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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Holding Hands

I have eight children. You would thing that with so many that things would start to become routine. Every parent or parent-to-be hears about the phases children go through. Two of the most talked about phases are the “terrible twos” and then those “teenage” years. I had enough children spread far enough apart to experience the terrible twos and the teenage years at the same time. Actually, I think I've done this three times. I'd love to be able to tell some great party stories about what that was like, but nothing really stands out in my memory. Oh, there was the time my two-year-old nearly burned down the house by turning on the gas stove on the same day my fifteen-year-old totaled the car he couldn't drive legally yet. Or there was they way my thirteen-year-old could throw a tantrum very similar to my two-year-old. The truth is, none of this ever happened. What can I say—my children are boring. Now there is a blessing! Actually, I find nothing boring about any of my children, but none of the typical “stage” stereotypes fit very well.

On the other hand my children have gone through the “angel infant” stage, to the crawling stage, to the walking stage and so forth. One of my favorite stages was “holding hands” stage. One of the most pleasing feelings in the world to me is the feel of one of my children taking my hand. That act communicates such love and trust that it gives me shivers just thinking about it. My six-year-old likes to go for walks with me. She has a lot of energy and will not stay by my side the entire walk. She will skip ahead, dance a little, check out a rock by the side of the road, but then she will come back and take my hand for half a block. I love that part of the walk. This process will repeat itself four or five times during the course of the walk.

One of the saddest occurrences in parenting is that transition period when they are growing too old to hold my hand any more. It is such an awkward time. We may be on a walk around the block or just walking together into the store. Both of these scenarios are where one of my sons or daughters would naturally take my hand. During this transition period I'll be aware of the potential for them to take my hand and they may or may not do it. If they don't take my hand I can almost hear the door closing on another room in our relationship—a room that was most pleasant. If they do take my hand I will enjoy the moment, but I am all to aware of the tentativeness of the act. I can almost hear their awareness that they are getting too old for this. This transition has never become routine for me. With each child the sadness I feel is the same because it signifies that our relationship has changed forever. Of course there are great joys to come in the new relationship I am developing with them, but I'm grateful I still have three hand-holding children left.

My first son, now twenty-four, grew up so fast. This son must have been like my current four-year-old at one time, but for the life of me I can't remember without looking at pictures and reading journal entries. I do remember an incident when he was fourteen. He was a teenager—no longer my little boy. He had long ago passed from the hand holding stage. We still got along fine, but there was definitely more distance between us. He had his own interests and often treated my requests to do household chores or to attend a family function as if I were interrupting his life. One Saturday found most of our family and a couple of friends at Lagoon, a local theme park. Tory, his brothers and his friend took off on their own and left me to escort his younger siblings around the park. After traversing the park three times in search of adventure and junk food I sat down with the little ones on a park bench. Although my two younger children had plenty of energy left I was ready to leave. Suddenly I felt someone lean on me from behind—a forearm on each of my shoulders.

“You having fun?” a voice asked near my ear.

It was my oldest son. He and the others had seen me sitting there and came over to say hello. I heard happiness and contentment in his voice. I felt a sudden surge of joy at his happiness—not actually at his happiness, but in his willingness to stop what he was doing to come over to share his happiness with me. There he was, my teenage son, leaning comfortably on my shoulders to chat with me for a moment. I was afraid to move; almost afraid to breathe for fear of scaring him away. I didn't want to feel his weight leave my shoulders. Since he had grown too old to hold my hand intimate moments like this had grown rarer. Eventually he did leave my shoulders and run off with his pack, but I found that moment was enough. My feet didn't hurt as much and I was able to attack the park with renewed energy. With a child on either side of me, each holding my hands, we headed for the Tilt-a-Whirl.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Countdown to Prayer

You would think that in a small house such as ours it wouldn't be difficult to round up eight children and get them to the table for dinner. It should be something akin to a couple of cowboys herding cattle in a small pen toward an open gate. In reality it is more like squeezing a balloon—the air leaves where you compress, but it just pops up in two more places. Barb and I do have one thing on our side—hunger. With the help of our squeezing, or in spite of it, all of the air eventually goes to where the smell of the food is.

Interestingly enough now that all the children are at the table the next step is even more difficult. We can't get everyone to shut up for the blessing on the food. Oh, we can get one or two to stop talking, but never everyone at the same time. Autumn will be telling someone about the book she was reading just before coming to the table. Jory will be tormenting Glory about imaginary floaties in her drinking cup. Clory is telling Barbara about her choice of beads for a necklace masterpiece she is making. Little Story will have a hand on either side of my face making me look into his eyes while he painfully explains something that I can't understand.

“Rory, would you say the prayer?” I say loudly enough for everyone to hear. Rory, playing finger drums on the table, glances my way and acknowledges my request with his eyes. His finger drumming continues, however, not in defiance of my request, but because the chatter around the table continues—four or five conversations at once that create such a cacophony that my sanity seems challenged.

“Autumn! We are saying the prayer.” Autumn glares at me for stopping her mid-sentence.

“Jory! Glory! It's prayer time!” They ignore me. “JORY!” I raise my voice. He stops talking but looks at me with impatience. But by now Autumn has decided that she can finish telling Cory her story about her book before I can get the rest of the kids quiet. I have taken two steps forward and slid back one.

I am really hungry. The potatoes are getting cold. The chatter of a bunch of happy, or relatively happy kids, just won't stop. It seems I have only two choices:

1. I can start to eat without a prayer. But I really want to thank the Lord for his blessings before I do.

2. I am a big guy with a powerful voice. I could scream “SHUT UP!” and get everyone to stop talking at once. I think I have tried this before and found that the ugly feeling such a voice brings makes the following prayer hypocritical. Another problem with this method is that I would have to keep doing it at each meal because it is a very ineffective training method.

Then I was struck with pure inspiration.

“Ten, nine, eight . . .” I said loudly. Autumn stops talking and looks quizzically at me.

“Seven, six, five . . .” Clorinda closes her mouth and looks at me wonderingly.

“Four, three, two . . .” Jory and Glory happily join in with the countdown. Story grins broadly.

“ONE.” Rory, who has caught on quickly, is ready and begins the blessing on the food before control is lost again. Immediately after the prayer the chatter erupts like water from a freshly unkinked hose, but it is okay now because the food serving process can begin.

The “prayer countdown” has continued at each meal to this day. Some of the children will assist in the countdown. Others will continue their lively conversations until “one” is said, then there is a sweet moment of silence as the blessing begins.