Little Things I'm Liking Lately

Morning meditation
The hollow sound my dog’s head makes when I pat his snout
Coloring with my kids
The burnt sienna crayon
Toasted pecans
Watching my kids eat noodles
Those big rubber bands that come on bunches of broccoli
Accidental alliteration
Crossing things off my to-do list
Listening to kids try to count past their range
Radio stations run by college kids
Taking off my shoes after a long day
The view of my kids’ noses pressed up against the kitchen window as I pull into the driveway
Grace at family meals
The glow of our porch light at dusk
Freshly bathed kids in pajamas
Reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom out loud
Stealing a date with my wife after the kids are asleep
That first ten seconds of stretching out in bed

Waiting

It’s this time of year that I post my annual “Bah humbug” message to all those premature Christmas-ers out there. It’s not time for Christmas music yet, Christmas decorations in October, yada yada, blah blah, Bah Humbug.

But as of 5:30 this last Friday morning, standing outside of a Radio Shack in my neighborhood waiting for a chance to buy a ####### (no peeking, Girzilla!) at a greatly reduced price, I lost my moral high ground. I can no longer be One To Talk.

I guess that’s a good thing. Another chunk of my wall of pride knocked to the ground. Despite years of my own high-minded refusal to be “one of those people” who stand in the cold waiting to rush into the stores like cattle and fight for the doorbuster items, there I found myself doing just that.

The person behind me in line that morning was a friend from church. We acted like two AA oldtimers who bumped into each other at a neighborhood bar. “Er… I don’t usually… I wouldn’t normally.. uh.. my kid.. you know how it is.”

The Giftmas season is upon us. And I am content this year to acknowledge myself as a full participant. I am much more at peace with the early lights, trees, and tinsel now that I can recognize Giftmas — a totally separate but similar and overlapping holiday — when I see it. I can still set aside part of my heart for Advent and wait for the real Christmas that starts just as Giftmas is ending.

In this overlap between Giftmas and Advent, there is a tension in waiting for something when it seems everyone else around me is already enjoying its fruits. How often do we have to wait in faith for something that we see people all around us enjoying? When I was younger and poorer, I got to watch my richer friends enjoying possessions that I had to wait for years to earn. It was not my time for that. When I was in the early years of fathering a young Girlzilla, I envied my single friends’ and my empty nester friends’ disposable incomes and vacations and Saturday morning sleeping in. It was not my time for that either. I have many single friends who are struggling to lead chaste lives, engaged people admirably saving themselves for their upcoming marriage. They live in the midst of a culture that definitely does not wait to enjoy those fruits. It is not their time either, but they wait in the presence of those who don’t wait or don’t have to. Talk about resting in the tension.

I’m not saying this to condemn those who are not waiting for a particular thing at a particular time. I’m just saying that there are seasons in our lives, my life, when it is just not time yet. And you have to live with the reality that many others all around you are not in that season. Advent is just that sort of waiting to me.

What am I waiting for? What do I want for Christmas? Why the hell was I standing outside a Radio Shack at 5:30 in the morning the day after Thanksgiving? I’m not really sure. Good thing I have a few weeks to sort it all out.

A new found treasure.

“Now, there are many, many people in the world, but relatively few with whom we interact, and even fewer who cause us problems. So, when you come across such a chance for practicing patience and tolerance, you should treat it with gratitude. It is rare. Just as having unexpectedly found a treasure in your own house, you should be happy and grateful to your enemy for providing that precious opportunity.”

-His Holiness the Dalai Lama

I’ll try to remember this. In our new position in our parish, many of our fellow parishoners are very happy and supportive. And some, I understand, are less so. So what an opportunity to practice patience, tolerance, and not being defensive. When we accepted the Adult Ministry position, we promised to minister to all adults, not just the ones who like us back. So His Holiness’ words above will be a useful reminder.

At least we didn't die

“Let us rise up and be thankful,
for if we didn’t learn a lot today,
at least we learned a little,
and if we didn’t learn a little,
at least we didn’t get sick,
and if we got sick,
at least we didn’t die;
so, let us be thankful.”

-The Buddha

At least we didn’t die, hmmm. The Buddha never had Thanskgiving Dinner at our house. Turkey Comas for everybody! Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Back at me

I’ve said before that the thing I love most about blogging is the connections. A person who but for God’s Grace and the Internet I would never have seen much less talked to sent me back some words that I put in her comments section lo last January. She was converting her site and came across this comment I left:

“About your Jan 26th entry…
I spent my twenties grasping for Happiness, Wisdom, and Significance only to realize that the bastards dissolve as soon as you clutch them. I think that’s how one is supposed to spend one’s twenties. I wanted to save the world, be trusted, good, right, and strong.
As my thirties come to an end, I am realizing with a mix of resentment and assignation that it is through pain, through disappointment, through weakness, that I acquire the ability to be compassionate, thus significant (just not with a capital S.)
I am becoming that ant. I carry my crumb on my back, feeding those I come across. I am small again and so the world is big once more.
But, I think you have to strive and climb for a while to appreciate that fork in the road after the inevitable descent. All roads lead downward eventually, to a choice. Choose the road to compassion over the road to bitterness when the time comes.
Small is large, Death is Life, Weakness is Strength.
Isaiah said “every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made plain.” He was talking about us. All of us.
Not very assuring words for an aspiring person like yourself, but you and I both can take comfort in the fact that we are where we are, not for a reason, but that’s where we are. All judgement is Maya.

Turns out that it’s something I need to hear yet again. At a time when I am tempted to be inflated with my own importance. And so the Internet holds me accountable to walk my talk. I love it. My sermon for the day comes from a former me.

The Pencil Game

Petunia loves to play what we call “The Pencil Game.” This is a random art game where we each take turns picking a color from dad’s humongous box of colored pencils and drawing a shape on a common piece of drawing paper. There are (usually) no rules other than take turns and take care of the art supplies.

I’ve been using some form of collaborative art process as a kids activity for many years now. It teaches taking turns, colors, shapes, and general creativity. When Girlzilla was just a wee monster, we’d pass back and forth a drawing book and take turns adding critters, faces, doodles and the like to a drawing. The drawing gets crazier and crazier as you go which is the whole idea. With Fresh and Petunia, we just scribble. Some days’ results look like Cy Twombly on crack.

What I’d like to do is think up some random art games that get incrementally more complicated as our kids developmentally progress. Maybe teach some math skills along with art play and colors. Does anyone out there do that kind of thing? Does anyone know of any resources that might help?

I guess I could make up a bunch of silly art games, but it’d be nice to see what other people do.

Speaking of silly art games, here’s a scribbly art toy that is pretty fun. Maybe I’ll try to make a “pencil game” out of it.

Date Idea

Okay, here’s my agenda for an afternoon date:

I am wanting to go see the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit at the MFA.
Then stroll over to browse the Thornton Dial exhibit.
Cross the street and go see Andrea Zittel’s Critical Space exhibit at the CAM.
And right before dinner, we can whet our appetites with the Art Guys’ Food Sculpture at the Art League Houston.
And since we’re over that direction, do dinner at Daily Review, our favorite cafe.

And then we can be home in time to put the kids to bed and read them stories.

Sounds great to me. I just need to figure out when I can get a whole afternoon off, with babysitting, for Heidi and I.

If you’re in Houston, feel free to steal my date idea. I may not get to use it before some of those exhibits turn into pumpkins.

You cannot teach the value of life by taking life

As companion piece to my previous post, I’ll blog the recent USCCB call to abolish the death penalty:

“It is time for our nation to abandon the illusion that we can protect life by taking life. When the state, in our names and with our taxes, ends a human life despite having non-lethal alternatives, it suggests that society can overcome violence with violence. The use of the death penalty ought to be abandoned not only for what it does to those who are executed, but what it does to all of society.” — US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Nov 16th.

The Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty has a newly launched website with advocacy resources.