342. Googly Eyes

Years ago, I mean 26-27 years ago, my wife and I took our two daughters out near Pittsburgh to spend a weekend with a couple we’d met through church, our old Catholic church. I’m talking ages ago, since my third and youngest daughter was not even a glint in her parents’ eyes then, and we stopped going to the Catholic church 16 years ago. I can’t even recall the couple’s names today, (Jim and Maryanne?) but they were kind and vibrant people who wanted to share life and their love of family with us. Their children were older, naturally, since they were maybe twenty years older than we were at the time. Still, their house teemed with toys and games and coloring books and left over cool stuff for kids to do. I vividly recall looking out their kitchen window as my girls played on swings and a sliding board. Erin was 7 maybe, and Grace was 2 or 3 years old. Erin was properly modeling safe, older child behaviors while Grace was rushing toward risky excitement, just the way her daughter Leah does today. As Erin carefully climbed the stairs to the tall sliding board, Grace gamboled up the slide like a monkey, holding the rails with her hands. In this one mental snapshot their different personalities are engraved on my father’s heart.

Friends of our hosts came for dinner and a meeting of the Christian Family Movement, I think it was called. They had known each other since the 1960’s and it showed in how they interacted so lovingly with each other. They all had stories of putting faith into practical application. Jim talked about befriending a widow neighbor down the road who had resisted mightily at first. His kids delivered her newspaper and shoveled her driveway and met her needs. Finally the old suspicious widow consented to their invitations to join in life.

That story impressed me so much that I determined to do the same outreach to an elderly couple on our street, the Johnsons, not knowing that Ruth would soon be a widow. I tried to model loving neighborliness to Ruth and Buck while he was still living. I cut their grass, helped stack firewood, shoveled snow, etc. Over the years my girls got some extra grandmothering from Ruth. They would run to her house to show her their latest guinea pig or sing songs with her has she plinked out a tune on an untuned piano. We still have the mechanical angel that sat on her mantel at Christmas that Jessica so admired. Ruth gave it to her before she moved.

But the story is getting ahead of itself. Back to Greensburg, Pa and the good CFM folks. In our lesson one of the men told a story that used props, little fuzzy monsters with googly eyes. I don’t recall the point of it all, but I do know that all the fuzzy monsters with googly eyes were given to my daughters when the lesson concluded. They thought they were in Oz with all the attention and gifts. We drove home in the early November twilight, grateful for the connections made and the model of family love given to our girls.

Erin and Grace played with their new toys over the next few days and nights. Erin in safe, older child mode. Grace, uh, not so much. The googly eyes became separated from the fuzzy monsters rather quickly, but these were still fun to stick on the end of a finger and wiggle so the “pupil” rolled around the white area. It was all fun and games until, well you know, until someone loses an eye.

I think it was a Thursday night. My wife was at some work related meeting and I had put the girls to bed, Erin quietly and effortlessly; Grace with more maintenance and direction and a billion more words. I settled into the pink corduroy chair in the living room to read the thin local newspaper. I had not finished page one when Grace came down the hallway. She had a finger in her nose.

“Daddy, I have a googly in my nose.”

“Honey, that’s disgusting. Don’t pick your nose. Now let’s get back to bed. I told Mommy that I’d have you guys asleep by now.”

I walked her back to her bedroom and told her to stay in bed.

“But Daddy, googly eye. I have a  googly eye.”

“No buts, Gracer. You get to sleep.”

No sooner had I sat down again and picked up the paper than Grace toddled down the hall again, a little more animated. “Daddy, googly eye nose”, she said with her finger  two knuckles up her nostril as she wrinkled her nose and made a face of worry.

“Gracie, I told you not to pick your nose. Now you have to go to sleep. Now! No more…”

Then she emphatically shouted, “No, no, Dadddy. Googly eye nose”, and pointed up her left nostril.

Fear came over me as I drew her into the light of the reading lamp and tilted her little head back. Impossibly high up in her nasal cavity a googly eye stared back at me, mocking my parental ineptitude. More than any other consequence I dreaded my wife’s wrath… “You did what?” while imagining a scene from the emergency room with child services employees ready to take my three year old into protective custody.

“Oh, no. Gracie, blow.”

She sniffed.

“No, no, no. Like this.” I got a tissue out and demonstrated blowing into it.

What would happen if she sucked the googly eye into her brain? What horrible surgeries would she have to undergo because I had failed so miserably to protect her from fuzzy monster toys with googly eyes?

Finally after multiple blow demonstrations, Grace blew out the dreaded, almost fatal googly eye. It stared back at me in the wrinkly tissue like a dead fish eye.

I thanked God for this minor miracle and hugged her with relief. I would have to tell her mom about it eventually but not tonight. It was just too raw and mucousy for discussion. I put Grace to bed for the last time and gathered up all the fuzzy monsters with and without googly eyes and put them in the trash. Truly, no good deed goes unpunished. Nor do endearing memories ever fail to stab at my old heart.





314. the silent man

He doesn’t say much, so it’s hard to tell if he’s thinking or what he’s feeling. His is not so much a poker face as it is a deflated basketball face. It seems that he used to have more substance on the inside that pushed his chin out and cocked his mouth into a confident smile. More bounce. Back then his warm eyes promised more to come. Now he spends an inordinate amount of time staring into his phone, barely tethered to family and friends, like an absent minded astronaut doing a space walk in the zero oxygen environment of black space.

“I’m going to eat in the bedroom tonight.”

“I’m going to bed now.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow night.” And he disappears into that black void beyond gravity’s pull. It’s a weightless but joyless place he goes, and it chips my heart every time he does.”

She is left with behaviors as the evidence of what lies within her almost champion’s heart and head.

“He’s kind and caring… my anchor, but I need him to be the captain of the ship. It’s easy to take an anchor for granted, you know. It’s out of sight and just barely attached. You don’t realize it’s even there when it does its job. In a crisis you pray that it will hold firm… but it’s hard to love an anchor.”

“He’s in chronic pain, tired, and deflated. Yeah, there’s that deflated idea again, where you have to slam the ball down to get it to come back up half as high. Underinflated, hmmmm, like depressed. But let’s not fix anything, no.  I don’t want to be a nag, but I won’t be a doormat either. I’ve done both before and neither worked out. I love who he is; I just don’t get to see much of his who. All the whats bog us down.”

“I’m all over the place with emotions and words and actions. I’m the pilot, the cook, the look out, the medic, the mechanic, fire police, security, accountant, and I swab the ship’s deck. I need him to step into the captaincy, you know, assert some authority.

“Sometimes it’s like playing with my old Mr. Potato Head. I start with a blank slate and give him arms to hold me, cuz I need hugs and touch. I’m a feely kind of girl, you know. Hugs are my drugs.

“Then I’d snap in those smoky eyes I long to fall into. It used to be automatic that I’d see his soul jumping like a pair of dolphins in those deep waters. I can’t find that accessory today, only sad or tired or glazed over eyes in today’s toy box. Mr. Potato Head, I need your soft hands to hold me. I need your strong arms to draw me into that cove where dolphins leap in tandem.

“You’re gonna need more tissues. Honk!!! Sniff. Sigh. I have a buy one get one free coupon for tissues.”

“No thanks. I get a perverse pleasure out of paying full price for things.”

“I’ll give it to your wife. I’m sure she loves a bargain.”

“Oh Yeah.”

“I have three fathers. You know my birth dad left when I was two. He went back to his native country and the familiar world where he was someone of notice. For over forty years I had nothing but radio silence, not even a pop or static on the line, as his blood flowed through my veins. However, my adopted dad showed up big in my life, and I couldn’t have asked for more. I think about that often. When I felt the empty space pull on my soul, I leaned into my Father God. He never left. He’s always held me together when I felt my seams breaking. He sent my adopted father to stand in the huge scarring gap my birth dad left behind.

“Funny thing is I’ve had three husbands also. My adolescent husband abandoned me along with the truth, dignity and the American Way. He chose the past also, where he was someone special. He burned the truth as a sacrifice on the altar of his self-indulgence. He grew like a pimple on my butt. So incredibly annoying and demanding.  Just like with my dad dilemma, I fell into God’s loving arms, exhausted and shattered. Again, My God Jesus walked as a husband with me, filling in the abyss until Chuck and I started the sequels to our first marriages.

“Chuck is the good sheriff who shows up and brings order in the bad cowboy town. I was so hopeful that he’d keep growing, sharing in my life, and not just settle for safe streets. That old song plays in my head about standing by me. I need that so much.

“Stand by Me” by Ben E. King
When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
Oh darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me
If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand now by me, stand by me, stand by me-e, yeah
And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand now by me, stand by me, stand by me-e, yeah
Whenever you’re in trouble won’t you stand by me, oh now now stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me
And that’s where I am today, with that old song playing in my exhausted heart. I know God held me in His hands till my True Dad showed up and made it all work. In faith I have to believe He is doing the same with my True Love.

187. Transitions

Image result for too much luggage pictures at airport and a babySo Grace and the Boo Boo bear had to fly home on Saturday morning. But first there was  a two hour drive to BWI.  Little Leah had been diagnosed with bronchitis the day before. She was having trouble breathing through her nose as she sucked on her binky. Not a good combination. Stu was better after a night’s sleep. It was Grace who was sick now and seriously sleep deprived. The rollicking holiday upper GI flu was raging through her, and we had to get to the airport by 10 a.m. Nothing was working out. Even her sister Erin had reinjured her own ankle while running to catch a train that wound up being late leaving NYC. That required a doctor’s visit on Friday.  Sister Jess was coughing and hacking too. But Grace had the jackpot… Abysinnian Anthrax Flu. It’s hard enough to travel with 100 pounds of checked luggage and a baby and baby stroller, but add acute sickness and five bags of Christmas presents to the mix. See the problem?  How to eat the figurative elephant with a plastic  spoon and a thimble?

Well, the baby presents had to stay at our house. That was an easy decision. However, getting into the car and driving winding, curving roads for an hour to Rte. 15 was ugly. Nothing felt right as she sat doubled over next to me, throwing up into zip lock bags while Stu tried to comfort the fussing Leah in the back of our tiny Honda Civic. That space is small to begin with, but when you add a puking mom and crying baby, well, it started to feel like I was one of the famed Chilean miners two miles underground, without food or water, running out of air and way too close to bodily functions. Tension congealed in the cabin, thick and viscous. I drove as fast I could. If I focused on the task of safely speeding down the interstate while rubbing Grace’s back, I would not have to process the agony gushing out of her periodically. Thank God, Leah slept for most of an hour in the middle of our trip through Hell.

Image result for route 70 baltimore traffic jam pictures

At certain awful moments Grace gasped, “I can’t do this.” My right foot just stepped harder on the accelerator, 80 and 85 mph on Route 70 East. I imagined the Maryland State Trooper pulling me over. I would simply let him or her draw their own conclusions from the emergency room in a phone booth scenario that we were. In times like this I have to shut off my empathy receptors. A switch unconsciously flicks to the off position, like butchering that beautiful deer earlier this month. You can’t maintain that emotional/spiritual connection and do the hard task at hand. The will must override the compassionate heart. The lovely lull was over, Bloggywogs. It was war in a car. I didn’t dare turn on the radio because we had passed the irritation threshold and were running out of oxygen. At her lowest, Grace reacted hostilely to Stu’s comment about a good night’s sleep helping with symptoms.


“Shut UP!” Then, after a moment of silence, “I’m sorry. That was mean.” It was the Absynnian Anthrax Flu demon talking first followed by the daughter I know and love. I felt more and more like Chilean miner #9, Marco, the part time goat herder, wishing I was with the goats right about now instead of slowly clawing for survival on Rte.195.

Leah woke up agitated and began crying again. Stu ran through his empty box of baby management tricks too quickly. Grace hissed out, “Sing to her. It doesn’t matter what your singing voice sounds like!”

Well, Stu complied and sang, “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round…. the baby on the bus goes whaaa, whaaa, whaaa, whaaaa, whaaaa, whaaaaaa….” but it was no good. Somehow the airport had moved a good ten miles farther east and we were going to explode from the extreme cabin pressure.

Stu was learning what I’d learned decades ago:  when the sickness and stress bubbles are erupting like champagne and battery acid in a Styrofoam cup, keep your head down and mouth shut. Nothing, I repeat, Nothing you say can possibly help. Even though Stu had trained to swim out of a submerged helicopter in pitch black water without freaking out,  he was not skilled in domestic warfare in a car. He had no chance.

The transit from one place to another was in full raging swing. From home that isn’t home any longer, to a place that is but not for long… Ft. Rucker, Alabama. From routine to controlled chaos. From formerly familiar to nearly hallucinogenic. From hard to impossible. Civilian reality to military mundanity. Those were just a few of the transitions whirling about the loaded down cherry red Civic with tan interior. Pressurized like an overinflated set of steel radial tires. From sick to well and back again. From pleasured expectation to sore butt reality with no rest stops in between.

We finally got to the departures ramp and circle at the terminal….Southwest, United, Air Tran, Delta. “Oh, Thank God!”  I ran in and procured a wheel chair for Grace. Stu hired a skycap to haul two huge bags and three small ones while he put Leah in her folding stroller. The problem was this:  there was no one left to push Grace in her wheelchair. I could not stay because the cops were ushering motorists away from the curb as soon as possible. I hugged her goodbye and exchanged “I love you”. She felt frail and small again, like a little girl. She leaned on the wheelchair and slogged forward toward the automatic doors where Stu was checking in the mammoth bags.

I pulled away breathing hard and deep, wishing I could take her pain and pressure off her shoulders, knowing full well that such things are what carve parents out of soapstone. Love sacrifices. True. And you never stop parenting. Amen.