Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hope (part 2)

Weeks ago I ranted a critique of "hope" in Hope (part 1). My children, to my chagrin, are frequent flyers on hope's wings. Have I failed to teach them to embrace the present rather than pine for what's ahead? Instead of proactive designers of their destiny, are they learning to be victims, limply hoping for change down the pike?

I hope not. (Whoops.)

Maybe I'm the one failing to learn what my children are trying to show me about hope.

I did promise to share some kid stories that help me question my questions about the value of hope. He
re is one.


We came home tonight to a jaybird dying on the porch. It lay there, just under the motion-sensitive light, moving too little for me to notice, but enough to give hope to the one daughter still awake.

Brielle wanted to save it.

“It will be just fine if we take care of it, Daddy. What do blue jays eat?”

“Brielle, blue jays eat other baby birds and the eggs of other birds. They’re not really a very nice kind of bird.” I was tired. A smear campaign against the species sounded easier than offering emergency veterinary services.

Brielle was shocked but quiet. The little birdie clawing the air on the porch looked too harmless to be an infanticidal egg thief.

I saw the harshness of my tack reflected in her eyes, felt its sting, and softened my approach. “Brielle, it’s probably the same one that smacked against our window yesterday. It probably is blind and won’t be able to live very long without its sight.”

“Daddy, why are blue jays not nice to other blue jays?”

“Brielle, you know, God didn’t make animals smart enough to know what is nice. They just know they need to eat and they try to find food even if they have to do not-nice things to get it. So they’re not being ‘not-nice,’ they’re just trying to eat."

She liked this. Not guilty by reason of low IQ. “So the birdie doesn’t know it’s not nice to eat other birds’ eggs. I think the birdie ate other birds' eggs and then it thought it would fly and then it hit our house and got blind and now it won't steal any other birdies' eggs."

This wasn't working.

"Brielle, you know, if this birdie dies, two good things could happen. One thing is that another hungry animal will eat it and be happy it found some food." There was that stinging, shocked look again. I hate causing that look in her eyes, even when I do it by telling the truth. "Or, if another animal doesn't eat it, its body will go into the ground and help other plants and trees grow because they will use the vitamins that were in the birdie's body."

”Daddy, maybe we can give it some water. And an egg. Maybe blue jays are not nice to other blue jays. But they are pretty sweet to us. It looked sweet and nice.”


She was right. It was a beautiful bird. Helpless. Beyond the need for judgment--guilty, not guilty...nice, not nice. At our mercy.

And truth is, resigned as I was to this creature’s place in the food chain, the inevitability of its downward slide on the circle of life, I didn’t like being out there watching it die. Euthanasia was probably the nicest thing I could have done, but even if I’d had the strength to do this, I lacked a way to do it so Brielle wouldn’t know, or a way to explain it to her if she did.

I grabbed an egg from its cardboard carton in the fridge. I filled a ketchup cap with water. Together, we went out to the still bird, set the egg and water a couple feet away on the porch. We found a stick and gently pushed them right next to the bird, urging our desperate offering toward its beak. It fluttered, and settled down again.

“Maybe the birdie will get some rest, wake up and drink the water and eat. Maybe it will fly away and be OK tomorrow,” I offered, wanting this to be true perhaps as much as Brielle wanted to believe I was telling the truth.

We both dared to hope. And our hope moved us to merciful action.

At 11:30 I heard the bird shriek. I ran across the room to see a hungry raccoon finishing the job that I lacked the courage to do. Masked and nonchalant, the raccoon dragged the jay--along with our egg--under the porch and finished off both.

Even if Brielle finds out what happened to the bird (and you BETTER not tell her), I think she will agree with me on this: I am glad she hoped. Because her hope moved me from tired resignation to actually doing something, however small, for a needy member of creation. And that moved both of us from guilt and complicity with the darkness into a place where we offered a sort of light.

Whatever the outcome, we both felt better having hoped, having tried.

Friday, June 20, 2008

My grand Father's Day

This Father’s Day was kind of sad for the ladies in my life. Our family was missing two fathers. With Rachelle’s dad and grandpa both gone, and my brothers still trying to figure out how babies are made (or something like that) it left just my dad and me to get the royal Daddy treatment.

Neither Rachelle nor Evonne has a habit of tallying losses, but on a day like Father’s Day in a year as grief-ridden as this has been, it’s hard for the fatherless and the widow not to feel the irony.

These losses make me even more aware of how fortunate I am to have my dad. He lost his father when he was still in grade school. Naturally, he imagined he would follow suit.

As kids, we lived only half-resigned to the dread of Dad’s early death. We feared it but we knew it was coming. It was as real and as expected as other unavoidable certainties like swim workouts or going away to college.

But we dreaded this most of all.

And now, against all prophecies of doom, he has survived. By God’s grace, he is cashing social security checks, yelling at the Lakers, chasing the Four Freshmen around the country with Mom as they celebrate their 60th anniversary (the Four Freshmen, that is), and working 80-hour weeks during tax season. (We still pray he’ll retire. Soon.)

Best of all, he is goofing off with my three little girlies. Listening with rapt attention as Melía tells about her prize snails and roly-polies. Making faces. Tickling his way down Ashlyn’s face saying, “Fore-bender, eye-winker, tom-tinker, nose-smeller, mouth-eater, chin-chopper, gully-gully-gully!” and cackling as raucously as she does. Playing hide-and-go-seek. Teaching Brielle how to cast with her new Barbie fishing pole (and dig that visual). Reading about Jesus calming the storm with real sound effects, the wind and waves rocking all four of them in the La-Z-Boy. (They eat this up as much as I did at their age.)

These are all things of beauty that I never imagined. Measures of soul music after movements of monotone. Breathtaking vistas out of miles of fog. They take me by surprise—as heaven will no doubt do when it comes in fullness—because I never dared to think of any of this. My vision was too short to see myself with children, much less with my dad around to enjoy them. It is unanticipated delight. Serendipity. An ambush of joy.

So thanks for sticking around, Big Dada. Life has often been tiring, and survival can be harder than its alternative. But we’re lucky you’re still with the programdespite your predictions.

“I’m wrong. I’m always wrong,” you have often lamented. You are far from always wrong. But I’m glad you were wrong on this one, Big Dada. Really glad.

We love you.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day every day

It’s always kind of funny to watch us celebrate Father’s Day.

On Mother’s Day, we cook or buy mom brunch. We care for her needs, make cards and pictures for her, think of her first when choosing entertainment.

And that is all very special. Because we don’t do these things the rest of the year. Male behavior on Mother’s day stands out like a sore thumb from male behavior the rest of the days on the calendar. And women’s lives on Mother’s Day bear precious little resemblance to how they roll on non-feast days.

Father’s Day, meanwhile, is actually kind of redundant.

I mean, this Father’s Day, I was noticing just how good I have it the rest of the year, what special treatment I get throughout Ordinary Time.

Meals prepared? Yep.

Needs cared for? Absolutely.

Handmade artwork from the kids? At least a couple times a week.

Power to choose entertainment? Well…OK, so three out of four ain’t bad. It was a nice change to enjoy the Lakers game on Father’s Day rather than something involving princesses, puppets or purple dinosaurs.

But other than that, I was mostly aware of how good dads have it almost every day. It reminded me of when I was a kid, asking my parents, “When is Children’s Day?”

You know the answer we got. “Every day is Children’s Day.”

I’m thinking every day is Father’s Day too.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The day I became Daddy

Yesterday Brielle turned five. That meant she ate a cupcake for breakfast, wore her fuzzy pink “Birthday Princess” crown (not that she hasn’t worn it night and day on many other days and nights), announced, “I’m five!” to various strangers and pretty much glowed all day long.

It also meant I’ve been a daddy for a half-decade.

This is one of those things that trips me out either way I look at it. On one hand, I cannot believe that a young, free, newlywed such as myself could have been doing the parenthood thing for this enormous span of time. Nearly half of the dozen years we’ve been married, we have been married with children. In a couple months, we’ll be taking Brielle to kindergarten.

No way.

In another instant, I wonder that I have not always been a father. I think about life before Brielle, and draw a blank. What did we do for entertainment before we had live dancing girls? Where did we spend Saturday mornings before we enrolled in Cradle Roll and Tiny Tots Sabbath school classes? What cluttered my back seat before yogurt had bonded Cheerios to the upholstery?

You mean it’s only been five years? A measly seventh of my life?

On a Tuesday not unlike yesterday—a warm morning with the promise of summer vacation on the wind, the dry heat of the mountain soil injecting adventure into the air—I loaded my wife and a strange collection of baby stuff, most of which I could not name, much less use, into our white Xterra. An empty infant carseat was strapped in back (utterly devoid of Cheerios).

Rachelle was ready to have the child out of her abdomen. We had a date with our OB, who had agreed she was ripe enough to induce before the expectant grandparents left for Jamaica.

I played with the camcorder as we got into the car, readying myself to be journalist, cheerleader, Lamaze coach…and something…something else. What was it?

Oh yes, that. Somewhere in the fuzzy corners of my imagination, like a mortal trying to picture eternity in heaven—or hell—I supposed that presently, I would be a father.

We checked in, joked around on the video, and finally got down to business. Pitosin works, but works slowly, I’m convinced, on a child with a will as strong as Brielle’s. She was in no rush to say hello to the cold, cruel world, and Rachelle progressed slowly through the day and into the night.

Knowing my penchant for fainting over finger pricks and blood draws, I left the room when it was time for the epidural. We didn’t need to occupy doctors with more than one baby that night, I thought. It turned out that this was one of the hardest moments for Rachelle, and she wished I had been there.

I remember with dread leaving Rachelle’s room while she slept to correct papers and calculate grades on my laptop from about 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. The school year was over, but my least favorite part of teaching was still in my face. I have always hated the process of turning students’ thoughts, ideas, creativity and hard work into cold numbers, and then adding those numbers up to come up with one of five letters.

Here, as my wife endured holy labor, doing grades seemed especially profane.

I was just exporting all this profanity to floppy disk when the word came that Rachelle was awake and making progress. (Please pardon the Male-ese. She might put it, “I was in agony like never before, turning myself inside out and WHERE WERE YOU?!”)

The contractions came quicker and quicker, and I just wanted it to be over. I put all my energy into rubbing Rachelle’s low back so hard that it would be sore for days after she came home. Finally, the doctor was telling her to push. I was delighted. The end was in sight.

Rachelle’s pain climaxed, and my delight clashed with her torture.

But finally, a terrific cocktail of fluids and tissues began to gush from my wife. Again, I was delighted—this was almost over. I would not have to watch helplessly while Rachelle suffered anymore.

From this nasty pool emerged the most beautiful infant face I had ever seen. The severity of contrast between birth and baby added wonder to the miracle. I have come to regard that moment as a metaphor of our existence in the universe—in the midst of chaos, entropy, decay, our planet is a beautiful exception.

My Brielle. She was beautiful from the moment I saw her. Beautiful and loud.

They cleaned her off, let me cut the end off the already clipped umbilical cord and wrapped her in a hospital blanket. They put the tiny bundle in my arms, and she began to quiet down. Her blue eyes stared up at me, clear and curious, it seemed.

It was all over.

It had really begun.

Remember in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, how at the end when he sees the Whos singing even after they were ripped off, the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes? I am certain mine grew about five in that moment.

Five. I can’t believe it’s been five years already. I can’t believe it’s only been five years.

The stuff of eternity just doesn’t make sense in terms of time.

Happy birthday, sweet big Brie! Thank you for helping God grow my heart every day of your wonderful five years. I love you more than I ever imagined possible.