Monday, January 26, 2009

Quote of the day: The cement was stronger

I picked up Brielle from school and she had this righteous shiner. It was on the same eye that attracted a log while sledding last January. This time she'd just been walking to music class when there was a sudden disagreement between her foot and the curb, and her right cheek ended up in the middle of it.

At the sight of the scraped bruise, I gave her the sympathy I genuinely felt, although she was pretty well over it. Once in the car, I decided she was big enough, humorous enough and over it enough to engage in her first round of the standard game I was raised with whenever we had a gnarly run-in with anything inanimate, in which said obstacle becomes the object of the parent's feigned concern. Let's call it, "Compassion for Cudgels."

Here's how my version of it went today:

"Brielle, that looks really ouchy. You must have hit that curb hard."


"It's a good thing your face is so strong. Is your face stronger than the cement? Did you break the cement?"

"No, Daddy, I didn't. The cement was stronger than my face. The cement broke my face."

Asked and answered.

And then, "Dude!" (I've never heard her say this before. I have officially imitated Crush from Finding Nemo for her one too many times.) "How do they make cement? I know they must use trucks to make it."

Yep, my little grommet is definitely over it.

Righteous, dude.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Quote of the day: I hate fake princesses

"I don't like any of the princesses anymore. We should sell all of our princess stuff." This morning, either my firstborn daughter said this, or I had a break with reality and temporarily streamed audio from an antithetically parallel universe.

More likely the latter.

Or so I thought until tonight, when Brielle again renounced the characters to whom she has devoted hundreds of her hours--and our dollars. "Anyway," she said, her sigh dripping with nonchalance, "I hate all the fake princesses."

No way.

You'd think this would be a moment of triumph for me. The princess mania, with its focus on foofy adornment, aesthetic perfection and all things sappy, has been one of the few items on my Daddy-of-daughters gripe list. Just last night I was coveting the manly toys that my friends' sons were playing with, imagining how much more fun they must have playing trucks and tools with their little dudes than I have changing Disney doll dresses with my dudettes.

No more castles or balls or pumpkin-carriages or cheesy princes charming? That's what I'm talking about!

Or so you'd think I'd think.

But in a bizarre twist of fate, this morning's princess repudiation did not bring on the elbow-pumping, "YES!" it should have. Instead, I caught myself swallowing a lump in my throat.

Is this what it feels like to see her grow up too fast?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Quote of the day: I want you to

Tuesday nights, I come home late. Melía knows this, and waits up for me. Every Tuesday.

This Tuesday, the moment I closed the front door, I heard her suck in her breath all the way down the hall. It's the same noise her mommy makes when something destructively messy is about to happen. Or when she's really excited.

I stepped into the hallway, tentative, knowing what I'd see, but pretending not to know. She was out of her bed--grounds for a time-out after she's been put down--and squatting in the hallway outside her door, wide-eyed and beaming like I'd just come home from Iraq or something.

I stalked her, trying in vain to open my eyes as wide and blue as hers, singing, "I'm gonna catch you, you better run. I'm gonna catch you, here I come" (as made famous on Noggin by Laurie Berkner).

Normally Melía RUNS from this. She loves to run, especially from Daddy. Most fun for both of us is the instant when I catch her, scoop her tiny frame up in my arms, and kiss her tummy.

But tonight, she just said,

"That's OK."

I stalked closer in mock menace, wondering when the regular game would take hold. "I'm gonna catch you, you better run. I'm gonna catch you, here I come!" I sang, upping the intensity of my threat.

"That's OK," she said again, motionless. "Because I want you to."

Of course, my arms melted around her. I kissed her cheeks, her hair, and the bare forehead that now shines below her self-styled bangs. I put her back in her bed, and before I could say bedtime prayers, she told me once more. "It was OK that you catched me. Because I wanted you to."

Here's to daddyhood and daughters--to the chase, to the flight and to the times when more than anything else, she just wants to be caught.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Converstaion of the day - Pray in my heart

"Daddy, how do you pray in your heart?" Ashlyn asked.

There had been a lull in the bickering and fighting in the back seat of the Accord, partly brought on by Ashlyn being on time-out. (Yes, time-out CAN work in the car.) It had been just delightfully long enough for her to forget the fight and pose this question, seated there between her momentarily silent sisters.

"You just think about the things you want to say to God," I answered.

"I'm going to do that right now," she said.

"Cool," said I.

And she did. "I'm done doing that," she announced, half a minute later.

"What did you say in your heart to God?" I asked, ever the voyeur.

"I said, thank you for dying on the cross, and thank you for loving us, and thank you for all the stuff you give us. Amen."

"That's awesome, Ashlyn. I bet God was so happy to hear you say those things to Him in your heart."

"Yeah," she giggled, as shyly as Ashlyn does anything. "I can pray in my heart."

Brielle weighed in now. "I can't pray in my heart. But I can pray in my brain."

"Those are both good," I said.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Quote of the day - You don't care

I'd warned Brielle that the bath would be over if she fought with Ashlyn one more time.

They fought.

I hated to do it. But I hate breaking promises even more. So I did.

I grabbed the soap, and washed her hastily. She wriggled and cried. Eager to get her out, I slapped shampoo on her hair and scrubbed it over her scalp and wet locks. It dripped into her eyes. She shook her head and screamed. And screamed.

This is what she screamed:

"You don't care about me! You don't care about me! You don't care about me!"

Except that, knowing how slow I am to get things (she has heard Mommy try to communicate with me), she helpfully repeated this something like a dozen times--for a total of three dozen.

There are two possible responses to this.

The one I normally advocate is an acknowledgment of the speaker's feelings, respecting the fact that her words reflect reality as she perceives it. One might paraphrase the child's feelings in order to validate her viewpoint and confirm that one has heard and understood her. Diplomacy.

Then there's the response I chose: "That is a lie, Brielle. And it is a mean lie. I care about you too much to let you fight your sister. I told you what would happen if you fought with Ashlyn again, and I care about you too much to tell you I'm going to do something and then not do it."

I don't know if I responded well or not. The words she spoke seemed so opposed to all that I'm about that I didn't have what it took to just leave it alone. Maybe my defensiveness made it all about me, which demonstrated her point.

But what haunts me more is the source of such talk. Really, where does she come up with this? Is she repeating what she's heard others say? If so, where has she heard this stuff? Movies? School? It's certainly not a game we play here at home.

And how much does she mean it? Is she really feeling uncared-for in this moment? Or is she already advanced enough in the way of the Guilt Jedi to be laying this on with strategic intent?

Is this just the primal cry of every heart when we've fought in the tub, the soap's in our eyes, and judgment has been passed against us? On even the best days, is it the cry of our worst fear?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Quote of the day - The bare necessities

The rest of us were boarding the minivan for the quick run home from grandma's Friday night.

But not Ashlyn.

She had a song to sing. And with a song, a dance.

She wiggled her way around the Odyssey at least enough times for its gray walls to come a tumblin' down, singing,

"The BARE necessities. Don't forget your worries and your strike!"

Around the rear bumper she sped, half-running, half-boogying, throwing the full weight of her little chest into the emphasis on "BARE." Almost colliding with the front fender, the modified lyric from The Jungle Book came back like a Zen mantra, over and over with each lap around the vehicle. "The BEAR necessities. Don't forget your worries and your strike!"

Her literal wording may have upset Walt Disney's original message. But her performance--free of cares beyond the moment, true to life's essentials of song, dance, passion and childlike power--clearly captured what Baloo was trying to tell Mowgli.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Quote of the day - I love Satan

Melía was going through the motions of bedding down last night--a prelude to her hour of requests, potty breaks, talking to self and to knocked-out twin sister, playing and patiently enduring the silence before sleep sneaks in and takes her away.

With no visible provocation, she announced:

"I love God and Satan."

I was disarmed, not sure what to say. I'm not sure now what I did say. Maybe I said, "You do?"

"Yeah," she said, pleased with herself. "I love Satan!" She giggled, aware of the scandal of these words, but sticking to her guns.

Knowing Melía's heart, I sensed this declaration--dark as it may have sounded from other lips--was worth celebrating. "That's good, Melía. Do you think God loves Satan too?"

"Yes!" said Melía.

"No, He doesn't," Ashlyn protested.

"Really? I think He does love Satan. Because Satan is His child, and even though he does bad things, God loves him anyway, just like He loves us when we do bad things," I said.

"Yeah!" said Melía.

"Everyone is His child," said Ashlyn.

Amen and amen to living in a universe run by Love big enough to encircle the old friend-turned-enemy who crucified Him.

And amen to living in a house with little hearts big enough to get it.

(Click photo at top or PLAY arrow at left to see a short clip of Melía speaking for herself on the topic of God's unconditional love.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Quote of the day - I cannot tell you

I wish I could remember how this conversation began. What Melía said captured me so much that I forgot what led to it. Or maybe I didn't really start listening soon enough.

Despite these fresh efforts to tune in to my children and meditate on their words, my listening still kicks in too little and too late.

We'd just pulled into the gym, this time with all three girls and car seats crammed into the back of the Accord. As always, none of the girls was in a rush to jump out.

For a change, neither was I.

Melía had asked me some kind of "Know what?" question, and I was having fun answering this rhetorical by guessing what she was going to say. I threw out a couple bits of random silliness and a couple serious attempts at intuiting what she was getting at.

I was having fun at my own game.

But that was enough, she decided, and told me so:

"No, Daddy. If you are telling me I cannot tell you."

Her reprimand reminded me to do what I already know to do. "Seek first to understand, then to be understood," as I teach my students, in the language of Stephen Covey's Habit 5. Stop operating on what you think people are going to say, and let them say it.

Shut up and listen.

Thanks for the reminder, Melía Grace. I'll try to do that--and sooner next time.

"...O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love."
(From the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Quote of the day - Favorite space picture

Brielle's Kindergarten class is studying space. I picked her up after school. After a giant bear hug that lasted all the way from the pick-up bleachers to the car, the first thing she told me inside was this:

"I know what my favorite space picture is." She was giddy. I hadn't even begun to ask questions about the day. "It's called called 'Oh-Daven.' It's a group of stars."


"Yeah, Oh-Ryan. And inside it there's a giant black hole. Astronauts can see it." She couldn't talk fast enough now. "And God and Jesus are going to come out of it!" Her grin was about the size of the great hunter's belt. "And that's why it's my favorite!"

Not a bad reason to choose a space picture.


Maranatha, come Lord--by whatever path You choose, whatever time You know is best. (But sooner is definitely better.) And however, whenever that is, come now and restore my childlike excitement about how perfect that day will be.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Conversation of the day - Trinity talk

Driving home from church yesterday, I made a comment about something Jesus could do.

From the back of the minivan, Brielle corrected me (believe it or don't): "God."

"That's right, Jesus and God."

"No--God," she insisted.

"Jesus is God," I said.

Ashlyn weighed in. "No he's not!"

I hitched up my theological pants, drew in a deep breath, and set out to explain the Trinity to 4- and 5-year-olds. "Jesus is God's Son, but he is also part of God."

"No, he's not. Jesus is not part of God. Even though they do the same work."

"Brielle, is your pointer finger your hand?"


"And is your thumb your hand too?"


"It's kind of like that. Your fingers are all different, but they are all part of your hand. And Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit are all God. And like you said, they help each other do the same work."


"Or maybe it's more like ice and water and steam. Ice is water that is frozen. And water is water that is just water. And steam is water that is evaporating. But they're all water--just in different states."

Sometimes I wonder how in the same sentence I can remember to limit my vocabulary enough to utter something like "water is water that is water," yet drop an odd homonym like "states" at the end. This is why I never taught Kindergarten.

Brielle giggled. "Not in different states!" She said "states" in that high-to-low pitch sequence that means, "You're being silly, Daddy!" (I hear that sequence often because my daughters think I am silly often--even more often than I attempt to be.)

I laughed back. "I don't mean a state like California or Texas or Alaska, but like water in a different way of being, a different circumstance, a different condition."

"Conditioner?!" she laughed. Now her twin sisters were laughing too. "Daddy, you said 'water in a different conditioner'!"

Mercifully, my Trinity lesson had ended, and on a silly note, a note of comical ambiguity. Maybe a pun is one more Godhead metaphor.

And maybe silliness is an underused path to God.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Conversation of the day - Everybody loves God

Home late after a meeting today, the twins were jumping, crawling, hugging and kung-fu fighting all over me on the couch.

It was unmitigated delight.

Meanwhile, Brielle sat front and center before the TV, watching yet another screening of The Story of Jesus for Children. It fascinates me how absorbing this story is for her.

Right in the middle of the wrestling match on the sofa, with Jesus feeding the five thousand via DVD, Melía looked at me and said:

"I love God a lot."

"I'm so glad to hear you say that, Melía," I gushed, caught off guard by the move from hand-to-hand combat to praise. "God loves to hear it too!"

"And you love God a lot too, Daddy."

"That's right, my Melía." I was glad--relieved, actually--that she noticed. Sometimes I wonder if this reality shines through the fog of my anger, haste and general preoccupation with things mundane.

"Everyone loves God," Ashlyn chimed in.

I could not leave that alone. "Actually, Ashie, not everyone loves God."

"Why?" she asked.

"Some people don't know God and some people don't like God," I told her.

"Only bad people don't love God," said Ashlyn.

"All people are mix of bad and good, Ashlyn. It's just that...."

The tickling, elbowing and head-banging resumed before the discussion went any further. Maybe it was for the best. I often err on the side of too much information.

But even that much had begun what I know is next for my girls. The difference between facts and beliefs, knowledge and faith. The coming to terms with how often black and white end up being gray. And more troubling, the reality of hypocrisy.

It's going to be an exciting ride.

Maybe, if we'd just stick to Melía's opening statement, "I love God a lot," none of the rest would get under our skin so much.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Quote of the day - Was it good?

For Christmas, the girls got The Story of Jesus for Children DVD. It is excellent, narrating the Christ story from a few children's viewpoints. Tonight it was on in the van on the way home from the gym.

We were going through the passion.

The girls watched wide-eyed, tight-lipped. The twins had questions, which Brielle tried to hush so she could hear the movie. I gave her the Daddy version of "Suffer the little sisters and forbid them not--questions about this shocking story are a very good thing, Miss Brielle."

Melía asked this one:

"Daddy, was it good that Jesus died?"

How would you answer that one?

Nothing about the scene on the tiny LCD screen was appealing or good. The sounds surrounding us were horrifying.

Yet nightly we praise Brielle when she includes, "Thank you for dying on the cross" in her bedtime prayer. It's called "Good Friday," isn't it?

But could I honestly answer that the corrupt trial, torture and execution of a perfect man was "good"? It brought me back to the gore and grimness of holy communion this weekend. "What kind of a sick religion is Daddy teaching me?" my daughters must be asking.

How far should I go to help it make sense? How much mystery should I let ferment in their minds? How many of my answers should I lay on them, and how many should I help them work out on their own? How much of what I'd like to tell her is just more than she can handle right now?

How much do I myself actually know about this? Grappling with Melía's question, I'm thinking I often overestimate how much I know.

And realizing that is definitely good.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Quote of the day - What did you learn?

Tuesday nights a buddy or two and I hang out at a coffee shop to catch up, read a few verses from Matthew and pray for each other. Sometimes I get home in time to hug and kiss daughters before they crash. Melía is always one of these non-sleeping beauties awake to greet me after Bible study.

"Daddy!" she squealed when through her cracked door she saw me walk down the hall.

I plopped on her bed, squeezed her tight, kissed her hair, and said, "I love you so much, Melía."

She asked:

"Daddy, what did you learn about Jesus tonight?"

"What?" I asked, incredulous.

"That's what Mommy told me, that you were learning on Jesus."

I only got a short ways into my response about the greatest commandments in Matthew 23, how the first was to love God with all my heart and soul and strength, and the second is to love my neighbor as myself.

But sitting there looking into those big blue eyes staring out from under those self-cut bangs, I think I felt--if but for a second--how good that twofold command can feel to live out.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Quote of the day - I lied

Yesterday we celebrated Three Kings Day (Día de los Reyes Magos) Mexican style. The girls put their shoes under their beds and woke up to find them full of stocking stuffers, courtesy of the wise men.

But it had been no small task convincing Ashlyn to do this strange non-Anglo Christmas custom.

"No! I DON'T WANT my shoes under there! That won't WORK!" she had shrieked the night before when I kept sticking her red kicks just below her bedskirt.

But I snuck them back under after she fell asleep, and she woke up in the morning, delighted to find her goodies there.

"I lied. You were right, Daddy."

She smiled and laughed at herself.

It was beautiful. I have nothing to say to improve on the sound of those lovely words. I just wanted some virtual witnesses that one day in her life, she uttered them.

Will you back me up?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Quote of the day - Bread for real life

Yesterday at church we had communion. Our kids had eaten the bread and drunk the grape juice before, but it seemed like Ashlyn got it at a new level this time.

With Rachelle, Melía and Brielle in the mother's room, I had the rare privilege of one-to-one time with her during the whole service. It gave me time to explain things as we ate and drank. (Usually at that point I'm doing damage control on spillage and wishing the carpet were a darker, purpler shade.)

In the car that afternoon, out of the blue, Ashlyn reminded us:

"The grape juice is blood--for pretend. And for real life, the bread is bread. But for pretend, it's Jesus'...Jesus'...body."

What a strange religion she must think her parents are raising her in. One week we're celebrating a baby's birth, and the next we're eating His body and drinking His blood.

Hardly G-rated stuff--even for grown-ups.

Tons of Jesus' original listeners were so weirded out by this concept that they abandoned ship (John 6:53-68). Maybe I should be worried these gory symbols might scare off my little ones too. Being a cannibalistic apprentice of such a bizarre and demanding Teacher could be downright frightening.

Maybe that should disturb me.

But more than any of that, I hope such an early acquaintance with this ritual will not spoil the scandal of what God did for her. I hope the realism of His brokenness never ceases to jar her. I pray the depth of His descent, His passion to be closer to her than food is to her tummy--never seem normal.

I hope this sort of pretending disturbs her--for real life.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Quote of the day - In your eyes

Brielle had just had a typically brilliant conversation with me. She was on the couch, hopping around. I was on the chair-and-a-half, moved and inspired.

Through my glasses, I looked hard at her. "Brielle, I like talking with you," I said. "You are a very good listener, and you say very interesting things and ask very good questions and are curious. When you get older, will you still sit down and talk with me? Maybe we can just sit down with a cup of tea and talk? Because you are one of my very favorite people to talk to."

"OK," she said. She'd turned around and begun to gaze into my eyes, beatific, amused and smiling. I thought for sure this little speech had hit home.

I was having a moment. (One too many screenings of Mamma Mia in my house this Christmas, probably.)

And then she said:

"I can see myself in your eyes. Whoever is looking at you can see yourself--can see themself--in your eyes."

Naturally, while I was high on my moment of heart connection with my firstborn, she was entertaining herself checking out her reflection in my glasses.

Any teacher knows the feeling. You're on a roll, breaking it down to receptive little souls in ways that nearly bring a quiver to your voice. You expect an "Amen" any second now. A hand goes up. It must be the profound question you'd hoped to inspire. The child asks, "Can I go to the bathroom?"

Her non sequitur got me thinking, nonetheless. Its implications left me asking myself a lot of questions at least as important as, "Can I use the john?" Like these:
  • When she looks at me, how well am I doing at communicating an image of her anything like what God sees when He looks at her?
  • How are the lenses I've crafted to see my world enhancing or distorting the world she sees, especially the world within herself?
  • When was the last time I looked into my Heavenly Father's eyes to see a truer reflection of who I really am?
  • How will I train her to value this heavenly reflection, this divine self-image, this God's-eye-view of her--above all others?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Quote of the day - Not cool

I was just helping Melía dismount safely from her somersault over my knee. I wasn't sure exactly what she was up to, but our little gymnast is often wiggling around our laps and legs and shoulders, and I thought I'd help her land without breaking her neck this time. It seemed the prudent thing to do.

She squinched up her brow and let me know what she thought.

"Daddy, I was doing someping coo'. And then you did someping with me and it was not coo' anymore."

I'm sure this was the first of many such utterances from Melía, although she will probably learn to distill the sentiment into something more elegant. I could hear her saying, "I love you. And please butt out."

"Lame, Daddy," would work.

When words just don't do her feelings justice, the ever popular "Whatever!" finger symbol may serve.

My question for myself is this: How often do my prudent parental designs disrupt the genuine coolness of what my kid is up to? In the dance between childlike playfulness and fatherly purpose, how wont am I to step on the toes of the kids whom God sent to teach me as much as I them?

And turning it vertical, how often is God up to something really cool when I grab hold of things and help them land in a way that's more safe and sane--and lame? In a way that ensures my comfort--secure within the bell curve--but a way that calls for no faith, no risk, no grace?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Quote of the day - No map

Today the girls' role play of choice was some sort of quest for the throne of God. I didn't overhear enough to know if they were playing angels, fallen angels or something more far-fetched for them--like mortals. But I did overhear this admonition from Brielle:

"There is no map to heaven."

One of the younger twins must have asked for one. How she received the news that no such document existed, I'm not sure.

I'm not sure how I receive it myself.

Some days when I don' t trust myself to follow well, I wish there were something more concrete to guide me to glory, maybe even a GPS set for things eternal. I'd like Google to spit out a tidy map with mileage down to the foot and timing down to the minute.

But most days, I kind of like it. The absence of a map to heaven intrigues me, piques my curiosity, brings me to my knees in wonder, primes me for mystery. Without a map, I know I've got to stay in touch with the Guide.

How does it strike you?