Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Boys' Night at the Todd House

Jon and I walked through the door labeled “Parenthood” in our early twenties, having been married three years and seeing it as the next logical and casual step. If we could have had the hindsight we have now, we might have chickened out altogether (I’m glad we didn’t), or at least entered parenthood appropriately shaking in our boots. I don’t think we realized our own inadequacy or the solemn responsibility of keeping another human alive—let alone teaching them all they need to know to become independent, law-abiding citizens.

In retrospect, we appreciate not only how immense the task, but how valuable the involvement of other adults in our kids’ lives. Where would we be if it were not for grandparents, aunts, and uncles willing to step in for baby-sitting duty in those early years when a short break for a date or a nap felt like the difference between life and death? Where would we be without Sunday School volunteers who reinforced the lessons we felt ill equipped to teach? Without the teachers and coaches who put in untold hours of paid and unpaid time, building into our kids? Without youth leaders during the years when we parents were the stupidest people on earth? Without other parents who welcomed our noisy and messy kids into their homes, demonstrating healthy relationships in the middle of normal family conflicts and chaotic schedules? We’ll never know the full impact others have made, but we feel eternally grateful for it.

A simple opportunity to give back came to us this past year. One Wednesday evening a month, our living room has filled with half a dozen junior high boys and their youth leader, Jed. Our house is little, and we were surprised to be asked. But the cozy space can work in favor of bonding. The boys are one of several small groups who meet in homes on these monthly nights. It provides them a safe place, away from home, school, and church, just to hang out together.

It’s the easiest way in the world to play hosts. We need only clear the dining table so they can play games, open the door when they arrive, and make sure they have access to fresh water and a litter box. I mean, washroom. Once they’re all here, Hubby and I usually retreat to our respective corners of the house. In fact, I’ve written more than one of these posts relaxing on my bed while the energetic laughter of the boys provides a soul-stirring soundtrack in our normally quiet home. It gives us a regular flashback to the days when our own kids and their friends filled the house with noise.

Sometimes I don’t emerge until they’re gone. I’ve even been known to fall asleep before they leave, and they do a great job of cleaning up after themselves. On those occasions when I do overhear their conversation from the kitchen or from my office, I marvel at Jed’s comfort level with the boys. He speaks their language and earns their friendship. 

I love something Andy Rooney once said: “Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers [and youth leaders] have hundreds of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.”

I deeply admire anyone who works with youth. Listening to Jed patiently explaining the rules of a game and laughing with his guys makes me glad I only need to provide space for this to happen.

Working with youth will never be my number one gift, but I am confident of two things: first, every one of us can make at least a small investment in our greatest natural resource—our children. Second, it really does take a village to raise a child.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

What a Dish!

I love dishes. I love looking at dishes online, on store shelves, and on other people’s tables. I love the beauty of their designs, the colors, the various ways to mix and match them. We own three sets, four if you count the four-place Christmas set I found at our local MCC a couple of years ago.

So it came as a shock when I realized that I have never, in all my 59 years, purchased a new set of dishes. My parents gave us a four-place melamine set when we married, the remains of which went with our youngest son when he moved out. I acquired our “blue onion” set with S & H green stamps when we lived in the States. My brown and white “Royal Mail” set was a hand-me-down from Mom. And our “fancy set” was a freebie from a boss forty years ago. He rented storage units and when customers left items behind in unpaid-for units, I sometimes got first dibs on said left-behinds. (Is that even legal? I hope so. We still have a rocking chair acquired in the same fashion.)

Anyway, I look at this varied collection of chipped and cracked dishes in our cupboards and then I gaze at the gorgeous ones on the store shelf (I’m particularly smitten with the mix and match “Pioneer Woman” line) and I ask myself, “Are you nuts? Why on earth don’t you just break down and buy some new dishes, for cryin’ out loud?”

It’s a good question. I could, without too much difficulty, drum up the money for a nice new set. I could. So what’s my problem? Well, first of all, for many years drumming up the money would have been unrealistic. New dishes are a difficult purchase to justify. I mean even if they’re chipped, they still do their job. Right? That kind of thinking dies hard. It’s why people who survived the Great Depression still save used bits of string in jars labelled “Pieces of String Too Small to Use.”

Secondly, once I choose a set and commit to it—that’s it. I’ll have to be satisfied with my choice and stop drooling over any other set. This is the same reasoning that keeps some people single all their lives.

My new favorite mug dwarfs the one from my 1970's Blue Onion set.
Thirdly, have you noticed how big they make dishes these days? Plates, mugs and cereal bowls hold twice what the old ones hold. Why is that? I am afraid if I get bigger dishes, I will eat more food. It’s a psychological reality. No wonder obesity plagues this continent with all the giant plates and coffee mugs we use!

So I keep resisting. And we keep eating off our reasonably-sized, chipped plates. Food tastes the same either way. Hubby couldn’t care less, as long as he’s not expected to wash them. Speaking of which, I’ll leave you with an old poem you may remember seeing over a kitchen sink or two. It’s attributed to Mary Stuber.

Thank God for dirty dishes;
They have a tale to tell.
While others may go hungry,
We’re eating very well.
With home, health, and happiness,
I shouldn’t want to fuss;
By the stack of evidence,

God’s been very good to us.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Scrabble with Mom

“Teach me to play Scrabble,” I asked my 86-year old mother. 

It wasn’t that I didn’t know how. It’s just that the last time I played, it was the Junior version with our kids. Two decades ago, at least. I figured if I’m going to fancy myself a writer, I should become better at word games. Maybe increase my vocabulary. And Mom’s an expert. 

I was surprised when she seemed reluctant. It had been a while since she dusted off the game board, and she wasn’t sure she remembered how. Besides, she was fighting a headache. 

But I persisted. I’m nasty like that. And Mom proceeded to skunk me, laughing a little more maniacally with every triple-score word she laid down. 

On the second round, we stayed neck and neck until I finally moved ahead at the end. It’s entirely possible Mom was taking pity on me. At least three times, I started laying tiles in the wrong order and Mom would catch it before I did. Do you realize how quickly one’s brain must shift from right side to left when you’re trying to create words and then immediately tally points? It’s exhausting! That’s why I let Mom handle the score-keeping.

By the end of the evening, our laughter had provided a healthy, temporary escape from the aches and pains. “Let’s do this again,” we said almost in unison as we hugged goodbye. And we have. I hope there will be many more Scrabble nights in our future.

When it comes to mothers, it’s no secret that I hit the jackpot. Most of my peers have either lost their mothers or must devote great chunks of energy to caring for them as physical and mental health issues become all consuming. Doctor’s trips, medications, reminders, and special apparatuses like walkers, hearing aids, and oxygen tanks creep in and take over one’s freedom.

Mom is also aware of how blessed she is, unencumbered by such devices. Still, she feels better knowing someone expects her to check in each day. Several weeks ago, we came up with a system where, upon rising each morning, Mom calls and leaves a voice message (we’ve normally left the house by then). When I return home at one o’clock, I listen to it and know she’s okay. 

After the first week, I said, “Mom, your messages are getting monotonous. Maybe you could spice it up a bit by leaving us a good quote or a joke or a Bible verse or something. Since then, we’ve been treated to a “power thought for the day” and I’ve come to look forward to what these thoughts will be and how they might apply to my day. I delete the message immediately to ensure we never mistake an old message for a current one and think everything is okay when it’s not. Each day, as I delete that message, the thought occurs to me that one day I will delete Mom’s final “power thought for the day” and I won’t know I’m doing it.

Each day is a gift. I imagine no one knows that better than the mothers and fathers in Humboldt and the surrounding area. While the rest of us have moved on, they are just now beginning to comprehend the depth of their losses.

This Mother’s Day, wherever you find yourself on the Mother/Child/Grandchild spectrum, I hope you take time to treasure what is yours for today. Because “love” is always a triple-score word.