There are plenty of things that make me wince. This week has been full of them. My heart is wore out. . I have nothing to say about any of this. . We went to a Christmas pageant at church that had a real camel and ponies and chickens, Roman guards that yelled at you, an inn with no room. I thought a rather unoriginal thought: a stable is a strange place to have a baby. . I wonder what Mary thought. I wonder if she had a tightness in her throat, hot tears burning in her eyes. Riding on a donkey, belly contracting; knocking on door after door. . Nothing is ever like we expect. Sometimes more beautiful, sometimes much less. . I think of my dad when I think of the night Jesus was born. He used to stand inside the barn before the sun had risen and look up at the night sky. So big. Stantions of cows behind him; I can smell their smell. I can hear them. He says it must have been beautiful. . His heart is my heart. I think it must have been beautiful too. . Other people say it was filthy and crude. But he was born within me and I was much more filthy. . This is the final week of Advent, and this makes no sense. Jesus, man of sorrows, you understand me. Just stay.
Has it bothered you, in the Cosmic Jewish Zombie statement below, the phrase "...to remove from your soul an evil force"? I was so startled by the images of Christ lurching forward wanting to devour brains* that I almost missed it. Such a long, complicated sentence, but the verb in the predicate is wrong. . He didn't remove anything, not even darkness; he added light. . I've been thinking about Jack London. I read "To Light a Fire" when I was about 10. I read it, ironically enough, in the coldest place in our house; a tiny room always closed off from the heat of the wood stove. I sat hunched over the book with knotted muscles, too sucked in to leave the room where I found it. I remember the passages about his frozen hands shaking, trying to light a single match. How he eventually, in one great gasp of hope, grabbed all the remaining matches by the fistful and lit them at once. They went out. Man versus nature; I didn't think it got any better than that. But oh it does, it does. Man versus himself is infinitely more painful. . He didn't die to take evil from our hearts; he died because forgiveness has a mechanism. Justice demands a price be paid**. He didn't need to compensate his holiness or his goodness; at the cross, he was beautifully, shockingly, horrifyingly both. He demanded death and then he died. Torn and stabbed, not even recognizable as a man. And what of us? I don't know. He chose to leave us human, oh so human. Hearts that grow cold. A flesh that pulls, always pulls, away from him. But at the same time, within us, the flame of God. He himself. Sometimes he's a roaring fire; sometimes we feel only the faintest flicker. He watches us. I think they all watch us: the demons and the angels alike***. . We want the predicate of the Christianity definition to be true, to have ugly desires removed from us, to be victorious as we would understand victory. But gave us something better: the chance, every single day, to bring honor to his name. To choose him over sin. To walk through life crippled and nearly blind to his presence, and yet loving him, loving him desperately. . We are nearing now the fifth week of Advent. Jesus -consuming fire, light of the world, the one who doesn't snuff out a smoldering wick- I give you my weakness. May you make it something lovely.
*Do you remember when that Danish newspaper ran 12 cartoons of Mohammad and those riots broke out? As many as 100 were killed; people marched holding signs with variations of the phrase Behead/Slay/Massacre/Butcher/Annihilate those who insult Islam. (The glaring irony, of course, is that much of the anger stemmed from the fact that Mohammad was depicted as a violent man.) I think it's interesting that Christians are almost completely nonreactive to mocking images of Christ. There's a website that sells t-shirts with the phrase Jesus f---ing Christ and then an illustration that is the most horrendous thing I've ever seen. It brought me to tears. Let it rile you; let your heart churn. The person who drew that, he died for them. Again, it is a love that defies all understanding. **I love that one of the names for Jesus, in the book of John, is Logos: most commonly translated as The Word but also a the term from which logic is derived.
***1 Peter 1:10-16 is incredible. Romans 6-8 also. You might as well pick up a copy of The Screwtape Letters, too.
I was looking at pictures of Hamas on Google when I came across an image of Christ that bore the caption "Christianity: The belief that some Cosmic Jewish Zombie, who is his own father, can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master so he can remove an evil force in your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree. Makes perfect sense." My gut reaction was indignation, to say you've got it wrong. But the truth is, it's not really a misrepresentation. Irreverent, sure, but fairly accurate. . It's embarrassing sometimes to look square-on at what I believe. God, who speaks and creates light, laying there as a baby. Roly poly and smelling like milk. . I've felt this disconnect before: the shock of seeing what you know framed so differently you don't recognize it, you almost want to shove it away. A Muslim friend told me (speaking slowly, so patiently) You believe that Jesus is God but that's crazy. God cannot die. I had nothing to say. Just yes, it is crazy. I tried to explain that that's how great his love for us is, that he would do the unthinkable; he would walk as a man and bear the full weight of our punishment. He was God in the flesh, covered in sin, and he was God the Father, holy and righteous, eyes too pure to look upon such an ugly sight. There are times when I talk about him that I can almost hear the angels singing. And there are times that the words sound as if they're coming from someone else's mouth, and I'm standing by thinking "Do you hear what you're saying? Do you not realize how absurd that is?" . But what is this absurdity if not a measure of love? This love that is deep and high and wide and long and cannot be measured but with the recognition that it is completely crazy. If love could be a noun, it would have been that: God hanging and bleeding, dying for people who mock him. Jesus scorned the shame of the cross. I do as well. . He existed before time but was born as a baby; he was tempted in every way and was both 100% God and man. He stood alongside God and created the world knowing we would fail and need this tremendous act of redemption. He made us anyway. . This is the fourth week of Advent. Jesus, author of salvation, you wrote a story so magnificent it's hard to believe. . But I do.
*And now, a short story. A smart man would say that for reasons of integrity alone, a person's intellect should align with their beliefs. I am okay with the disconnect. I know that my mind cannot keep up. Here is one (of many) events that I hold to stubbornly when it all feels too unreasonable. I was at a show with some of my friends. Bush was playing. Veruca Salt opened. (Surely you remember Glycerine?) I was way up front and the crowd was getting crazy. I was way too skinny to be there. The weight of the people around me was so much. I couldn't breathe; literally could not expand my lungs. I knew that within moments I wouldn't be able to keep my feet under me anymore (was being swept to the left and the right with the crowd); I would collapse and would be crushed by their feet. They wouldn't be able to control it, even if they noticed. I prayed a single word, Jesus. I felt him say "Turn around." A logical mind would have known if I couldn't move, I certainly couldn't turn. But I did. I turned and the crowd parted like the Red Sea; a two-foot wide path a hundred feet long. I didn't even bump a single shoulder. I simply walked out. As an added kindness, my friend was there, standing at the end. She didn't even see; it was as if I had appeared from nowhere. I know him, I do. Let my mind be silent when it is wrong. He is real.
I was a member of Model UN in high school, mainly because I signed up for anything that sounded dull and dreary because I thought it might somehow make me a better person. We were taken to the university library to use this new thing called the Internet and told to research China's position on terrorism. I sat there for an hour typing in different keywords and not knowing how to make it go. I was used to a typewriter and did not understand the enter key. When I finally did find a page, the time was up and we had to leave. They told us to write down our links so we could use them next time. I carefully, so carefully, wrote down the 100+ character URL on a napkin I found in my backpack. (It was full of /'s and %'s and -'s and all kinds of things that made it look like an enormous curse word.) I didn't understand menus, or that the much shorter home-address would get me there. To my shock, when I went back, the URL didn't work. I went to the conference and sat there meekly in my hard plastic seat voting for whatever the fake Turkish delegate suggested because he talked really loud. I learned nothing that weekend except that kids who sign up for Model UN in other schools smoke dope and drink rum. . I remember when the Soviet Union broke apart bit by bit, countries like Azerbaijan and Tajikistan ruining any hope kids had of passing the map of Asia test. It was just what was normal in the '90's - a piece of land sliced up like pie. And then, suddenly, the UN decided that it was in the best interest of the world for borders to remain as they are. No more invasions and no more secessions. No more scrambling or rearranging; the map was to remain as it was. . So now the people who want more land or their own land or someone off their land throw rocks and Molotov cocktails and walk into train stations with bombs strapped to their chests. And the world watches like a tense mother thinking this behavior cannot be rewarded. And now the Mossad is charged with throwing a man-eating shark into Egypt's side of the Red Sea and the Hillary Clinton is being pressured to quit as Secretary of State for ordering acts of espionage on UN members and China is calling Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Prize ceremony the work of a few clowns. And the brightest people in the entire world are looking like mad men. And I wonder how this looks from Heaven - if God sometimes squints his eyes away from our neatly-drawn lines and looks at us as a planet surrounded by an endless expanse of darkness dotted with light and motion. Maybe he leans back even further until we're nothing but a pin-point that's indiscernible within the universe he's made. . 700 new potential planets have been found this year; the Hubble has taken pictures of 3,000 of the estimated 125 billion galaxies. It says in Isaiah that he measures the heavens with the breadth of his hand. . We are so incredibly small. . And the God who made all of this, the God capable of making stars that burn brighter and hotter than the sun, who may have done so for no other reason than because they're gorgeous, he made himself tiny. A baby growing in a girl's belly. He called himself the Son of Man and stepped into this planet brimming with beauty and chaos and he let himself be beaten and killed. But of course death cannot stop the author of life; but he did let death leave scars on his hands. . We are nearing the third week of Advent. Jesus -holy, almighty, infinitely more than we could ever imagine- I love you.
Elvis's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, singing Hound Dog to a hound dog and swinging that famous pelvis while the camera kept the frame steadily focused on his face, was only twenty-some years before my birth. Common decency dictated that he look like the kind of guy a girl could introduce to her grandmother. Teenagers were no doubt heartbroken at his on-screen neutering, but no marches were held and no windows were broken. . Move ahead in time five decades and decency is again in question: we have the case brought before the courts to determine whether or not it's legal to block computer-generated pornography of kids having sex. Mark Foley, of all people, lamented that the Supreme Court sided with the pedophiles instead of the children. Writing about it in TIME, James Poniewozik said "Or it sided with, you know, the First Amendment. Tomato, tomahto." . This case is actually eight years old. I read about it yesterday thumbing through an old copy of TIME. I remember having read it then but barely raising an eyebrow. (Or rather, having admired Poniewozik** for his deftly delivered punch; as if it somehow put Foley in his place. Ludicrous.) He wrote about it in 2006, before I had any kids. It was all semantics then; the future was hypothetical. Now I have three precious babies and it makes me sick. By what stretch of the imagination is animated obscenity considered speech? What does it say? We hold freedom so high in this country that it's scraped through the lowest pits. . My kids know how to throw some decent tantrums. It's not often, but it goes like this: The knees turn to rubber. They sink to the ground and wail, back arched back, snot running. They feel like life is out of control; they don't like the shots being called, and they react. I wish I were able to. It feels like life is an ocean, and we just ride the waves: it is what it is. . I remember reading about Danny the Red*, the guy who went around in the late '60's helping spark revolutions in Europe. I wondered, how does a person get there? If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, it makes no noise. We all know that. That's why we're so quiet. But there's people like Kim Jong Il, who holds a nation hostage, acting as if he were God himself. Julian Assange, handed power by no one, yet able to make presidents and dictators and kings cower. This world is crazy. . I don't want power. I don't want to kick my feet and I don't want to yell. I only want something good for my children. I want them to live in a country that isn't so enamored by its own enlightenment that it acts like a fool. I want freedom to be valued more, not less; as it is now, we call it a pearl and then toss it to the pigs.
*Now he's Danny the Green. No, seriously. **Poniewozik wrote in '06 about a case tried in '02; the focus of the article was Foley, which is why, I suppose, his perspective on the CGI porn case was so black-and-white.
This is a (not so secret?) secret: the first year* of staying home with my baby, I almost went crazy. Maybe I did? I'm not sure. There were times I didn't even know if I was awake or asleep. My mind was slow like molasses. I'd walk out to our freezing balcony in my pajamas, hoping that the cold wind would make my head think. It didn't. My head always pounded; slow, numb, disoriented. . Then we left town and I went from nothing but quiet to sound, so much sound. My grandma Lola singing boleros. Soap operas blaring at full volume. My mom watching an episode of Diego with the Flaco. Matthew worked at the shop fixing cars so he'd come in for lunch, and there we'd all sit: my husband, my mom and dad, my grandma, my son (and then, my daughter.) Conversations shifting between Spanish and English, words running like water. Even on my days off, I'd go. I put in probably double my hours. . I thought that when we moved, it would all start again. I never ever knew that it would be like this. I didn't know how lovely it is to sit at the table and eat breakfast with my kids. I am not the best housekeeper in the world per se, but I make sure that dining table is fancy every night before bed so that their first sight when they wake up will be pretty. When it's time to dress them, it's like playing with paper dolls. I pick out something ruffly and poofy and frilly for Lolita every day; Flaco wears a denim jacket with the collar popped, and Otto wears ears. We spend the morning reading books and playing with blocks and coloring pictures (that sometimes extend to the wall) and breaking things -oh, always breaking things. We talk about politics and theology and history and planets and animals**. I cook them a hot lunch, served on our nice dishes: baked chicken with onions, rice and beans, cucumbers. I wear my apron and we put on music and we dance. And leap. And do something that's sort of like the worm but not quite. . They climb on me all day. Octavius on my lap, smiling at me, squealing so high-pitched when I look him in the eyes, Flaco draping himself over my shoulders, bony knees baring down, Loli pulling herself up, grabbing onto my hair for a little more leverage. . It is good, so good.
*Thank you, Betsy, for your kindness to me, especially for your company on those long nights when Matt was gone. I hated watching Dancing with the Stars. It was so much nicer at your house (and you always fed me good.) **Did you know that the Diving Bell spider lives in a bubbles under water? Or that the Pilgrim Shark's mouth looks like a gaping cave? Or that the Goliath frog grows three feet long but can't croak? Or that the giant Gippsland earthworm can grow even longer than three feet long, and you can hear it crawling underground?
Most often my dreams are crazy misfirings of the mind that get strung together into a narrative. But lately, I dream of her. I know she's passed away, but she's there. She's changed somehow. She's young, but she comes looking old, as though slipping on a familiar mask because she knows I'll recognize her better. That's not entirely it. I'd recognize her young. She comes old because she knows I miss her the way I last saw her. . It is a poor mask. She is entirely new, entirely other. She has seen the face of God. I can see it, feel it. . I used look forward to dreaming so that I could fly, breathe underwater, go down a waterfall in the jungle. Now I look forward to the night, wondering if I'll see her.
Matt thirsts for California like it's Coca Cola. I didn't get that for a while. All I knew of it growing up was what I had awkwardly meshed together from reading about Dawn from the Babysitter's Club and Rodney King. The Mamas and the Papas, too, the record spinning on the Victrola: you know the preacher lights the coals/ he knows I'm gonna stay*... I should be pardoned for sounding like an immigrant from the eastern bloc; it is pretty far away. . The first time I went and got to know Matthew's family better, I was surprised (perhaps stupidly) to discover that they're a lot like him**. Except that they have an accent. (They do.) . I think where you're from always kind of sticks in your bones. I like that in Spanish, you say "soy de" and never "estoy de" because it's a permanent term; an essence, not a state. We had some friends over the other day. Knowing we were new in town, they asked if we had a doctor for our kids. I said I couldn't remember his name, but that he was Chinese, and that we go to the clinic over by Goodwill. They said "Oh, Dr. Wang***?" Yeah, I said. That's him. "He's Polish" they said. As in, his parents moved from China to Poland just before he was born. He speaks Polish with his kids. . Then there's narcocorridos. Mexico has its own version of early nineties gangsta rap; men in giant sombreros with machine guns emblazoned on their jackets singing about beheadings of rival drug lords set to a polka beat, tubas and accordions blasting. A quote in TIME said that the music made the kids in the clubs proud to be Mexican. It made me sick because 1) the people they were talking about in the paragraph are Americans, born in the States, and did not identify with this country at all and 2) that is a terrible thing to be proud of. That kingpin whose face was cut off and sewn onto a soccer ball, sung about in a ballad? You dress up in a tight gold dress and grind to that on a dance floor? Come on. . Sometimes the ser use of I am dates back to the generations before us, but we don't even understand it so we use a cheapened version. I don't know. I have nothing really to say about it. Except that I like the west coast and am glad that my husband has some gold in his blood. . That is the worst conclusion ever. Acknowledged. .
. *Oh my word! And that awful Saturday morning show that came on in the early '90's (California Dreamin'.) Do you remember? The band, the blond girl on the keyboard? Kind of like Saved by the Bell but not at all. **I stubbornly held to the notion that all white Californians are blond and tan. They all surf and say dude. Of course I, like every other person between the ages of 13 and 35****, have heard Phantom Planet. And of course Jason Schwartzman looks not at all Californian. And yet. ***Named changed for privacy because people read this, apparently. Who are you? I seriously want to know. This site is somehow linked to a Russian furniture store's website. I don't understand. But I dig it, I do. ****Am I allowed to give a footnote a footnote? Yikes. I am out of control. But let it be noted that Phantom Planet never should have sold their song to The OC. It's like how people will always think of beef when they hear that Copland song, even if you paid money to watch an orchestra play. A plate of meat. That's it.
It took me five years to remember that Matthew and I were married. In my sleep, I would reset to somewhere around '97. No clue who he even was*. We actually had to come up with a dialogue to be used in this situation. Me: Who are you?! Him: My name is Matthew J Goodman. I have sideburns. We're married. You love me. (He used to play with it: My naime eez Pierre. Fake French would follow suit. My foggy mind always knew I was confused; knew I didn't need to start hollering for Antoine Dodson** to come running.) Seven years have passed and for the last two I've known who he was. The kiddos, though-- my mind is now stalled out somewhere around 2005. Every single morning, I am surprised they're there. It's not that I forget them, exactly. It's more that I am shocked to find that I'm in the future. . Last night, Matthew and I stayed up irresponsibly late and watched a movie once the kids were tucked in. It felt like we were in college; down in the basement, thinking about ordering a microwaved sandwich from the front desk. Like Bennett would come down and sit next to us and say something incredibly politically incorrect, or maybe some random drunk guy. Scary Larry would be there, reposing in his black denim shorts. Maybe Josh would play the trumpet for us or we'd have to walk past Tiffany and what's-his-name kissing cheese and crackers out of each other's mouths. Oh my goodness. That was disgusting. . We were about to turn off the credits when Matt picked up a little blue velcro shoe from the coffee table. What kind of a person wears a shoe like this? he asked. I looked at it. We both started laughing. He's ours! Matt said. You know that? He's ours. The absurdity of it was too much. We were belly laughing. He picked up one small fake-suede purple boot. And what kind of a person wears a boot like this? he asked. They live with us, he said. They think it's normal. They think this is regular. It's not, I said. Oh no, he laughed. This is not at all regular. . We went around the room picking up little reminders of them before going to bed: Otto's striped cap. Loli's polka-dotted tights. Flaco's cowboy jacket. . Beautifully wonderfully ridiculous. .
. *I once even managed to forget who I was. I'm not writing this like it's cute or something. I'm aware that it's incredibly strange. We were sleeping on the floor in Flaco's room because our house was so cold. I woke up in the night and wasn't sure where I was. I felt the hard wood floor. Am I on a ship? I stood up and realized I had a limp. Is this a permanent condition or temporary? Have I been injured or do I always walk this way? Oh my goodness, what language am I thinking in? Is this Polish? It feels kind of like Polish... **Wow. And oh wow.
This is one of the only pictures of my dad from his years in Ecuador where you can see his face. At least, prior to meeting my mom. Before her, he was the only one there to take the picture, so it was always of his feet. His feet on top of a mountain. His feet crossing a rotting rope bridge. His feet in the sand. His feet were everywhere. A note: I was here. . I leave footnotes everywhere, I do. I mean to only say something simple and plain but never pull it off. There is always just this one more little thing, a nod to this or that, an explanation of an explanation. This last post I wrote, though, that deserved an appendix. . I will make this small. You can tell me your thoughts. . First, it is not meant to condescend to those who end up discounting what they once agreed with. I read an article on health care that said that when the desired action is set as the default, people do it. The same choice presented as "opt out" or "opt in" gets different results depending on the wording; as in, you are unlikely to opt out of something, but it's hard to get you to opt in. We reflexively respond to what we think the norm is. It's not wrong or ugly. It just is what it is. . White Americans think the norm is to turn away. They think that you convert when you have a "moment" -- the kind that testimonies in front of the church are made of. Crystal meth, a urine-soaked night in jail. A brush with death. We wait for that. We leave it on the back burner until it's a full boil. We leave it there so long we forget that we're even waiting. It may boil, it may not. The pot's long forgotten. Our hearts grow disinterested. We feel too mature for that, like that was childish thinking. It was. The ability to believe is the best thing about children. . That is one footnote; here's another. Americans value freedom almost above all else. This is why 75% of respondents in a survey would support the building of a mosque in their neighborhood (though only a small fraction would feel comfortable with it.) We value diversity and relativism. We're also logic-driven. This is suspended, though, in the case of religion. Lady Gaga was quoted as saying she's the most nonjudgmental person in the world, which made me wonder: Is she really okay with both homosexuality and with the Sharia law stoning of homosexuals? Does she pass judgment on neither? Sure, she was talking about her meat dress (not against vegans or meat-eaters, something like that), but the thought is the same. How can one be for everything? How can a person be both rational and pluralistic? How can one say all roads lead to God and still count as true Jesus's statement that most roads lead to hell? It is intellectual laziness to claim that God has many names and faces when what they claim is mutually exclusive. Why does logic take the back seat? We are afraid of being seen as bigots. It's an intentional lapse of reason. This whole clumsy dance with religion encapsulates both the best and worst of us; we desire good but are too ignorant of it to realize that relativism does not equal compassion. The cross does. . And a final one: The hypocrisy in other religions is not best explained in terms of a Muslim girl wishing she were Taylor Swift. It's what caught my eye, but not a point. That Yemen is is a training ground for terrorists who want to destroy the US for its ungodliness, yet 98% of Yemeni men chew khat; that is hypocrisy. That the Taliban drugs up young recruits on heroin so that they'll be more likely to pull the trigger on Americans who allow alcohol; that is hypocrisy. That Coca Cola isn't to be consumed in the middle east because it's reported to have a minuscule drop of pork product, but abortion drinks are sold; that is hypocrisy. That people will so forcefully push one aspect of their religion while turning a blind eye on the rest (let's add Fred Phelps and his friends to the list); that is what boggles my mind. It is one thing to be blithe or apathetic. It's another to claim you follow someone when you don't. To wrap yourself up in the emotions of a religion but not allow the teachings to touch your life; to shout Hallelujah at church but go home to the house you share with your boyfriend - that's sickness of the heart. That's its own kind of callous, but it's as much an influence of culture as any of the rest of this. . What would it be like if we could step aside and really see what we do? If we could feel our deadened hearts, if we could take stock of our hypocrisies, if we could align our words with our feet?
I read recently that atheists and agnostics are more likely to understand Christianity than Christians. The article described the typical path of a white American: you grow up understanding, to some extent, the gospel. You say you believe in God. You later come to view it as myth or as too exclusive to tie your name to. You embrace the idea of goodness as God and shun formalized religion, especially the idea that sincere people can be wrong. Those who go on to call themselves atheists or agnostics are the ones, typically, who didn't slide from belief to pluralism as seamlessly; they struggled with the concept of faith and Christ and ultimately rejected it. . Non-white Americans tend to have an entirely different walk. Protestant blacks and Catholic latinos both tend to hold on to the belief of Jesus as God, but they are, statistically, the most uniformed of their faith, showing little knowledge of the Bible and of the teachings of the man they call God. . I was frustrated by this. Perplexed. Sad. Then my friend got back from Saudi Arabia and showed me pictures from her trip. Mixed in were images from her sister's hard drive. This girl, a devout Muslim, has pictures of Lil Wayne. Loves Miley Cyrus. Sings along to Taylor Swift. Wears provocative clothing under her burqa. . And I realized that we are so similar, middle-easterners and Americans, white and dark alike. Our faith is guided by our culture. We do what those around us do. We go to church if they do; we leave it if they leave. We mock it if they mock; we light candles if they light candles, cover our heads if they cover our heads. Each faction is a collective following itself. Who follows their religion in truth? Who thirsts endlessly to actually know God? . My son was prayed over by Matthew's grandfather, a pastor. His relatives who lived near gathered together for the dedication. (I wish so much that my family could have been there as well.) We sang songs and listened to this sections of scripture read. I was surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses; people who see God like I see him. People whose hearts have been jarred by the knowledge of him. People who read and study and pray because they want to be confronted by truth; they want to bend to it, break because of it, fall on their knees and acknowledge him. It is not culture. It's suddenly learning the world is in color when you thought it was black and white. . My heart skips wildly when I think of my kids, when I think of how badly I want for them to know God. How can you explain that an apple is red when the other person only sees it as dark gray? You cannot. But you can raise them speaking of color as a fact; you can remember it even when the light is dim and you can hardly see it yourself. . The metaphor is so incomplete, so lacking. But I praise God -I praise the holy name of Jesus- for giving Matthew and I people in our lives who see it too. Like an echo when you call out that sounds itself back again, we hear our same praises in their lips. Like a paper in a flame that collapses and curls beneath the heat, our hearts respond. Does that even make sense? I feel it. The weight of the knowledge of him; the enormity of what we hold; our incapacity to grasp it, and that itself being enough. For my sons and for my daughter, Jesus, I cry out.
I got this blue box at a garage sale. It's got stickers covering the front of it: Skoal (a pinch is all it takes!) and some tattoo studio I think, some late-nineties depiction of an alien too. I was thinking of peeling up the stickers and painting it, but could not figure out with what. And then, just this morning, I came into the living room and there they were; Flaco and Loli looking out the window at the cold, cold, wet day. They looked like Sally and what's-his-name, the boy who tells the story; like the Cat in the Hat was about to step on the mat. I was marveling at how cute they were when I realized they are actually much more like Thing One and Thing Two (and Fyo, always slightly troubled and disapproving looking, is the poor fish in the pot.) . I have a Box of Fun, I do. (And now all I need is a net.)
We were driving in the car and Loli fell asleep. Flaco said, "Let's wake her up by shouting hooray! Everybody, together! Hoo-ray!" Seemed like an interesting request, so we acquiesced. Fifteen minutes of hooraying together at different pitches under the strict direction of our tiny son (craning his neck, trying to see in the mirror if we were sufficiently excited looking), the conversation suddenly turned. I don't remember how. No segue-way seems to make sense. All I know is that we were discussing, at great length, the Trinity. That Jesus is the son of God and also man, sitting at the right hand of God but also God himself; that God is on his throne but also lives within us; that there is only one God but he exists as three beings. Matthew explaining (in Spanish) that we don't have the capacity to understand the divine; it would be like asking an ant to understand how an engine works. I listened to them talk, Matthew saying a sentence and then defining the words he's used; a five-word sentence becoming, were it written, a paragraph mottled with footnotes*. Like this**. Flaco saying he understood that some things aren't understandable. . Tonight, they sat on the couch in a row. Otto on his lap, Loli and Flaco climbing as close as possible. He was reading a book about animals at the zoo, and each one had a different voice. I have never heard a better British accent in Spanish. He looked a bit surprised himself. . I love him because he shouts hooray and explains the unexplainable and speaks Spanish to our babies even though he only had a few years in high school (how does he know this many words?); I love him because he gives hippos charming voices and brings out a tray of hot cocoa at night. Which he is doing right now. So I will close this down and watch that werewolf movie with him and hold his hand not just when I get scared.
. *I never realized how hard it is to define the brain. He explained it was under your skin, under your skull; the thing that makes you think and move your hands and be who you are. He hesitated. I could almost feel him about to change that statement, about to explain how in Hebrew, they talked about the heart, soul, and mind; how the heart wasn't referring to the organ that pumps blood but something entirely other. Or maybe he was thinking about neurons? Synapses? He paused and decided against it and continued on. (Do you understand? Yes. But what is capacity? And what is the divine?And why are they almost always invisible? And have you ever seen an angel? I dreamed of an angel. It was wearing a wolf suit with hands and a mask. It was born without a foot. But then later, it got its foot. It was flying around in that wolf suit. It was.) **I was thinking of Eldridge Cleaver (the founder of the Black Panthers) and that section from Soul on Ice where the preacher visiting their jail explained the Trinity, and then asked the inmates to raise their hands if they understood. Some raised their hands, and the pastor corrected them saying no, you don't, you never could. No one can understand. Cleaver felt shot down and embarrassed. Became a Muslim not long after, I think partially out of spite. I think the statement didn't carry as he intended.
Five years ago, we walked down the hurricane-splintered streets into a blacked-out animal shelter full of dogs howling. A single shaft of light from a window high up on the wall fell on a piece of paper tacked onto the side of a small metal cage. Someone cued the Hallelujah Chorus. . We took the shaking dog up to the desk and said we'd like to keep him. The girl asked what name we wanted on his papers. We looked at each other and nodded and said Fyodor Dostoevsky. She said you'd better write it down yourselves. . We started the walk home, stepping over areas where thirty foot palms lay across the street like pick up sticks. His little legs were atrophied; he could only make it a half block. Matthew carried him the rest of the way. We could smell Chinese food cooking; the take-out place near the fence we hopped was lit up by a large kerosene flame. A man was bent over a wok, cooking the meat before it went bad. There was a line already; the peanut butter could wait a few more days. . We passed the pool. It looked like it was full of mate, like you could just add sugar and suck it through a metal straw. We took him home. He was exactly what we needed.
We were going to watch Aladdin, this version I got from the UAE where he's a little orphan running through the streets. Flaco wanted to know what happened to his parents. I tried to dodge the question, but he persisted. I said that they passed away, and that this happens sometimes when someone is very, very old. . Later he saw me praying and asked why. I said that a friend's little baby was very sick. He asked if that's why my cheeks had tears. I said yes. He looked at me and said "The baby already died, didn't she?" I hung my head. I said yes. . Such loss is too much for me to understand. Not even mine to tell. I look at my tiny son, only weeks old, and my heart aches for them. Shortly after her death, her father wrote "We are so thankful for our 9 months and 36 hours with you. Glorify our Magnificent Jesus until I get there with you. 'Holy holy holy is the LORD God Almighty who was and is and is to come.'" My heart quakes within me; does yours not? Does it not? . I have seen beauty. I have seen darkness try to swallow people whole, and I've seen them hold high the light of Christ; holding it high with shaking hands. Oh, glorify his name.
This boy is marvelous. . I love how he looks out of the corners of his eyes, an impish little smile on his face, when he's feeling clever. I love how he always says "okay" with an accent. I love how he taps his head when he's overtired. I love how he dances (a strange mix of tango and breakdancing, on the kitchen floor: "Y mila!") I love that he wants to speak Wolof. I love that he wants the whole world to be yellow. . I love that he asked for ceviche for his birthday meal just because it's a fancy food, even though he doesn't eat it. I love that he wanted orange cake with mango frosting. I love that he briefly reconsidered, asking instead for a horse-flavored cake. I love that he's him, just simply him and no one else.
Time Magazine ran an article the week of the census that started with the statement, "I still bear the mental scars of a question on a philosophy exam in college that left me whimpering at its wicked simplicity: 'Could the number two change its properties?' I'd been raised to think numbers were as close to reliable as anything could be, so clean and clear and immune to argument. Some are odd, some round, some lucky, but three will always be one less than four." . I stopped there and looked through the magazine again. Surely there's got to be something else I haven't read yet... No? Oh, Nancy Gibbs. Here we go again. . The existential melodrama of filling out a form for the bureau and all of the thoughts that correspond continued. I wanted to say Just because a professor asks a question doesn't mean the answer's complicated. A number is an adjective, simple as that. It describes something. Five doesn't equal five if you're talking about centimeters and miles; 15 soldiers are not equal to 15 lemon drops. It's not the number that's changing properties, but the unit that's changing. Please, Miss Gibbs, wrap it up, wrap it up*. . Still, her article came to mind the other day. The other day being today, actually, sitting on the couch, feeding little Otto. Thinking about how every day, without fail, there were four of us**. My grandma Lola, Flaco, Loli, and me. And then we added one. Then suddenly lost one. And four is not at all the same as four. . I'm a terrible cook now. My grandma, she had her own television show, on two channels. An apron and red lipstick, always an extra container of food for the cameramen. She watched every move I made in the kitchen like a hawk. A mostly-blind hawk, but a hawk nonetheless. Put a spoon in the pot! Si no, los frejoles no se ablandarán. Si lo hiciste? Metiste la cuchara? (Si si, ya la puse.) No la pusiste. Yo sé que eres necia. (Ay yay yay. Si, está ahí .) Mete otra. (Bueno, bueno. Ya.) And to her credit, she was right. There was no spoon. I am necia. I thought I knew so much. . And yet now, things burn. I add comino to things that shouldn't have comino. I think she's laughing in Heaven. . I don't have enough arms; Loli has to drink her milk standing. No one tells me about Obama's newest immigration speech, or what El Gordo thought about it. She's not here to tell me slightly off-color jokes (No cogiste el chiste? Si es chistoso, mija. Te lo cuento otra vez) or to talk about Alejandra Guzman's outfit. Or to tell me what they're saying about Ricky Martin. Or to remind me to wash my babies' hands. I miss kissing her cheeks and how she would grab my wrist to pull me closer. I miss her laugh and her eyes and her voice and her endless pomadas. . And yet, there's Octavito. A surprise little 1. Adding some extra noise to what would have been a too-quiet house, growing and growing (ese niño si es Verdesoto, es comelonsísimo, que lindo), a crazy little hourglass showing how grief doesn't stop the push of time. He's full of life, full of possibilities, at the very beginning of it all. He gave us a fresh start. I thought this was too much at once -a new job, a move, a baby, a death- but it's kindness, all of it. Not a series of changes that left my babies jarred, but one big enormous everything change. . It doesn't equal four, but it's good.
... *I would like very much for her to be hired by the Upper-class White Suburban Liberal Feminist Always-Poignant-Never-Funny Review and for that last page to belong to Stein. I ask for little. (Not that I have a problem with her point of view. I just get tired of her use of the word "we" - in that it invariably means rich and white and in doing so seems to presume that no one else exists. If she wrote for the Review, we would mean we and it would all be just fine.) This is a terrible footnote; I apologize. The next one is better. **On a good day, there were five of us; my sweet mamita as well. Ocurrida like me. I loved seeing her not as a mother but as a daughter, fregandola a proposito, still traviesa. My grandma with her mock scorn doing little to cover her pride. AyMonsita! she would say. Te digo que siempre ha sido asi.
We rushed down to the ER but it was too late. We already knew it was when we were in the car. We felt it. Still, when the woman at the desk said she wasn't there, I reeled back in pain. It is so cliche. I don't care. It's the truth. .
We drove to my parents' house. Inside, by habit, I walked to my grandma's room. Just to say hello, to give her a kiss. I stopped cold at the door, feeling stupid. We left it shut. . Hours later, I heard sobs interrupted by laughter (or was it laughter interrupted by tears?) My mom and my sister had gone in, were standing in her room. There was her bed, her scarf laid across the pillow. Her perfume, her hairbrush, her red lipstick; everything waiting for her. They had found presents she had bought for my babies. A guitar for my son, yellow. Two outfits for my daughter. A new set of overalls for my youngest. Lucas heard us and came rushing inside. He wanted to ask her for gomitas. Loli came in and stole her shoes, took off wearing them on her hands. Like always. . I opened her closet and choked on my tears. How many times did I pick out an outfit for her? Two years is over 700 days. The number seems too small. . It felt so good to be there; in her room, as if she had just gone to get a glass of water. We sat and looked at every detail as if we had never seen it. The posters - Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, and Pope John Paul II. Her collection of elephants. The photos up all over the walls, framed and taped. Her certificate from the day she became a citizen. Signed photos from the news-ladies at Univision. Her fruit snacks. Her remote control that she was always pushing the wrong buttons on. . She used to sit up at night after her soaps were over. She'd sit at the edge of her bed in her cotton nightgown and pray. Hands folded, eyes tightly shut. When I'd spend the night to take care of her, I'd see her there; I'd hear her, praying for everyone by name. I'd wait. An hour later I'd open her door again, wanting to say goodnight. She'd still be praying. That little twin-bed with its yellow sheets, always yellow - that was a holy place. . It was too much; I left. I went to the kitchen, but she was everywhere. The counter where she held my babies while I cooked. Acompáñame! I would say. Ya voy. Oye oye, no me dejes aqui solita! Ya voy. . Pero ya se fue, and left behind is phantom-pain. . Like an amputated limb, her absence is an ache so large it's a presence.
It's agony; muscles and bones churning, writhing, contorting. And then, suddenly, he's handed to you. Small and whimpering, curling away from the unexpected cold, laid on your chest. You look at him and you know him; your heart leaps. You recognize him as yours. You wrap him up in your arms and hot tears burn in your eyes and the moment is suspended; like flowers blooming ultra fast while the background stays the same, set to the sound of a projector whirring. You break your gaze to turn to your husband, to let him in too, and time starts again. Quickly, catching up for all it missed, some kind of technicolor blur. You keep it in your heart like a locket; the silence, the stillness, the rush, the feeling that this is how it was always meant to be.
My husband has put in two years at the shop, becoming skilled at auto repair, bad puns, and Mexican Spanish. Sometimes he does all three at once. My boy likes to pretend he's a mechanic too: Come to my shop and I'll fix your car! he says. I need to find my other wrench. Oh, now I'm done! That'll be six hundred dollars! I'm glad he's so taken with it; someday we'll sit at the kitchen table and make little machines that meow or zap or spin like I did when I was little. I remember the first Rube Goldberg device I ever saw - an illustration on the back of a cover of Newsweek. I think it was an ad for Bacardi - this long crazy machine that ended with a gloved hand pouring the bottle. (I think, did I say? Of course it was Bacardi. Maybe that's half the reason I love rum cake so much, come to think of it.) I spent hours and hours year after year drawing increasingly complicated gadgets to perform the most mundane of tasks. Cars were an absolute wonder to me. To look under the hood and try to follow the transfers of energy, -I remember the day I understood the combustion engine like it was yesterday!- to try to understand how so many functions occurred simultaneously, perfectly, each mechanism purring, turning, firing, injecting...I felt like Charlie getting to see inside the factory. And my husband, he got to work next to Wonka himself in the hands-down-best shop in the world. And he knew I thought it was awesome; he would come home at night with his stained hands and casually mention calipers and pistons and trannies, a smug little half-smile on his lips, looking at me out of the corner of his eye. Now he's off to become a teacher-man. He'll come home and regale me with stories like McCourt's, and we'll sit at night scheming what to do about those punk kids, and he'll wear a skinny black neck tie and carry himself with swagger. It's time, I suppose. It's definitely time. But thank you don Omar, for these heckuvagreat couple of years.
of what the rest of us feel. A little crazy! A little unfurled! Undone and wild and definitely not regular. Matthew's been gone for two days working for the Man, and the rest of us have been juggling babies and boxes and work, trying to pack, trying to get some semblance of order in these disorderly times. One more day for me to pack, and then I go to the hospital and meet my babyboy. Matthew will see an apartment during his lunch break, work until he's allowed to leave, and then hurry down here - hopefully in time to remind me how to breathe, hopefully in time to see his son before anyone else. What is going on? Right? As the Flaco said the other day, "I do absolutely not know."
Tonight we sat saturated in dimness thick heavy warm pressing us to our porch milky black-grey air too still to carry the smell of hay crickets, thousands of crickets in front of us, beside us, all around louder the longer you listen lazy shrill urgent fireflies hanging above the corn fields like dew on grass off and on, splitting the darkness like a sharp pencil through paper coyotes, dozens of them broken hearts laid bare so close we shut the little dog in behind the screen door. We stayed. so loud and mute in front of us, everything writhing and flat our tired bones crushed down surrounded by so much space
I wonder when it happens, when they first understand a word or a phrase. I wonder if it's a sparkling sensation, like Helen Keller with her hand under that cold flow of water. I'm stuck on Arabic because I love that thrill, the sudden click of understanding. Sound dividing into recognizable words, syntax and grammar falling into place, making new places in the mind that didn't exist before. There are languages where an entire sentence is formed by adding prefixes and suffixes to a single root word; there's another where no nouns exist, only verbs. And the brain can hold it, can flex and bend and process it, can attach itself to patterns so seamlessly that it doesn't even bother to remember the moment. (And moreso, can reformat itself to fit new languages that don't come close to having a one-to-one translation.) I speak to my girl in Spanish and some English and broken Arabic and it's probably terribly unfair to make her little ears take in so much at once, but I can't help it. We marvel at it together, the moments when I say "Come hold my hand" or "Traeme un libro" or "Btebi tishrabi haleeb?" and she responds and we both realize it's a wonder. We marvel, we marvel at something marvelous; which speaking of words, is a word in my mouth that feels like spongey, fluffy candy from Wonka's factory. Delicious and so rich. Worth running with little bare feet to the table for.
and a few hot Italian sausages in a frying pan; a little plate of oranges cut up into slices. I said "Flaco, it's almost time to eat! Hop onto your chair!" I heard little feet hurry to the table and the chair roll out. I came to the dining room carrying his glass of milk and there she was! Little bintu was sitting in a chair, pleased as pie, waiting for her supper. She understands so much now!
One time Matthew was walking down the street with a pair of headphones on. I was headed somewhere else on a different sidewalk, but I saw him and stopped. I stood and watched for a minute, taking in his frame. He was kind of hunched forward, high-stepping, clapping some sort of syncopated beat as he walked. He must have had that sense you get when you realize someone's staring at you, because he suddenly stopped and looked around. He didn't see me, but rightfully guessed anyway that someone was nearby. Deciding to play it cool, as if he was just walking in a regular manner, he switched his clapping to finger-snapping and continued on his way. Still high-stepping. He looked like he had stepped out of a West Side Story, moments away from a switchblade dance number; hands dropping from shoulder-level to waist with each snap. After watching for a while longer, I darted across the street and stole his headphones so that he could more clearly hear me laugh at him. . I had almost forgotten this until the other day when I went in for a check-up for Mr. Unnamed. The doctor asked the standard questions (feet swelling? does he move much?) and that asked if I had anything I wanted to bring up. Why yes! I said. My son makes a clicking sound! A clicking sound? he asked. Like, if your husband has his head on your belly he can hear something? No no, I said. We'll be talking and all of a sudden we both hear it, pretty loud, this sort of smacking sound... I tried to make the noise but couldn't do it with my mouth. Like he's snapping his fingers? my doctor asked. Yes! I said. That's the sound exactly! He laughed and shrugged and said he very might well be, I might be having a finger-snapping son. I drove the whole way home picturing Matthew strutting down the street, remembering how I had walked circles around him, snapping, exaggerating his motions even more, my mockery almost making him late for work. Picturing a little newborn in his little newborn cap bobbing his head, snapping; a tiny little Matt. I had heard screaming in the hospital during my appointment, I'm not lying, some woman in the delivery section about to hold her baby for the first time. And I was jealous, so jealous. I can't wait to meet my jaunty little son.
This heat is hot. It just is. Inside the house, it feels like you're draped in a steaming wet towel that's been partially stuffed down your throat as well. I say all this in my defense. I was wearing jeans and a tank top and wanted to rip the jeans to shreds. They aren't mine, so I didn't. Instead, I put on The Dress. It's purple and strapless, a tube dress that falls a good six inches above the knees. That's the way it fit when I bought it, back when we lived in Florida and I needed something to wear to the beach over my suit. It was never meant to be worn over an eight-month pregnant belly, I'm pretty sure of that. With my tummy like a melon (see photo above), it's short. Very short. But I was desperate and hot and certainly didn't expect to run into a priest. . We sat there sweltering in our house, me laying on the couch like I was in a coma. The phone rang. Would we like to have some watermelon at my parents' house? Drink in some AC? I didn't bother to change; headed straight for the car. We arrived fifteen minutes later, threw open the door and there he was, taking my grandma's confession. The new Spaniard priest in town heard there was a Catholic Ecuadorian in the area and came to visit. It was too late to leave; he had heard us walk in. I stood behind him, not sure what to do. My mom's eyes were wide*. My poor sweet grandma, mostly blind, was waving me over. Being mostly deaf as well, she was yelling. Come meet my granddaughter! My granddaughter is here! Jennicita, why are you lurking in the corner? Come meet the priest! I stepped forward and stretched out my hand, smiling like an idiot. . He asked if I was Catholic or if I was "like my mother" (his euphemism of choice for Going-To-Hell.) I assured him I was south-bound. He looked as me as if I had told him the pope lives in Rome. . *I assumed that she was embarrassed, but she says she wasn't. Which means that what her expression really meant was Ha ha hahaha!
My senior year of high school, I got re-allergic to the cold. It happened the weekend I went to Eau Claire to visit my sister. Picked up some black boots at Saver's (which added to the frequency with which people called me Olive Oyl - although hers are brown, I must say we did share a resemblance) and a red and white polka dotted dress, knee length. I came home from that visit and noticed that my fingers were swelling up; my legs were covered in a rash. I thought maybe it was the clothes (and yet did not want to take off the boots.) A few days later I realized it was there to stay. The frozen food section left me covered in spots; a lick of ice cream swelled my tongue so much I slurred like a drunk. I sat in the high school library looking for colleges to attend and my fingers were so swollen I couldn't even type. I looked at the thermostat: 77 degrees. I knew I was in trouble. I closed the page of in-state schools and looked for a book instead. I grabbed a giant hardback off the shelf and flipped it open. There was a painting of a guy lying on top of a pile of watermelons in a truck. He laid there all contorted, long black braid resting on top of a cut-open melon. Cacti and dunes around the highway. This is it!, I thought. I will go to the desert. . Then I heard that he was definitely headed north: this certain Matthew J Goodfella had decided on Eau Claire. He was in a ska band and had the reflexes of a jungle cat. A year earlier his sister had made him write to me and my sister made me write him back; soon I was rushing to my friend Lu's house after school to check my email (and eat mountains of ice cream - she didn't mind my slurred speech.) We would lean over the monitor together and giggle about the clever thing he had said and try to think of the proper aloof response. In the end I couldn't do it. I tossed the application and packed my bags to go north. Headed to college with a hibiscus, glitter eyeshadow, a euchre deck, a bucket seat from an S-10 Tahoe, and a coat that wasn't near warm enough. . We got married a few years later; me in a poofy dress, he in a black suit. I remember being startled when it came time for the vows, having never paid particular attention to the words before. Standing at the altar is not the first time to listen. I looked at him with his little calla lily boutonniere. He took my hand. . A few moments later, he had scooped me over his shoulder and was carrying me down the aisle, a ring on my finger; tulle everywhere, like a spill of white cotton candy. And now seven years have passed and my heart still leaps in my ribs when it's almost time for him to get off work. I look forward all day to nightfall, when we sit on the porch looking at the fireflies. I remember how they hovered above the grass at the reception, sparkling little twinkle lights on the outskirts of the tent. Now they drift above the cornfields, the summer heat almost palpable around them. The babies are asleep upstairs, two little blond heads with combed hair and brushed teeth, bare toes. One more on the way; my belly a round little watermelon. He reaches his hand to feel his son move. . My heart quakes. . So glad I didn't head south; so glad that my curiosity over that sideburned boy was greater than my dislike of red spots. So glad we're a pair, a set. So glad that wherever we head next, we get to go together. Happy anniversary, my love. I adore you; I'll gladly take your hand and go where you're headed. . I think when I uploaded this photo I just wanted to say how Loli likes to lay on the cool cement floor in this heat. I had nothing much to say. (Well that's never quite true, is it? Saudi Arabian houses, chickens taking dust baths, mannequins, Stonehenge, short men in knife fights, salami sandwiches with mustard; something always makes a person think of something, right?) So the disconnect between the picture and the words remains and that's just fine I suppose. Things remind me of him. I like that. . Tamayo's watermelon painting is better anyway.
I woke up that morning and brushed my teeth, and the sight of the toothpaste foam made me gag. I froze and caught my reflection in the mirror - wide-eyed, looking back at myself. My next thoughts were of a peanut butter sandwich. I hate peanut butter sandwiches. 7 am and I wanted one. I rushed downstairs to where I had a pregnancy test hidden away from a year and a half ago. It was still there, in the Chinese vase. I unwrapped it, hands trembling. Waited two minutes. Saw the pink plus sign. I went to the yellow room, soon to be her room, and knelt down and prayed. The kind of kneel where you can't get low enough, where you start on your knees and end up with even your elbows on the floor. I cried and said thank you and worshiped him. Then the wait began, and then finally, at last, the day came when we met our baby girl. So small. She looked into my eyes and I held her. She knew she was mine; I knew I was hers. And now, today, it's been an entire year. A year of dressing her in little dresses and tights, combing her hair, making sure her bow stayed put. A year of wrinkle-nosed smiles and little hands that clap when they're happy. (Or sometimes angry - when she notices herself doing that, she shakes her head no no no and shoves her hands down in indignation, as if they've betrayed her.) A year of monkey hugs and sloppy kisses, burrowing little blond head that looks for just the right place to rest. I thought that if I loved another, my heart my burst. I thought there could be no more room left. But from that first moment I knew of her, I felt my heart expand and fill and expand again. A neon heart made of those light tubes used in gas station windows, glowing bright pink, barely fitting in my rib cage. Wings on it too. . I raise a glass of whole milk to you today, babygirl. May God be gracious to you and bless you and make his face shine upon you.
Sometimes I feel like I live in a Norman Rockwell calendar. My sister-in-law and her husband come from Seattle for a visit, along with my father-in-law's mother from Michigan, and we sit together and eat steak and potato salad; blueberry strata for dessert. All of us around a big rectangular table, my kids happy as clams to be with family they haven't seen in a while, the baby in my belly happy as can be that my in-laws know how to cook. . I was going to write about all the lovely moments that could have been paintings in the Saturday Evening Post, but now I've been distracted. I've mentioned food. We went to The Safehouse, an unmarked restaurant in Milwaukee that you need a password to get into and directions to find. Went in through a hidden entrance and (oh, how I love you Goodmans) ate appetizers and food off the grill. My sister-in-law brought cupcakes from Seattle, the kind so good they almost bring tears to your eyes. I for a second typed ears. Sure, sure. If ears could have tears they would, those cupcakes were that good. On the way back to the airport (and here I'm skipping the whole visit, aren't I?) we went to Mona's Turkish Shawarma House, where I discovered Loli's love of felafels, baba ganoush and kosheri. I suppose these moments are less Norman Rockwell now anyway, aren't they? No Palestinians in aviator glasses hanging out in the background in the pictures I've seen. (Actually I can kind of picture it now. The kind where laundry is hanging above on a clothesline between tall brick buildings and a couple of guys are standing around a shawarma stand. Right?) . This whole thing is too rambly. I don't know what I'm saying. I'll blame it on my sister-in-law. She's the kind of friend who you can absolutely lose track of what you're talking about with and it's perfect, just perfect. She's indulgent and I love her. . So you, reader, whoever you may be, you indulge me too. Pretend I've said something of merit; pretend there's some sort of a conclusion. It would take thousands of words to summarize all the moments we had, and I just can't do it.
The Shriner's Circus deserves its own post, let's be honest. A contortionist who sat on her own head and (while in said pose) shot an arrow with her toes! Tigers leaping through flaming hoops! (Roaring and slashing their claws at a man dressed in leopard skin pants, picture that!) Rainbow-colored ponies danced and acrobats flew through the air; we ate cotton candy and touched a python and rode an elephant. But alas, I am not writing about this. Oh no, no sir. Today's topic is The Thumbs Up. . Before we even entered the circus, the entertainment began. My skinny blond boy, walking past the ticket counter, said something in Spanish. The acrobats, all from Latin America, heard him speak and gushed about how cute he was. Flaco turned back to them and made ojitos (wiggling his eyebrows up and down in the most coquettish of ways.) They flocked to him, squeezing his cheeks, asking him his name. But did my boy tell his name? Oh no, no no. Instead, he decided to tell a joke. Tentatively, quietly (with some cajoling) "Como son los hijos de Superman? Son supermansitos!" They squealed, they clapped. "Que dijo un jaguar al otro jaguar? Jaguar you!" He was creating a scene. "Como se dice espejo en japones? Ahitoyo!" Now adding motions, leaning back with arms out for the punchline: "Que pasa cuando un elefante se para en una pata? El pato se queda viudo!" They covered him kisses, red lipstick marks all over his little face. I took his hand and managed to pry him away. "What's your name, what's your name?" they called after him. "Lucas!" he said. . We went to buy cotton candy at half-time, and as soon as he approached the table, the girls behind the counter said "Oh, there he is! It's Lucas!" He smiled a flirty smile and waved goodbye. The show continued and finally drew to an end; we headed for a side exit but didn't get far before we heard someone yell out "There he goes! The true star of the show!" We turned around and there were the Shriners in their caps, waving goodbye to my son. "Everyone here has heard about you, kid!" . But back to the thumbs-up. Right before the show began, we doubled back and asked the acrobats who remained if we could take his picture with them. They were delighted and pulled him in, then shrieked again. "Look at him! He's giving a thumbs-up!" And indeed he was. Just standing there, slightly stoic looking, little thumb pointing. He had never done that before in his life, but if ever there was a context where it fit, let me tell you, it was then.
Back when I thought we would never have any more babies, Matt asked me "If we do, and if he's a boy, can I name him?" And I laughed a snarky laugh and said "Yeah, sure" because the thought seemed so ridiculous. Measures had been taken. Two weeks later, we found out I was pregnant. A few months after that, we found out he was a boy. Matthew was thrilled - no need to consult me at all! He had ultimate power! Any name he wanted! But what he didn't count on was this Flaco. This son of ours had his own ideas. Having heard Matthew once read through a list of names, he latched onto one, and decided that was it. Matthew said "Flaco, we don't know that. I haven't named him yet." Flaco appeased him; took to calling the baby Guac. . We thought it was over; Matthew's confidence in his right to name the baby was restored. But then, the other day, Flaco climbed up next to me on the couch and started talking to the baby. "Guac, you are a good little boy" he said. "I'm going to play ball with you, Guac. We're going to play fútbol." I listened and smiled. Then he turned to me and said "You know the baby, yes?" Yes, I said. I guess I do. "And I know him too. But papá doesn't know him yet. That's why he doesn't know his name is _______." . He turned back to my belly and stuck his chin way out and spoke in his whispy, high-pitched voice. "I love you, _______. I love you." . All I can say is poor Matthew. What do you even say to that?
Speaking of fine young men who are noble and true, my strapping brother-in-law graduated college last weekend. There is much to be said of such an achievement, but mostly I would like to take a moment to say that if you ever get invited to the Rogante's for a weekend, you should go go go. You don't need a diploma to know that not going would make you a fool. Oh, do they treat you well! We had a Greek feast following the ceremony, with appetizers and roasted meat and hummus and pitas - and much more, but I don't know how to spell it. (Unlike Fernando, I have not studied Greek.) Another night there was torchila; there were lemon bars and mate and Cokes and anything a heart could want. The following night there was picada - a table full of pretty much everything worth eating. Ice cream cake and coffee. Trips to the zoo and croquet and a table full of people who told jokes and talked apologetics and gave toasts and traded stories. I don't know what the future holds for my sister and her husband, but I hope it brings them close. (At least to fulfill my own selfish desires.) . (Which is and isn't about the food.)
Once upon a time there was a fellow named Matthew. He was a fine fellow; dashing, cavalier, brave, and true. One day said fellow was at the zoo looking at the tigers, when out of the corner of his eye he noticed the cougar exhibit, some 200 feet away. He saw a father lift his small son above the railing and set him in front of the cage. In one savage motion, the cougar then reached out and knocked the boy to the ground. He grabbed him by the back and pulled him to the cage. The onlookers were paralyzed with fright. But back to the hero of our story. When he saw the boy flung to the ground, said fellow took off running like lightning. From where we stood, it appeared that the cougar had torn a hole in its cage and was dragging the boy inside. The hero's wife watched in horror and awe as her husband ran straight towards the fierce beast. Our hero ran towards the cage, shouting for people to look. Just as he arrived, the father of the child, who appeared to have been in shock, finally reacted*, climbing up and grabbing his son from beneath the cougar's heavy paws. The boy, screaming and bleeding, was carried away by his sobbing mother. Our hero stood by, waiting for his heart to stop rushing, wishing desperately he hadn't been too much of a gentleman to push the boy's father out of the way. . *Had even a second or more passed, I think this boy would have lost an arm. Truly. It was awful. The cougar had him pinned down and had his muzzle through the fence. Or just one more swipe and he could have hit his jugular. As flippantly as I may have ended this, we are incredibly grateful that his father got there when he did. And I truly truly am proud of my husband, who rushed towards danger, not knowing that the fence wasn't broken, ready to go in after the boy. Matthew Matthew, you are something.
(and by Vampire, I mean boy, and by boy, I mean my son. Translated for your convenience.) . Me: Flaco, what kind of girl do you want to marry someday? Flaco: I want to marry a girl who is a good eater. She should know how to make rice and beans. She should like to dance and climb trees. I think she should cover her hair with a scarf. Me: (Looking at Matthew, eyebrow raised) You hear that? Matthew: You think a headscarf is pretty, Flaco? Flaco: Yes, it is very pretty. And she should have yellow eyes. That would be pretty too. Me: Huh. Matthew: Okay.
Once upon a time, there was a tiny little boy named Jimobe. Jimobe was crawling around on the living room floor when his mother came in and gave him an ice cream on a stick. He started to eat it until he realized it had a worm and a locust in it! "Guacala" he said, and spit it out. But then he saw that the ice cream still looked tasty, so he ate it up. Then his mother walked in again and swallowed Jimobe whole. He said "Auxilio! I'm in here, mamita!" but it was too late. Fin!* . *Flaco starts to endlessly ask for stories (A red mountain that has fire! Fyo getting sat on by an ostrich!Having a picnic in Nepal!) and after telling him five or six in a row, I say "Flaco, you tell me one," to which he always responds, "I can't mamita, I'm too small, too small." But the other day, to my surprise, he told a story. And here it is. His first-ever composition. I think Dostoevsky would be proud.
She ought to be on display much more often than she is. In honor of her nine month birthday, I will list nine facts to know about her!: 1. She has the chubbiest cheeks I've ever seen. 2. She sings "Yay yay yay yay yay" when she's happy. (Or when she's unhappy, but then it's very indignant sounding, kind of reproachful in fact.) 3. She looks precious in a hair bow. 4. She looks precious in frills. 5. She loves rice and beans. And bananas and oranges and avocados and peas. 6. She has a very long, skinny tongue. 7. She is extremely tapered, like a carrot. (A very cute carrot.) 8. She loves to swing and to go down slides. 9. She smiles at the drop of a hat. You can wink at her from across the room, and there it is, in a flash - her little nose crinkles, her little eyes light up, and she beams. She just beams. I love this girl, love this girl. Oh habibi, happy birthday!
Today is Friday, Good Friday, which means that it all started last night. On a Thursday, he broke bread and poured wine and explained how his body would be broken and his blood would be spilled. He washed their feet. He walked out to pray, alone; "and being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." Judas arrived and kissed him. . Today, he was beaten; it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer. It was planned before the beginning of time. He hung and died; he cried out in a loud voice, he said "It is finished." The LORD had laid on him the iniquities of us all -all of our ugliness, all of our darkness- and in one sublime moment, the price was paid. He scorned its shame and sat down at the right hand of God. . My son does not understand all of this. That a meal could represent the moment when the God of the universe had nails driven through his hands and feet, that a meal could be anything at all other than us sitting around our yellow table, this is something I cannot explain. But what I can explain, I do. And I remember the moment -and praise God for it, and tremble when I think of it- that we talked about the crucifixion, and then about the empty tomb. And I said "And why did Jesus come back to life?" and he looked at me with a mix of astonishment and wonder and said "Because he's God." That moment, when he suddenly realized that Jesus, whose cartooned image was covered in bruises and cuts, was one and the same as the God on page one who, with merely a word, created light in darkness; that it was God himself who offered himself in our place - how can this sentence even end? What words can do it justice? We sat together bent over a picture Bible while the angels rejoiced in Heaven. . It bears repeating; it should be said a thousand times: Jesus, who died on the cross, he is God Almighty. He is strong, he is good; his love is incomprehensible, it's wide and long and high and deep, it's fierce and unrelenting. It is beyond understanding and yet not beyond reach of a two year old. My heart, it melts within me; that's my God, that's my God.