9.29.2012

The Right Kind of Toys

One of the reasons that children have been put on the earth is to teach adults. I get schooled frequently by mine. They don’t know it.
Last Saturday, my six-year-old son arrived home from a full day of playing at his friend’s house. He flopped on the couch in a funk, sat there for a second, then headed off to his room. I assumed the funk was occurring because he would rather still be at his buddy’s house. That was only partially true.
Several minutes later, he returned to the living room, bottom lip jutting out. 
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I don’t have the right kind of toys!” he moaned.  “We played Army all day, and I don’t have any army stuff!”
Never mind 10,658 soldiers…
soldiers
Two Hummer/Jeep things…
hummers
A pretty cool camo plane…
camo plane
This black-ops guy from a Burger King kids’ meal…
blackops
And the all-purpose Nerf gun weaponry…
nerf guns
At that moment, I was obligated to fulfill my parental duty of launching into a monologue of “yes-you-do-have-toys-you-have-a-million-and-some-kids-in-the-world-have-none,” which is basically a variation on the classic theme, “there-are-starving-people-in-the-world-so-eat-your-peas.” The monologue usually includes a contrasting reference to Veruca Salt, the “I Want it Now” brat from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, who has served as a convenient object lesson for children over the decades. She, above all, is the kid you do not want to be. Be instead the anti-Veruca.
He considered my logic for a minute, and it sufficiently silenced him enough to begin a foray into some other activity besides Army.  I shook my head, mentally adding up all the Christmas and birthday detritus accumulated over six years that currently litters my house.  The wrong kind of detritus?
And then I got schooled.
Because this little thought entered my head: Do I ever complain that I don’t have the “right kind of toys”?  Who, me? Why, no! Of course not. I don’t play with toys! 
But, I will just confess, I may have been known to open my closet and hear the words, “I don’t have anything to wear!” escape my lips, as racks of clothes stretch out before me.  Which is pretty much the same thing.
We of the sophisticated adult world may not play with army toys, but we do like - Stuff. I like to window shop - and real shop - and gaze longingly at Pinterest. In fact, I had to quit Pinterest because, unlike the folks who actually use it for ideas, I found myself using it to create pin boards of stuff I wished I had or did or made - but knew I would never actually have or do or make. In essence, I was constantly reminding myself that I did not have the right kind of toys.
It is the goal of marketing to remind us that our current “toys” are not good enough, not convenient enough, not stylish enough, and not functional enough. To create some gap between the status quo and the much more attractive idea of what could be. In other words, why are you playing with matchbox cars when you could be playing ARMY? Why are you using an iPhone 4 when you could be using an iPhone5? You need better toys!
But the law of nature is this, and it’s true for children and adults: when you finally do get the toy you want, the thing’s status then shifts from desired item to status quo item.  The novelty inevitably wears off.  And without thinking about it, you’re looking for the next toy. Lather, rinse, repeat.
If I’m launching into parental monologues about being happy with what you have, then I guess I better make darn sure that I am living it myself.
It’s not all about the toys, anyway. 

9.05.2012

Ghosts in the Sanctuary

ghostbustersLOGO1 “Hey!  There’s ghosts up there.  Upstairs.”
“Nuh-uh.  No there’s not.”
“Yeah!  For real!  Up in the sanctuary.”
It was an evening church fellowship dinner in the basement of my grandma’s little country church.  Bright and happy checkered tablecloths, adults chattering, forks clattering, kids running around through the downstairs Sunday school rooms.  I was little.  And some mean older kids were taking the opportunity to fill my head with some horribly unsettling claims.
I knew that nobody was up there.  No humans, at least.  I also knew all the lights were off, and that meant the stained glass windows and the organ and the pulpit and everything would be…scary.  Way scarier than in the daytime.  I could picture it.  And now, thanks to these jokers, I could picture transparent figures walking the aisles, too.
It was more than I could take.  Lip quivering, brow furrowed, I ran to my sweet grandma, who was sitting with the adults and finishing off a slice of whatever delicious pie had been brought for the occasion.  The words came tumbling forth – the ghosts up there, the dark, the sanctuary, the punk kids who said it all.
And with a gentleness that grandmas everywhere have somehow copyrighted, she smiled and shook her head.  “There are no ghosts up there, Jennifer.  Let’s go.  I’ll show you.”
I was shaking in my Mary-Janes.  But if grandma was brave enough to go, then I would be, too.  So I took her hand, reluctantly, and we climbed the steep, winding staircase up from the basement, away from the bright checkered tablecloths, and into the terrifyingly dark upstairs. 
When we reached the top, she turned on the light in the foyer and the hallway just outside the sanctuary, which created just enough indirect light to flood through the doorways of the big room without turning on the heavy fluorescents.  We walked into the big room.  I gripped her hand with white knuckles.
“This is God’s house, Jennifer.  He is here.  Just Him.  No ghosts.  You don’t have to be afraid.”
Against all that I had expected, she was right.  There were no transparent figures, no bumps in the night. 
We walked around on the platform.  “Here is the organ where Ms. Juanita plays,” she said.  I ran my hand over the plastic keys and the bench.  “And here’s where the preacher preaches,” she said.  “See his big black Bible?  These are the offering plates.  Here is where the choir sings.  Now let’s walk around down there.”
We ventured past the pews, past the stained glass windows, all the way to the front door of the church and back.  Looking fear in the eye with a hand to hold, I saw that it had no power.  And when I was calm and satisfied, we went back downstairs and had more pie. 
As an adult, I must still recognize the powerlessness of fear.  To pay no attention to those fears behind the curtain.  Especially those irrational, falsely manufactured flim-flam fears.  The Lord is the one who says, “Look, now.  See?  I am here.  I am with you.  Put those away now.  Hold my hand, and we can face this.”
And then, once again, I’m a child peering into the sanctuary, filled with the peace that there are no ghosts.  And there never were.
Pass the pie.
Psalm 56:3: “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”

9.02.2012

Noodles from On High

After playing blog hooky for two months, I’m suddenly intimidated by this blinking cursor.  Blink, blink, blink.  Relentlessly compelling me to peck out something.  Does it have to blink like that?  I wonder if it’s one second between blinks.  Can you adjust that setting somewhere?  It should be longer so that the thing isn’t so insistent

What, you think I’m stalling?  Maybe.  It’s been a while.  I’ve got to warm up.

Most of you know by now, we are joyfully expecting another little Farris, Number Three, to enter our family in 2013.  Three months down, six to go.  With the advent of pregnancy came a heavy case of writer’s block like none I had ever known.  All my fun thoughts and ideas got swept into the current of More Important Things – things that I might share, one day, but for now am treasuring up in my heart.

And floating around in the current of More Important Things were two of my old companions from the first two times around the block, Nausea and Fatigue.  I hope to bid them goodbye soon, but they don’t seem to want to leave just yet.  The return of Nausea forced me to recall Pregnancy Number One back in 2003, when a particular episode happened that I figured I would include in my memoirs one day.  And I figure this is it.

This is gross, just so you know.  Rated PG from here on out.  But you’re big boys and girls, I think you can handle it.

In ‘03, my husband and I were living in a little 3rd-floor seminary apartment in Louisville, KY.  The morning sickness was worse than I had feared, and the terrible part about it was that I had absolutely no control.  Smells would hit me the wrong way – loaf bread in the bag, a candle, hamburger meat frying, the AIR in general – and I would just toss my cookies right there, wherever I was.  Forget running to the bathroom.  Garbage can?  Only if I was lucky.  Obviously, we didn’t get out much.

I KNOW, that’s gross, but I warned you.  I’m hoping I can make it through the end of this post, myself.  (Hey, this is kind of like The Monster at the End of this Book!  Remember that?)

lemon_slices So anyway, one evening, early on, I choked down some Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup for dinner in front of the TV.  And not surprisingly, I start to feel green shortly thereafter. 

Cade, noticing my expression, begins to offer me lemon slices, lime popsicles, and saltine crackers in a gentle manner, with alarm lurking just below the surface.  I shake my head no.  He then encourages me to get to the bathroom.  Pronto.

“I just need to get some AIR!” I say, adamant that the foregone conclusion will NOT happen this time.  I step outside on our front balcony.  The stairs and balconies in our apartment complex, formerly comprised of rotting wood, had recently been replaced by steel grates.  So you could look down and see people right under your feet.

I am pacing back and forth on the balcony, taking deep breaths, fighting it…fighting it…regretting my decision to distance myself that much further from garbage cans and bathrooms.  And on a balcony, of all places.  Stupid!  Stupid!  I’ll never make it back inside in time!  No control…

And there it went.  Through the floor of the 3rd-floor balcony and on to our 2nd-floor Korean neighbors’ doormat.  Noooooo!!!  Why did I not stay inside?

There are only three things one can do in such a situation.

1.  Walk downstairs, knock on the neighbors’ door, and explain that I just threw up on their doormat.  So sorry, don’t mind me, I’ll get you a new one.  Promise.  How embarrassing!

2.  Just get them a new one.  Never explain.  But they would wonder why!  They might even ask us!  How embarrassing!

3.  Clean it up yourself. 

And number three, my friends, is what my husband – armed with latex gloves, a bucket, and a vast array of chemicals – did in the dead of night for me in Louisville, KY.

I have not touched Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup since.  Come to think of it, I don’t think he has, either.

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