Thursday, January 21, 2016

Naming the Riches

A flurry of events. A wagon load of relatives. I often wonder how the children see the holidays. They must think that cousins, aunts, and uncles are as plentiful as the avocados and mandarine oranges on our trees this time of year.

The children understand now that Christmas involves presents, but their enjoyment of their gifts was so childishly simple, so easily contented, so inclusive of others, that the toys were like a side dish to a meal and not the roast beef itself. They have understood gifts, though, as something to give to others. Since Christmas I have received numerous "gifts" wrapped in Lee's fuzzy blanket: a tin teacup, a wooden carrot, a cow.

 But they would sooner remember the donut shop than the toys in those packages on Christmas day.

And Lee still points out the place where his foot got stuck in the mud after the rain.

The beach, with its gritty sand and deep trench built by Phil, is as magical to them as the Santa Ana Zoo.

It seems that their measurement of memorability goes hand in hand with an events' tactility. For example, Lee hasn't once mentioned our trip to the fire station where a fire fighter gave us a tour of a truck down at Station 17.

But the children talk quite frequently about the cupcakes that we made for Rose's second birthday. They talk about the frosting and the sprinkles on top.

Today, based off the recommendation of numerous mothers,  I took them to the La Habra Children's 
Museum. There they drove a city bus, went grocery shopping, watched the model trains go around and around, stuck their hands in bears' mouths, pet a lion, picked oranges, and rode the merry-go-around. 

I give the museum high marks. But there's no knowing what sort of events will stick in a child's mind. Lee might remember the fistfuls of gravel he gathered outside the museum in the train yard more than the room full of taxidermy. 

I will try to take a page from his book and remember the sweet simple things from this season. Like the Camillas at the Huntington Library. 

The bleeding brush strokes on my paper from Nan Rae's painting class.

My mother and other painting fanatics.

Trenching men. Exuberance.

Discarded palm fronds.  

Dirt and balloons and family close by. Grace and good health and children that sleep. A roof that doesn't leak. Sturdy pots to cook dinner. Heaters in cold rooms. A man that brings home bacon. A God that doesn't give up on me.

It is the daily naming of these things that make my life richer and richer.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Pilgrim's Progress

All of life seems so cyclical. 

I exercise, grow strong, catch a cold, then try to rest, recover, and get back into my exercise routine again. Or I make disciplinary charts, I enforce rules, the children obey, peace reigns supreme. But when I put up my feet, my children turn into miscreants again. 

Or I have a moment of leisure time, I find the inspiration to get things done, I multi-task while checking items off my list. As can be expected, my children foil my attempts at progress. I end up lashing out at them until I realize that I’ve put things before people. Then I collapse into tears, pray, and try to plan for more leisure time again.

No one needs convincing that laundry and cleaning are cyclical. And the coming and going of generations is all so repetitive. Children grow up and have children of their own. Where the aged are now, one day we will be.

How could life be anything but cyclical? We are, after all, traveling around and around the sun. What is mended will be broken, and what is broken will be mended. 

I can’t believe, however, that even if my actions should be done again and again—first with chubby clumsy hands, then strong ones, and finally shaking arthritis ones—that what I’m doing every day is as repetitious as the planets orbiting our sun. I want to believe that the changing of the seasons is bringing about a change in me too. An improvement. 

Life must be more like a spiral then, like a pathway that circles around and around a mountain, always rising closer and closer to the top. Naturally, each lap seems so similar to the last because I’ve been around this side of the mountain numerous times already. See, there is that boulder again and that oak tree. The same discussions about how we will spend Christmas and Easter. 

I see yet another view of that river down below, that river that I’ve seen a hundred times but that I can see more of today. Here I am again, looking back on my childhood and trying to make sense of it. And the longer I live and raise my own children, the more sense some things make. I see my growing-up years from a higher vantage point.

Perhaps up here on the mountain, I can look down at last year and see that rough spot that I traversed, that part that seemed so dark and full of fears. I see now that that part of the path is set into huge monolith cliffs. Those cliffs mar this side of the mountain, and no wonder I despaired last year. It is such a narrow way, so precariously carved into the granite face. And my trail traverses those looming cliffs yet again this year. Who knows how many more times I must come to it again and again until I have gained more altitude than they? But this time, I know that once I am beyond them, I will be higher up than I am now. And closer to the top.

It must be this way with everything, I imagine. The first time my son had a diaper blow-out, I photographed it to show my husband what I had to deal with while he was at work. The next dozen blow-outs were inconvenient and gross. But by the hundredth time or so, it just became a part of having babies. It was normal, something I had to clean up because I was the mother. It wasn't wrong to bemoan the first blowout, but it was right to not make a big deal about the hundredth. I had risen above the complaining and broadcasting and dramatizing of the event and had finally learned to simply kick those rocks out of my path and continue. 

I pray that one day, I will be able to do the same with the fits my daughter throws and the devious smiles my son gives right before he disobeys. It is normal. It is part of climbing this mountain. And when my eyes are fixed on the summit, that glorious snow-caped peak where my Savior-God stands, all these cliffs and rocks don’t seem so daunting anymore. They are, in fact, the way to Him.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Library Finds: Great Books for Children

Here are the library finds for the month.

As the children's attention spans lengthen, the possibilities at Whittier Public Library increase. Rose too will sit through a fairly lengthy tale without squirming. However, that is because she is a naturally contented sitter.

Over the last several months, I've noticed an overabundance of stories called "So-and-so Finds a Way," and "When You Plant a Seed," and "Joey's New Sister."

Again, my rating criteria is based on illustrations, parental appeal, storyline, and whether or not my children requested them again and again.

Please Mr. Panda by Steve Antony. A quick story with simplistic bold-colored pictures for young readers ages 1-3. The story follows a panda who offers his donuts to different black and white animals. (Book Rating: 7)

Journey by Aaron Becker. Wordless book with gorgeous illustrations. Wildly creative. The story follows a bored girl who finds a magic piece of chalk. With it she draws the means of her escape from various situations in a magical world. Lee really liked this one. (Book Rating: 9)

Angelina's Birthday by Helen Craig. A book for a child older than 3 as it deals with somewhat complex emotions and relationships. Scrawly, watercolored illustrations with plenty for children to see and find. This is the story about a mouse who breaks her old bike and desires to have a new one. A fun read for our family right before Christmas and a new bike for Lee. (Book Rating: 8)

Strega Nona: An Old Tale by Tomie Depaola. Perhaps my rating of this book is based on Philip's hysterical way of reading it. He does great accents. Another lengthy tale, best for a toddler 3 or older. The storyline is similar to the magician's apprentice. I like the style of his illustrations too, simple, clear, bold, outlined in black. (Book Rating: 8)

A Child's Garden: A Story of Hope by Michael Foreman. This story was an excellent balance of fact and fiction. I believe the story was base on national conflicts in the middle-east. Scrawly watercolor illustrations using color and the lack thereof to represent states of poverty and growth. This story tells about a boy who nurtures a vine that is uprooted by soldiers. (Book Rating: 8)

Lights Out by Arthur Geisert. A devilishly creative book about a piglet that invents a device to turn off the light after he's fallen asleep. A wordless book with excellent illustrations that ooze of boyish invention.  (Book Rating: 10)

Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue. A Caldecott Honor Book for good reason. This story is about a girl who doesn't want to go to sleep and so her parents tell her about how all the other animals go to sleep. Poetic and lovely cadence. If the pictures had been less bizarre this book may have rated higher. (Book Rating: 7)

The Bear Went Over the Mountain by Iza Trapani. Rose has taken a liking to songs and books that go with them. This book was the song "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" with a number of new verses. Each verse centered on one of the five senses. Very tactile and vivid. The pictures were just okay. (Book Rating: 8)

The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper. An old classic. For children 3 and older. (Book Rating: 9)

Tree-Ring Circus by Adam Rex. Clever rhymes and great illustrations with plenty for small children to discover. A counting book about all the animals that gather in a tree. (Book Rating: 8)

Harry, The Dirty Dog by Gene Zion. Another old classic that children like for whatever reason. I remember my mom reading this one to me as a child too. (Book Rating: 7)