Poem for a slow winter Saturday

Your hands are smaller than mine

next to them I find

my impulse is to show them what to do.

“Like me”, I say

“Do it this way…”

reaching to stop and fix. To change you.

And I know the way;

it works, but may

not be the best. You might turn over

This well-known task

and, daring, ask

for me to change and follow YOU.

*Your thoughts like birds*

My dull preferred

view and method sinks beneath the flight,

the colored sight,

faster-than-light,

FIRE of your imagination.

We will break through the dry leaf pile

and scatter every fallen brown scrap,

if I can find

my way behind

your leading. (I’m filled with doubts).

It takes courage

to really flourish

the shallowness of what I think I know.

Grateful for your

slower speech, for

your smaller reach, I know if I slow down I can follow you.

I’ll try. – Katie

 

 

 

 

Snow

IMG_0066

During our vacation there was snow. Beautiful, huge wet flakes, coming down thick as clouds, that tapered off into frosty bits and kept coming all day long. The NEXT day the kids wrapped up in all their inadequate Texas gear and adventured forth.

IMG_0068

 

 

My aunt, a woman of remarkable resourcefulness, produced five pairs of mittens. She called them “Magic Mittens”, because they were made of some material that started small and stretched to the proportions that the wearer needed. Each child worked their hands inside a pair, and she completed the protection with a ziploc bac and a rubber band to seal up at the wrist, thus keeping the whole hand dry. Ta-da!IMG_0070

It was, in a word, incredible. Being the desiccated husk of an adult that I am, I didn’t go out myself, but stayed inside and took pictures through the screen. I could see them from a distance, curiosity and enthusiasm completely shielding them from the cold and wet.

IMG_0072

When you start with a whole yardful of plain, pure snow canvas, of course you have to make footprints for a while. Stepping, dragging, finding sticks to make points and lines. Every insult you offer to the snow surface only makes you think of more ways to batter it. Helen followed Abbey around, using her footprints like stepping stones. When you’re only two years old, three inches of snow reaches halfway to your knees

IMG_0073

Rob built a snow fort, the one-man kind you can crouch behind, and Amos soon followed his example. Helen wandered between them, occasionally kicking or patting their walls, trying to figure them out.

IMG_0075

Amos kept reaching down to paw at the snow, whipping his hands back as if digging like a dog. I think he liked the frothy feeling.

IMG_0077

The girls piled and striped and made shapes, a flat snow house. There may have been snow tea and snow flowers. After the boys began lobbing snowballs they retreated to a corner of the yard close to the porch.

IMG_0079

A lovely day. – Katie

Oh, please don’t go! We’ll eat you up, we love you so!

IMG_0117

Look what a kind friend gave me for Christmas! Houseslippers in the shape of enormous, furry feet. James said they looked like Hobbit feet, but Amos and I thought they looked much more like the feet from the illustrations in the book “Where the Wild Things Are”. Amos and I both really love that book, so we posed our Wild Things gear together. In the spirit of things, we also roared our terrible roars and gnashed our terrible teeth, but you can’t see it in the photo.

The shoes are marvelously large, so it forces you to walk with a very wide stance, like walking in snow shoes. The cat and dog think I’m doing this on purpose to initiate a lets-jump-on-the-furry-weasel-that-has-my-human’s-foot game. It’s charming and annoying all at once. Better to have constant, frisky company than to have to walk alone, I guess! – Katie

Traveling

I took some pictures during our drive to Kansas City right after Christmas. Sadly, I think most of our family considers road tripping a necessary evil rather than a pleasure in and of itself, but it was a beautiful day to do it. We saw over a dozen hawks on our way! IMG_0054

 

When you travel everything turns into horizontal lines. The world is flat and straight and moves past you. We drove over a slick of ice coming out of North Texas, a scrim of snow in Oklahoma, and then it was clear by midday.

IMG_0050

The Driver. Amazing how focused you can be when steering seven people over ice. Driving a long road trip may not be his favorite thing, but it rather falls under the category of a “man’s job” in our house. He does it manfully. (I’m really grateful!)

IMG_0049

At this point the offspring were pacified by an in-flight movie. O TV, how we love thee! Nothing makes the miles go faster.

IMG_0054

The carefree passenger. I usually take a turn driving in the middle of the day, but it requires McDonald’s iced coffee and the Bob Dylan CD, which is so universally despised in our family (“Aaugghh! Mom! Not Bob! We hate Bob! Turn it off!”) that most of the offspring beg for me not to drive.

 

 

IMG_0052

My strategy must be working. – Katie

 

Winter poem

When it’s winter I like to read books and watch movies about winter. Winter poems are good, too. I read Russian mysteries and Swedish mysteries, poems about ice and snow. A couple years ago I fell in love with a now defunct blog called “Winterness” which was wholly devoted to the beauty of winter. It had picture after picture of snow: hung on cobwebs, laced on branches, piled in drifts.

Winter here is short and mild, so you have to enjoy it while you can. One of my favorite things about this season is the early nightfall. The feeling of hibernation – as if the ground and trees are asleep. It feels as if you have permission to sleep a little more yourself, the renewal of preparing for spring and growth and another endless, exhausting summer.

The kids fall asleep more easily at their dark-shrouded bedtime, it’s easier to lay down all your work and read or watch TV after they do so, and getting up while you still need a lamp eases you a little more gently into the day.

All the trees are bare and beautiful, revealing their complicated branches. They trace themselves against the sky, black on blue. I like the dark this time of year.

To Know the Dark

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.  – Wendell Berry

Toddler craft

IMG_0087

Last Friday I took two toddlers to Chick-fi-let to play for a little while. The Forney Chick-fi-let has “toddler craft” on certain Friday mornings, which I didn’t know until we arrived. Which of course begs the question: what exactly is a “toddler craft”?

IMG_0088

In this case it was gluing marshmallows on to papers with a snowman outline on them. Pause a moment to consider the sensory possibilities; marshmallows…glue…paper…markers….

Oh, the stickiness. The squishing.

IMG_0089

I’m not big on making kids do crafts. I watched. They were beautifully creative without my help.

IMG_0091

One girl dipped and stuck, dipped and stuck, calmly ignoring the outline. This all ended when she discovered that the marshmallows tasted really good, and then she just sat there calmly eating. “Look, I eat dem!”, she told me.

IMG_0092

The other girl distrusted the strength of the glue – how would it sufficiently hold this puffy thing ON the paper? –  and tried again and again to mash the marshmallows flat onto the paper, rubbing the candy/glue paste off of her palms between attempts.

Two artists. – Katie

January Friday

IMG_0116

I say: “Helen, what are you doing? Are you making soup for squirrels?”

She looks up from my birdbath Christmas present, my favorite blue color smoothed over ceramic curves. Big smile. “Yes, I’m souping!”

IMG_0115

The brothers play football in the late afternoon January sunlight. 60 degrees is T-shirt weather if you run. The boys tumble and the dog rolls, zinging each other.

 

IMG_0095

I am reading. Taking slow bits of a favorite story, like spoonfuls of hot soup. The story and the late sunlight are the same kind of warm.

 

 

IMG_0114

The little ladies in a circle were salvaged from a trash pile at someone’s house here in our neighborhood. They are all holding each other up. – Katie

IMG_0113

 

IMG_0112

 

 

 

 

Pelican

We skirted the edge of White Rock Lake going west on Mockingbird Lane to school this morning. It’s been cold, cold this week. (Texas cold: astonishing and unmanageable.) Cloudy sky, bare tree branches, grey water, and a flock of seagulls all at once. And as my eye noticed the movement of the birds one in particular seemed grossly enlarged – turning out to be a pelican! An enormous pelican! Seen next to the scrappy seagulls it looked about as large as a horse. The wingspan on a white pelican is incredible! Much larger than hawks.

We passed under them. The pelican flapped almost slowly, heavy-bellied and curve-necked. Nearly all of us in the car got to see him before he disappeared over the trees and we curved down towards Abrams Road. How do you suppose birds stay warm? All feathers and hollow bones like they are. We often see Harris Hawks or Red-tailed Hawks here in Forney sitting on telephone wire, every feather fluffed, head tucked into hunched shoulders against the cold. It seems like they would be cold up in the air. Maybe the movement of flight keeps them warm.

Maybe their hearts beat very fast.

It’s warming to see them. – Katie

Something that happened today

I have a little job. I work two days a week at my children’s school; not in any of their classrooms but as an aide in the first grade room. It is an incredible job for a lot of reasons, not the least of which are the 21 students and one teacher with whom I work. Without violating anyone’s privacy I would like to tell you more about it sometime.

One thing that is important to me is to be as professional as I can while I am there. Maybe “professional” is not the right word…maybe “steady” is more what I have in mind. Since our kids have been at this school for three and a half years most of the people here know about our family events during that time. The school staff gave us a lot of strength and support during our dark days with Lucy, and many of the students offered words, prayers, and cards of honest love.

I no longer live at the knife edge of life and death. Life is different now.

The beauty of an job like mine is that what you do feels important because each child is infinitely important.

And because the job is not about me, I keep my feelings, which is to say the mess of my heart, away from the work at hand. Grief beats you about, but children need you to be consistent. The great teacher I work with needs me to be faithful. So I try. Works most days. When I have a bad bit I only cry in the bathroom alone.

Today for only the second time this year the children broke my self-imposed wall and asked me about Lucy. While we were talking about baptism during our Bible lesson, the textbook asked us to discuss ways a Church congregation was like a family. Loving, helping, sharing meals, caring for the sick, that sort of thing. And the book asked how church people like to spend time together – to which one boy replied “in funerals…like when people die.” (I know this boy recently lost a beloved grandmother.)

First Graders ask like they breath…unencumbered by their own image they take in what you say and let out a response. They don’t know the subjects that are taboo. Most things are equal to them. So the next child to raise his hand said it smiling: “Like with your baby. Your baby that died. Did she have a funeral?”

And it hurts – oh, how it hurts – the love lost and the life torn and only a small child absent but an abyss of emptyness left behind: me changed and us changed and the long hours spent holding God in the sights of your gun wondering how to fit reality into something that makes sense again.

So I answer him: “Yes, sweetie, she did have a funeral. Here at this church! And many people came and we all said goodbye together. Like a family, right? We do the important things, like baptism and saying goodby at funerals, as a family. And that really helped me.” I answer him true and without thinking it out beforehand or telling him any of the black stuff, and HE is real and I am real. (I do not cry or scream, which faintly amazes me.)

Their eyes are all on me – focused hard – several of them say at once that they saw her picture in our school yearbook last year. I can’t hear them all at once or distinctly. And then a boy raises his hand and asks why they burn people who die in the movie Star Wars. Which I try to explain.

That is what real life is, isn’t it? You trek through the sublime and the petty in the space of a Bible lesson. These 7 year olds don’t know it, but they pull me closer to normal life by seeing the death of my daughter as a part of who I am: adults are so mysterious anyway why SHOULDN’T the lady who keeps telling me to tie my shoes have a dead baby. Maybe lots of people have dead babies. Maybe lots of people don’t. Let’s talk about Star Wars!

And I’m grateful for any place in life in which I can feel normal. – Katie

 

 

 

Christmas morning

IMG_0018

Christmas morning there was hostile takeover of the master bed.

IMG_0020

From which the sleepy ones retreated to the living room.

IMG_0022

Corrie got a little Christmas goat, and thanks to Lutheran World Relief, so did another little girl and her family somewhere. We decided as a family to buy animals to donate in honor of Lucy. One thing about loss is that it gives you permission to change.IMG_0023

IMG_0024

IMG_0025

IMG_0026 IMG_0027

IMG_0029

IMG_0036

Helen got a Guitar Hound, which Abbey picked out over my protesting angst about electronic toys. It has three settings: acoustic, electric, and woof.

IMG_0034

Amos got a McDonalds cash register with tiny plastic credit cards and fake food. He can practice for American adulthood by running up credit bills and eating fast food.

IMG_0037

And there were plenteous legos.

IMG_0043

And lego-ing.  – Katie

IMG_0044