Friday, October 31, 2008

The World on My Back

On the first day of school, Corban’s backpack was stuffed with shiny and unopened supplies he’d need for the new school year. He had not only the functional things—pencils, markers, crayons, glue sticks, scissors (which he’d broken in by giving himself a haircut a couple of days earlier)—but a snack, a juice box, an extra pair of underwear, a card with his identification card about where he was from, as well as a card with his destination, where he was going. He even had a new Webkinz in his pack for show-and-tell. All of this was strapped to his back. When you’re six, these are the things that matter. When you’re six, this is your whole world. When you’re six, this is all you need.

I’d like to carry a backpack with me. It could hold my functional things, sure, but how much sweeter would life be with my favorite snack, a good book, a special treasure to show-and-tell my friends? And you never know when an extra pair of underwear will come in handy! With a well-stocked backpack, I’d be prepared for whatever life threw at me. There have been times I could have really used an identification card to remind me of who I am and where I’m from. If I got lost, someone could head me back in the right direction. Better yet, I’d like a card with information on it about my destination, where I am going, as a reminder to myself. In real life these things aren’t always so easily spelled out. Strapped into my backpack, I’d have my world on my back. My world on my back? In the end, I think I’d rather have my world in my arms, something I really only feel when I hug my children.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What It's Worth

Train tickets to Dodge City, Kansas… an arm and a leg.
Getting through Union Station in Chicago… tedious.
Chocolate cake in the dining car… $7.95.
Train ride across America with Corban… entertaining.
Spending a week with Dad after 32 years… priceless.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Owl Moon Sledding

There is something sacred about Owl Moon Sledding. You need a few things to come together just so. First and most importantly, you need a child of the appropriate age. Corban, at seven, is just such a child. Second, you need a full moon on a clear night. Snow, of course, is important, as is a good sledding hill. A sled or other slick-bottomed device to propel you at breakneck speed down a hill in the dark is the final component. All these ingredients combine to create magic.

Duncan’s Woods is our Owl Moon Sledding spot of choice. A bowl-shaped hill, the moon reflects off the snow with an almost impossible brightness. There is something still and dark and deep about the woods on an Owl Moon night. Sound is muffled, and there is a palpable sense of trespassing, intruding without an invitation. It’s as though the woods has imposed a curfew at dusk, which you’ve dared to break.

All the pieces don’t often come together just right, which is what makes the night so special. Its rarity gives it significance. But where does the magic come from? Do we create it simply by being there? Are we only allowed to witness it, like some visitor who after a few minutes is gently urged on his way? Are we a part of the magic, a catalyst? We inhabit a magical and mysterious realm for an hour or so, until small cold noses drive us back indoors.

Friday, October 24, 2008


While in Denver visiting Lisa a couple of years ago, we took Corban to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. A four-year-old with an enthusiastic bent for novelty and challenge, Corban was determined to eat his food with chopsticks. Chopsticks can be a dangerous implement in the hands of small child, and the menu had a long list of chopstick etiquette trivia. Corban, oblivious to all those printed rules, cheerfully broke every one! This shows, of course, what happens to rules and etiquette when enthusiasm bubbles up.

It was almost painful (and occasionally dangerous) to watch Corban try to eat with his chopsticks. He worked on capturing one green pea for close to 15 minutes. Nothing if not determined, he stuck with it. My frustration for him evaporated when I realized he was having fun. As I watched him I saw that in the hands of a child, chopsticks blur the line between work and play. There is such magic in a child’s enthusiasm. This day it spelled the difference between merely eating and accomplishment!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Imprint in the Sand

Corban brought home a book from school that had intriguing designs in sand made by living creatures. This one caught my eye. I loved the simplicity and symmetry, and I wondered what could have left such a mark. Turning the page revealed the gruesome truth…a spider! There are few things I hate more than spiders. How could it be that a hairy and horrible creature left behind this magnificent impression in his dance across the sand? We can be sure it was incidental. He was probably just resting, unaware of the imprint he was making and what the sand would look like when he trekked on.

As I studied the picture, it occurred to me that we too leave our marks and impressions on our world. We may never know the impact we have had or the scope of our influence. But as I dance across the sands of my life, I am more mindful of the imprints I make. It may not be any more enduring than this arachnid’s mark in sand, but for that moment in time it’s my hope that someone looks at an imprint I left behind and sees the world as a more beautiful place.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lifeline to London

I’m not convinced there is any more powerless feeling than to know your child is on another continent in a world where anything can happen. While there is excitement for her accumulation of new experiences, it can be crowded out swiftly with with the fearful realization that if something goes wrong over that distance, there is nothing she can do to get to her child quickly.

Releasing a child into the world isn’t merely metaphorical. It is a physical thing, a tearing, a thrusting away, and it doesn’t involve a mother’s choice, which may be why it hurts so much at times. Children choose to leave and careen off on adventures. They laugh in the face of potential dangers and disaster, and roll their eyes in the face of warnings. They believe that soaking up experiences outside of a mother’s watchful purview is their birthright. They are immortal, impervious to danger.

Who consulted me and asked if I was ready to let go? A mother’s deepest instinct, to protect and care for her children, must of necessity go through a metamorphosis as her children grow up and out. The blessings of today’s technology, however—digital photos, cell phones and Skype—soften the separation and distance. These were my lifeline when Lindsey was in London this last summer. They reminded me that my daughter may no longer share my world, but occasionally she allows me to share hers. And that is a blessing I always count twice.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lessons From Pirates

Because we don’t celebrate birthdays, Treasure Hunts, Scavenger Hunts and Big-Toy Day have become rather elaborate affairs around our house. After watching “Goonies” for the umpteenth time, I mentioned to Corban that there was a rumor about a pirate ship being spotted on Lake Michigan. A letter followed in the mail from the pirates to Corban. Thus was born a bonafide treasure hunt with a buried treasure chest, a key, a compass, a treasure map and gold doubloons.

All this led to the real treasure, a new bicycle for Corban, this spring. It seems, however, the fun had been more in the search than in the discovery of the bicycle. As I contemplated this, I couldn’t help but reflect on the beauty of a child’s imagination and their willingness to suspend disbelief and “believe.” Quality of life seems in proportion to the capacity for delight. Who knew pirates could teach us such things?

No Less Than Three

I realized with a terrible awareness that I could no longer use the parental voice of authority that bade my child respond with unquestioned obedience. I had entered into a new stage with my daughter, married now and with new loyalties, and I had no voice with which to command. I was thrust into a new place without benefit of a transition, and it took a storm named Katrina to lay open the horror that I would have to stand as a stunned witness to the choices my daughter must make for herself and her new family, choices she felt were best, choices I had no control over: to stay or to leave?

Is there a bridge for that gap? How do you fairly separate the fact that although she is grown up and independent and belongs with her chosen partner, she still remains part of a bigger family unit? Does she owe me that in her decision-making process? Should that count for anything? Without her, there would be a hole in my life and in my heart just her size.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Train to Dodge

It had been at least 35 years since I’d stepped foot on a train, and I remember loving it. Boarding the Amtrak at Union Station in Chicago two summers ago, I expected to be overwhelmed with nostalgia. I failed to take into account what traveling with a four-year-old would do to that nostalgia on an overnight train trip back to my roots. I envisioned a nice dinner in the dining car, and then sitting side by side in the observation car talking about the changing terrain and the vast distances we were covering across America. Corban would relax and drift off to sleep on my lap, lulled by the sounds of a train on rails.

Corban, of course, couldn’t sit still or sleep. To enjoy the trip, I realized quickly, I would have to drop any expectations I had about what this train ride would be like. Truth be told, we spent most of the trip in the train’s bathroom, an incredibly small and compact space with more knobs and draws and spaces for things than I could imagine uses for. Corban was enthralled. It was, by far, the highlight of his trip. It was a good reminder to me to look for the memorable and the magic in the journey, and not just the destination.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hockey Cheerleaders?

Is this the kind of outrageous, bold behavior born of conviction? I think not! A group of creative, bored teenagers (including Ethan) became the unpaid mascots and cheerleaders of a team they chose randomly because of the name of a song.

It must have something to do with the anonymity afforded by false facial hair, hats, and plenty of plaid. Identities masked, there must be safety in numbers allowing these four to do something together none would do by himself. Is this something one does on a dare? Is there a sense of accomplishment hidden here somewhere? They have suddenly become celebrities in an arena of a sport they care nothing and know nothing about. They do it for fun, that much is clear, and it does seem harmless enough for a Saturday night.

The Vice President of the Muskegon Lumberjacks hockey organization has had dropped into his lap a gift in the form of a small group of 16-year-old boys, who are pumping interest and life onto his lackluster stage simply because they thought this would be fun. I suppose it was much the same way Subway® felt when Jarrod became the poster child of healthy fast food. How long will this last? Hard to say. It just goes to show you how serendipitous life can be. Teenaged friends’ idea of fun is another man’s marketing boon. Go Lumberjacks! Enjoy it while you can.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Small Things

When life scatters us and we find our family members strewn across the country, it's easy to lose track of one another; not in the large, important ways, but in the small things that make us laugh, that make us cry, and that remind us that we are tied to each other by threads of shared history. Life moves so quickly, like a swift current carrying one day into the next. If we don't share these small snapshots of our lives with those we love so much, the landscape changes and we can lose precious and remarkable opportunities to connect. Our lives are filled with small things each and every day that may mean precious little to us, but that our loved ones far away would treasure.

The opportunities, surprises, and unexpected things each new day holds are amplified, of course, when you have children. They're living lives jammed full of things that are shaping them and, as parents, we get a front-row seat. This journal/blog is my humble attempt to chronicle for my family some of the daily wonder I feel as I watch my children grow up and shine forth in a world of their making.