The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

29 November 2010


First week of Advent. The world is hushed, awaiting the birth of the Christ Child.

Ok, it's not. It's crazy, rushed, and noisy, with lists and lines, and sales. There are plastic reindeer on green lawns, and piped 'Christmas' music everywhere you go. (If songs about chestnuts or lovers coming home can be considered Christmasy)

Still, a feeling of anticipation is building. The urge to prepare is growing stronger: to clean the house, bake cookies,to delve into quiet and prayer.

Every Advent/Christmas season has its own flavour. Some years we (the House of Nuts) go all out with the decorations, the festivities, and the food. In those years, our joy is exuberant, vital.

In other years, the preparation runs deeps and still, well below the surface. The joy is subdued, the mood more reflective.

This year is one of the latter. We are quiet and still in mood this Advent, preparing for a quiet and still Christmas.

I hope these next four weeks will bring moments of peace to you and your family as you make preparations for Christmas.

25 November 2010

The fonder heart

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or so I've been told. I'm hoping that's the case between us, dear Reader, as I've been less than prolific here at the Lighthouse of late. I hope to be back to a regular schedule of posting next week. Till then, I hope you are well. Happy Thanksgiving to the Americans out there. Please be safe if you are driving, and remember to love the ones you're with.

16 November 2010

Horse puckies

There must be something in the air. Or perhaps a genetic marker has been triggered, releasing crankiness, whining, and boundary testing in Four and Five. It's unusual that a four year-old and almost-three year-old would be going through the same difficulties at the same time (nature's way of preserving the mother) but here in the House of Nuts, that's precisely what we've been dealing with for the past week.

Nature also has a way of preserving the cranky child ... or at least these particular cranky children: they are cute. Edibly cute. I can't pass them by without at least patting their head, but usually I have to stop and snuggle them, which they endure with resigned patience... most of the time.

Cute has a way of fading into distant memory while the said cute being is wailing - no not just wailing, but full-out shrieking - because they've been told: No, you can't jump off the roof with your Superman pyjamas, even though they have a cape; or, Stop hitting your brother over the head with the dump truck.

Having been told to say sorry to his brother for the dump truck incident, the offender collapses to the floor in a boneless heap, barely able to get out the words: I ca-a-a-an't. Clearly, we ask far too much of these children! Child is sent to the stairs, which inspires another bout of protests: I ca-a-a-a-n't. This poor soul - who has spent every moment since opening his eyes with the turning on of the sun in nonstop motion - cannot walk to the stairs, so, out of pity (for him? for herself?) Mama Nut sends the hooligan down to his bed, where he can moan to his tiny heart's content. The moaning of course has the decibel level of a World Cup vuvuzela concert, but if we give in to one vuvuzela, we will have to give in to five vuvuzelas. This is a war of numbers, people! What I mean to say is, little boys together have an ingrained pack instinct, and if one discovers a sure-fire way to get better food or shelter... or tv privileges... they share the information. Our survival depends on our endurance... we must hold the line.

Discord arises over who gets the long spoon to eat the yoghurt at lunch and who should have possession of the clone trooper now (Did he have it first? Yes, but I want it) And to ensure we have not forgotten either about their little selves or their very pressing needs, both Four and Five have taken to repeating their status updates, which go something like this: "Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. I want some lunch. Mo-o-o-m, I want some lunch. I want some lunch." And so on. Never mind that this child needed half an hour to poke indolently at his bowl of cereal only 20 minutes ago. Naps have been applied early and often, and if in perfectly balanced combination with food, have helped to stave off some of the more outrageous displays of crankiness.

To give him credit, my Number Five Nephew is simultaneously teething a back molar and fighting a cold; circumstances under which I'd be uber cranky as well. As for Four, he seems to have decided he's a grown up now and is determined to prove it.

Earlier in the week, we decided to take advantage of the fine weather and distract the boys by taking them on an adventure to a nearby conservation area. There are miles of paths through the woods for walking and horseback riding (BYOH, as they are not provided). Normally this is the sort of day they love - Mommy and their Tante Tess all to themselves with a car ride to boot, woohoo! It didn't work this time, however. Four didn't want to walk, didn't care for the waterfall but then didn't want to leave the waterfall and insisted in picking up every stick along the way... and letting us know several times he was ready for lunch.

Five is normally an absolute trooper about walking but on this day he pouted over tree roots, moped through mud and sulked about the birds chirping in the branches. Because of the horses, one must be attentive as to where one places one's feet. A helpful family tradition has evolved of calling out: Horse puckies! to alert fellow walkers of hazards on the path to be avoided. For some reason, Five took it into his head that horse puckies were something to be feared... perhaps they were bad men on the path behind us? Whatever he imagined them to be, he was scared of them and it took us a while to console him.

Four kept talking about wanting to go back to the car, while Five took up a low-grade moaning, just under his breath. Nothing was right: he disliked walking through mud, wasn't interested in the smashed pumpkin on the riverbank or the horse that just trotted by - definite signs that the boy was not quite well.

Having examined the 'map' at the entrance to the trail, and based on previous outings in these woods, we came to what we determined was a good place to turn around and head back. This triggered yet more protest, but we persevered and soon enough found ourselves back at the waterfall, where we paused to enjoy the wonders of nature's beauty - and negotiate who got to climb down the stairs first.

Something went wrong at this point. We realized the trails weren't very clearly marked, and one path cutting between the trees began to look like another. It began to feel as though we were walking much longer than we should, and that none of the landmarks looked familiar - certainly we hadn't crossed that bridge on our into the woods? So we turned around, getting a little grumpy ourselves at the thought of possible hours spent circling the paths with a whiney toddler and three boys sitting on a school bus waiting for someone to come and get them. We turned back a short way and climbed up a hill and plunged further into the unknown woods before realizing it was a foolish tactic and we should head back to what we knew was familiar.

I must tell you that Mama Nut lost it a little at this point, pointing out to the pines and maples around her that the stinking map posted at the park entrance didn't show any of these trails, and a sign that said exit should not point into thicket of brush which clearly was not an exit. Somewhere around this time, I tried to take everyone's mind off the ludicrous situation we were in by pointing out some very fresh horse puckies. Four was very keen to see them for himself, but no matter how emphatically we pointed and directed his gaze, he couldn't seem to spot the puckies right in front of him. (What is it about the Y chromosome?)

We eventually found our way back to the water fall, and from there we did find the path we were looking for. By now we were marching very determindly, as if to convey our displeasure to the park around us. Five wanted to be carried, then wanted to walk on his own. Four wanted to go back to the car, but didn't want to leave. We seemed to be walking the same path we took in from the entrance, but now found ourselves coming at the helpful map from the other direction. Nevermind; we could see the car in the distance.

Boys were bundled into the car and gownups gratefully slumped into their seats, with plenty of time to spare to meet the big boys off the school bus. As I prepared to pull out of the parking lot, I commented that someone smelled rather aromatic. Mama Nut agreed, that yes, it smelled like horse puckies. At that moment, she looked down at her feet, just in time to watch as a horse pucky fell off her shoe.

15 November 2010

A day in the house of Nuts...

7.00 AM - wake up when 'the sun turns on' and start to play (hockey, tonka trucks, dinosaurs, fly-like-superman... whatever is handy) but pretend to be quiet, cause the alarm doesn't go off until 7.30 and grown-ups tend to be growly if we wake them up before the alarm goes off.

7.30 AM - Finally! We can be loud! And play! Oh, and get washed and dressed tidy our room and eat breakfast and pack our bags for school... but only if we're told at least 3 times. Otherwise it's the weekend and we can play!

8.00 AM - Mama Nut has laid out breakfast, made and packed lunches, ensured school bags are properly stocked, checked that clothes are clean, hair is brushed, the right shoes are on the right feet and herded 3 boys to the bus stop.
Two little boys stand in the window calling goodbye to their brothers and frantically waving until the others are indecipherable specks off in the distance. Then they play! (Or watch PBS Kids on tv)

8.15 AM - Ask where mummy is.

8.30 AM - Mama Nut comes through the door and little boys ask for food

8.35 - 11.30 AM - Ask for food. And play!

11.30 AM - 12.15 PM - Poke disinterestedly at food.

12.15 - 2.30 PM - Ride in car, then walk in woods for a very long time. Youngest brother falls asleep in the car on the way home, then wakes up to go to bed for a nap. Other brother gets to play! But is told he must be quiet while Mama Nut rests too.

2.30 - 3.15 PM - "Quiet Time" which involves asking for food, and driving large metal toy trucks up and down the living room floor.

3.15 PM - Mama Nut leaves to pick up big boys from the school bus.

3.20 PM - Ask where Mummy is.

3.25 PM - Smallest Peanut wakes up. Asks where mummy is.

3.30 PM - Mama comes home with big boys. Now it's time to play! And ask for food.
Three children are corralled into doing homework. Messages from school are addressed, belongings are sorted, long narratives of the days events are told.

4.00 PM - Supper preparations begin. Children are asked to help in various ways that make them unhappy because they'd rather play!

5.00 PM - Supper time! This takes 10 minutes if its something we like, and 45 minutes if its something suspicious. If we finish quickly though, we can go downstairs to play!

6.00 PM - Cubs/Beavers/Swim lessons/Y Time/Altar server training... can't we have any time to play?

7.30 PM - Bed time. Rats. We barely got to play today. Must tell my brothers something important.

7.32 PM - Grown-up reminds us it's quiet time.
Start to sing the Marine Land Theme Song.

7.34 PM - Grown-ups starting to sound cranky, and tell us it's bed time.

7.40 PM - I sure wish I could pla.....

04 November 2010

Dante's dressing room

You know Dante - he wrote about the circles of hell. In modern terms, if waiting in line for the flu shot is the easiest circle of eternal torment, then the ladies dressing room of any clothing store is at least three quarters of the way to complete and utter misery (trying to get customer service from an automated telephone menu)

Not even Catharine Zeta Jones relishes the idea of clothes shopping, I'm sure of it. She probably has clothes made to measure, specifically and perfectly just for her. She has hired someone of her exact proportions and colouring to first try it all on for drape and colour. The items not rejected are then sent to her home, where she is able to try them on at her leisure... after eating some chocolate to soothe her soul, and by candle light - because every woman looks her best by candle light. Her private dressing room has a mirror that can only flatter, but has not even one pesky, intrusive sales clerk asking "How are we doing in there? Did we manage to get those pants on? I just knew puce was Madam's colour, and polyester is always so comfortable, isn't it?"

For those of us who are not Catharine Zeta Jones, we must brave the scores of racks in countless stores packed with clothes made for other people. People who are not short-waisted, or pear shaped, or slope-shouldered, or super tall, or bountifully busted... or whatever your clothing-related nemesis may be. Off the rack apparel doesn't seem to be made for real world women.

Purveyors of women's fashion don't really understand what clothes shopping is like for the average woman. We don't like being on display to the passing world as we sort through bins of unmentionables, or hold slacks against ourselves to judge if they'd fit, thereby bypassing the necessity of braving The Mirror. We speed through racks of tops and tees with the hopes of not attracting the attention of The Sales Assistant, because if there's anything worse than The Mirror, it's The Sales Assistant.

When we are fortunate enough to have made a hopeful selection, dodging the offers of 'help' from at least two store employees, we enter the dressing room... or step behind the curtain that doesn't close all the way. These areas are brightly lit with florescent bulbs, just to make sure no detail goes overlooked. Some shops provide two mirrors in the cubicle to enhance the sensation of there being a whole lot of you in the room, while other stores prefer their customers to peek through the curtain to make sure no one else is around before darting out to stand in front of the mirror which is helpfully placed in the main shopping area - in the black cocktail dress we're hoping fits ok and doesn't wash us out but it's hard to tell because of the florescent lights... and the striped socks with a hole in the toe and the legs we didn't shave that morning, not realizing that public humiliation was on the agenda for the day.

Hardly ever does it end with one trip to The Mirror. We make our initial dream selection with the hope that this time, everything will fit perfectly. We shed our street clothes (ie. the clothes we already own) and wiggle, hop, shimmy, squirm, spin, and tug our way into potential new ensemble. All with constant knocking on the changing room door and bright chirping inquiries from the sales staff. Invariably we must reverse the above procedure, go back out to the sales floor and make yet another selection (second best options, hope is fading) and do the whole thing over again. And so on, until either we give up, or are at last successful.

Finally we make it up to the cash, worn out and rumpled. Big smile in place, the clerk asks brightly, "Did you find everything you were looking for?" to which I always lie and say yes, though I'm tempted to tell her the truth: that no, I didn't find thinner thighs, or Johnny Depp; but I found a pair of jeans that fit and I'd like to go home now please.

What we learn from children

We can learn a lot from little children, especially what it means to be trusting, to be joyful, to be unselfconscious. They throw themselves into every moment with abandon and are just as free with their honesty - sometimes to the chagrin of adults.

Those are positive characteristics of childhood that we often lose as we grow up. We need reminding from time to time to be more childlike in how we perceive things, or express ourselves.

Unfortunately there are other childish traits we hold on to and would be much better off for growing out of. I think of this almost every evening, when my nephews go to bed. Every night the routine is the same; there are no surprise expectations: brush teeth, put on pyjamas, fold clothes at end of bed, get into bed, say prayers, be quiet, no more talking, go to sleep.

Though the rules never change, and even though they are reminded - gently (at first)- what to do, they act like lunatics, taking forever to get ready, forgetting to clean their teeth, leaving clothes on the floor, and then talking and singing instead of sleeping. It isn't until an adult completely loses their mind and with raised voice, promises dire consequences for transgressors. Or more direct action is taken; this may shock you, but a bottom or two has been paddled in this household.

We're not so different, us adults. Our disobedience looks different, and the consequences are not the same, and yet we too rail against expectations and protest about the rules. God reminds us gently at first, but in our giddy oblivion we either don't hear, or we disregard Him. We ignore the clearing of the throat, the casual chat, the friendly reminder, the loving correction... until finally the grown up comes stomping down the stairs and declares that there will be no more computer time for the week. Or, you know, the spiritual equivalent of that.

From my nephews I have learned to pay attention to life... and hopefully to listen better the first time.