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Tag: joy of parenting

joy of one

joy of one. tedd. 12.

sooner or later, it happens. to anyone who’s assembled a tumbled lot of kids. housed them. fed them. worried through a night or two.

it’s the law of simple arithmetic. subtraction, actually.

x – 1 (to the nth power, depending how many you’ve accumulated) eventually = 1.

for all the momentum you’d once acquired under that one shingled roof, for all the noise once collected over forks and spoons and spilled milk, there comes a day when there’s only one poor child under your sights.

poor child, indeed.

that one and only kid is unshakably under the steady gaze of eyes that have no distraction, that aren’t too often pulled hither or yon.

that poor kid is all alone in the glare of your watchtower.

and in our house, the grownups come in pairs. so in fact, he’s under double glare.

he wakes up some fine mornings to not one but two tall people tickling him from slumber. one’s armed with warm, moist washcloth (the turkish spa treatment, you might rightly think). the other employs soft circles to the hollow between the bumps where angel wings were supposed to sprout.

he saunters downstairs to made-to-order pancakes and bacon. on mornings like this morning, when all that slumber was hard to shake, one of the tall people caves and offers a ride in the little black sedan. complete with concentrated conversation, the rare sort that comes when the interviewer is truly deeply interested in all that lurks deep down inside your soul.

now, you might be retching right about here. thinking, holy lord, what sort of overindulgent parenting is this? where’s the rough-and-tough school of hit the “eject” button, hightail ’em out the door, stuff a granola bar in their pocket, and kick ’em in the pants, with a casual, “have a good one,” tossed over your shoulder as you slam the door behind ’em?

well, there are rare few chances in this boardgame called “a life,” in which to pull out all the stops, to give it everything you’ve got, to score one more chance to do it right, to love with all your heart.

so that seems to be the m. o. over here.

by accident of gestational bumps and broken hearts, we’re in our third chapter of parenting over here. we had the one-and-only round one (a round we thought would never end), the oh-my-gosh-it’s-two (yet another round i seemed to think would never end), and now, thanks to a very far away college quad, we’ve got one-and-mostly-only.

day in and day out, it’s a ratio of 2 to 1.

and perhaps the most beautiful part of being the mama of a 12-year-old when you yourself are 56, barreling toward 57, is that you are wise enough to know: there is no more sacred incubator in this blessed gift of life than the one into which you pour your heart, and whatever accumulated wisdom you’ve scraped up along the way — that holy vessel called a growing, stretching child.

doesn’t matter to me if the child comes by birth or by heart, or simply wanders down the sidewalk and finds a place on my couch. it’s a nasty speed-chase out there, with cars flying into ditches right and left. if the walls within which i dwell happen to offer rare respite, time-out, breathing room, a place where dreams can be launched, and hurts aired out to dry, well then i’m posting a shingle on my doorpost: “time-out offered here.”

even after all these days — and there’ve been 4,420 — since that sweet boy landed in my arms, i consider it a miracle of the first order that he’s here at all. never mind that mop of curls. or the bottomless smile and the matching dimples. or the tender way he takes my hand and gives it a squeeze in the middle of driving from anywhere to anywhere. never mind that, mid-lope out the door, he hits the brakes and circles back for a goodbye hug — one for each grownup.

never mind all that.

it’s just the rare precious miracle of the chance to rocket-launch one more sack of hopes and dreams and heart. to try to pack in all the love and goodness and tender toughness that just might add a shard of light to this sometimes darkening planet.

i’ve always said he seems to know, deep inside his soul, that he was a last-chance baby. the one who beat the odds. the one who left his mama jaw-dropped and quaking at the news. those sterile hens in the bible — sarah (90, when she birthed isaac), rebekah and rachel, to name a few of the so-called “barren” — had nothing on me when it came to being flabbergasted at the revelation (although my shriek came upon seeing the little pregnancy plus sign turn pink, which i don’t think was part of the biblical story).

and so, he seems to indulge us in our over-lavishing. fear not, we try to keep it in check. at least when anyone’s watching. but i happen to have married my teacher in the tenderness department. in patience, too. that man has never once uttered a note in the tone of shrill, a tone i know by heart. used to be i didn’t stop myself till he shot me a withering glance. that stopped me, rattled me back on track.

but over all these years — and there’ve been 20 in the parenting corral — i’ve learned to take his lead, and not auto-leap — well, not every time — into the role of mrs. harsh & overhurried.

once upon a time you would’ve thought the world depended on our getting to the nursery school on time. and i still have trouble reminding myself that a tornado-strewn whirl of clothes heaped on the bedroom floor is NOT the moral equivalent of hauling swine flu into the country, hidden in a clandestine stick of salami.

i think often — expend a bumper crop of brain cells — on the subject of growing kids. it’s religion to me, the holiest sort. it matters more than anything else i will ever do. closest thing to curing cancer. because it boils down to taking the heart and soul you’ve been handed, and tenderly, wisely filling it with light. considering it a stealth missile of planetary illumination. the answer to a peace-prize prayer.

oh sure, the darkness will come. we can’t keep that at bay. but we can give the gift of buoyancy. we can keep the boing in the human spirit. the bounce-back machine that takes the wallops, and rights itself again.

there’s not a creature on the globe who wouldn’t pray to be loved deep and pure and forever after. it’s the highest hope of all creation.

and at our house he only wishes for someone else to please steal our attention. especially when we double-team the launching him from bed.

here, on this crystal clear morning before the day of atonement, at the end of a long week of wondering where my next writing assignment will be, the one bit that bubbled up was my poor outnumbered child. he weathers us well. has a stable of distractions. there are two particular readers, readers on the jersey shore whom i happen to adore, and this one was, in good measure, for them. forgive me for indulging in family lore. i know that nothing matters more to them than knowing their sweet boys — five grandsons — are in good-enough hands. 

what do you consider the holiest work you’ve been asked to do? 

love, bam

being e. bunn

when i signed up for this being-a-mama thing, there are many points i failed to adequately ponder.

(we’ll not dive, not today anyway, into some of those matters that i might wisely have run through the almighty thinker, that mass of cells between my ears, that might better have equipped me for this madre job. we’ll leave that for a less auspicious day. this, after all, is countdown week for judy garland belting song of easter bonnet and said parade.)

certainly, in days b.c. (before child, that would be), i never grasped the charm, the pure delight, of packing joy, delivering it, complete with jelly beans, in a straw-braided basket. the easter basket, of course.

the santa thing, i might have given thought. you know, some winter’s afternoon, as a pouty post-believing child, flung (with requisite drama) upon my bed, legs cocked at the knees and crossed, kicking foot up in the air. thinking: when i grow, i’m going to be one heck of a santa. i’ll not forget the china teaset, the one with tiny painted flowers.

but easter? who spent much time considering the occupational upside of mr. e. bunn, esq.?

the basket, while i do recall a spectacular sponge paint set when i was 5, was, in the house where i grew up, more pure sugar rush, ten grubby little hands racing to the pink-and-purple plastic baskets, inhaling beans, then dashing off to rest of resurrected morning.

i failed to grasp the paschal possibility.

i would say i rather stumbled into the rabbit hole, into the unexpected magic of tiptoeing through the night, leaving trail of cut-out bunny feets, and hiding the basket of just-hatched tenderness in a place that, come morning, little feets would have to find.

there is something, something far beyond charming, about slipping inside these make-believe, oversized, dispatchers of joy, be it the one with wiggly tail or the chap with jiggly belly.

there is something that almost takes your breath away when you realize, poof, you’re all grown up, and you now are the one who, with your brush of many hues, shades and colors the someday stories, the memories, of what it was to grow up in the house where you preside.

it’s up to you, you realize, you who tucks tenderness in a basket, to tenderize the hearts of those who traipse through the land where children romp. at least in your house.

but, indeed, i have discovered, and now, myself, i practically jiggle with the wonder that it brings, that nowadays i get to pack the baskets for those little sparkling eyes, the ones that, certainly, will be up and out from under covers, rubbing, shouting some early-morning merriment, as they stumble down the stairs and round the bend, ultra-sonic easter radar leading them without wrong turn straight to where the sugar, in several forms, awaits.

before we get too far on that sugar thought, let me toss this sad disclaimer, admit this thing that might make you sigh a sigh; say, phew, thank heaven i wasn’t born to that ol’ mama. here’s the sorry truth: i don’t do unending sugar at easter. it’s not about sugar in this house.

it’s about something far, far sweeter.

and that, i think, is why i love it so.

i have a someone, a sandra sweetpea, who taught me how to do easter. instructed me in easter basket 101. like many things she taught me, she hasn’t a clue, really, how deep the lessons she imparted. there was no hand-out. no quiz, or chapter review.

instead there was a little shop, a shop called sweetpea, a shop of natural toys and classic books, a shop where imagination unlocked the door and set the stories spinning. sandra was the shopkeeper. and if you studied the way she gathered things, the tender, earth-spun beauty she gathered in her shop, in baskets, on antique bookshelves, tucked in woodland scenes that you swore the fairies might have visited, then you learned a thing or ten about quietly offering a whole other sort of being a child.

being a child–or a mama or a papa or a someone with child heart–who listens to the rhythms of the season, who understands the gift in playing richly with simple child’s toys, who breathes in the magic of a beautifully spun storybook.

it was like a refuge and a respite from the worldly, that little shop on southport in chicago. i’d pull back the door, a bell would tinkle, and then, surely, sandra would appear from behind a curtain, all sparkling eye and wisdom. quietly, without words sometimes, she’d lead me by the hand to something full of beauty. she would laugh her marvelous grown-up-little-girl laugh, and i would see the magic. then she might spend a minute telling me about the marvelous soul who tromped the woods, carved the elfin house, spun the wool, dyed the cloth from flower petals or vegetable scrapings. i would stand there, spell-bound.

my children’s toy chests were never stuffed. but they were rich in things–an elf’s tree house, rows of books, simple blocks–that will last forever.

and so it was sandra who taught me easter baskets, too. to go to sweetpea for easter, my pilgrimage each holy week, was to come home with a finger-sized bunny so sweet i’d want to carry him to bed with me (or feed him itsy-bitsy carrots). a book or two, the pages splashed with springtime colors. some little pack of seeds, forget-me-not, or carrot. just enough to whisper, the earth is waking up from winter’s slumber. all life is new, rejoice.

and so it was the other day that i wandered back to where sandra now presides. the sweden shop, it’s called, but i like to think of it as the swede pea. for it seems she’s transplanted plenty of her magic there. (her sweetpea, sadly, closed.)

the little bunny smiling from above–sandra, who is quite something with thread and needle, made him. stuffed him first with lavender, real lavender, from someone’s garden. then she stitched him up. when you rub his belly, lightly, with just the press of your finger, the lavender wafts. i bought two. one has little button eyes and nose. of course, i bought a book. a book from green tiger press (collectors of breathtaking, knee-buckling illustrations from days past), a book called, “the truth about easter rabbits.” of course, i bought a pack of carrot seeds. and a big fat orange carrot stuffed with all orange jelly beans.

come saturday night, when all is clear (i can’t promise quiet, since my littlest rabbit has made quite a habit of hopping out of bed in recent weeks), i will make like e. bunny himself, and gather my new-life wares. i will tuck simple magic in a basket. i will smile all the while. it is hard not to melt when tucking easter in a basket.

i will make one basket for each boy in this house, and then i will tiptoe to a hiding place. when all is finally still, i will sprinkle pink construction-paper rabbit feet and baby carrots from edge of beds through the hall, down the stairs where the trail will then diverge, one branch south and one southwest. each boy is on his own to find what easter brings.

and i’ll stand off in a corner, softly soaking in the joy. no one told me how sweet it is to play the easter bunny. and that, perhaps, is the sweetest secret ever. one i’ll not stop, ever, believing wholly in.

oh, if only i could, i’d make a lovely basket for every one of you. the house would be so filled, there’d be lavender wafting everywhere. and plenty of old-fashioned carrot bunches, complete with carrot tops, those leafy greens that are, perhaps, the crowning glory of every bam-made easter basket.
do you, or you, or you, find joy in being a big invisible bunny? and do you have any secret things you always search for in a basket of your own making?