Who Were Those Caped Boys?

A few years ago Sonny and Ace received superhero capes for Christmas. Red, blue, and yellow capes, one with an S and one with an A: Super Sonny and Super Ace. They zoomed around the house in them, a preschooler and a toddler, valiantly coming to the aid of stuffed animals, each other, frogs, their parents. Grapes. Pencils. They rescued anything that needed rescuing.

Cape-wearing waxed and waned at our house and then went dormant a time. But then Ace took up the A cape again. He wore it everywhere, usually with his trademark rain boots. Story Hour at church. The grocery store. The apple orchard. Relatives’ houses. Bed.

The bathtub.

Everywhere.

People notice capes, as it turns out. Observers often smiled or even commented, which seemed to mystify Ace a little. He didn’t wear it for attention; he wore it because it was his cape. It was part of him, like his hair. Of course he was wearing it; why wouldn’t he?

Two years ago Ace faced screening for Young 5s; he felt nervous about what this process would require of him. He did not want to go. He dragged his rain-booted feet. Finally (finally!) we were out the door, but then he turned and ran back in—only to reappear sporting the cape, which seemed to shore him up. Thank you, cape!

He continued to wear the cape to the grocery store, to relatives’ houses, to the apple orchard.

Everywhere.

Last spring he had an early soccer game. Too early for his liking. He wore his cape over his gold AYSO uniform in the car, having agreed to doff it when we reached the soccer field. But when it was time for the game to start, he didn’t want to play. He hunkered down on the tired grass and shut down, cloaked in red and blue felt. But his coach, who was a wise coach, knew that soccer games for five-year-olds are more about the five-year-olds than about soccer. He hunkered down in front of Ace, getting eye to eye.

“Don’t you want to play today?” he asked.

Ace shook his head.

“Will you play if you can wear your cape?” he asked.

Ace nodded.

“You can wear your cape,” he said, and glanced over at J and me. “He’s five,” he stated. “He can wear it if it helps.”

So Ace played, slightly out of uniform—or not, depending how you look at it..

He wore the cape the rest of the day.

And he continued to wear it, though less and less. Meanwhile, Sonny’s cape hung, untouched, next to the bathrobe on its hook in the bedroom.

This past winter, Ace hopped out of the vehicle onto the grocery store parking lot on Saturday morning and hesitated. He glanced around.

“Just a second,” he said. He tore off his cape and laid it on his booster seat before pulling the door shut.

There is probably a word for the thing my heart did then, but I’m not sure what it is.

After our shopping trip he put the cape back before buckling up for the drive home, and he wore it the rest of the day. And he continued to wear it, though less and less.

This spring Sonny and Ace’s school had superhero day. Sonny thought he might dress as Batman. Ace had a harder time deciding. He has a Laval costume, but evidently Chima are not superheroes, and apparently it was rather ridiculous of me to even suggest it. His ninja costume might work, he conceded; ninjas aren’t exactly superheroes, but they are close enough.

Then I suggested his A cape.

“No,” he said. “I don’t want to wear that cape anymore.”

There is probably a word for the thing my heart did then, but I’m not sure what it is.

He decided to wear the Spiderman costume from the bin in the basement.

The next morning Sonny reconsidered his Batman choice. “I’ve dressed as Batman enough times already. Maybe I’ll just wear my S cape instead,” he said, running upstairs to retrieve it. He came back down and stuffed it into his backpack between his lunch and his homework folder. “I love this cape,” he said. Ace nodded, understanding.

There is probably a word to describe where my heart went then. I’m not sure what it is, but I know my heart traveled there by cape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Roots and Wings and Things

A few weeks ago our dinner conversation involved different stages of life—being born, starting school, being allowed to live on one’s own, and so on. Sonny and Ace seem to have glommed on to the same part of the discussion and perhaps even had a follow-up chat in their bunk beds later, because they both brought it up shortly afterward.

The next day Sonny plopped down on the couch next to me. In somewhat worried tones he got straight to his point: “Mom, is it true that when kids turn 18 they have to move out of their mom and dad’s house?”

“No,” I said. “They can, but they don’t have to. You won’t have to do that, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

He cheered visibly. “Good. That would be only 11 more years. I will probably live somewhere else when I go to college, but I will come back and visit on Sundays and Thursdays.”

I encouraged this, hoping to seal his promise of regular parental contact. “You’ll always be welcome in this house,” I told him. “Even after you move out.”

“And you’ll always be welcome in my house, too, when I get one,” he said. “You can come every Monday. Mondays will be ‘Chips and Dr Pepper Night.’”

Sounded good to me. “I’ll bring the Dr Pepper, and you can provide the chips,” I suggested.

He agreed, smiling because he won’t have to move out of this house in 11 years and because he can always return for a visit. Or maybe because he was blissfully anticipating a time when chips and Dr Pepper would be a regular part of his diet. But I choose to believe the former.

Roots: He’s growing them.

This child—the one who once was loath to let me out of his sight—is the same child who sprints ahead of me at church on Sunday mornings lest anyone think I’m walking him to Sunday school. And the same child who, when dropped off at Mimi and Papa’s house for a sleepover, allows only about five minutes before politely asking why I haven’t left yet—evidently my presence interferes with the occasion. And the same child who is counting the days until overnight summer camp, which he has been pining to attend since he was four years old.

Wings: He’s growing them, too.

The next day, Ace spoke up from the back seat on the way home from school: “Mom, I have to ask you something.”

“Yes?”

“Do you have to move out of your mom and dad’s house when you turn 18?”

I warmed up for another tender conversation similar to the previous day’s.

“No,” I began. “You’ll always be welcome in our house.”

He paused. His brow furrowed in the rear-view mirror. “But if you want to move out when you’re 18, can you?”

Oh.

Wings: Evidently he is growing some.

This is the same child who often, halfway through disembarking in the school drop-off line, often climbs back into the vehicle to give me a hug and say “I love you.” (Sorry for the hold-up, people behind us in the drop-off line.) And the same child who cannot be away for more than a day—even with J, Sonny, and me, and even when he is enjoying himself—without asking to return home. And the same child who loves old, and not yet old, family stories.

Roots: He has some already.

Sonny and Ace do almost everything differently, so it is no surprise that their roots and wings are taking different forms also. I’m just glad they are developing both, and I hope they never lose them.

“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.” — “On Children” by Kahlil Gibran

Weird Things I Once Believed

When I was very young I thought that the tails side of a penny featured the trolley from the Neighborhood of Make Believe.

tailpenny     rogerstrolley_437x220

When I was very young I thought that monkeys imprisoned in off-site towers operated the traffic lights. Someone had to control them, after all, and flipping switches at set intervals all day, every day would be too boring of a job for people, so: monkeys. Obviously.

When I was very young I thought that a bear lived in the cedar closet at the bottom of our staircase. My dad asked me once why I always ran up the stairs instead of walked. “I don’t know,” I answered, but I was thinking, “Well, because of the bear. Obviously.”

When I was very young I thought that old folks were wrinkled because everyone grows an additional layer of skin every year. Can eighty layers of skin lie smooth? Of course not. They naturally bunch up, creating wrinkles.

When I was young I thought that quicksand was an omnipresent danger. Every sand pile and patch of dirt was suspect. Keep to the sidewalk everybody, lest you sink helplessly into the ground!

When I was young I thought that nothing of inferior literary quality could be published. When I’d try to read a stilted or plotless book, I’d slow down or re-read parts, searching for hidden meaning or cleverly understated character development. Surely I must be missing something, because nobody would publish a poorly-written book. (Right?)

When I was young I thought that adults could be trusted to have kids’ best interests at heart. And that adults were never petty. And that adults always knew exactly what to do.

When I was young I thought that the sovereignty inherent in adulthood (the freedom to choose what to eat, for example, or to rent unlimited VHS tapes from Blockbuster, or to skip one’s chores if one felt like it) would eclipse any day-to-day adult hardships—assuming such hardships even existed.

I once thought that any baby could be easily trained to sleep through the night. (Certain books really ought to come with disclaimers; that’s all I have to say about that.)

I once thought that any child whose whining was not accommodated would quickly cease to whine. (I know, I know. Go ahead—point and laugh!)

I once thought that only someone who had been sappy since birth would tear up at her child singing “Away in a Manger” at the Christmas program, or bounding into school on his first day, or offering her a dandelion or tulip head picked “just for you, Mommy!”

And I once thought that I would be upset if my child beheaded the only surviving tulip in the yard.

As it turns out, I’ve often been wrong. And I still am. I still find myself on the trolley headed toward the Neighborhood of Make Believe once in a while. (The trolley that, in case you are wondering, I realize is not the subject of a penny’s tail.) To wit:

Expecting that late-onset elegance will wash over me any day now.

Believing that it’s okay to pass judgment on others.

Supposing that one of these days, my house will become perfectly (or even mostly) organized.

Thinking that extra patience will descend on me so that, with no effort on my own part, I will always speak calmly to Sonny and Ace.

Presuming that lecturing and nagging my kids will in any way be fruitful. (Doesn’t everyone just love to be lectured?)

Assuming that there will always be some other day for me to let people dear to me know how much I care about them.

I’ve come a long way since fearing a bear in the cedar closet, but I guess I still believe some pretty weird things.

What weird things have you believed?

Should It Stay or Should It Go?

My dad has two sayings related to possessions.

The first: “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” This one is nice in theory, but I’ve never been able to achieve anything loftier than “A place for most things, and most things in their place a lot of the time.” (I should probably mention that in order to cast a more favorable light on my habits, I’m conveniently including items such as the couch and refrigerator, which obligingly remain in their places at all times, in the tally of “most things”.)

The second saying: “Whatever you own owns you.” Dad would offer up this one up whenever we suggested getting a horse, for example, or buying our own camper instead of renting one. Or installing a pool. It seemed that horses, campers, and pools all demand a lot of work and time. If we acquired these things, they would own us. We’d labor on their behalf; we would be their slave. Their slave!

This second piece of wisdom works better for me. Its truth looms large whenever we’re faced with a home repair or car problem. And recently I spent several hours in the basement, rearranging the storage area and trying to determine which items were worth saving after a water leak had dampened them. “Whatever you own owns you,” a voice in my head mentioned. Yes, it was true. I was sweating over stuff we seldom or never used. This stuff owned me—or at least it had retained me for the afternoon.

In that moment, new motivation dawned for spring cleaning. Humming “You Don’t Own Me,” I surveyed the house and pondered which possessions were worth even moments of my service to them.

Old magazines? No.

This tower of rags? A few, yes; the rest, no.

The paint left behind by the previous homeowners? No.

The pipe-cleaner and bead necklace that Ace made for me? Yes.

The bundt pan? No.

The springform pan? Yes. Cheesecake, you know.

This shrieky little toy from a long-ago kids’ meal? Obviously a rhetorical question.

The note that Sonny wrote me in church last week? Yes.

The malfunctioning camera that could possibly be repaired? No.

The Hunger Walk shirt that I haven’t worn in years, even for yard work? No.

Decisions about small things were easy. Those about large things were more challenging. The TV? The extra electronic devices? Stored furniture, even though we like it? Well . . . no.

Meanwhile, what else could I emancipate myself from?

The embryonic grudge from yesterday’s misunderstanding.

Concern about what others think of me.

The avoidance of conflict, even potentially helpful conflict.

Unrealistic expectations of myself and others.

Impatience.

I don’t want these things to own me, either, even briefly. They are not worth my time and effort. Nor do I want them to shape who I am and infect my relationships. So although tossing them out won’t be as easy as dropping that shrieky little toy into the trash can, it’s an effort worth owning—and owning me.

What things own you?

Clutter and Peace

Clutter. It’s the bane of my desk. And kitchen. And hall. And minivan. And purse.

School papers, receipts, bits of modeling clay, socks (mateless and otherwise), wrappers, notes, crackers, colorful pipe cleaners, jars, oatmeal canisters, coupons. This morning I even found a banana in my purse.

You get the idea.

Occasionally something (such as a banana in my purse) tells me that the clutter is a tad out of control, and in a burst of optimism (or denial; you decide) I determine that it would take but a  little effort to eradicate it. My attempts look something like this:

I carefully sort through the pile of junk mail, keeping a couple flyers and recycling the rest.  Sonny and Ace follow my instructions to transfer any clothes that are lying around to the laundry room.

Next up: recycling. Out go the notes, receipts, most of the junk mail, and oatmeal canister. Out goes the months-old cardstock “armor of God” craft from VBS.

Ahhh, looks better already.

J comes in with the mail. He starts a new pile of flyers.

I schlepp a large shopping bag through the house, filling it with various and sundry items. A broken robot.  Mateless socks. The infernal Superman book that I can’t stand to read even one more time. An outgrown  shirt. The monkey puzzle with a missing piece. I park the bag in the mudroom and, recognizing that anything destined for Goodwill is automatically pronounced a cherished favorite, cleverly conceal it with an old blue pillowcase.

Sonny comes inside and carefully sheds his wet socks, leaving them under the bench in the hall.

I collect a pile of magazines, make a mental note to bring them to the preschool, and stack them by the back door.

“Here comes suuuuuuuuuuuuper dinosaur rescuer guy!” Ace zooms past, sporting a cape fashioned from an old blue pillowcase. Meanwhile, burrowing noises from the mudroom. It’s Sonny: “Hey, this is my favorite shirt! And my favorite robot! And my favorite puzzle! Why is all this stuff in here? Can we read the Superman book?”

I read the Superman book through gritted teeth and follow the trail of puzzle pieces to The Bag, stuffing the rejects back into it.

Ace is dumpster diving. “Mom! You can’t throw away Sonny’s breastplate of righteousness!” (Well, no, not when you put it that way.) “And I can make an invention with this oatmeal box!” He marches into the kitchen, possessively clutching the oatmeal canister, and dumps it in the vicinity of the other craft materials.

Meanwhile, I reconsider getting rid of those magazines. I haven’t even read all of them yet . . .

It’s not tidying up; it’s Whac-a-Mole. Evidently I lose at decluttering.

So it also goes in my head. Last Sunday began the week of Advent that focuses on peace. I determined that it would take but a little effort to shed any mental clutter that obstructs peace.  But then:

I check an acquaintance’s CarePage, and the news is bleak.

The recently-cleaned house is suddenly not clean. At all.

I hear an ambulance stop nearby.

Why is he having stomach aches again?

I am worried about a friend.

Why is the dryer making that noise?

Did I say the wrong thing? Yes, I’m pretty sure I did.

I miss my grandpa.

I can’t sleep lately, so I am tired, so I am crabby.

My Christmas to-list is nagging at me.

And so on.

Some of these are not insignificant matters, but many are. And despite my resolve to shed this mental clutter, I can’t seem to do so. Even when one piece is quelled, another pops up.

Evidently I lose at achieving peace.

J turns on Handel’s Messiah. “And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”

I may lose at achieving peace, but that’s okay, because it’s not up to me.

May you find peace this season—clutter and all.

Do I Hear School Bells?

It’s 8:30 in the morning.

Sonny is grumbly because his brother keeps calling him Howard, because I haven’t let him watch TV in about seventeen years, and because his hawk paper airplane has a bent nose.

Ace is grumbly because I keep forgetting to address him as Diego, because I hung up the phone before he had a chance to talk to my parents (despite declining the opportunity before I hung up), and because he has to do everything around here.

The toxic combination of boredom and back-to-school jitters is compelling Sonny and Ace to trot out torments that only siblings can deliver well: copying each other (“He’s copying me, Mom!” “He’s coppppying me, Mommm!”), pretending to drink from the other’s cup,  and . . . wait for it . . . pointing at each other.  Darkly threatening to send each other to jail, to JAIL! Feigning ignorance (and innocence) over the whereabouts of his brother’s lost toy.

Constantly.

School starts on Tuesday, and that’s none too soon. We are sipping at the dregs of summer vacation, and these people need somewhere to go.

Sonny will be starting kindergarten. Over the last few weeks he’s dwelt on various concerns: the possibility of bullies, not knowing everyone in his class, wishing he didn’t have to be away from home all day. But yesterday he told a cashier that his new teacher smiles all the time, and he ended last night’s bedtime prayer with “and thank you that school starts soon.” Ahhh, he’s ready. Good.

Ace will be starting preschool. He is concerned because he likes alone time, which is scarce at preschool. He is nervous because he doesn’t know many of the other kids. But he also remembers being sad when he was two years old and went along to drop Sonny off at preschool. He’d wanted to stay, too. “When is it going to be my turn, Mommy?” he’d ask. And now, finally, it is his turn. Today he donned his new monkey backpack and marched proudly around the house. “Let’s pretend that I’m in preschool, Mommy,” he said. “Because . . . I AM in preschool!”  Ahhh, he’s ready. Good.

Am I ready? Ready for some solitude? Who, me? Sometimes the idea of completing a task, or a thought, without interruption has me almost salivating. Nobody lamenting that he accidentally bit his own hand while eating cheese, nobody knocking frantically on the bathroom door to report a cricket floating in the goldfish bowl, nobody arguing over whether to dig to China or build a fort, nobody boycotting the only pair of socks left in his drawer.

The other day Sonny and Ace spent a few hours at the neighbors’ house, and I amazed myself with how much I could accomplish when left to my own devices. I even seamlessly completed a phone conversation. The silence was golden.

Until it wasn’t. It became almost creepy. True, nobody was fighting. But also true: nobody was summoning me to the window to watch a deer or turkey. Nobody was calling me “Mommy-Tommy.” Nobody was painting pictures of volcanoes to hang on the fridge. Nobody was making his brother laugh helplessly, and nobody was playing pet store together. Nobody was issuing tickets for walking on the wrong side of the stairs.

Then Sonny and Ace returned home. They had enjoyed their time with the neighbors, and they were content . . . for about a minute, until one of them started pointing at the other. “He’s pointing at me, Mom!” (“He’s pooointing at me, Mom!”)

And so it went.

Am I ready for my kids to start school? Oh yes.

Will I miss them while they’re gone?

Absolutely.

Enjoy the school year, everyone.