Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Where IS tall man?

Each morning, a nice Episcopalian minister I met in the park stops by our house with his three daughters to take Olivia to school (one of the zillion kindnesses strangers have shown us since the triplets came home). Generally, I juggle babies, breakfast, and books while we scramble to make it to the driveway on time. A few weeks ago, Olivia and I had a rare seven minutes of alone time before the minister was scheduled to arrive -- no babies or brothers awake -- just bagels, fruit, milk and time together...

"Yesterday, my friend said that your middle finger is dirty."


"She did?"

"Why is it dirty, mom?"

Seriously, Olivia? Just seven minutes until the good reverend pulls up in his minivan, and you want to dig for the mother lode?

"Well, it's not...dirty...really. Not by itself, anyway"

"It's not?" Middle finger goes up. Further explanation NECESSARY. CLOCK TICKING.

"Let me think of how to explain this." P A U S E.

"Okay. The devil doesn't have any power to create...." Internal voice screams, You're bringing up the DEVIL?!? In all of Olivia's seven years, I cannot recall mentioning the devil.....ever.....until this moment....."And he's bent"...I forged forward...."on confusing people about right and wrong and good and bad....in fact...his whole job seems to be convincing people that bad is actually good and that good is actually bad. But, since he has no power to create, he"....apparently he's a 'he'...."accomplishes this confusion by mixing up the way people think about already created things. And since everything God created is good, he has a very big job. So, the best he can do is try to make the special, precious, and private things from God's creation seem....regular. For example, you know how it kind of annoys me when you go on and on about your 'butt'...and how we have always called it a 'bottom?' Bottoms are private and kind of special, and the word 'butt' seems so....regular....that it makes it seem rude."

"But we don't get in trouble for saying 'butt' at school."

I realize that I'm sounding very denim jumper at this point.....my kid just gave me the span of a commercial break to explain the denigration of physical love by a broken culture......which will INEVITABLY lead to the full blown TALK.....and THE CLOCK IS STILL TICKING.....

"Right. Because bottoms are just kind of special...in a way. So making them seem regular with a word like 'butt' doesn't really seem that dirty...just annoying. The more special and precious something is....the more dirty and bad it seems when a word or a symbol or a hand sign makes it regular. Okay, so the middle finger....which is not dirty by itself....is a sign...a kind of symbol....that stands for a word that makes something SUPER precious and special seem really regular.....and so people think of it as really.....REALLY dirty"

Then, I proceeded to tell her the story about when I first learned that the middle finger was dirty -- I was in first grade and an older kid on the bus told me to stick it up. I got called to the front by the bus driver, who, once he figured out how my vulgar gesture came about, snarled, "ask your parents," and let me off with a very confusing warning.

Two minutes to go.

Confusion on her face.....staring with wrinkled forehead at her upswung middle finger.

"Don't ever stick it up."

How's that for cutting to the chase?

Internal voice scoffs, there's no way that's going to work.

Internal voice is right.

"So what's the word?"

"What's that, Olivia?"


"What's the word that the middle finger stands for?"

Parent, woman, parent like the wind!

"I'll tell you when you get home from school." Nice. "Mr. Bob will be here any minute" I'm using a pseudonym for Olivia's ride because I'm not sure that an Episcopalian minister would be comfortable with the theological liberties I've taken. "Get your coat, and grab your backpack. And don't stick up your middle finger today. We'll talk about it more this evening."

She turns to wave on her way to the van with all fingers extended.....except her middle finger.

(I call Josh.....)

That night, she asks. "So what's the word?" She didn't forget.

"What word?" Neither did I.

"The word that the middle finger stands for! I thought all day about asking my friends, but then I decided to wait since you told me you'd tell me. So what is it?"

"Okay, Olivia....let's go to another room so that we can talk privately"

Deep breath. Look at my daughter. "Olivia, the word is >>>>"
Yep, I said it.

And so did she.

"Yes....and never say it again."

"Really, I can never EVER say >>>>?"

"Never EVER"

"Can I say, 'Please don't ever say >>>> to me.' to someone else?"

"No, Olivia. You must never say it. No matter how you're using it, people will begin to think that you don't believe that the special and precious things are truly special and precious if you use that word."

"But can I at least say >>>> to Grandma? She KNOWS that I believe special and precious things are special and precious, and she would never think anything bad about me."

Which is true....but if Grandma heard this kid throwing around the BOMB like I was hearing it in this conversation....she might wonder (or at least laugh).

"No, Olivia. You cannot say it to anyone. Because it refers to something SO SUPER special and precious, people think of it as VERY VERY dirty. In fact, if you said it at school, you would get in a LOT of trouble."



"Just for saying the word >>>>?" Now that one was purely gratuitous, Olivia.

"Yes, just for saying that word."

Big pause. Internal voice starts congratulating me on my golden moment of mothering.

"So what's so special and precious? What does >>>> stand for?"

Internal voice chokes.

"You know, Olivia, I will tell you. And I'll tell you right now, if you really want to know right now. But this thing is so special and precious that I've always wanted our conversation about it to be special as well. I have always thought that I could take you out to a special dinner and talk with you and answer all of your questions when you turned seven." This statement is mostly true. The "seven" age was chosen on the fly because we were only four days from Olivia's seventh birthday....making the occasion momentous but not remote. "If you want to know right this minute, though, I will tell you. But if you're willing to wait just a few days, I'd like to take you out for a special date, just the two of us, and tell you all about it."

Long pause, "I'll wait."

"Good. I'm glad. And I'll look forward to it." That statement was also mostly true....

(I talk to Josh, again. He thinks we will probably be getting a call from her school about her foul mouth within the week. He's glad I'm the one taking her on the date. He thinks she seems very young. She is, I concede, but I'd rather have school friends competing with MY version of the truth than run behind them trying to convince her of it after she has heard theirs. Besides, I assure him, she already really knows most of it....I'm just filling in the logistical blanks.

Which is true. Both of my kids have a good grasp of their own physiology, the growth, development, and exit path of a new baby, and a general idea of the exigencies that demand the involvement of both a man and a woman.....they just don't know....exactly....how it all......fits together.....

Until now.)

A week or so later, I sat in the backseat of our car outside of the Mexican restaurant Olivia had chosen (I hadn't really thought through the private nature of our conversation when I designed the "date"....which is why we ended up in the back seat......please, no jokes) and filled in the blanks.

And I was, as I am ever, astonished by her depth of understanding and maturity. After she had worked out the logistics of the process, she was most concerned with understanding how to go about choosing a husband.

We took that part of the conversation into the Mexican restaurant, where, I whipped out two containers of play-dough....blue and yellow, I think....and did this object lesson they talked about one week at Mops while we waited to eat. She mashed the colors together while we talked about why I chose to marry her Daddy, at which point I asked her to put the blue play-dough back in the blue container and the yellow back in the yellow. When she looked at me like I was nuts (a look I was surprised she forestalled until THIS point in our talk), I told her that the same thing happens when two people come together....which is why this special precious thing is so worth keeping special and precious...(I did not go into the disgusting, nondescript color of playdough that has been mashed with a lot of other colors....or the way it gets crusty and dry if it's left exposed.....I imagine I'll bust the playdough out again when she gets ready to date and we really get down to business with THE talk:)

This post is a whirlwind, isn't it? So is parenting Olivia! While I was standing in our basement, hurling the Mother of All Curse words back and forth with my daughter, I kept thinking back to her tiny little voice singing "Where is thumpkin" and to the innocence of tall man. I miss tall man.

Incidentally, Olivia now waves comfortably with her WHOLE hand...all fingers extended. We worked through all of that...on another day.

Monday, February 2, 2009


My friend Christine (usually not a cat.....except every Halloween....when she usually is a cat:) shared some of the pictures she's taken of our kids together this year. When you look at the pictures, you'll find (as I have.....again and again...) how much more she has shared with me -- with my kids and my family -- than pictures. Every day (EVERY day), I am grateful for this friend whose heart inspires me, whose kindness overwhelms me, and whose gentle, ready, authentic smile makes me feel relevant and for her tremendously creative, fun, gorgeous girls who bring so much joy into all of our lives.

And since she shared these pictures with me, I thought I'd share them with you!

SO, here's the crew, ready to hit the streets for tricks or treats.....

And here are Olivia and Maika, Gabby from High School Musical and a Jasmine-whose-mom-makes-her-wear-a-t-shirt-to-cover-up-the-otherwise-scandalous-and-cold-places-revealed-by-this-costume deliberating over our route.

And one of my all-time favorite Halloween pairings: Reina/Cinderella, who sweetly and secretly revealed to each of us at some point during the evening that her fantastic hair was ACTUALLY a wig, and my sweet, sweet Big Bird, who (following a months-long stretch of constant fear for Josiah, fear....of everything, marked by spontaneous but brief -- but loud -- screaming) decided to overcome his run of anxiety by dressing as the most frightening creature he could conjur. First, that creature was a vampire, complete with lots of blood. Then, it was a supervillain. Then, a supervillain DRESSED UP as a superHERO (because, according to Josiah, "what could be scarier than that?"). The frightening creature evolved through the week, but the determination to scare remained constant. We have an enviable collection of costumes, thanks to the generosity and sewing prowess of fantastic grandparents, aunts, and uncles, which allows for a great deal of Halloween flexibility. So, when Josiah hit the dress-up closet with plans to emerge as something bloody and horrifying, I was braced for anything from the long list of possibilities he had accumulated throughout the week. I was not prepared for Big Bird. Big Bird with a raised eyebrow and resigned half-smile that told me Josiah was not quite ready to terrorize the neighborhood. He would rather be chasin the clouds away, on his way to where the air is sweet. I love Big Bird.

And how about these cuddly little cuties!? Tarikwa and Taye seemed to enjoy the walk and (at least for awhile) tolerated the fuzzy costumes like troopers.

And my wonderful Girum, who -- though he didn't get one of the plush garage sale costumes -- really works his puppy hat, I think.

And....the blowout! In the faces of these angels you may catch a glimpse of the intensity that accompanies a night of as much candy as you want to eat. At our house, we have a bucket of candy that the children get to choose one piece from every day -- it's the very creatively monikered Candy-for-the-Day Bucket (I'm trying to teach them indulgence in moderation....it will probably land them all in therapy -- a statement that could probably caption most of my parenting inspirations). On Halloween (and a handful of days throughout the year), the Candy for the Day restriction is lifted, and they gorge themselves -- no holds barred. It's a very intense time.
Especially for Josiah, who goes on a tearing, tasting, twitching, crashing sugar trip each year on this very special day of days.
Someone is waking up, so I've gotta run. But just so you don't forget how sweet life really is -- Happy Hallow-rewind!