Monday, November 12, 2018

Psalm 4: A Mother's Lament of Her Home

For the internet world. To the Kitty Piano accompaniment. A Psalm of Abigail

1   Answer me when I call to you,
       my righteous God.
     Give me relief from my distress;
        have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

2    How long will my children turn my home into a pigsty?
        How long will they abuse the furniture and leave honey drips on the floor?
3    Know that the Lord has set me apart as his faithful servant not theirs
        the Lord knows about every fingerprint on the walls.

4    Tidy up and do not sin;
         if you have a moment in bed,
         search your hearts and be content.
5    Offer thanks for the unbroken dishes
         and trust in the Lord.

6    Many, Lord, are asking, "Who will bring us a new sofa?"
         Let me acknowledge the places to sit with you among us.
7    Fill my heart with joy
         when their laughter and new games cause wear and tear.

8    In peace I will lie down and sleep a few hours,

         for you alone, Lord,
         make me dwell in abundance.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Why People Drain Me

I've heard that introverts are people who prefer solitude, that they're energized by being alone and that they tend to focus on internal feelings as opposed to external stimulation. I've always thought myself an introvert, but I'm not so sure any more. Here's why.

I've noticed that certain people rapidly drain me of energy, such as small children, strangers, complainers, sulky teens, big groups, long-winded talkers, and reserved types. After an extended period of time with these people, I'm ready to be alone for a few hours.

However, other kinds of people energize me. Some of my energizing people are introverts. Some are extroverts. Some are shy. Others are more talkative. After having coffee with these people, I'm full of new ideas about life and parenting and the world.

Do you see my dilemma? I don't necessarily prefer solitude over being with people. I prefer solitude to being with draining people. And I prefer being with energizing people over being alone. My energizing people inspire me to look outside myself for stimulation. My draining people compel me to contemplate why they are so exhausting.

Why are they so exhausting?

Well, besides being demanding and asking a myriad of questions that I don't know the answers to, my children exhaust me because I'm trying so hard to do them justice. I'm trying to be patient and gentle or I'm trying to validate their feelings or not spoil them. I'm worried about saying "no" too much or emotionally cutting them off from me. All that effort and fretting is exhausting.

Strangers are exhausting because I feel I ought to take an interest in them so as not to appear self-absorbed. But truth be told, I don't usually care about them. Or worse, I'm altruistically interested in the hopes that they'll be genuinely interested in me. Again, all that pretending and expecting something to happen that usually doesn't is exhausting.

Complainers and sulky teens are exhausting because I tend to take on their emotions. I feel responsible for fixing them or cheering them up or sympathizing with them. And it's awfully hard to do that when I either don't care about their troubles or would rather they just buck-up and stop hemming and hawing because I don't think their situation is really that bad. They're like little wet rain clouds, and I'm a sponge. All that soaking up of their complaints is exhausting.

Big groups are exhausting because if I stay silent, I'm afraid I'm being a wallflower, and if I try to join in the conversation I worry that I'm saying something that is relevant to everyone. I'm nervous about people feeling bored or excluded or unwanted. I'm worried about how someone's bombastic comment might offend so-and-so. I feel responsible for making everyone happy and again, all that juggling and straining is exhausting.

Long-winded talkers are exhausting because, unless I'm genuinely interested in the subject, I find feigning interest and thinking up intelligent follow-up questions taxing.

Reserved people are exhausting because again I feel responsible for drawing them out, thinking up good questions, and helping them to feel comfortable. Fretting and straining.

Are you seeing a pattern here because I am.

Is that what it means to be an introvert? To pretend and worry and strain? And if I didn't pretend or worry or strain, might I be an extrovert? I sure would be less exhausted in social settings.

This last weekend I attended a wedding where I sat next to a gal with three kids. I started up a conversation and felt a wave of exhaustion overcome me as I began to worry about what to say and how I was presenting myself.

I can't do this, I thought to myself. If I keep this up, I'm going to have nothing left for the dancing and long drive home and unloading the car and putting the children to bed. So I stopped trying. I lowered my voice from that high-pitched-bubbly voice to my calm laid back voice. I sat back in my chair and contented myself with some silence. Why don't I do this all the time? I wondered.

It's the same with tasks. When I have too much to do, more often than not I'll forget it all to sit down and do something I enjoy: read a book, write a blog, journal a list of things I'm thankful for, organize a book shelf. (Yes, that's why this blog is getting written: because I have too many other things I ought to be doing.) I don't want to work myself up into a frenzy of activity, so I say, "Forget it! I give up." Perhaps I ought to try this in social situations too.

I'm not going to be a nice mommy. I can't fix complainers. I can't control people's thoughts about me or manufacture love for people. Why don't I give up already? I think that's where God wants me to be anyway: giving up and saying, "I can't manage. I can't produce the outcomes I want or the right feelings in people, But you can."

I think that's what living in the spirit must mean. It means that when I encounter people that drain me, I stop hoping that I'll be able to maneuver the situation properly and instead invite the Lord to steer me. Frequently, this means keeping silent. I've noticed that sometimes when I've kept quiet through a child's tirade or bickering that they come to a satisfactory conclusion on their own! I've noticed that sometimes when I merely display a contented smile, shy people share their lives with me! When I'm quiet I can listen to a group of people toss around conversation like a volleyball game! (I could write books about that.) Yes, sometimes I'm compelled to speak up too, but it can be done so effortlessly. It's not draining. In fact, it's invigorating because it's like watching a well-scripted play where I know the ending is going to be good. I'm on the edge of my seat. I wonder what will happen next.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Comstock Chronicles: Farewell to the Rabbit




In the mornings when I throw open our bedroom curtains, I see our rabbit hunched down on the cement pad beneath our avocado tree. She stares at me out of one glassy eye and sometimes rises up on her hind legs at movement from inside. We’ve given up trying to chase her into her hutch at night; she's become too evasive. In fact, if she hears the screen door clatter open while she's nibbling grass pellets in her hutch, she’ll spring out so we can't trap her inside. Phil, pitying her joints, has put a ramp up to her door so that she doesn't have to leap the three feet to the ground.

Now we stand over the Amazon box with the labels still affixed to the sides. I’ve set the box in a hole I dug in our garden, and the children and I squat around it. 

“Now you’ll have to tell us the last Bigwig story,” Rose says as she and Lee stroke the rabbit's soft fur. 

I respond with some sort of agreement. I’ve made our rabbit more clever than an ordinary scrub-and-sage-brush-rabbit and more adventurous than an ordinary hutch rabbit. In my stories she has escaped from our backyard and disguised herself as a chihuahua and out-smarted coyotes and stolen vegetables from the neighbor’s gardens. I have immortalized her. Certainly, she can’t die.

Next to her stiff body, I’ve wedged a paper bag filled with a nest of celery strings. 

“Some vitals for the afterlife,” Phil comments later as if we’d just buried an Egyptian rabbit.

“Why did you put that in there?” Rose asks.

“Because Bigwig loved celery,” I say half-choking. 

The children see our neighbors setting up their front yard for Halloween. They’ve spread their front lawn with tables and chairs, a giant black-and-white snake and wine-colored curtains surrounding their front porch. Two houses up the street, our introvert neighbors have turned extrovert with their Disney-themed front yard. Later we see them dressed as Ariel, Eric, the fairy-god mother, Cinderella, Prince Charming, Hercules, and Belle. 

“Bonnie!” Lee yells across the street. “Our rabbit died!” 

Our neighbors give their condolences as do all the people that our children tell. It seems that Bigwig's death is more news-worthy than their school's Halloween festivities that happened earlier in the day. Lee, dressed as a very serious Batman, marched in a school-wide Halloween parade with his fellow kindergarteners. And I accidentally sent Rose to class dressed as a ballerina only to discover that pre-school kids aren’t supposed to wear costumes to school. Rose reprimands me at pick-up time.

In the evening we have our Halloween bonfire, but neither Phil nor I are in the mood to do the traditional throw-a-stick-on-the-fire-to-earn-your-candy ordeal. Phil takes the children up and down our street before we let them hunker down with their candy bags around the fire. Lee shares his sweets with our fireside guests. Roses eats way more than her allotment as I later learn by counting the wrappers in her bag.

I sit in a sling chair with Benny and pass out candy to kids who either know the drill or stumble up to me, confused as their parents behind them urge them with, “Say 'trick-or-treat.' Say 'thank you.'”

Before the burial I open my journal and ask the children what they liked about Bigwig so I can write it down. 

“She ate from our hands.”

“She wiped her little face with her little paws.”

“She was a good digger.”

“Mommy, can I touch her eyeball?” Lee asks stretching out a finger towards her still-open glassy eye.

I decide it is time to bury the box. But later Phil and I complete the list.

She sprinted around the backyard in the early morning, kicking up her legs wildly. She trimmed my roses and the skirts of the trees. She dug several holes under the gate but didn’t run away. She sniffed the piles of fresh dirt that Lee made as he dug with his excavators and dump trucks. She never bit anyone; although, she did use her kickers when we picked her up. She liked to lay sprawled out in the cool dirt behind the strawberry tree. She repeatedly began digging new burrows even after we filled in her holes. She stomped her feet when she felt threatened or when we forgot to fill her food bowl. She presented herself when we called her name.

Now she, along with Hazel in Watership Down, has gone with El-Ahrairah, that folk rabbit hero who invites the strongest and most clever rabbits to be part of his company.

One chilly, blustery morning in March, I cannot tell exactly how many springs later, Hazel was dozing and waking in his burrow. He had spent a good deal of time there lately, for he felt the cold and could not seem to smell or run so well as in days gone by. He had been dreaming in a confused way—something about rain and elder bloom—when he woke to realize that there was a rabbit lying quietly beside him—no doubt some young buck who had come to ask his advice. The sentry in the run outside should not really have let him in without asking first. Never mine, thought Hazel. He raised his head and said, "Do you want to talk to me?" 

"Yes, that's what I've come for," replied the other. "You know me, don't you?" 

"Yes, of course," said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in a moment. Then he saw that in the darkness of the burrow the stranger's ears were shining with a faint silver light. "Yes, my lord," he said. "Yes, I know you." 

"You've been feeling tired," said the stranger, "but I can do something about that. I've come to ask whether you'd care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you'll enjoy it. If you're ready, we might go along now." 

They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him and into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses. 

"You needn't worry about them," said his companion. "They'll be all right—and thousands like them. If you'll come along, I'll show you what I mean." 

He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.
-Richard Adams, Watership Down


Friday, October 26, 2018

More Grace, Please!

Watching the atrocious manners of my children at dinner prompted me to make a mental list of all the things I thought I ought to teach them in the next twelve years. But that list became so lengthy that I gave it up to ask myself what was the most important thing. What, above all else, did I wish to teach them?

The answer had nothing to do with refraining from potty-talk at the dinner table, though I do hope that on their first dates they don’t lean across the table and say, “Did you smell my farty?” and giggle uncontrollably.

No. The most important thing isn’t table manners or responsibly handling money or even having healthy relationships with the opposite sex. The most important thing must be grace. Naturally. But to teach them this, I must model it. And I’m not so sure I know what that looks like.

I know what grace isn’t.

Grace isn’t letting my children off the hook for being disrespectful or destructive. After all, God didn’t let us off the hook for our sins. Someone had to pay for those. Neither is grace rubbing my children’s faces in their own mistakes. “Oh, you’re going to talk disrespectfully to me, are you. I’ll teach you a thing or two . . . “ 

Grace also isn’t believing the best about my children. I’ll become a Petunia Dursley in no time if I think my son merely had a case of sunstroke when he lied in order to one-up his sister. Neither is grace repeatedly keeping my mouth shut when my kids drive me bonkers. That will just eventually lead me to an outburst. “You have no idea how good I’ve made life for you! You don’t appreciate me!” 

Rather, I think grace is wishing my children the best regardless of their imperfections.

Wishing the best for them doesn’t mean wishing them my best or my idea of their best. It means wishing them God’s best. And because I’m not omniscient, I don’t know what that will look like. I know that God wishes for them to find their identities in him, but I don’t know if or how that will happen.

Somedays I think I do. Somedays I think I know how everyone ought to find their identities in Christ. But when I do this, I'm like the older son saying to his prodigal brother, “I know what you should do. You shouldn’t run away from father at all but stay here and do what I do.” 

Sure, if the prodigal hadn’t run away, he wouldn’t have squandered his father’s money and lived wildly and possibly contracted an STD or fathered a son or given himself some brain damage with drugs. But then he also wouldn’t have come to his senses and returned to his father with all his heart. 

Some must come to Jesus by coming to the end of their own goodness. Others seek Jesus by coming to the end of their own badness. The result is the same: grace abounds there. God welcomes those on death row and God welcomes those who’ve just gone through the motions for years.

I can pass on that grace to my children by allowing them the freedom to choose what they want without fearing my wrath. I want them to know that I’ll treat them with respect and love regardless of what they do, that I will not spite them for their mistakes or require them to jump through hoops in order to get back into my good graces. I won’t keep track of how many times I’ve forgiven them or try to get them to understand how badly they’ve wronged me.

But that’s awfully hard to do because their behavior is sometimes shocking. When they’re angry they’ve  thrown a pomegranate across the kitchen or screamed in order to wake up the baby. It’s hard because when I ask them to set the table for the meal I'm making, they claim that I’m treating them like a servant. They complain about not being able to do anything fun as I meal plan or separate their laundry or plan our next vacation. Can they not see that I’m serving them hand and foot? certainly I don’t do these sort of things. And certainly no one has to make such allowances for me. 

Too frequently this is my method for deciding if someone is worthy of my grace. If I don’t throw fruit when I'm angry, then I think it's fair to expect the same from others. But while I may be right about my assessment of our different weaknesses, I am missing one big thing. There is one person who I have inconvenienced terribly. One person who has made one huge allowance for me.

It’s easy to believe that others are constantly tripping over their need to be loved, appreciated, known, respected, significant, and taken care of. But it’s rather hard for me to remember that I too am constantly tripping over my need to be loved, appreciated, known, respected, significant, and taken care of. Daily. Hourly. 

Just because I don’t throw pomegranates when I'm angry doesn't mean that I’m handling my anger by relying on Christ's justice. Both the violent and the simmering acts of anger are in rebellion against God, and both acts God forgives. 

I am just as in need of God's pardon as my children. It is what I must remember in order to have real grace—not fake grace, which measures and compares and credits. No. The only way to stop feeling like others owe me for the allowances I give them, is by giving away someone else’s allowance. God’s. Only when I’m filled up on him can I pass on what he’s given to me. Only when I say, “I’ve got nothing. Your turn,” can the grace flow freely to my children.

That is my prayer for me and for you.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Funny Bits


"How will Benny marry?" Rose asked one morning at breakfast. "But if Lee marries me and Benny marries me, then I will have two husbands."

----

"We do not call each other stupid!" I told the children on the way home from school. "And we don't call each other stum-bot either (their made-up swear word)." From the back seat, Lee asks, "How about Hamburger?"

----

Rose picked up a Pill Bug on the way to school and on the way home she was cradling it. "Mommy, can we bury my Roly-poly when we get home?" she asked.

"Is it dead?" I asked.

"No, but I want him to grow big and strong like his mom and dad and sister and brother and smother and grother and wother and kother." Too much Dr. Seuss, I guess.

----

Rose was singing herself a made-up song as we got into the car to go to school. It went like this: "Oh Benny, why are you crying? It doesn't make any sense. Because I can't understand what you're saying."
A few times I've asked the children to go outside because they're acting like wild animals. So the other day at the dinner table Lee was telling us how his class went to the music room at school. "What do you do in the music room?"

"Act like wild animals," he replied, and then demonstrated this by using his arm like an elephant's trunk.

---

Lee fell off a black gate in our backyard and in the proceeding discussion about the incident, he asked, "What would've happened if the gate was ten feet tall?"

"You might've busted your head open and bled a lot," I replied.

"And got a bad scrape?" Lee asked.

"Lee, that's called cancer," Rose replied.

---

"Mommy, what's handwriting," Rose asked from the backseat of the car on the way to her pre-school.

"It's when you write with your hand. Like this." I help up my hand and pretended to make cursive letters in the air.

"No, Mommy. Handwriting is when you put your hand on the paper and draw around it," she told me.

---

Phil was reading the children the old Disney record book of the Three Little Pigs, and I noticed Rose plugging her ears and hiding her face in her knees.

"Rose," I said. "Is this book too scary for you? Would you like to come with me to the bathroom and we can do some pampering?"

"No," she replied.

"We can go to the bathroom and I can rub some lotion on you and we can put on some chapstick and trim your nails."

"But then I'll miss the book!" she protested and continued to plug her ears and bury her face in her knees.

---

I was out of the car for 20 seconds closing the gate as the kids waited buckled in their seats. When I returned to the car Rose said, "Mommy, Lee is going to tattle on me!"

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

To the Moms I Know . . . Thank You

To the mom who came to MOPs without make-up on . . . thank you.

To the mom who had to leave early because her son slapped her in the face . . . thank you.

To the mom who let someone post a not-so-hot picture of herself on facebook . . . thank you.

To the mom who throws up her hands, fingers spread wide and nostrils flared, and says, "Aye! What's the matter with you?" . . . thank you.

To the mom who told me she didn't enjoy her vacation with her young children . . . thank you.

To the mom I see everyday pushing the twins in the double stroller with the first grader in tow, who can't possibly make it to school on time . . . thank you.

To the mom who cries during prayer time, the mom who tells me how worried she is, the mom who admits to using church as a babysitting service so she can get some time to herself at Starbucks . . . thank you.

You remind me that you, like me, are struggling. You are a comfort to me because you have let a sliver of desperation show, whether you meant to or not, and I am comforted because I see it and can say, "What? You're not perfect? Me either."

Thank you.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Comstock Chronicles: Walking to School

Set out this morning to Hoover Elementary school. The morning had a tinge of coolness, a precursor to fall. It inspires me to decorate with pumpkins and start using the oven again. In his stroller Benny gazed heavenward, turning to the right and left with quizzical looks. I don't think he can see the branches of the podocarpus and ficus and magnolia trees, but he sure does give that impression.

The children sprint ahead and chase each other around the stop-sign pole. At the corner of Broadway and Greenleaf sits a man on the edge of a brick pilaster. He looks like a sailor with his worn attire and leathery skin. He is smoking.

Lee stops and stares. Uh oh, I think.

"What's that?" Lee asks.

The man waves his hand with the cigarette. “Oh, it’s just a thing," he replies.

I've caught up to Lee by now but I haven't any idea what I ought to say to either man or boy. So I say nothing aside from the regular announcement that we are now crossing the street. Walking fast seems like the best option at this point.

“It smells like skunk!" Lee postulates loudly as we step onto the crosswalk.

"Lee! Don't talk about other people like that!" That's what I wanted to say, but we were still within earshot of the man and once again my embarrassment strikes me dumb.

I didn't realize until my return home that there actually was a dead skunk laying in the gutter not far from where the old sailor smoked. Of course, seeing the skunk caused me to be even less sure of what I should've said. I just hope the man knew he was sitting beside a dead skunk.

We continue up Broadway. The children pretend to be chickens by flapping their elbows. Occasionally, they stop to gather flowers or scratch their mosquito bites or skirt a gate with a barking dog. Partway up the first block, they sit on a picnic bench that's on rollers in someone's front yard. I'm tense as they do this for fear that the owners will come out and see us and . . . well . . . I don't know what they'll do. Probably just give us a scolding or a dirty look. Yes, I think it's the scolding that I fear or perhaps the accusation that I've allowed my children to do something they shouldn't. What sort of mother must I be! Letting my children play in other people's front yards! However, I highly doubt that the owner of that house enjoys his roller picnic table as much as my children do.

Further up the road we pass by what the children once called the witch's house. It's an alley house with peach stucco, black awnings, and Spanish roof tiles. Their front yard is tidy even though it is crowded with various animal and angel statues, a parrot cage, bird baths, and gnomes. On the sidewalk leading up to the door is a life size replica of a growling black bear. It must be the bear that inspired the name "witch's house." The children peer at the various objects behind the wrought iron gate as we walk by.

One day we saw a man coming out of that house. He was carrying a little girl's princess dress. Rose gazed wide-eyed.

"I'm just going to give this away," the man said to me. "Would you like it for your girl?"

"Oh, no thank you," I replied.

Further up the block, Rose scolded me. "Mommy, I wanted that dress! Why can't I have it?"

I wasn't sure of the answer. Why couldn't she have that dress? Did it matter that that man was a stranger? Was it rude to say no? Was it strange to say yes?

I'm really a most dumbfounded mother about almost everything except questions that can be answered "no." Since that day, the children have ceased calling it the witch's house. As we near Lou Henry Hoover Elementary, more families join us from the adjacent streets. Lee calls hello and urges me to catch up to other families. I ask him if he knows the other people.

"No," he replies. "But they go to my school."

He can tell because of the uniforms: red or navy blue, cotton polos and khaki shorts. Rose has already explained to me on multiple occasions what kind of jumper she'd like to wear when it's her turn to go to kindergarten. "A little skirt with little folds going up and down and with little shorts underneath," she says.

We encounter two crossing guards on the way to school The first one has a white mustache and tanned skin. He wears a neon hat and vest and never smiles or speaks. He grunts and makes vague hand signals. I've tried "Good morning" and "Buenos dias" and "Thank you," but the most I've gotten out of him was a throat clearing.

The second crossing guard is always smiling and greeting us, "Happy Monday!" or "It's minimum day today, my friends."

I hug Lee goodbye, if he'll let me, and then watch him march up the cement steps and in through the double doors beneath the art deco stone carving.

“I’m so tired, Mommy," Rose says. "I’m evaporated.”

"I think you mean exhausted," I say.

Rose rides on the stroller's handle on the walk home. Benny is usually asleep by then, but this doesn't stop Rose from talking to him off and on. She tells me about her five-year-old birthday party plans or she describes her Halloween costume that has yet to be purchased. At least once, she'll request a Bigwig story, which are stories I make up about our rabbit trying to escape from our backyard. But I like to save these stories for teeth brushing or bedtime.

On Camilla we pass a man using an electric waxer on his vintage red mustang. He is so intent on his work that he takes no notice of us. I make a split second judgement about the futility of something so temporary while Rose comments, "Mommy, that car sure is shiny."

Later, I take Rose to preschool, return home to feed Benny, and then put him down for a nap. After a snack and some tea, I check facebook and am surprised to see one of my facebook friends has posted a picture of her husband waxing a red mustang. I've never met this gal, but I've been blessed by her candid posts over the past few months. She recently lost her mother-in-law.

The text beneath the picture reads, "Today I came outside to yell at him for not helping me with the kids and caught Drew waxing the Mustang his mom used to drive in high school. I slowly backed away. Grief is weird."

This rare window into another's grief has properly placed my split-second judgements. In fact the situation causes me to question my assumptions of all the people I see on my walk: the smoking sailor, the crossing guard, the owners of the rocking picnic table, and the families walking to Hoover Elementary. What if I assumed everyone was a facebook friend grieving? Sure would cause me to look and think with more grace.

Monday, September 17, 2018

you . . . you . . . ME!

Lately, we've been reading a number of children's books about pride: Mustache, King Hugo's Huge Ego, and Yertle the Turtle. They're funny because they're ridiculous. They're also rather true.

I don't mean that once upon a time a king was so full of himself that his head inflated to the size of a hot air balloon, or that the ruler of turtles once stood on top of all his fellow turtles so that he could see his vast territory. I mean that we get fat heads, and we like standing on top of each other.

I do it multiple times a day. I see someone with more or less than me, I compare, and then I come to the conclusion that either I'm better than they are, or they must think they're better than me.

Really, it's impossible not to notice the differences between myself and others. Some houses are nicer than mine. Some women are more beautiful than me. Some mothers are not as organized as I am. I have more kids than most. I haven't experienced as much hardship as some. And my kids are better behaved than so-and-so's.

The comparison isn't the problem. It's the conclusion that possessions or knowledge or skills make me better than others.

It's a loathsome quality quite easy to spot in others. It's what made Disney's Gaston say, "And don't I deserve the best?" And it made the evil queen try to kill Snow White to remain the fairest of them all. It caused General Ratcliffe in Pocahontas to sing, "My rivals back home, it's not that I'm bitter, but think how they'll squirm, when they saw how I glitter." Then of course there's Scar, Jafar, Shere Khan, and Ursula who all attempted murders in order to be on top.

In children it's quite easy to spot because they say it so blatantly. "I got a donut and you didn't." "I can jump farther than you." "You're saying it wrong!"

As adults we hide it a bit better.

Aloud I say, "Oh, is this your first baby?" but in my heart, I say, "Aha! I have more experience than you in mothering."

Aloud I say, "How nice that you get to travel to Hawaii!" but in my heart I say, "Must be nice to have so much money that you can travel around and vacation wherever you like! You probably think you deserve it!"

Aloud I say, "Thanks, that's an idea," but in my heart I say, "How dare you tell me what to do as if you knew how to run my life better than me!"

Aloud I say, "Oh, are they having marital troubles?" when in my heart I'm say, "They haven't figured out how to do marriage as well as Phil and me."

It's priding myself on how much I've learned about pride and thinking, "I wonder if so-and-so has learned as much as I have about pride. They sure could use it."

It's a sickness alright. A sure way to turn myself into a me-monster inside-out. Brian Regan's stand-up comedy The Me Monster says it quite well. It's pointing at everyone else and saying, "You . . . you . . . you . . . ME! See that? See the difference?" And the cure can only start when I recognize that I'm sick. That doesn't mean saying, "Yes, I've got a pride problem," But recognizing it in the midst of the situation.

This is rather difficult to do because making myself out to be better than others feels so good. It's actually a salve to my feelings of insignificance. If I can prove that I'm better than someone, then I must have some value. So the cure to pride must also be the cure to feeling insignificant. And feeling insignificant runs deep down into my heart.

The cure must be more than a bandaid of positive thinking. It's not enough to just stop feeling insignificant. We have to actually BE significant. And significance is something that's given rather than seized.

Think of it as a bunch of toys sitting on a shelf trying to prove to one another who is most alive. The Teddy bear and the porcelain doll can argue all they want, but until the good fairy comes along and taps a toy with her magic wand, they all remain motionless and dead on the shelf. Or think of it as a crowd of blue-collared workers arguing who'll look the nicest at a presidential party. But until the president actually invites them to the party, it doesn't matter that they wear tuxedos or tutus.

If all of us here are born mere humans, then only someone who is more than human can lift us out of our simple, common humanity into something greater.

I think you know the rest of the story.

But in case you don't, yes, Jesus died to lift us out of our humanity. But asking him to save me one day won't cure me of my pride everyday. Hence, my problem.

It's asking him to save me today, and then believing that when God looks down at me, he sees Jesus and says, "You're good enough." To believe that Jesus has made me good enough is to stop thinking that I need to be better than someone else.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Comstock Chronicles: Arguing in the Car

Today was a special day for the children. Rose went to Auntie Celia's house for lunch, book reading, and flower arranging. Lee had Grandparent's Day at Hoover Elementary. They also had a slumber party at the Stevens' house after school.

The children's overnight backpacks were already loaded in the car when I went to pick up Lee. However, Rose still tried to pack several additional purses as well as her foam sword and golden belt that she uses like Wonder Woman's lasso. I told her she could only bring one toy and somehow she managed to convince me to bring along a stack of artwork, a school worksheet, and five little acorns stuck on popsicle sticks instead of the toys.

While getting in the car, she asks for help seeing as her hands are full. I take her stack of papers and put them on Lee's booster seat.

This of course creates a problem when we pick up Lee. In a panic, Rose calls out from the back seat, "Mommy! You forgot to move my papers!"

"I can't reach them," I tell her. And besides, it is too late. The traffic attendant has called Lee's name through her megaphone, and he comes trotting down the grassy hillside in front of the school to our car. He opens the door and drops Rose's papers onto the car floor.

I brace myself for an explosion. But instead Rose leans over baby Benny and says, "Look Benny! Look who's here! Your favorite brother! Aren't you so happy to see him?"

To which Lee replies, "Rose, that's rude to say that. Mommy, today we watched a movie in my class. We watched two movies. Peter Pan and a truck movie. And Grandma and Grandpa Stevens came to my class and I had lunch with them!"

"Lee!" I exclaim. "What Rose said was not rude. She was welcoming you."

Rose bursts into tears. "Mommy, I want Grandma and Grandpa Stevens to go to my school! Why didn't they come to my school?"

Lee goes on, describing the movies he watched in class. Rose continues to cry.

I wonder how to remedy all this: Lee's uncharitable words and Rose's sorrow at not having the same special day as Lee. She'd had her lunch with Auntie Celia. Wasn't that enough?

In the meantime the traffic attendant signals to me, and I roll down my window.

"Do you have any other children to pick up?" she asks me. She's obviously confused as to why I am holding up the traffic.

As I drive off, I begin my speech. I point out exactly what I think of the children's reactions.

Lee responds with, "I'm plugging my ears."

And Rose says curtly. "You dropped my papers on the ground, Mommy!"

I breath deeply and begin to pray. What is there to say? Is there anything really worth saying? I am so disappointed about having to cut off my son's report for the day. He rarely gives me reports of his days. I do wish to hear it, but I doubt that I'll get anything from him now.

We drive down Painter and then onto Whittier Boulevard. I wonder if I should try to explain things again or if the children have already moved on.

"Mommy, how big is Benny's bottom?" Rose asks from the back seat.

They have moved on, which is good although my blood pressure is still rather high. I answer, "The size of two peaches." I get a mental picture of this and decide that Benny's bottom is probably smaller than two peaches, probably more like the cleavage of one peach, but that is hardly worth clarifying.

"I would still love to hear about your day, Lee," I try. To my relief, Lee volunteers more. The story is different this time. Different movie. Different activities with Grandma and Grandpa. I never really know what's true or not with that boy.

Rose corrects him on one point in his story, and he flares up again. "You don't know everything, Rose. You don't know how cars are made and you don't know how concrete is made and you don't know how trees grow and you don't know how big is the sky and you don't know all those things."

"I know about a lot of things, Lee," Rose replies. "I know a big word. What's that big word that I know, Mommy?"

I smile as I turn onto Colima. "Nocturnal."

"Yes. I know Jie-urnal. And I know what scavenge means. That's when they get lots of things because there's no food in the winter. And I know a lot of things, Lee. I know addresses and I know that God is big and I know that Bigwig is safe and I know lots of things."

I decide to interrupt this impressive display of knowledge to inform the children that their grandparents don't want to have two bickering children over for a slumber party, and unless they want to return home, the fighting must stop and apologies follow.

They apologize with a touch of sarcasm that I didn't know was possible in their voices. Thank God, for grandparents and slumber parties!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Moro Reflex

Babies are not so different from adults. 

Every once in a while my baby will jerk his arms wide as if he were falling. This is known as the Moro Reflex, and it lasts for the first 3 or 4 months of his life.

It’s like his body isn't used to the world outside the tight embrace of the amniotic sac. He's not so sure about gravity and the wind on his skin. So he jerks in fear. And just as quickly as the baby jerks, he recovers. He pulls his arms in again and the scare is over. Everything is fine.

I have done the same ever since leaving the security of my parents' home where my dad paid for my health insurance and my mom gave me all the positive affirmation I needed. Quite frequently, I jerk in fear. Oh no! I'm falling!

Since Benny was born 8 weeks ago, we've had a garbage disposal kaput, an AC unit fail, a stair railing spindle fall off, a ceiling fan motor start smoking, an outlet fail, a stove's burner stop working, a plumbing back-up, a dishwasher drain leak, our air compressor break, and the stomach flu go through the house. All this on top of sleepless nights, spilt milk, imbalanced hormones, quadruple diaper blow-outs, sibling quarrels, and a crying newborn. 

So I jerk in fear! Oh no! I'm falling!

The result of this Moro Reflex in a grown adult is a lashing out, much like a small dog barking at a German Shepherd or Labrador. The little dog is trying to prove who's boss.

I feel it happening when I've lived out of the Spirit for any duration of time. I forget who has hold of me. I slip back into thinking I've got to defend myself from the world.

So when I attend a new MOPs group, I feel the need to let everyone know that I'm not a newbie, that I've got three kids, and I know something about motherhood. When I go to church fellowship group, I feel the need to phrase my contributions just right so that people will think I'm wise. When I visit with siblings, I feel the need to prove how I have more of a right to complain than they do. When I hear gender or personality generalizations, I'm spurned to prove how I'm not like the rest. I break the mold. I shall not be pigeon-holed. When older ladies tell me how they ran their homes, I feel an unspoken critique because I do things differently. 

I'm the yappy dog afraid that my territory is going to be overrun. I'm the baby jerking at every slight breeze.

The cure is not to become a Dobermann or to climb back into the womb. These are not options. The cure is to eliminate the insecurities. To be sure of my position. To not fear. 

But how can anyone do that?

I think it's done in the same way an olympic swimmer is confident in his abilities. He has won a gold medal. The author is sure of his writing abilities because he has been published. The actress doesn't fret about getting the lead because she has earned an Emmy. And the billionaire needn't fear about losing an asset or two because he's got plenty in the bank. 

We too can be secure in all things—in our understanding of the way the world works, our power to change things, and the rightness of our choices. I'm not talking about actually publishing a book about wise living. Nor do I mean waiting for YouTube to give me a trophy for having one million followers. It's the fool's rat race to try to validate my wisdom, power, and righteousness by asking or demanding that others recognize my abilities.

I'm talking about REALLY being wise and powerful and good. Not subjectively but actually. Not in the opinion of my family or a hundred friends on facebook but in REALITY.

But there's one major problem. I'm not actually wise, powerful, or good. Even if I were to win the Nobel Peace Prize, become a dictator, and have hundreds coming to me for advice, I would still have bad days and blind spots and no control of the future. 

The truth is, and I think you knew it was coming, no one is wise, powerful and good but God. He defines wisdom and power and goodness. So the only way that I can have a part of that is by ceasing to believe in myself—a very anti-Disney idea—and by linking myself to the source. 

What I mean is I must stop banking on my own understanding of how to parent or how I think others ought to improve themselves, or how I think my life should unfold. And I must stop expecting I'll be able to muscle through things and stop assuming my bank account has me covered. And I must stop using my daily behavior to decide whether I'm a good person or not. I must stop insisting on other's badness in order to believe myself good. I've got to give it up. 

Always its a giving up in order to make room for something better. In this case its a giving up to take on Christ's wisdom, strength, and righteousness.

Certainly, isn't that what we mean when we say, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved?" It's believing that he is wise and strong and right in our place.

It's saying, "It's okay that that person didn't understand what I meant. The Lord knows my troubles much better than any person could."

"It's okay if I don't agree with that person's advice. I don't have to convince them that their words are not for me."

"It's okay that no one in this room knows me or my experiences. I am known by God and he has said I'm good."

"It's okay that I can't pay attention to Lee and Rose right now because I'm taking care of the baby. God will show them a love much greater than I ever can."

"It's okay that I don't know the source of my angst. God knows and will reveal the cure in the right time."

"I don't have to show that person that I'm right. God's guiding them just as much as he is me."

"I don't need to fear public school. The Lord is in control of my children's education."

"I don't have to worry that I don't know the proper responses to my children's behavior. The Lord knows and he is offering to guide me."

This isn't some sort of cop-out or a shirking of duties. This doesn't let me off the hook for trying my best to parent or keep house or earn a living. It means, though, that I do these things without fear. I do them in constant prayer, remembering that I'm not acting in order to protect myself or prove myself or convince others that I'm alright. I do them with the quiet assurance knowing that my medal has already been won, the book already published, the Emmy earned, the cattle on a thousand hills are His.

And He is mine.

"That's it. You're not 'doing' anything; you're simply calling out to God trusting him to do it for you. That's salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it right out loud: 'God has set everything right between him and me!'" (Romans 10:9-10 MSG)

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Comstock Chronicles: The Fair and Fireworks

The children came home from Grandma and Grandpa Stevens' house yesterday bubbling with excitement. They had gone to the Orange County Fair on Sunday, and they each made their experiences known to me in their separate ways.

Rose, while hopping up and down in front of my face, told me about the butterfly pavilion and the cotton candy and the bus ride and the corn bins. Her eyes were big and round. Lee made mention of his ice cream and the butterflies as well, but I learned what really fascinated him when we came home and the children played in the living room while I organized their toys.


Rose played Mommy to Benny. She laid her knitted blanket across the couch cushions and asked me to put Benny here and there for her to wrap.

Lee gathered his blankets and pillows into piles and re-enacted the fireworks and explosions that grandpa showed him on the computer.

"Do you know what this one is going to do?" he'd ask me.

"Do you think this one is going to hit the ground?"

"Watch how fast this one is going to go!"

"This one is going to be really fascinating."

"Which one do you want to see next?"

"Uh oh, this one is exploding the house!"

"The children are crying, 'Encore!' so we're going to do it again."

Benny listened to their little voices as he kicked on the couch. Rose sang and spoke sweetly to Benny. She doesn't seem to be suffering from big sister jealousies at all. She wants to take Benny places and show him off, kiss him goodnight and request to see him sleeping.

Lee too seems unfazed by the addition of the new family member. However, I wonder if he will soon notice that his customary partner in crime is smitten with someone else. I suppose he will if his fireworks upset the baby.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Comstock Chronicles: Bath Time


It was bath day. It had to be bath day. Someone had to get clean. The children smelled like a combination of chlorine and sunscreen dusted with a fine layer of dirt from the backyard. Several days worth of deodorant have accumulated in my armpits, and my front is sticky with milk drips. Then, there’s the baby, Benny. He’s got milk and sweat in his neck rolls, as well as a paste of baby powder beneath his diaper. 

Benny is chosen. 

While the children are at school, I scrub down the kitchen sink and fill it a few inches with warm water. I gather the sponge, baby soap, hoodie towel, clean diaper, and lotion, and wonder why I don't keep these things under the kitchen sink to make this procedure faster. However, because I can’t think of how to make room under the sink for these supplies, this idea falls by the wayside.

Benny does not appreciate being chosen for a bath. I acknowledge that I shall appreciate it more than he. However he poops in his bath, doting the water with bright yellow floating blobs. And shortly after I dry and lotion him, he spits up down his chin and neck and onto the collar of his clean polo shirt. 

Tomorrow, I shall bathe myself, although the fact of the matter is I would rather organize a bookshelf or sort through my unused clothes than cleanse myself. In the meantime I will smell Benny's hair frequently and enjoy the soapy clean scent.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Postpartum Blues Pep Talk

Let's calm down for a second and get a few things clear. Your life isn't ruined. Things will get better.

Let's also get another thing clear. There are no prizes for doing this alone. Your great-great-grandmother may have given birth under an olive tree by herself on the five-mile-walk to the hospital, and after cutting the umbilical chord with her sewing scissors, she may have returned home and fixed your great-great-grandfather's dinner, but she didn't win any prizes for it. And in fact, your great-great grandmother's children—i.e. your great-grandma or grandpa—probably grew up with some issues because of it.

Next, let's rid your vocabulary and your thoughts of the word "should." Throw it out! All the "should's" need to go. No more:
- You should breast feed. That's the best.
- You should have professional pictures taken. They grow up so fast.
- You should be a put-together hostess for all visitors that come to see the baby.
- You should be back on your feet within a few days.
- You should know what your baby wants if he or she cries.
- You should be so excited about your baby.
- You should let family hold your baby if they ask.

Finally, let's practice asking yourself a very simple question: what do I need? This is what people mean when they say secure your own oxygen mask before securing your child's. It means see to your own needs first. You are no good to anyone dead. This isn't being selfish. It's taking care of what you've got. So . . . what do you need?

Start with the basics: healing, eating, sleeping, and relationships.

If you had a vaginal delivery, your body has undergone a huge ordeal. It needs attention. The same is true of a C-section but I don't have the list of doctor's instructions for that because all my babies were vaginal. Review the ones they sent home with you. For vaginal:

1) Go to the bathroom when you need to. Yes, even if that means putting the crying baby down.
2) Change your pads every time you go to the bathroom.
3) Use the witch hazel and Dermoplast.
4) Take the pain meds the doctor recommends for afterbirth cramping.
5) Take stool softeners or drink prune juice to avoid additional complications. Foods high in fiber are a good idea too.
6) Use the water spray until you no longer need to wear pads. This will help avoid a yeast infection.
7) Walk slowly.
8) Sit and lay down frequently.
9) Nap often but when you lie down, don't think, "Yes, I can finally take a nap," but rather, "How nice that I get a second to put my head down." This way, if the baby wakes you up five minutes, you won't feel robbed.
10) If possible, stay in bed for a week. Yes, that means NOT cleaning, cooking, or chasing toddlers. Reading, watching TV, or crocheting are acceptable activities. This means hiring a cleaning lady for a month, filling your freezer with quick and easy meals, and bringing in a baby sitter. It doesn't matter how you do it so long as you do. GET HELP.
11) Record and give thanks for small steps in the healing progress. For example: wore a smaller pad, didn't need to take pain meds, tingling feeling in bottom wasn't so bad, carpel tunnel didn't prevent me from opening my water bottle, stitches have officially disintegrated, took an hour nap, etc.

If you're breast feeding, don't beat yourself up at the slow progress. Just like any sport, some people take to it naturally. Some don't. Take care of yourself in the process.

1) Take warm showers to relieve pressure.
2) Drink, drink, and then refill all your water bottles.
3) Take advantage of available products to ease your nursing such as Soothies (cool gel pads for sore nipples), lanolin (soothes, heals, & protects sore nipples), nipple shield (gives a layer of protection between nipple and baby), pump, haakaa (suction cup that catches extra milk), nursing pads (keeps leaks from getting onto clothes).
4) Go to a nursing support group or talk weekly or, even better, daily to a lactation consultant, La Leche League lady or experienced friend about how it's going.
5) Create a peaceful happy place to nurse: somewhere where you won't be staring at dust bunnies or the laundry hamper. Put on music that makes you happy. Give yourself a reward for getting the baby latched on: a piece of chocolate or a favorite show to watch.
6) Record and give thanks for small steps in the process. For example: latch was not as excruciating as usual, bleeding stopped, lanolin is available, pumps were invented, the baby is swallowing, nursed without a nursing shield, mastitis is better, formula is available, Soothies relieve the sting, nursing pads to catch the excess, a washing machine to clean all the milky clothes, soiled diapers proof of progress, etc.

Since you're already writing lists of blessings, start one about the baby's progress as well. Jot down anything that's a blessing: umbilical chord fell off, baby smiled, first diaper blow-out, slept four hours in a row, he went cross-eyed, his little curling toes, sharp nails, cute outfits, etc.

Now about relationships. I don't think I need to convince you that relationships with other women are important, especially relationships with other moms. However, it's possible that in the bustle of feedings and mid-night wakings, you may have let relationships fall by the wayside. It's time to continue those. TALK TO SOMEONE. At least once a day. And your husband or children don't count. You wouldn't go a day without drinking water. Don't go a day without talking to someone. It will help you feel like a human again and not just a zombie cow.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, let the old you go. Chances are you had lots of ideas about what sort of mother you would be. Let that die. You had no idea. You were naive and starry-eyed and idealistic. The goals you had for yourself and the expectations you had for others were part of an old childish version of yourself.

Say this with me now, "I was silly. I get it now. On to finding out what sort of mother I shall be in the real world."

By the way, if you find yourself hiding in a closet, not eating, or neglecting your child, do call your OBGYN and tell them you think you may have postpartum depression. Sometimes we need some extra help.