Four Flynns in a tent

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Brothers in books

Brothers in books

It’s a great question why any of us choose to have children, in this age. We don’t need them for their labor. We no longer expect children to provide for parents in old age. We aren’t allowed to use them for spare organ parts. Kids are tremendously expensive, and an iffy proposition since it turns out their eventual success is much more about their efforts than ours. Having kids comes along with a burden of bearing others’ judgements, not sleeping in, cleaning up vomit, worrying and making excellent meals that no one will eat. And yet we continue to have children.

If I thought about why I wanted to have children, other than just seeming like the thing I ought to do, I think I wanted children so that someone else would get to enjoy childhood as much as I did. I thought back the the joys of my youth and wanted to offer them to someone else.

I remember in particular one car trip we took as a family. (My family practically grew up in a car.) My brother was a nascent reader – maybe four or five. My sister and I – eight and six years older – were already well versed in reading. On this particular day we drove through the rolling desert hills of Eastern Washington and told my brother about all the books we were jealous that he’d get to read for the first time: Mrs. Buncle’s Book, The Lord of the Rings, Shakespeare. My entire family breathed a deep sigh of relief when my brother finally picked up books and started reading along with the rest of us. We spent our vacations with book bags larger than our clothing bags. I married a man with the same predilections.

But the last decade or so has been somewhat lacking in the reading department. We’ve had a non-reader as part of our family for the last eight and a half years. Until now.

Last night, we sat around the fire on an incredibly buggy night on the shores of White Lake. (Ask me about how I and my phobia survived my first ever tick bite!) Adam was reading some book of Cthulu horror on his Kindle. I had managed to lure Grey into reading “My Side of the Mountain”. Ah – is there anything sweeter than watching your child devour a book you had loved as a child? He was deep into it, head dancing with dreams of living off the land, just as I did. And Thane was doggedly working his way through beginner books. He read “Are You My Mother” and “Put Me In the Zoo” and slogged his way through a Pokemon book. For an hour or so the four of us sat around the campfire swatting mosquitos and reading.

The joys of slightly older children did not stop there, though. Finally chased into the tent by the ravening hordes of starving, blood-sucking insects, we broke out a board game. On the tent of the floor, we played through an oddly cooperative round of Carcassonne – an actual game that Adam and I play for fun. Thane played a tough game, and Grey actually won. Then we read some more before bed. Thane tired before he finished his book, and I woke up to the sound of him slogging his way through it in the morning light (at a reasonable hour).

This Memorial Day camping trip was wet, but dryer than last year. It was cool, but warmer than last year. (Actually, Friday night was one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time.) It was irredeemably buggy. But it felt like the dawning of a new age, with the company of these cool kids who like to build forts, imagine themselves as outdoorsmen and sing old folk tunes in front of the fire. They can open the zipper to the tent, go to the bathroom by themselves and be safely out of my sight.

In the buggy, moist air above the loons of White Lake I had that moment of joyful realization: this is why I had children.

You can see all my pictures for May, including video of Thane reading, by clicking here!

Six things my sons have never seen me do (and two they have)

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I was in the basement the other day, folding Mt. Laundry as usual, when my eye fell on the ironing board in the corner. I wondered when the last time was used it. I gazed at the rather crinkly blouse in my hand, and wondered how long it would be until I used it again. (Certainly not at 11 pm on a Sunday night!) Then it occurred to me that my sons had never seen me use it. Not once. It was unlikely they even knew what it was for.

What other things are there that I know how to do – that I was carefully trained for by patient parents – that my sons have never witnessed in their memory? As I gradually eroded Mt. Laundry, I compiled a list.

Iron clothing
I remember my mother in the living room on a Saturday night, ironing my father’s work shirts: collar, sleeve, fronts & back. I remember being taught how to do it myself – the hiss as you pulled the iron upright, the spurt of steam to ease out a particularly wrinkled patch and the moist warmth of the rapidly cooling cloth as you pulled it onto a hanger to join the rest. My husband wears button up shirts to work every day, but I discovered the wonders of “no iron” shirts. One or two of my shirts ought to be ironed. In response, I never wear those shirts. And even if I unburied that old ironing board and exhumed the iron we bought when I got married… I do my laundry segregated in a laundry room in the basement. (One of the few joys of doing the laundry is you get to watch WHATEVER YOU WANT ALL BY YOURSELF while you fold it.) So my sons would not be introduced to the phenomenon even then.

Clean the house – including vacuuming & dusting
I work full time. Lately, full time has been even fuller than 40 hours a week. I also have a 1 hr each way, each day commute, and I travel for work regularly. Once home, I cook for my family, do aforementioned laundry, schedule our summers, pay the bills, raise two kids, volunteer in my church and enjoy a rich social life. Sometimes I even make it to the gym to work out! About the time Grey turned two, cleaning the house on a glorious Saturday morning, I wondered how much it would take to hire cleaners to come once every two weeks. I have barely turned on a vacuum since that glorious day.

Now, I know *how* to clean a house. I can mop. I can vacuum. I can dust, and wash windows. I can polish. I’m not amazingly great at it, nor is it a great source of pride to me. But my sons have never seen me spend a Saturday morning truly cleaning the house. Magic fairies (we call them “the ladies” which is questionably accurate) come and make the house smell great and change our sheets and scrub the floors. I threaten the kids to pick up their room with the reminder that “the ladies” are coming and anything left on the floor will inevitably get put into a random bin. I think that – unlike ironing a shirt – cleaning a house is actually an important skill for a kid to have, so I’m trying to figure out how I’ll teach them this vestigial skill of mine before they become responsible for their own houses.

Jump
Lest this list get to be a list of ways in which I am not a housewife, I thought I’d add in one other thing that I would like to do, and don’t. Since I tore my meniscus night on four years ago, I’ve noticed I’m very physically careful. I have a back which is a challenge, and a zombie left knee, and I’m often sore and achy. And so… I don’t jump. I just don’t. I don’t hop or leap or generally move quickly. I’m active – I hike and climb. You wouldn’t think of me as a sedentary person – but I wouldn’t (for example) jump on the trampolines at Skyzone, and I often bow out of activities that require cutting and dodging. I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever rediscover my courage and flexibility, or if this will become who I am.

Sew a button – or anything
In Jr. High and High School, we were fortunate to have vocational education. There was a well appointed “Home Ec” classroom and quite an extensive shop with gear for woodworking, machinery, CAD and other practical applications. (Fun fact: my computers credit in high school was actually in CAD drafting.) In a sign that the ’50s were still going strong in that neck of the woods at that time, by default in Jr. High the girls would get one semester of Shop with Mr. Jones and three semesters of Home Ec with Mrs. Muir. I suffered through my required first semester of Home Ec, learning how to bake a biscuit and sewing an apron (seriously – an apron!?!?). I learned enough to sew a seam, thread a bobbin, put on a button and read a pattern. But although I cook often and regularly, clothing now does not reward the effort of sewing. It costs considerably more to buy fabric and sew it yourself than to go to Kohl’s and get something.

I particularly thought of this because Thane made a puppet in Cozumel and LOVED sewing it. Loved it. I think he’d really enjoy learning some sewing, but I’ll extremely ill-suited to teaching him. Also, let us speak of gender neutral options that exist in sewing kits. (HINT: THEY DON’T!)

After my first semester of home ec and my first semester of shop, I knew which one I preferred. There could not be a RULE that said girls couldn’t do shop instead of Home Ec and so I happily spent 8th grade as the one girl in a class of 26 guys learning how to put together a lawnmower engine and turning a bowl on a lathe.

Sit down & write a letter to my mom
I have loved writing letters for my whole life. I still do. I have boxes full of papers and envelopes, and stacks of pencils. I have written hundreds of letters in my life – to my uncle, or my penpal on the Island of Sumatra that I once met in Olympia and wrote to for years. I wrote letters in codes. I wrote them backwards. I wrote them and then cut them up to be a puzzle. I wrote to people I knew well and people I’d never met.

I remember my mother writing letters too. She wrote to her mother, mostly. I remember the envelopes with the return address from Zaire and lovely block pattern that were filled with regular missives – daughter to mother – and the return envelopes that came with beautiful cursive addresses.

But. Well. My mom reads my blog, right? And sometimes I call her on my way home. Periodically I send her emails or comment on her G+ postings. Once a year – on Mother’s Day – I write her a letter. (HINT HINT SIBLINGS!) But to my sons, that letter is indistinguishable from goofing off on Facebook, or being at work, or playing Minecraft. It’s just mom on her computer, again.

Chop wood
For a period growing up, our home was heated by wood. (This was true of many homes around us, and remains true for some.) My father, the archetypal good Boy Scout, knew all about the cutting, splitting, stacking and seasoning of firewood, as well as the tending of fires. I learned this art on hot August afternoons where there was no where I’d rather NOT be than in the “back forty” splitting, stacking & hauling with wood chips in my hair and splinters in my fingers. We’d get a cord or two of logs delivered off a local logging truck – which were were NOT allowed to play on lest they shifted. Then we’d gradually cut our way through them, trying to make sure no one got crushed or chain-sawed up or had an axe head fly off at them.

The Easter I was 13, my grandfather gave me my very own axe. (A Boy Scout axe, light and sharp, with a blue handle and gilt writing.) I know how to aim an axe, how to heft it. How to condense the space between your hands as the head flies towards to wood. I know where not to stand when someone else is splitting. I know what to do when the axe gets stuck. I know when you’ll need a splitting maul instead, and how to construct a woodstack that will be a pride to you among your neighbors. (Actually, I’m not really sure we ever got that right. I for one did not care about the opinion of my neighbors on my wood stacking abilities.)


Ah, the things that I learned to do that are of a time past. I doubt I will ever regularly iron my husband’s shirts during M*A*S*H episodes, sew a summer dress, heat my house with wood or spend an hour every week to write my mother a letter and put it in the mail. (I may eventually have to clean my house again, and I hope some day I’ll get to jump!)

But while my housewifery is clearly being called into questions, there are a few arcane arts I preserve. I often feel – when I do these things – like an archivist or a wizard. I think very much of my ancestors while I do these things. I remember their hands at work at these same tasks.

Bake bread & pies
There was a period of my life when my mother decided to bake all our bread. This was particularly true when she was struggling with her carpal tunnel syndrome. She said that working the dough made her hands feel better. I remember the countertop kneading, the distinctive slap as she’d shape the loaves. I certainly remember how delicious they were. (She usually made 2 small loaves, one of which was mine by right and tradition.) I mastered my mother’s recipe (although I make it much more rarely since my husband bakes bread for us weekly!) and still enjoy that same slap on the loaf!

I also learned to make her pies, although in all truth I have never mastered quite that pinch of the crust that she makes look so effortless. Also, it took me like 9 years to get my crusts to come out round instead of square.

My sons have stood in the kitchen and watched me in my apron – flour on the tip of my nose – wresting with dough. Just like I watched my mom. But better yet, they have also watched their father do the same!

Put up a batch of jam
I usually do this after they’re in bed, truthfully. But they have watched me transform a bushel of apples to gleaming jars of apple butter. I picked the crabapples during their soccer practice which I turned into delicate pink crabapple jelly. I remember my great grandmother’s crabapple jelly, made from the tree in our back yard. Every time I hear the “pop”! of a jar lid, I remember. And hopefully my boys with find the sound a keen source of memory too – connecting them through shared memory across generations.


So, what do you no longer do? What do your children not realize you even know how to do? And what relics of bygone eras do you hold firmly to

The end and the beginning

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Settle down and get comfortable – this is a long tale.

Rod, ready for Easter a few years ago

Rod, ready for Easter a few years ago

I usually give something up for Lent that I’ll really miss and look forward to getting back on Easter. For a middle Protestant with no tradition of Lenten giving-up, that seems like a neat part of the tradition. It reinforces the hard waiting and the joyful return. (Although after the year I gave up coffee, Adam asked me never to do THAT again. I had to agree. There’s hard and there’s almost missing your tax return date because you can’t fathom doing taxes without coffee to help you.)

At a graduation party for a dear friend.

At a graduation party for a dear friend.

This year, though, I approach Easter with both joyful anticipation and great reluctance.

You see, the week AFTER Easter will be the last week that my pastor will be my pastor. Rod, and his lovely wife, have been a more-than-weekly part of my life since the day I became an adult. With my history, I more or less know what month that happened. In August of 2000 – two months after I graduated – I married Adam. I was 21. He brought me home to a lovely, sunlit apartment in Roslindale that I had not seen before I crossed its threshold with the 23 year old I’d only had a few hours to call “husband”. We only spent a few hours in the apartment before we took a flight out of Logan to Greece, where we’d honeymoon. When we returned on a Saturday a week or so later, we were tired. Now I am Presbyterian. I was born in the mission field to missionary Presbyterian parents. I was baptized in a Presbyterian Church by a fire-speaking pastor on an equitorial Sunday. I have attended Presbyterian Churches my whole life. My summer camps that weren’t orchestral were Presbyterian. My sister, brother, mother, father and I are all ordained Presbyterian elders/deacons (actually I’m the only one)/ministers. So while I was LITERALLY in the honeymoon phase of my marriage, I wanted to start the married habit of attending church with my beloved new husband. And I wanted a Presbyterian church. But they are few and hard to find in New England, so that groggy Sunday after we landed I took the path of least resistance and we went to the Presbyterian Church 20 miles away that had been near Adam’s LAST apartment.

A much younger Rod & Brenda on a Spring day more than 10 years ago.

A much younger Rod & Brenda on a Spring day more than 10 years ago.

I settled into the pews, fresh in my matronness and ring sparkly on my left finger, and the sermon was GOOD. And we were warmly welcomed. And there was a coffee hour in the finest of Presbyterian traditions. And it felt very right. And so the next week I also forgot to look up a closer church. And the week after.

We have attended that church through three different houses in three different towns. We have taught Sunday School and confirmation there. We have baptized our sons there. We have made life-long friends. We have taken solemn vows to love and teach the vibrant rainbow-line of squirmy children on the stairs at word for children. We have buried friends, and comforted the grieving. It is our church, our home, our family.

At Grey's baptism

At Grey’s baptism

For the fourteen years that span my adult life, there has been one person standing in that pulpit – Rod. That pulpit-relationship is where it begins, of course. Rod is one of the finest preachers I have had the chance to listen to. (And remember, I have attended services every week of my life.) He finds that difficult line between offering a challenge that makes me think differently, and sometimes change how I behave, but without go so far to challenge that in fear or recoil I stop listening. His sermons are academic enough to keep me interested, but relevant enough to speak to my heart as well as my mind.

This might be my favorite picture of Rod. Apparently that t-shirt is an original.

This might be my favorite picture of Rod. Apparently that t-shirt is an original.

But the relationship – the friendship – goes far past the pulpit. Rod, his wife (who prefers her privacy) and I have shared dinner together. We’ve played music together. (He plays a mean piano – you should try to lure it out of him.) We’ve caroled together and sung rousing renditions of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” to folks whose illness or debility means they have trouble leaving their homes. We’ve done skits together. We’ve attended countless committee meetings. We’ve sung hymns through late nights in long Presbytery meetings which have decided small steps in the question of whether the Presbyterian Church would be one that welcomes all people.

When the time came for me to give birth to my second child, Adam and I were in a bind. We have no family in New England. Michael was terribly sick with the lingering aftereffects of cancer – he would die only a few months later – and Laureen could not come to us. My parents were working and tied down in Seattle. We were only just coming to know our neighbors. Who would stay with Grey while I delivered our second son? A friend got the first call and overnight shift, but on the second shift, we called Rod. He came and stayed with Grey – a familiar and friendly presence. He even did the dishes. With both my sons, he was the first to come and visit the new life in the hospital room. Friends who saw the pictures asked, “Is that your dad?” No, it’s my pastor.

Rod with a new-born Thane, only hours old.

Rod with a new-born Thane, only hours old.

So as I count up to Easter, with joy, I also count down to farewell, with very mixed feelings. I will miss Rod and his wife very, very much. In our church, when a pastor leaves, it is a real leave-taking. He will never lead another service from that pulpit, or chair another committee meeting. They are moving – not so far away that we’ll NEVER see them, but far enough that it will be rare.

On Maundy Thursday, Thane took communion with us for the first time. I finagled it so I could kneel before him to serve it. But then I also served Rod, who had blessed our cup and our bread. Then he turned and served me. And I was breathless with tears at the sacrament – a first and a last so close together.

Rod at word for children

Rod at word for children

Rod and his wife go forward to a new stage of their lives. I have told them that I’m a little jealous. They have finished with the stages of “should” and “ought” and “supposed to” and “had better”. They are now in the only stage of life where your labors are determined by what you would do, what you are called to do, what you want to do – and what you can do. A part of me feels like a parent with a graduating high school senior. I send them away from me and will miss them horribly, but would not wish them back to their old roles. The time for moving on is here.

So, Rod and Cathy, go into the world in peace and continue the service. What does our God ask of us but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God? May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all: today, tomorrow and always.

Benediction

Benediction

For any who have also loved Rod, we’ll be giving him a rousing BPC farewell with a huge International Dinner at 6 pm on Saturday, April 26 2014. The next day, Sunday April 27th, will be his final service with us and will be followed by a massive coffee hour I’m hosting. So come.

Gabriel

bflynn:

I’ve thought a lot about little Gabriel with the story of Jeremiah Oliver (http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/2013/12/28/family-community-search-again-for-missing-fitchburg-boy/8X4J8TfzNlKJoBcd0HYtEK/story.html). It does not reassure me that Gabriel is well and taken care of, somewhere. I think I’ll always wonder.

Originally posted on My Truant Pen:

Spending my lunches at daycare (theoretically nursing Thane, but in reality just giving both of my boys big hugs and playing with them) has reminded me of Grey’s first year, when I did the same thing. There was a little boy at daycare name Gabriel. (Long “a”, like “Gah-briel” not “Gay-briel”)

Gabriel was about three at the time. The age Grey is now. He had big, dark eyes and curly dark hair. He also had behavior problems and didn’t talk. He would throw violent, inarticulate fits. He grew to really like me, and I to like him. He would stand next to me when I nursed Grey, and I would talk to him. I would ask him questions and, unfamiliar with child development, be contented with the few words he gave back to me. His face lit up when he saw me. I was afraid for him. Rubertina does her…

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An adventure of 12,000 steps

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The last line of the love-note reads, “PS. Cats are already eating flowers. Disaster may ensue. Mea culpa.”

My husband left us for a weekend of gaming, leaving behind a clean kitchen and bouquet of flowers. The boys and I have consoled ourselves with his absence by watching “Back to the Future” last night. This morning, cold and gray but bearable, I hatched a plan.

Tragically, the super cool headband was lost on our sojourn.

It started by winding our way through familiar streets and over long-used routes to Oak Grove – starting point for many a foray and adventure. I held Thane on my lap to keep myself warm (I underestimated the temperature by a layer for myself) and quizzed Grey on Boston’s history. Once on the Orange Line, we whirred past miles of new construction and gleaming buildings rising out of graffiti-strewn rubble, and on to North Station. I know the North Station area very poorly. I’ve spent hardly any time there. So we carefully picked our way across streets, swimming up-current from a horde of Bruins fans come to see them play the Flyers (Phlyers?). I found the Starbucks that was a necessary first stop, and then we discovered the soaring, twirling pathway across Storrow Drive to the Esplanade.

A gray day, but above freezing means it’s worth playing!

Now, I’ve lived in the greater Boston area nearly 14 years, in three different places. As any Bostonian must, I have many times traveled the storied route up the Charles from the Zakim to Brookline, passing past the hallowed markers of the Hatch Shell and Citgo sign. Since my first son took his first steps, I’ve passed the parkingless playground and thought to myself “That looks fun! I should bring my progeny here!” On beautiful days where the sky was blue and the Charles was sparkling with waves and white sails and yellow-sculled boats, and the grass between the road and the water was hopelessly green… I’ve thought how pleasant it would be to stroll up the river.

The zipline was awesome. The kids didn’t need us to tell them to take turns, but lots of parents hovered by the line anyway.

And I’ve never once, in that twice-seven-years, set foot on the Esplanade. So harsh has this winter been that 45 degrees seemed like a downright invitation to make today that day.

I pondered “right or left?” at the bottom of the stairs, finally trusting that there was far more Esplanade to the left and I’d hit something fun if I went that way. My youngest son danced errantly up the path in front of me shouting out numbers that represented the score of some sidewalk game whose rules only he knows (but which apparently involve not stepping on cracks and stepping on anything interesting that is not a crack). My serious-minded eldest took long strides with wide eyes. We saw the very cold boaters on the water. We noticed the pile of their brightly colorful shoes like a spiral on the gangway. We dodged runners and bikers and inline skaters – all faster than we were. And then we finally came to that playground I’ve eyed for years and my sons broke into flat out runs to get there as soon as possible.

Both boys fell on this contraption, but it was designed in such a way that the falls were minor.

And it was WONDERFUL. I recently read a story which has influenced me greatly about Adventure Playgrounds and the disservice we do by trying to make even play risk-free for our children. (Which, yes. I got a call from the Stoneham police a few weeks ago because I let my 8 year old walk two blocks to a used book store by himself. I asked the officer if my son was behaving appropriately and he said he was. Which left me sorely wondering why he thought I needed to be called. I digress.)

So here, in this marvelous playground with soft, bone-friendly falls and risky-feeling fun and other children, I found a spot sheltered from harsh April winds and watched my sons be boys.

The swing did required someone else to push, but the boys just loved it.

For two hours they played. The scaled heights, and fell. They rode the zip line and struggled to return it to the next kid in line. (It was really interesting to watch just how many of the parents “handled” this difficult task for the kids. I watched Thane struggle to pull it back. And I watched him succeed. And I watched him stand a little taller at having done a difficult thing, a right thing, and having done it himself.) At a break in the play, I pushed the boys on this fantastic dish-shaped swing. Grey slung his arm around his brother and they both lay in a sunbeam swinging together – eyes closed. Thane sang a little song to the rhythm of the swing.

There were many paths to the top – some easier and more obvious than others.

A game of hide and seek broke out among the bigger boys, and Grey disappeared behind a wall. I watched his small hand snake out to draw pictures in the dirt as he waited to be found. Thane became fascinated with a wooden climbing structure – color so warm to a winter palette. He was frightened of a particular gap, and drew back afraid. I heard him cheer himself, “I’ll see if the drop hurts.” He took a big breath, swung out again, and dropped. Dusting himself off, “It didn’t hurt at all!” The next time, he crossed the chasm. Moving further around the perimeter, he came to a really high part he could not swing across. He gathered his courage and belly-crawled across a log so very high that my breath caught in my throat. I had to stop myself from singing out “Be careful!” He inched, so scared, across the great gap. He got to the other side. “Mommy, come get me down!” “Thane, you can get yourself down.” And he did. And once his feet were rooted in solid wood chips once more, he immediately went to go do it again, and again, and again. He never got blase, but he did get better.

The section to the left is the high chasm upon which Thane tested his courage and found it strong.

Finally, we got hungry & cold. I struck a path in towards the Common where I knew we could find sustenance. At the end of our blood sugar rope, we found a bistro and had noodles and orange juice and laughed in a lit window of a corner building, hundreds of years old. I showed them the Starbucks my father and I had visited some 19 years ago when I came out in the middle of a blizzard for my college tour. The august establishment was celebrating its 20th anniversary, and I realized that I had been there so very long ago.

I was here 19 years ago with my father, before I decided on the college where I met the father of these two fine young boys.

We wandered the common (wondering if any historical cow dung was still to be found there) until we chanced upon one more playground. There was much less playing before disaster struck in the symptom of a torn thumb nail – truly a painful injury.

It’s all fun and games until someone breaks a nail.

A cold quick journey to Downtown Crossing, then home again, 12,000 steps later.

I was thinking, on our journey, of this same time a year ago. Last April I took the boys to the Circus on a Saturday that Adam was aikidoing. It was, not to sell it short, one of the worst times I’ve had. Thane threw an epic fit, refused to watch half the circus and at the end I carried him a mile over my back kicking and screaming to the T. I despaired of ever adventuring again with him. But over the course of this year, my four year old has grown to a much more mature five year old who was indefatigable and cheerful the whole time (Two-hundred niney-two! Two-hundred-ninety-three! He counted his points the entire trip.) My eldest, sorely injured as he was, was a solid and cheerful companion.

How lucky I am to get to have adventures with these children as they grow!

My sweet sons

De visione mundi

bflynn:

A passionate call from a 19th century-turned-tongue to lovingly call for Evangelicals to repent from their error.

Originally posted on The Steampunk Vicar:

Rather distressed of Heart, I have been reading of the travails of that redoubtable Charitie, World-Vision. I will admit to a Confusion of Feeling engendered by these Trials. I know World-Vision of old, having served there as a Volunteer, and knowing that my Father’s Employment was for some Years centered there. Too, there is good Work that is done in the Name of the Christ by these Agents of the Gospel. Much of Povertie, Strife, and Sickness is eased by their Care and Wealth, and their Dedication to the Cause of the Betterment of Humanitie cannot be doubted. This, of course, provided that, by Humanitie, you mean those Persons whose carnal Desires fit neatly into the Box provided by the Moralitie of my era, and none of your own.

I write, however, not for World-Vision – I am, past my own Historie, indifferent to the Rise or Fall of one…

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April Fools!

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The mad prankster strikes again!

I woke up this morning to find this menacing visage staring back from my erstwhile toothpaste-smile-free bathroom mirror. Of course, this morning I woke up with a certain alacrity usually missing from my morning hours. A door burst open, shedding light into the snoozy darkness of our bedroom. “Mom! Dad! It’s 9 am!” Adam and I immediately levitated two feet above the sheets and initiated a midair synchronized panic – one of the rarest forms. “April fooooools!”

He was permitted to live because it was 6:58 am and we were getting up in 2 minutes anyway. Plus, this kind of thing is good for the heart, right?

Downstairs for a good ol’ bowl of cereal in purple milk (my contribution). In the car on the way to school, my usually suave second grader effused, “April Fools day is my favorite holiday! It’s just a day of cheerfulness and energy and good fun!” I have to agree with him. We are now in the apex, the absolute height of April foolishness. My guitar was mistuned. Many long discussions happened about what the best “alternative” filling for an Oreo would be. (Mayonnaise? Avoid cookies in our house this time of year.) Some prankster *ripped a hole* in the sheet of toilet paper to be used next. THE HORRORS!

Google joined in the fun, as it so often does, inviting me to enhance my gmail experience with Shelfies. I sadly didn’t listen to NPR, so I didn’t get a chance to be completely taken in like I was with the epic “Coffee Pipeline” debacle. I have personally retired from the trade after my epic accomplishments in the “It’s twins” announcement when I was pregnant with Grey.

I’ll second Grey’s notion – I love April Fool’s day too.

So, what about you? Did you get any great ones off today? Do you love it, or do you find it, well, foolish? What’s the best prank you’ve ever been part of, as pranker or prankee? And why does such a non-commercial holiday persist in our culture?

Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art winter

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Hope in trying times

So, in case you hadn’t heard, New England has become Narnia under the reign of the White Witch: always winter, never Christmas. Tomorrow is supposed to start out in the low teens and there’s a major nor’easter heading our way for Wednesday, which at least will cover up our dirty old snow with nice clean snow.

But… it’s actually been a few weeks since our last major pummeling. Granted those weeks have been icy cold, but the spots that sit in sunlight have shed their coats of ice. (Meanwhile, the shady places where people shoveled snow to are still glacial wonderlands.) Today, a few days into the theoretical spring, it got up to 50. All across New England we contemplated shorts and tank tops in celebration.

The Flynn family made our way the library this morning – on foot. We usually go on Monday nights, but Grey had finished book 1 of a series and was dying for book 2 (which tragically is not out yet). Still, it was a strange novelty to walk across sandy, beach-like sidewalks with hardly any ice patches the two blocks to Andrew Carnegie’s gift to Stoneham. After we restocked the boys, I thought I might show them that there were actually *other* parts of the library than the kids’ section. We found one particular spot, and Grey begged to let us stop and read there. “Don’t throw me into the Briar patch!” I thought. He settled down with a graphic novel. Thane, our new reader, pulled out a Suess, and Adam and I paged through a book of Maurice Sendak’s art.

When Grey finished his book, we headed further. The next sunny, cozy patch also tripped up my eldest. I was a little less of a pushover this time – the little one had been very patient, but he was ready for action! So Adam and Thane went back home while Grey and I read in sunbeams.

Apparently this one is about zombie goldfish.

We made it home eventually. There was lunch, and Fate, and reading, and laundry. It started to rain, which made me happy because liquid water, but sad because hiking. Then it stopped raining which made me happy, because hiking.

Although the paths were muddy and the wind was cold and there were almost no hints that it was not just a thawing patch in January, it was glorious. We walked and climbed and joked and looked and felt the sun on our face. We got a tiny bit lost. We found the Panther Caves and talked about the Mountain Lion that might be hiding there and came up with six names for Mountain Lions where there should only be five. (Mountain Lion, Panther, Jaguar, Cougar, Catamount, Puma – we know we are wrong)

It was glorious.

Having been watching the new Cosmos with the boys, I became obsessed with finding a Tardigrade and seeing one for real life. So I swiped some vernal pond water and moss to see if I couldn’t find this mythical, ancient beast. After some dinner (mmmm Five Guys), we pulled out a long-disused microscope. Adam and I made slides out of plastic packaging, using an aluminum plate to spot interesting stuff while the boys had a soap-fight in the bath. (Note to self: they’re never actually old enough to leave alone in the bathtub.)

Prepping the slide

Prepping the slide

We didn’t find a water bear, but we did score a little devilishly fast water flea, a microscopic worm, a beetle, new moss roots, a weird looking seed and a something that had tiny creepy ticks embedded in it. In the immortal words of Calvin, “There’s treasure everywhere.” Adam and I came to the very scientific conclusion that we need a better microscope because we want one.

So there it was. A Saturday perfect in its Saturdayness, full of all the things you think you are going to do with your children before you actually have children. Better yet, for me it was bookended with breakfast in bed (my husband is kind and loving) and practice on both trumpet and guitar. There are many days that are much harder, when you feel the color seep out of your life and perspective – turning it to a black and white version of a WWII prison camp movie. This week was a hard one for me, for many boring reasons. Next week will hopefully be better, but not warmer. But today? Today was glorious.

Our Lady of Good Voyage

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Between me and the sea

I work in Boston’s “Innovation District” – an area once known for cheap parking and crime that is now sprouting office buildings like mushrooms on a rotted log after a rainy spell. I was drawn off my (hip, brick-lined) street today by a mobile blood drive across from the Courthouse. For the first day in forever (months at least) it was warm today. The receding glaciers left moraines of gravel across parking lots, revealing spaces long since lost to history along with cigarette butts, lost mittens and Dunkin’ cups. With the gleaming high-rises of the financial district to my left and the persistent pounding of construction cranes to my right, I crossed to the Courthouse.

When I got to the blood-van, however, a sign on the door indicated that they’d taken lunch early and they’d be back later. The breeze felt warm instead of wicked. I took the longer way back. With the shiny new Vertex Pharmaceutical building – newly occupied reaching out across Fan Pier – to my left, I turned my eyes to what looks from behind like one more forgotten brick warehouse, destined to eventually become a hip office space.

It was no warehouse, but instead it was a time capsule.

You can smell the sea from where I stood, corralled and calm as it is in Boston Harbor. The land grows to claim the sea more every day. That Mary once gazed across waves. Now she gazes at a gleaming lobby full of Important People. Behind her are hid the detritus and debris of a liminal space caught between three ages.

I had the strange feeling that I was the only one who could see the traffic cones and signs hidden behind the outstretched hands of the Mother of God.

Now, I’ve seen this chapel before. But I’ve never gone in. A tentative Calvinist, I sauntered up to the front door, hoping I looked like a tourist. A sign said, “Open 8 am to 8 pm during Lent”. Yes. It is Lent. I stepped in. No one waited there. There was no sound, no lock, no bar. A single lone candle flickered in the votives. I thought of the great Catholic cathedrals I had seen during my European travels – whole walls given to the glimmering lights that each represented a prayer. Only a handful of votives even had candles to be lit. An optimistic sign said, “Donation $1″. When I lifted the placard to place my small offering in it, only two quarters told the tale of a desperate prayer. No sons or brothers must be on the sea today. No wives worried their unborn babes will never know a father’s voice. No sisters left behind in this chapel by the sea.

For the safety of those upon the sea

Heretic that I am, it is Lent. I walked up the center aisle of the lonely chapel. The pews were cold and worn, with discarded programs and handouts. The tile peeled away at the corners. Cobwebs hung at the edge of stained-glass windows with pictures of dark apostles striving to calm the waves. One window had been removed to make way for an ancient box air conditioner. This place would be hot in summer. In the front of the church was placed a reading for the day, from Isaiah:

“For, as the rain and the snow come down from the sky and do not return before having watered the earth, fertilising it and making it germinate to provide seed for the sower and food to eat, so it is with the word that goes from my mouth: it will not return to me unfulfilled or before having carried out my good pleasure and having achieved what it was sent to do.”

I stopped to pray in a sunbeam, then left. I noted as I left the rusting bars over the windows of the rectory. Once, this place had been a home to desperate prayers for safety as tall ships raced before winds across the unknowable oceans. Then it had been a bastion of God in a dismal and dingy strip of garbage-filled land – a beacon of light against darkness. Now it was left behind and valued only as a relic of historical interest and sentimental value. Where the door had once borne the name of a man of God who served there, that name is covered with black tape and replaced with a ten digit phone number. How long, oh Lord, before this too becomes a bistro that “seeks to foster collaboration and entrepreneurship for the business leaders of tomorrow”?

Gleaming skyscrapers, union trucks and rusted bars on windows. This is Boston.

I wondered if this church might be a metaphor for The Church. From central importance to struggle to irrelevancy in 100 years. Is that the story of the 21st century Christian? Is our service spent? Does our tile peel? Do spiders add their artistry to our historic stained glass windows? Is our piano out of tune? Do our candles go unlit, our hymns go unsung and our prayers go unattended? Do we matter anymore?

That there is Good Friday. The guttering candles and the fading hope. I do not believe that the people in the tall buildings that hem in the chapel need God any less than the fervently praying betrothed once did as her lover pushed off the dock. Faithful hands laid out the scriptures to be read. Faithful hands opened the door and say the mass. I think we have not yet found our idiom – our way of telling our need to God and hearing a loving response. We do not light candles. But we do hope that the whispers of our heart are heard.

I do not know what the Easter of service to God will look like in our generation. Perhaps this Easter Eve will be grim and long – the active persecution of the apostles replaced with the corrosive disdain that marks so many of our public conversations. Perhaps it will flourish and be full of the creativity and joy and expression that mark our generation. Perhaps it will be profoundly individualistic. Perhaps we will so miss being with each other in our profound individualism that we will collaborate and innovate together in service to God and to man and to creation. It is even possible that the denizens of those high towers will find themselves drawn to a sunlit pew on a Tuesday noon to light a candle and say a prayer.

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing

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