Weary, yet joyful…

I wake before the alarm sounds to a little body clinging to mine like glue, moulded against my form.  I am gripping the side of the bed as if my life depended on it.  I feel like I have a giant mud sucker attached to my back.  I get my bearings, stretch and make the trek downstairs to shower.

Back up I go to get dressed and make beds, and then it is down the stairs and out the door for another day in the classroom.

The work day through, I arrive home and immediately begin to gather up loose articles that have managed to misplace themselves and become separated from their rightful owners.  Everything is placed temporarily on the stairs in the hopes that someone might be generous and redistribute such objects to the various rooms from whence they came, mere hours ago. In the likely event that does not happen, then the next trip I make to the second floor will include a load of these and other items, assuming I have not tripped and killed myself on them first.

Down the stairs, to make supper.

After supper, a trek back up to do laundry, prepare baths, set out pajamas and coat toothbrushes with sugar, ‘er… I mean toothpaste.   Down, to finish the last-minute kitchen clean-up.  Up again, for baths and more laundry.  Down, if I forget a book, or medicine or the hot water bottle.  Up, slowly this time, to take the little one to her room for the night. Down again, to steal a few precious minutes checking out my Facebook home page.  Back up when hubby comes looking an ally to fight the bedtime battles.

And so it goes, my day of ups and downs.  Literally.

I have just now come downstairs for the umpteenth time tonight, to undertake the following (which  includes over the course of the last half-hour, but is not limited to): a jaunt up the staircase to get everyone settled in for the night, to brush teeth, to say prayers, read stories, offer kisses, give hugs, do some cuddling, have a little snuggle time, shout out reminders to stay in bed, take disciplinary action when a certain someone plays her music to loud, lie down for chats in bed, do some tuck-ins, offer more kisses, say more good-nights, and a final lights-out plea by yours truly before I finally reach a breaking point.

I am now sitting in front of the computer downstairs, and I have just noticed to my left, a teacher’s guide that I brought home for the evening is now sporting chew marks in the corner, giving new meaning to the term dog-earred.  If I could, and if it was actually a worthwhile activity, I would quite willingly throw myself downstairs this very minute out of sheer frustration.  It is a good thing our computer is on the first level.

When my feet hit the floor each morning, it a blessing that I do not know what steps I will have to take that day.  I take the first step committing to do what I need to do in that moment.  I do not worry over where my last step will take me when night signals the end of the day.  When all is said and done, and I am sitting quietly in front of my computer to write, those steps seem so inconsequential in light of where they have taken me.   Here, to write.  It is my place of quiet reflection and inner sanctum.

So, as much as it has been a long day, with more stair steps than I would ever commit to run on a StairMaster, I would do it again.  For this.  Because it has made my life, step by sure step, full and rich with stories.

When joy and grief collide…

Supper menu: spare-ribs slow roasted in the oven, turnip and potato with brown sugar and butter, cabbage casserole with tomato sauce and carrots.  As an after-thought, I throw in the left-over fish sticks and oven fries from lunch, just in case.  I am home alone, and the house is so unnaturally quiet. I stand at the counter and peel the potatoes for supper; the sun is streaming through the windows.  It is a glorious winter day, and the world is crisp, fresh and beautiful.

So it seems to me.  But images like these can be misleading.

My mind drifts to the events that unfolded this afternoon.  A little boy crying, weeping for the passing of a grandfather.  The tragic loss of a life cut short, and the disbelief and shock that follow.  It is hard for anyone to accept tragedy when a life is snuffed out, but for a child, it is doubly wounding.

I watched him crawl up on his mother’s lap, and her arms envelope him.  His shoulders stoop over from the load he carries.  Too heavy a burden for a child to bear.

We question “why” a good God can allow such pain.  Yet, He does and His goodness is unchanging in the light of our suffering.  He is God, and we are not.  We are the work of His hands, and blessed to be called sons and daughters.

In my mind, I picture how it was just hours ago.  The boy, as he was led from the service, is emotional. It is hard to watch him stumble from the sanctuary.  He is led by his mother, and trailing behind is a little sister too young yet to understand.  I am drawn to follow them in the hopes that I can help.

I find them in the nursery.  The little girl is talking about her grandmother’s hair sticking up when she wakes in the morning.  “I can spell ‘pool’,” she says to me.  She reaches out to touch her brother’s head, and pulls on the mop of hair that covers his eyes. He does not return to her much in the way of attention.

I sit down beside him and put my arms around his shoulders.  I have little comfort to bring, and so I offer him a drink and a distraction.  I know this: distractions are just temporary band aids that soothe the soul like pain relievers.  You need another one shortly thereafter.

“Do you have a dog?” I ask.  “Would you like to colour a picture?”  “Can I get you a snack?”

Later, I think of this young boy while I peel potatoes.  I think of my own children.  How would I handle these hard things?  How would it be for my own to experience loss and suffering?

We want to protect, and yet we cannot.  God can, and chooses not to.  These are mysteries too great for the human mind to understand, but like a child we choose to trust.  Trust that a good God knows best.  Trust that a good God can heal the wounds that run deep.  He can hold us in His arms of love and safety and lead us through the storms of life.  He can allow us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  We need not fear evil.

Much later, we are outside under the stars.  If it was a glorious day, it is an even more spectacular night.  There is a dazzling display in the heavens above as a shooting star falls behind our steel shed, much to the delight of my husband, the aspiring astronomer.

We head to the local sledding hill and hit the slope.  Everyone is enjoying the fun and excitement of playing outside after dark.

My youngest takes a blue sled down the hill, and she screams with delight as she spirals off down the icy path.   I do not see her fall off the sled at the bottom.  There is a spotter, and I am alerted that she might be in trouble at the bottom of the hill.  I try to place her, but it is dark, and the black of night surrounds her.  Yet, I hear her cries.  She is calling her Mama from the bottom of the hill, and I run to her.

“I lost my boot,” she sobs.  But by the time I arrive, it has already been found and placed on the cold toes exposed just moments ago.  There are a few more tears, and she regains the courage to make the long trek back up to the top.  I walk beside her all the way.

How like God to show me that I am like my own child.  I easily fall and lose my way.  And don’t we all. Yet, He does not prevent the falls of life, for they are as much a part of the adventure as the ride itself.  Still, He is there at a moment’s call to walk beside us from the bottom of the hill back to the crest where we will doubtless get back on and take another ride.

We make it back up to the top, she and I. In no time at all, she jumps on the same offending sled that led to the previous spill.  I join her this time making sure to hold on to the edge of her sled while I use my free hand to push off from the top. We are off like a flash down the hill with no worry about what lies in store at the bottom.  It is the ride that makes it all worthwhile.

Joy found through a child’s eyes…

It is lunch time, and I am tidying up around the classroom when a little lady, let’s call her S., walks over to me to report that M., which stands for Monkey, hit her.  Punched her, to be exact.  M. is now doing what little boys do after they have made a serious mistake: he is off in another area of the classroom playing, oblivious to afore-mentioned S. who is now sporting a sad, little face.  I call M. over, and I ask him if he has committed the offence.

Yes, he has.  There are no excuses made.  And, he is not quite sure why he did it, but he and I both know that consequences must be paid.  M. heads over to his seat for a time-out, while I multi-task and all the while, think of what course of action to take next.  M. has done this many times before, and he is always repentant when the time comes for consequences.  But as of yet, he has never really shown improvement.  The same behaviours are exhibited on a daily basis, regardless of how many times “he’s been told.”

M. is now sitting on a chair at his little desk, which is a small feat, in and of itself.  I allow the given time for isolation, and I then walk over, crouch down until I am at eye level, and I say this:

M., when you hit S. like that, you are telling her, “I don’t care about you.  You mean nothing to me.  Your feelings don’t count for anything.”  You are telling S. that she doesn’t matter.  Look at S. over there playing.  Do you really want your body to say that to her?  Does S. really not matter to you at all?”

M. looks at me with the most beautiful brown eyes God could make for a little boy, and he sadly shakes his head, no.  He looks down at his lap.  He looks contrite.

But, I have seen this look before, remember.

I continue.

                If you don’t want your body to tell S. that she doesn’t matter, then you cannot hit S. like that ever again.  Because when you do, you are telling her that she means nothing to you.  And, if you want to be friends with S., then you have to treat her the way you want to be treated yourself.  That is the way to make a friend.

A pause.  A little boy looks very repentant.

                How do you feel about this? Do you feel sorry?

A head moves slowly up and down.

Then you must say you are sorry, and try to do something nice for S. to show her that you care.

An apology ensues, and friendship is tentatively restored to a little boy and a little girl.  And, life in the classroom returns to its busy pace as preparations are made for an early dismissal.  Children are busy putting shoes in cubbies, stuffing loose bits of paper into backpacks and finding outside clothes to wear for our daily trek to the bus.

I am urging children to hurry along, when I see M. come over to S. at her desk.  “Can I help you put your chair up,” he asks, completely unprovoked by me to do her this favour.  Yes, she answers, still not sure what to expect from one who just sucker punched her.

He gently lifts her chair, and places it on her desk.  Both, walk to the door, and all is forgiven.

It is the kindness that seals the apology, and I must admit that I really did not expect it.  Not from him.  My expectations were set quite low, and he shows this side to me only rarely.  But today, he has risen to the challenge and shown me that little boys can learn hard lessons about respect, honor and integrity, even at the very young age of five.  And even at this very young age, there is time to un-learn bad habits and reverse the cycle that leads to abuse.  With careful attention, there is hope for change.  Even for him.

Especially for him.

I am home after a busy day of work and running after-school errands, and I find my husband in the kitchen with his earphones plugged into his ears, speaking into his Smart phone in tones you would expect from a senior on Bingo day.  This is what he is yelling, “Twilight Zone, play Twilight Zone.”  I am only half listening to this monologue as I am busy doing more important things, like putting away all the stuff everyone has left lying around the kitchen.  Then, Brian gives the same command again, “Twilight Zone,” and I hear him laughing.  “That’s funny,” says he, “My phone told me to call Lori.”  If there were ever to be a soundtrack for my life, I guess that song by the Golden Earrings must be destined for me.

On days when I am not dancing to the beat of “The Twilight Zone,” there are a precious moments of sanity and joy to be found.  My version of a pretty good day is to come home with a random plan for supper, and find out that my husband has already put into the oven the .99 cent Turkey potpies I bought for such a day as this, and he did so without me even asking.  Adding to this imagery, consider me with a bag of groceries slung over my arm, inside which are two packages of French fries that would go perfect with the above, creating a delightful ensemble.  That wee little bonus, along with the dog already let out to pee before I get home, meaning no pee on the floor, make for two of the best things that could happen to a girl like me.

Sometimes, on my worst days, when I sit down to write, I just want to vent my frustration about everything I cannot stand about cleaning up mud off the entryway floor, picking up dirty socks and cleaning crumbs off the countertops.  Those grievances actually can consume my thoughts.  I can spend a great deal of time cranking about things that make my life less than ideal, and when I do, I am left feeling lonely, isolated, frustrated, purposeless, angry and annoyed.

So, when I sit down to write, there is great temptation to give in to that urge that nags at me, “VENT.”

But, when I choose to take those same frustrations, and turn them into something I can laugh at, the sting of anger loses its hold over me.  I feel such release in actually reading over my own words, knowing that I survived another day, and it was actually, dare I say it, hilarious in the end.  So, instead of choosing to focus on work and how tired I feel, I think instead about little D. who came into my Kindergarten classroom this morning wearing mascara or little A. who is now sporting a Mohawk, which little P. could hardly take his eyes off.  Or, I think of my own children, one of whom told the babysitter that “we never, ever fight anymore at our house now that we have a dog.”  You just never know what is going to come out of her mouth next.

Or, I just imagining what I look like when I leave the house in the morning with two different gloves on either hand, my Foodland bags hooked over my wrists, and half the accessories I hope to wear stuck in my pant pockets, is enough to make me titter a little at the end of the day.  I picture myself flying down the outside steps, using my Mom voice to herd the children into the vehicle, all the while balancing my breakfast and coffee in one hand, yet as soon as I arrive at school, switching it over to the professional persona of a pulled together, totally organized teacher.  It’s zero to 60, folks, in about thirty seconds.  It is a crazy life, there is no doubt about it.  But it is my life, and I going to hang on for the ride.

Joy and swallowed pencils

Strangest question I was asked , twice, today: “Mom did, Grammie ever swallow  pencil?”

(And you want to know this, dear,  because….????)

“No, MaryAnne.  Grammie never swallowed a pencil”

“I mean the other Grammie, the one that lives far away.  Did she ever swallow a pencil?”

“No, your great-Grammie never swallowed a pencil either, MaryAnne.”

Other hard questions were asked,  including and not limited to, “do you love the Dog”, (as I refer to it), “as much as you love each of us?” (that is, each of my children).  And, as my answer was “no, I do not”, hence the question, “why not?”  Oh, the limitless unponderables in one’s life.

Now, I am afforded the time for reflection on a day in the life of one who cannot usually find the joy, and yet here it is, in a child’s question.  A silly, little question with no reason for asking, and no reasonable answer for giving.  Yet, it makes me smile that my child has asked me, twice, if her grandmother has ever swallowed a pencil.

I am making beds this cold January morning when it occurs to me that joy is an act, not a feeling.  When I do something to make positive change in my life, I feel joy.  That act of doing can be different for each individual, but it is the act of doing that brings the joy.  For me, it is writing down the funny parts of my day.  Sometimes, there is only one thing that I find funny, and even coming up with one is a struggle.  But, in finding the humour, I am able to stir up joy.  This is what joy is all about, I believe.  In rejoicing, we are actually offering God the opportunity to stir up within ourselves that which truly brings us joy so as to re-create that joyfulness the Bible says we are to always exhibit. Rejoice evermore.  And so, I will write about the funny bits of my day.  Including, and not limited to, thoughts on grandmothers and swallowed pencils.