Monday, June 28, 2010

Letters to a Friend

I've been thinking a lot lately about an ongoing discussion with a good friend.

Thursday night I left the family high and dry and met a dude I hadn't seen since Clinton was in office.  My friend was in Houston to pledge his fealty to HM Queen Elizabeth II at the Brit consulate the next day.  He's going to be a dual citizen so as to support as many failed World Cup teams as possible.*  I took him to this dive seafood joint to celebrate, and we were just about the last ones out.

Six months back, one located the other on Facebook, that best and worst of websites.  We corresponded for a good while in these long letters, er, posts.  The conversation ranged as far as can be imagined:  How each spent the last 15 years, politics, culture, economics, religion, lots of religion.  He's a minister, and an expert on our tradition's history.  As we wrote, I thought about those old books anthologizing letters written between friends (and enemies).

We'd speak on the phone, we'd write.  The subject finally turned to having kids, and more specifically, their choice to wait.  One day, he wrote this:
When you had a ‘little [E.C.]’…what thoughts went through your head?

We still don’t have kids even though we love them. It’s just this world is such a rotten, crummy place for children and raising a family. I can hardly get past that concern. If you have a child, how, in this world, do you raise them to be God’s person? It is a really tall task. I mean, you can do your best and some idiot can undo all of that love and concern in just seconds.

Then there are the questions of, “What if this child is not healthy…what does that do to the ministry we have for God? How does that hinder (or help) it?”

So did you think that through? Or, did having a kid just sort of ‘happen’…. ;-)

I think for a lot of couples it just happens, but we have been more deliberate purposefully. We know life changes with children…which means we are having to think it through.

Any pearls of wisdom?
Shazam.  When you're asked that kind of question, there's no fudging an answer:
Yes, I was scared enough to wet myself that our child would be disabled...  Not smart. Not pretty. Have 11 toes. Have no toes... Would be miscarried. Would be unpopular and unsocial. Would never find a mate. Would find a terrible one. Would rebel and hate us. Every fear that you've seen, have heard, or have imagined went through my mind... For awhile.
Oddly enough, understanding the gravity of the decision doesn't necessarily push you towards saying 'no.'  You just realize just how high the stakes are.
I worry that Jack won't be a Christian. That he will see my unbelief, my inaction, my hypocrisy, and say it's not worth it. Say that God is not worth it. Man, that scares the living daylights out of me.
If you don't know, ministry badly chews up kids (and ministers).  The children get to see all the ugly, normally unseen parts of church life and church struggles.  My friend worried what that sort of life would do to a child's view of God.  It's a darn good question.

Having children is an exercise in trust.  The 100% self-reliant folks need not apply.  Because you're gonna need some extra hands:
If you're worried about bringing a child into "this world" you're probably not worried about that. You're worried about something else: Chance. Fate. The unknown. Evil. Yourself. There were kids being born in Jerusalem in 69 AD. But more interestingly, there were kids being born around Jerusalem in 71 and 72 AD. After mom and dad saw what Rome (through Titus) could do, saw all of the uncertainty the world could bring, they kept having kids...**
Eventually you realize that as many calamities as you can fear, there are an equal number of wonderful things to hope for.

As I think I've told you before, kids are resilient. And if we made it through to this point, they can too. Will all of them? No. Will, as you said, some idiot come along and undo everything some parents have done? Yeah. And that's why you prepare, teach, ask God to make you a better preparer, and teacher, and person...

So at some point you have to say, "God, I trust you to make this child what s/he will be, and to make me strong, smart, good, trusting, kind, and resourceful enough to bear whatever you give to us."
I did my best to convince him they were exactly the people that should be having kids:
Being deliberate about this isn't bad. I wish more people would be intentional, and think things through. I would love to know people like y'all are raising kids...
Some of the people that probably should be having kids, well, aren't.  (For now, let's put aside those that for whatever unfortunate reason cannot.)  How many would-be (good) parents are sitting this one out?  How many (good) children aren't being born?

So did I convince him?  No idea.

Jack's Line of the Week:
HM:  "Jack, do you want some berries?"
JMW, Capt.:  [enthusiastically  nodding]
HM:  "What kind of berries?"
JMW, Capt.:  "Dakbewah." [Jackberries.]
*Pip pip, cheerio, Wayne Rooney, and the colour grey to you, old boy.  Bob's your uncle.  Blimey!

**I know, I know, you can easily argue they didn't have much choice - but let's assume the conscious decision.

Monday, June 21, 2010

WARNING! Graphic (Pink) Images

I heard one time that the guys running the show at Alcatraz discovered that when they painted a violent criminal's cell "Baker pink", it seemed to calm the prisoner down, which was a very desirable effect.  There was only one problem.  Years later they found that long-term exposure to that particular shade of pink caused insanity.  True story.

So check out the promised pics of the horrific stenciled pinkness my poor son has been living in for six weeks.  I hesitate to even post these, for fear that some misguided soul might inflict it upon some hapless child.  Behold, ye dogs!

Yes, that's a feather boa.  Yes, it's black.  Yes, the ceiling is pink.  Yes, this is the ceiling I stuck my leg through previously, on CJMP ("Lord... bid me come unto thee on the sheetrock!").  And after 5 dudes with sandpaper, less-than-hideous paint, a heat gun, and joint compound finish up, you get something like this:

See, nothing flashy, and (gasp!) no fleurs or diamonds or glitter of any sort.  Or black.  No black, either.  Or silver.  Or striping.  None of that.  Something tells me it's been a very long time since this room of ill repute has been fit for a little boy.  It now stands ready to be scrawled on with a Sharpie.

Monday, June 14, 2010

This House Will Self-Destruct...

Your Mission; Should You Decide to Accept It?
It's said that some ancient builders would mix their own blood into the clay of the structures they worked on.  I'm worried that this might be my home improvement philosophy.

A few weeks back, I decided to bring the patio cushions in as a thunderstorm hit.  Who wants to sit on a wet chair, right?  All the stripey things were safely in the garage - except that one.  Out there.  I jogged out in the rain to grab it, and WHAM! I am facedown on the wet cement.  I remembered the little 2-inch step as I waited for my big toe to float by.  But no, it was still there on my foot.  So are the scars.

This [House] Will Self-Destruct in Five Seconds
Besides hidden steps, our new house has a timer, too.  The place is set to self destruct every Friday at 4:30PM CDT.  Not kidding.  Three Fridays ago (at 4:30PM, sharp), our A/C drain clogged and flooded parts of both floors.  Two Fridays back, the entire upstairs A/C unit blew a (flux?!) capacitor, which sounds like a word that repair guys just made up for my benefit.  And I appreciate that, because now I sound like I know what I'm talking about:
A/C Dude:  "Sir, your delta gamma niner 4-2-1 capacitor failed."
E.C.:  "Oh, the CAPACITOR!  I knew it looked funny when I was expertly diagnosing the problem.*  Here's your check, dude."
A/C Dude:  "Thanks.  See you next Friday."
E.C.:  "Right.  Hey, Babe!  It was the capacitor, like I said!"
Last Friday (at...wait for it... 4:30PM CDT) Jack's playing and we hear The Silence.  And then a noise like crumpling cellophane tape.  I sprint through the spotless house to him.  My parents ring the doorbell to start their weekend visit with us.  The Skip is innocent, and the cellophane noise was a small waterfall.

Ten minutes later, I am in the attic, pouring sweat, cold air whooshing up under me, shirtless, covered in fiberglass insulation, leg bleeding, with a roll of hockey tape and a LED flashlight dangling from my mouth.  Black crud and rusted metal flakes (?!) cover Jack's carpet and water is streaming down from the ceiling.  From the gaping hole in the pink ceiling, actually.

Have I mentioned that Jack's room is floor-to-ceiling shocking pink?  Shocking pink with black and gold fleur-de-lys and silver glittered diamonds painted everywhere?  Yeah.  Tiny plastic jewels encrust the band of each ah, fleur.  There's a black feather boa on his bathroom mirror.  He has a pink bathtub and potty.  The place looks like a New Orleans cathouseI'll try to post pictures of this abomination ASAP.  I digress.

So The Fool (that'd be me) was snooping around in the attic for the leak.  You know, around the drain line that A/C Dude had "fixed" two Fridays back.  And oh, boy, did I find it.  I also found something else:  That the top of one of my rafters is split and crooked.  When I spotted the leak, I leapt over there and shot right off the misshapen rafter, my shin riding down a metal gas pipe, and then on down through the insulation and the ceiling.  The gash on my leg is 7 inches long and has black bands around the bottom.  My ankle is purple, gray and black (WAY cool).  Don't worry, I'll spare you pics.  You're welcome.

And my house is now literally being held together by hockey tape, a kitchen trash bag and a prayer.

Favorite Image of the Week:
Majesty chasing Jack around with a Gerbera daisy.  The daisy is barking.

*i.e. Googling "Why is my A/C not working?!"

Monday, June 7, 2010

Of Ripe Peaches and Farmall Tractors

Picture courtesy Jen Holman, 2009

Orchard Talk
Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions. -Ecclesiastes 7:10 (NIV)
It's harder to write these days.  It's not that there's nothing going on.  It's not that I don't want to express myself here.  It's certainly not that there's nothing swirling in the F5 Tornado of Thought.  I don't know what the heck it is.  Misplaced mojo, maybe.

But I did have a thought today (yes, only one).  I was mauling the second of two perfectly ripe peaches.  The faint smell of them filled my office.  I usually pick up snacks for work at this tony little grocery store a few blocks from Greener Pastures (Tony Grocery is to El Comodoro as pusher is to junkie).  But when I walked to where my go-to apples usually live, the space was stuffed with boxes of peaches.  Awesome peaches.  Not the green (that's "unripe" in peach-talk) hunks of hard, waxy tastelessness that usually haunt the produce aisle.  The smell locked me in like a tractor beam.

My dad planted an orchard when I was very small, mostly peaches and some pears and plums.  The fruit was ridiculously good, and I would just head out as a little boy and eat until I was almost sick.  Dad's plums were legendary to everyone that knew about them.  They were a "Bruce" that ripened completely blood red. After eating a few of those, you looked like a sugar-high vampire in a low budget horror movie.

He was forever on his Super A Farmall tractor, which was at one time red, but was 97% rust-colored by the time I saw it.  A friend of mine took the picture above of what must be its exact copy somewhere.  Dad would pull a bushhog with it, spray who-knows-what to fend off the rest of nature, disc up the beachsand-like soil with it.  The television I was watching inside flickered and popped from the Farmall's engine (I still wonder at the scientific explanation for that).

Anyway, peaches, if you know, are not a long lived tree, and demand almost constant care year-round, so none of those remain now (Dad didn't replant them). It was a sad day when he pulled them all out of the ground with the old tractor and a log chain.

It occurs to me, there's a reason "vintage" is chic and people love to cut their own Christmas trees and wear bowties when they're hopelessly out of regular fashion.  People need to connect with something timeless.  Something tried and durable.  They need to know that their lives (and likes) are not all flash and evaporating glitter.  To know that someone will look at their photographs in 60 years and just stare, in awe, as we do at old black 'n whites.  Rounded about the edges, they show our great-uncle Walter and his buddies in their Navy duds smoking cigarettes and looking reckless.  They never age.

Right, sorry.  The peaches.  The juice of the things just go everywhere.  My desk, the office floor, my woolen pants.  The taste yanks me back in time about 25 years, standing in the sun in the middle of that orchard, wasps crowding on fallen fruit around my feet.  It had been a long time.

I wonder if I can give Jack any timeless things from childhood.

Last night I might have made a start:  Jack went to sleep to the sound of tree frogs, and a poorly sung Johnny Cash killing tune.  Not much, but a start.

That's Tough, 'Cause We're Playing Church, Anyway
H.M. and Jack were in Mobile last week and I heard this story from an eyewitness:

It seems the Pedantic Prince of Piety stands up on the brick hearth, and gets everyone's attention.  PAPAH!, BUHBUH!, AN' EMUH!, UNKUH DAH!, AN' BAH! (that's Aunt Blake - um, no comment), and MAMUH! were the congregation.  The Cap'n starts waving his arms wildly and singing Number 354 in your books, titled "Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh."  He clasps his hands and bows his head to pray, watchfully looking under his eyebrows at the parishioners.  Y'know, you gotta make sure everyone's towing the line.

Jack then blurts "BIBUH!" jumps off the hearth and sprints to H.M.'s bag where he produces his little leather Bible.  He runs back to the hearth with it, prays again (hands clasped), looking up every few seconds with the Evil Eye to ensure the righteousness of all.  He then hits the closing song, reprising Number 354.  With an "AMUH!" that's all, folks.

"You are dismissed."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Zoo Station

Yikes. I just saw a guy calculate, measure, mark, and KLANGGG! an empty net, nail-in-the-coffin shot off the post in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Gosh, I miss hockey.

I'm doing something that's not really a big deal to most of you. I'm sitting in my bed watching that darn teevee. We somehow inherited a (color!) teevee from the previous owners. My guess is they couldn't fathom how to get the thing off the wall. But anyway, it's in our bedroom. Not a decision we would have made ourselves, but there it hangs.

But I could get used to this. And I have by some random button-push gotten myself over to Sleepless in Seattle. Good thing I watched my preferred bloodsport beforehand, or they'd probably yank m' Man Card. Again I say, yikes.

Look, I'm foggily coming off a three-whole-day-long-weekend, my inherited A/C drain line decided it would be an opportune time to clog and flood my kitchen ceiling and a bunch of walls, and I'm surrounded by dehumidifiers and radial fans and sheetrock that looks like aged Swiss. And we went to the zoo today with our good buds Mike and Meredith (everyone just about melted). And it's late. Pictures. I need pictures.