pain. Pain to pain, we passed it. It left a scar. I lived with that scar all of my adult life. I couldn’t believe how tenacious it was, that little scar from an erase burn.

I sat with Jessica. I looked down at my scar. It was gone.

I turned my hand towards the light. I stroked. I looked. Nothing.

The tension of all of our recent experiences pressed hard against my heart. Fear, worry, insecurity, self-loathing, doubt, anxiety, pain of every stripe. I looked at the back of my hand. Smooth. No more scar.

Behind me, the living green of the grass reaches all the way back to the woods. On the way, it skips over the sand pit where my son digs almost every day. At the edge of the far woods is a row of lush blackberries canes, dotted with the buds of new flowers. In our new home we are warm and safe. And we wait for the harvest.

hebrew alphabet kids

Grassroots Marketing

March 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

Psalm 69

15   In your great mercy, O God, *
answer me with your unfailing help.
16   Save me from the mire; do not let me sink; *
let me be rescued from those who hate me and out of the deep waters.
17   Let not the torrent of waters wash over me, neither let the deep swallow me up; *
do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me.
18   Answer me, O LORD, for your love is kind; *
in your great compassion, turn to me.”
19   Hide not your face from your servant; *
be swift and answer me, for I am in distress.

These nights that I write to you almost happen in a sigh. Days full of frantic efforts stop when I sit down to write. Efforts to sustain my family and move my work forward consume every moment.  I never stop moving, never stop talking about my work, never stop taking action. I grapple with the hooks of my insistence, up and up and up. From my place down here, I see the lip of the hole. I keep my eyes on the light, and my sweet one strapped securely to my back. Every nerve and muscle in my body is drawn up in the tense anxiety of waiting, and of working. My goal is in front of me; and I am ceaseless.

I pray. From inside, I hear a voice. “Have faith, have faith. God did not bring you 3000 miles to drop you in the mud. There is a purpose and a plan. Do the next right thing. Keep moving.”

I do. Last week, I announced the release of my Living Hebrew Aleph Bet. I can’t say this with certainty; but, I am fairly sure, there is no other widely circulated Living Hebrew Aleph Bet around. My alphabet reaches out and connects. The natural shape of each animal flows in the shape of the letter. They become one. They are a walking, talking circle of friends. They invite you, “Learn with us.” With them as my partners, we have every reason to succeed.

With passion under my wings, technicalities broke in. My perfect store both on this site and on my portfolio site, www.erikaquiroz.com, fell apart. The sections for placemats (one of my most popular items!), pillows and pacifiers stopped working. Then, as I attempted to fix it, both of my sites went down.

Hebrew Aleph Bet Placemat. Comes in orange, green, pink, blue and purple.

All week long, since the release, I have been beating the streets. I’m talking to friends, making contacts, reaching out. The word of my project is being spread via several media outlets, including this article on the Real Moms Guide at Sheknows.com. If there was a great time for my store to twist on itself and my sites to go down, this is it.

I sat at this desk last night and stared. My screen said “internal Server Error 500″. My insistence had broken it. My determination to fix my own problem had thrown it all into the trash. Hoping to solve my problem, I took out a few quotation marks from the code. Suddenly, my sites were gone.

Damn it, Jim! I’m an artist, not a programmer!

I called my host’s tech support. For forty minutes, I paced outside in the cold. Our house is tiny. My son was asleep. I can’t talk in here when he is sleeping. I paced and I waited, I talked and I tried. When I went to bed, both sites were still down.

This morning, like a miracle, they were both back. Both stores are still imperfect, though. Placemats, pacifiers and pillows still do not display. If you want to see my full line, my direct Zazzle store is your best bet. I will sort out this store issue; but it is going to take some time. I also plan to offer more products outside of Zazzle, so this is definitely a temporary fix.

Besides fielding technical difficulties, I have spent the week in grassroots marketing. What is grassroots marketing?  It is this: It is this take-charge-yourself, take-responsibility, tap-into-your-own-resources kind of approach. It is that approach that will make my project a success.

Do you read any blogs, other than this one? Are there any blogs you read that you think might write about my Aleph Bet, or me? Do you know anyone who writes for a print or online publication? Contact them and tell them about me, or give me the contact information and I will do it myself. Be creative. This is a Hebrew Aleph Bet; but consider the whole of the story. Anyone who writes about family, education, single mothers, alternative families, art, community, entrepreneurship, new starts, or any other host of topics would be a good fit for me and my project. Think about it. I bet everyone knows as least one resource that I could pursue.

My project doesn’t end with posters and placemats. My Living Aleph Bet is going to find a publisher. Once it is a board book, stories for each animal will follow. This is a learning series in the making; and more languages will follow this one. Anyone interested in early language education will want to follow my work.

A few feet away, a small voice just spoke in his sleep. Two pink cheeks turned toward me, and an unintelligible sentence ended in the word, “Mama…”. I stopped typing, slipped in beside him, and kissed him back to sleep.

He is the reason my work will succeed. He is the reason I grapple, my insistent hooks pulling us up. Together, we are building the life he needs. It is the life we need. My sweet homeschooled son will have me; and I will have him.

Look out over the lip of the pit; see us reaching up. You are watching the American dream. Be a part of a transformation story that will uplift others and offer hope. Talk about it; help us connect.

Connection, passion and imagination are great keys. Connect in your own lives. Use your imagination. Connect with those around you. Consider the one next to you and see their struggle with patience and compassion. Then, reach out. When we change our relationships we change the world.

 

 

 

Grand Aleph Bet Opening! Help Spread the Word!

March 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

It was over a year ago. I sat at my desk in another small room, working like a spider in an untenable web. A friend from my grief group, Joanne, had given me a gift: a feature ad in her Chabad’s annual calendar. I decided to illustrate a few letters of the Hebrew aleph bet in honor of her gift.

I asked my Hebrew-speaking friends for some suggestions for letter/word matches. From that short initial list, I let my imagination go. For me, it was clear. When I looked at Alef, I saw a lion walking through the jungle. When I saw Tsadi, there was a bird in flight. “If I can create these kinds of partnerships for every letter”, I thought, “what an amazing project this could be.”

Gimmel the Giraffe, Hebrew Alphabet Animal

From the strands of that web, I reached; and I researched. Each letter was pondered over, savored and explored. When the perfect partnership arose, I grabbed it. Each time, a new life was born. One by one, I watched Samach, Yod, Tet and my other animal friends step out to make my acquaintance. I was creating a family.

J stood at my side. “What is its name?” he would ask me. I’d answer, “Ayin”, or “Chuf”, or “Hey”. It became a game. We would say to each other, “Hey, you hippo, Hey” and before I knew it, he knew every letter I had drawn.

I planned an elegant finish, with an elegant release. Before I could draw number 18, a tree split us from the life we knew. Suddenly, there was no time to research letters or animals. Now, it was time to move.

I let my project rest while we reworked the present. I went with it as we moved from church to coffee house to the road. I let the gears of action spin as we docked on a new shore. Then, I picked up the pen. It was time to get back to work.

Vav, Zion, Resh and Mem joined our happy family of animals. I think my hope for the project rings out in Mem’s eyes. He holds the fruit of this great accomplishment, and the seed of our hope for a better start in the glorious west. He grabs your gaze; he requests your participation.

I am an American dream, waiting to happen. I am an entrepreneur who didn’t wait for someone else’s ideas. I used my skill, my resources and my talents; and with them, I created something. Something fun, something useful, something beautiful and something worthwhile came from my desire to be free, and to parent my son. It is the first of many things I plan to offer. In our new life, it is the first step that raises us up.

This past weekend, we nestled with our friends in the woods. In their home, we soaked our clothes, muddied our hands, painted our dreams and nourished our souls. The seeds of what we were seeking when we pulled away in that dark West Virginia morning sparkled at the edges of a brand new life. I watched my son as he rose up within it, and I celebrated.

“Look at the trees!” he cried. “I love being in the forest!” We came from West Virginia. West Virgina is no stranger to trees; but here, in the moist Pacific Coast, the moss-covered branches that cradle the sky are like nothing we’ve ever seen. Green, literally wrapped in life, the air is thick with possibility. Here, we stir the seeds of great change.

Moss covered tree in Washington

I finished my Aleph Bet. Each animal holds its letter and offers itself to a new home. In my Store, I offer prints, posters, pillows, pendants, pacifiers, stickers, cards, shirts, placemats, and I plan to add much more. I also offer custom prints with names spelled out in my animal letters, letter color customized upon request. That option is not yet in my store, but contact me and I will work with you to create it.

You are here, and you are reading this. You know something about our history, our journey, our purpose and our lives. Borrow just one slice of our passion, and pass it on. Help others to know about the things I’ve created, and help my entrepreneurial spirit change our lives.

Go to the Store section of this website to see what I have to offer. Tell your friends and family, and ask them to tell their friends. You easily share fun animal pictures and other inspirational stories. Help us spread the word, and follow along as we go from the struggling faithful to the triumphantly free. Be a part of the miracle.

Peace and Blessings to you all.

John 7: 37-38

37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.

 

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