Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Flu

"Jesus, thank-you that tomorrow I will feel really better," Myra prays. She squints her closed eyes, "And thank-you that Lucy telled Mom that I puked. Amen."

"Amen," I say, the shrapnel of the discovery still fresh. I rub Myra's shoulder, blow a kiss. Arms length from the bathtub, curled on a throne of clean towels, she pulls whitie-blankie up under her chin. Her face blooms dulcet.


Then it's a whirlwind of flu and puke and Christmas traditions slid sideways. Laundry and showers and bleach and puke in hair, and bleach, we split the holiday open, free fall through spume. Four out of five kids throw up. Craig comes home with a fever.

"I don't like BARFING." Myra says.

The hours page by, time slows, meters out the gentle pace of recovery. I acquiesce.

And then its Thursday, the children well. I hold Joe in my arms, his silver dollar hands babyish round. He strokes blue-blankie slung over my shoulder.

"A-ma-zing grace, how sweet the sound," I sing. Joe twiddles chubby fingers on my back. "That saved a wretch like me," the bedroom slung together with socks and legos, a t-shirt and jeans half under the bed, the hall light crystalline across the rug, I pat rhythm across Joe's back. "I once was lost but now am found," I sing. Jack slips in, slides an arm through my elbow. "Was blind but now I see."

"I'm coming in here to listen," Jack whispers between verses, "'cause it's kind of hard to hear when I start the vacuum.

I nod, sing on, my hand the metronome against Joe's back. Thunk-thunk-thunk, he's a drum. The boys lean on my shoulders, encircle my elbows. The melody envelops pillowcases and towels askew, jammies and rogue underwear, an unpacked diaper bag, a toy watering can under the bed.  In the slow tic-toc of love, we sway, slow the frenetic beat of our hearts. Unflappable nourishment, the bass drum of love, contentment arrives.


5066. Jack stays up late to vacuum the house for me.

5067. "Im making a Christmas present for the chickens," he says. "A roosting bar. There isn't enough room on the one that Dad made, so we can put this one in there too."

5068. We celebrate Christmas with Craig's family. They surround us with love. We celebrate late and out of order, and it's perfect. Love finds a way. We ride on his wings.

5069. We spend the day in board games and long walks and sunshine sharp and orange.

5070. "I really like vacuuming and dust mopping," Jack says, "because it's for you." He nods to me. "Just because it's for YOU. I like that." I see the arcing strength of his father. The shoulders of his will grow stronger each day.

5071. We paint fingernails, the girls and I. I caution Myra not to muss her nails. "Also," she says, "probably, I shouldn't pick my nose. Last time I picked my nose and some of the polish came off."

5072. Purple polish. Home manicure supplies.

5073. Whipped cream cheese.

5074. I explain new year resolutions. Jack says, "I might try cleaning for you everyday."

5075. And now it's Sunday. Jane has a fever. Lucy has a fever. Invisible love buoys us up. We take it in stride.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


"Jesus is going to get the monsters with him's spanking stick," Myra says.

"Oh," I say, ice a sheen on the road ahead of me. Myra in the passenger seat, Lucy in the jump seat behind, we skitter home in the inky night.

"And him's gonna shoot the bears with him's gun," Myra says.

I shift the little pickup in and out of third gear. The engine chugs.

"Yeah," Lucy nods, "Myra doesn't believe bears go to heaven." I turn a blinker on, scan the fog for cars, ease into the far lane. "Myra, bears DO go the heaven," Lucy prods.

"No they don't."


"Shhhh, that's enough," I say, eyes tracing the road. Myra pokes an index finger in each ear, sets her jaw, croons in a whisper.

I wrangle the shifter again, slog it back into third. The engine whines to speed. It had been in fifth. I try to flick the wipers on but flash the headlights instead.

"Myyyyra," Lucy says.

Myra mumbles on, fingers jabbed in her ears. I ping-pong between her and the road.

"What did you say?" I pull her hand down and snap back to the road, back to her. We curve around a basalt outcropping.

"Um. Ah," she says.

"What?" I frown, wrinkle my forehead. "Myra?"

"Bears DON'T go to heaven," she relents. I blink. She stares. "But the little ones, we won't SHOOT," she covers. "I'm gonna SNUGGLE with the little ones." She tilts her head, frowns the left corner of her mouth.

All that frost-bound road and dank fog, and I bust into chortles. The girls make eyes, laugh. Bears don't go to heaven.

The night winds down to a perfect knot. We finally sidle up the driveway, coral everyone to bed, move through the strokes of advent.

Christmas rings in with new jammies and oranges, a whole box of oranges. We splay the day with popcorn and gingerbread men, sugar cookies and filberts and fudge.We spend the day playing. We play board games.

"Jesus, thank-you that this is the best Christmas ever," Jane prays. "I pray every Christmas can be this great."

We sift the children into bed, holiday chaff fluttered away.

"It's my treasure thing," Lucy says, a black oval in hand. Reclined on her belly, she snaps open a discarded sunglass's case. The hinges creak. I clamor up the bunk-bed ladder.

"Here I'll show you," she says. She fingers an old floss container labeled THRED. She clicks it open. "This is my favorite part." She gently pulls the spool out, rewraps the thread. It wisps up like a tail. "Maybe I can use it for my sewing class," she says. She slips the spool over the spindle like a newborn babe, rethreads it through the eyelet.

"Wow," I say.

"I like what everyone gave me," she says. She cuddles the thread with her fingers, then sets it back. She strokes an agate, fingers a lavender zip-pull, drapes it over her hand. Then finally, she tucks them all back in the case.

"Yeah," I say.

The hinges creak when she shuts the treasure thing. She puts it in a shoebox next to her pillow.

"Love you, Lu." I kiss her forehead. She hugs me to her cheek, her hair a fan across the pillow.

Then, I shimmy down the ladder. Christmas. A river of contentment spills over me.


5052. "I have baby Jesus in my tummy," Lucy says, her favorite dolly stuffed down her shirt.

5053. "Momma, 're are you?" Joey calls in the middle of the night.

5054. I make the kids clean up before lunch, but Jack goes the extra mile. He pulls out the big vacuum and cleans the rug.

5055. "I might be a shepherd," Jack says. "Joe's gonna be a wise man."

5056. "Jesus died on the cross for us," Myra says.

5057. "Emma, have you finished eating?" I ask. She's turning pirouettes to Christmas music in the sunroom.

5058. "I wish that I could go to Jude and Zeke's house," Myra pines when we hear they are sick. "And then when they're throwing up, and I'm throwing up, we could bring some stuff to throw up in. That'd be really fun."

5059. We celebrate Christmas just the seven of us. It's a circle of love. Simple love. It's perfect.

5060. We celebrate with the whole wide clan on my side. Felicity and hope, crepes and plum sauce, whip cream, real vanilla, gifts made by hand, others invisible, love, it's a liturgy of love.

5061. The seven of us sit together for the annual candlelit church service. Even Myra gets a candle.

5062. We await celebration with Craig's side.

5063. We start dispersing the annual Christmas card.

5064. And somewhere in the middle of all the Christmas joy I crumble and cry under expectations. Craig picks me up, shoulders me on strength. I say I must be Scrooge. He says, no, Cruella. And we laugh and laugh. And somehow, there in the middle of my quaking heart, solid, immovable joy. Jesus.

5065. Jesus. I'm thankful for Jesus.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


"The person who keeps the internet must have a lot of kids," Jack says.

I scroll down a page of patterns. Knitting. Pullovers and cardigans, raglan sleeves, yoke necks, turtlenecks, shrugs - Jack peers over my shoulder. The sweaters blurs by.

I sigh, click on a vintage cardigan. I scan examples, a sweater in oatmeal, in lime, plum, tangerine, gray.

Jack leans on my shoulder. "And he's really good at knitting, it looks like," he says.

I stop, turn from the computer to smile into his eyes. His face breaks into dimpled grin. "Go play," I say. He gambols down the back stairs a handmade slingshot under one arm.

"Are you cool?" Craig asks him later. "Jack, are you cool?" he prods. It's dinner hour. The seven-year-old boy sidled up to the stove, frying pan bubbling, he flips an egg sunny side down.

"What's cool?" he says. He scrapes a snaggled piece of egg off the iron skillet, dredges it through a puddle of browned butter.

"Jack, are you COOL?" Craig says again, Joe scooped in his arms. He slaps Jack across the back of the shoulders using Joe's arm. They stand there, frying pan popping, the handle too hot to touch, a theatre of egg unfolding, mirth lilting.

"Oh," Jack says, throws his head back, nods, "it has another meaning." He flips the egg again. Someone chariots through the kitchen, a renegade game of tag. Someone sets the table, drops a bowl, scoops it up. The scenes flutter by.

"Mom," Myra says next day at school, "Lucy's my ART teacher."

"Yeah?" I say.

The children sprawled in morning seatwork, I sew Christmas skirts for the girls and me. Red with black polkadots, taffeta, crisp lines - I smooth the skirt, estimate where to hem it.

"Her always does that for me," Myra says. Belly down on the floor, butcher paper and crayons a raft of artwork, she props her face, blinks, nods all bumpy on her elbow.

"I'm her MATH teacher," Jack says.

I pin the skirt hem, glance at Jack captivated by a 100 problem math drill. A hundred of them and he just plows right through.

"Jack's my MATH," Myra says. She sweeps a wide arc of brown, scribbles it into a hill. Jack scrawls more numbers. Lucy scampers off, sketch book under one arm, pencil dangling on the spiral bind.

And so we build our culture, our family culture. One teaches another and another. They strive and reach and jump and strain. They grow and contend and struggle and resolve. And win. Something happens between them: the certainty of love.

Confidence emerges. It's the lighthearted skip down the back stairs. It's the throwing back of his head, and grin, Oh, it has another meaning. It's the romance of math, the 100 problem math drill. Solidarity.  Strength. It's the tendon that connects all the muscle.


5036. Rosie paints my nails Christmas RED.

5037. I practice piano. "Why aren't you playing that with the metronome?" Jack says.

5038. I finish knitting my Christmas sweater. It fits perfect, festive gray.

5039. "Hey Beauty, whatcha thinking about?" I ask Lucy on the way home from the gallery meeting. "Beautiful, what are you thinking about?" I ask again, her lost in thought. "Oh," she says, "'bout how I'm gonna get good at minus." Math. It's food for the mind. "I can do it pretty good, but I'm, gonna get faster," she says.

5040. Lucy accompanies me to the gallery meeting. It's at the chocolate shop, but most have to cancel. We have drinking-chocolate with Mom, then shop for Christmas.

5041. "Mom," Myra says, "you're a good knitting girl."

5042. Jack scoots over on the couch and rubs my back.

5043. I sew red stripes to the back of my wool socks so the kids won't take them.

5044. We listen to Huckleberry Finn with the kids. We laugh at Huck's antics. I marvel at Mark Twain's genius in writing dialogue.

5045. "Joe-Joe, careful. If you dump it, water's gonna be on the ground," Myra warns Joe. "If he spills it," she says to me, "we can just wipe it up."

5046. Jane and I shop for Christmas pjs. Then she wraps them all up and stows them under the tree.

5047. We run into a terrible battle of the wills. "You can be a champion or a slave," I say. "They do exactly the same thing, just different attitudes."

5048. In the end friendship emerges. Respect and love, affection. Discipline does it's good work. Devotion wins.

5049. "I'm dezausted," Myra says. "Dezausted means you're hungry."

5050. "MmmmMm. I was smellin' your hair. And it smells YUMMY," she says while she brushes my hair.

5051. We fall into bed far too late for too many nights. And still, I feel it each time, joy, contentment next to the man I love.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

All The Time

"How do you accidentally knock them off, Jack?" I frown at the 200 cookie avalanche. Danish butter cookies.

Jack's shoulders slump. Eyes round and ocean blue, a meniscus of tears, he blinks. "I, I," he stammers, all that cerulean love crestfallen down his cheeks.

"It's ok," I say, try to rewind, "stuff like this happens all the time." I speak and something like hope buoys us, something like walking on water. He grabs me around the waist, wipes tears on my sweater.

We eat the cookies.

And we read about the martyrs, the early church. Then on to chores, I wrestle the gangly landscape of a quilt through my machine.

"I might want to bring this with me if I can," Lucy says. I look up from the sewing machine. She tucks a mint green primer into her elbow, pats it. We Learn About God it says across the top.

"Where?" I say my shoulder pressed into the heaving heft of that quilt.

"Into jail." She nods, serious, cheerful.

"Oh." All that panorama of quilt and all I can see is her oval face, pleasant, purposed.

"So I can tell them about Adam and Eve and God if I can," she says. I feel it, the gathering of strength, the tracing of courage, the audacity of meekness.

I smile into the nucleus of her eyes, nod.

A rehearsal. She's planning the future.

That huge quilt sprawled over the dining room table, and still, I stare at that little girl.

Stuff like this happens all the time. My words come back to me. All the time, just below the surface, something strong and beautiful holds us.


5019. Our thirteen year old popcorn maker falls apart. Craig brings us a new one.

5020. Mom helps me pin the layers of my quilt into place. We eat peppermint bark popcorn, sip coffee, let the afternoon drape over the folds of the quilt. It's the one I started when Jane was a baby.

5021. I join the ranks of women who have machine quilted a king size quilt. I even sewed a binding.

5022. To my radiant wife, the note begins. I find it on my coffeemaker when I awake.

5023. "Mom," Myra announces, "when you warm the butter up in your bread, pretty soon it will get really juicy. Last time I did it, and it was really juicy."

5024. My mom and her sister meet at Grampa's to decorate for Christmas.

5025. I get Jeremy and Kimberly Sorensen's Christmas Album.

5026. I catch a Friday morning coffee with a dear, dear friend. We spur each other on. Encouragement abounds.

5027. Our Christmas tree dies. Craig gets us a new one.

5028. Jane and I sneak away to buy gifts.

5029. We get our family pictures from Miss Rose Emily. Love!

5030. We hang the prints as part of Christmas decorating.

5031. We listen to A Christmas Carol unabridged while we decorate.

5032. We listen to A Pilgrim's Progress. I didn't know it was written from prison.

5033. Jane braids a necklace for me, a tiny butterfly at the bottom.

5034. I make two gallons of spaghetti sauce. For all the joy of eating spaghetti on the coast, I want it again. I haven't made it in ten years.

5035. We skim into the crest of a new week, expectant, content.