Saturday, April 25, 2009


"Life is mostly froth and bubble;/Two things stand like stone:/Kindness in another’s trouble, /Courage in our own." -- Adam Lindsay Gordon
Every time Jack walks past my kitchen sink he stops, points up and says “Bubbles.” This began one time when I was carrying him and on a whim skimmed off a handful of soap suds and blew into the mound. As the bits of bubbles scattered, he giggled. Jack’s laughter sounds like bubbles of joy—genuine and full of delight. So, being sensible people, we try to make him laugh whenever we can.
Recently Joe and Andrea went out for the afternoon and left Joey and Jack with us – the delighted grandparents. The usual “bubble” laughter developed into Joey and Jack playing at the sink. They quickly became soaked, so while their clothes were in the dryer, we let the boys get even more wet. Much fun and hilarity ensued.
Now when Jack toddles past the sink, points and says “Bubbles, his expectations are much higher. This week we went outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. Joey wanted to hunt “guanas” by which he means “iguanas” or more accurately the little blue-striped skinks that scamper around the perimeter of my house. We started by searching under the flower pots. Joey looks at the dark, wet patch beneath, “Just centipedes there.” While Jack points and says, “bee,” his word for bugs, specifically ants which in his quiet, quick way he is good at catching. If we found a worm one of the boys picked this up and put it in the plastic container into which we hoped to house a “guana.”
Next we looked under rocks. Jack can say rock and he likes to lay his hand on each one while saying “hot.” Sometimes they are hot from the sun and this he remembers from other hunts in the back yard. Under the rocks we find mainly worms and soon our plastic container has lots of squirming worms, plant leaves, sticks and flowers, both of which Jack can also proudly name.
Over by the steps to the basement stand 3 flagstone steps. I lift one of these up and Joey shouts, “guana!” Jack says “fish,” as my hand shoots out to catch it. I manage to cover it with my hand and after several tries, pick it up and drop it into Joey’s hand. “Fish,” Jack says laughing.
A friend recently worried aloud that she might not have enough funds to buy her grandchildren everything she had in her imaginative mind to give them. It is fun to buy children and grandchildren delightful things, it is a blessing that the Lord provides for our needs. But we make our children and grandchildren rich by spending time with them. At the high school where I teach, one of the seniors was given the privilege of speaking to the student body at chapel. He’s an exceptional person, rich in talent. He described the way that he and his grandfather used to “play” the piano. The grandfather challenged the child, who is now a brilliant pianist, “to make a sound like rain.” One can imagine the hours of creative play; coins plinking in a child’s piggy bank.
My husband remembers that his father came to nearly every baseball and football practice and every game he played as a child and teenager. Though sometimes the “constructive criticism” was hard for my husband to bear without resentment, in the end he gained much. By being there, his father showed him how to live – showed him the value of commitment, of discipline. This gift from his father helped to make my husband both generous and confident. Someone was standing behind him, beside him, someone wiser and genuinely interested, someone who chose to spend time with him rather than any of the other distractions available.
I have some things from my mother that I cherish, but the riches she gave me are these: she taught me to see color, to watch nature and love it, to garden, to sew. She taught me to see, love and create beauty. These skills have made my life rich. I inherited no cash, no single item from my grandparents, but they taught me to cook. My grandmother taught me the skills – the delicate hand needed for handling pastry, the instinct for blending flavors, the ability to stand for hours cooking, cleaning up. My grandfather remembered every meal he ate and described them each with mouth-watering detail – “milk so rich it was flecked with butter… the freshest, red tomato sprinkled with crunchy salt… biscuits so high and hot they looked like volcanoes…” so vivid as to awaken a growling hunger within. He indulged my sisters and me with appreciation, giving us confidence. We would mix peanut butter, syrup, spices and who knows what in a big metal bowl and Grandpa would taste it, close his eyes and sigh. “Did you put vanilla in that, girls? Ummmm.” Every dessert tastes better with a bit of vanilla; this I believe deep in my soul.
Now this week, Joey, Jack and I embellished our lizard’s plastic container with some water, some pebbles, some dirt and lots more flowers and leaves. The lizard looks tinier, its black body slick and blue-striped. The boys are careful with it and when Andrea comes to retrieve them, Jack says “fish” pointing and Joey announces, “I’m going to borrow this ‘guana’ from Grannie’s house.” Andrea admires the lizard and the little temporary home the boys have created for it. But then she reminds them of something they’ve been reading about animal habitats. Won’t the lizard die if taken away from his natural habitat? Joey remembers this concept, nodding his head with a wise understanding that belies his three years. “You let the ‘guana’ out the back door, Grannie,” he tells me, “when Jack and I go home.” I agree to this and suggest that we can look for it the next time they visit. This is a bright and cheerful prospect to all three of us and once again, Jack happily says, “fish.”
Their next visit was spent searching for that “guana.” It had rained; the air felt cold, the grass wet and after looking all over the yard twice, we concluded that the lizard must be still sleeping or waiting for the sun to come out. Inside we trooped, the boys’ hands muddy; Jack has dirt in his hair, Joey a smudge of something along the side of his cheek.
So, we made bubbles in the sink! I set the lovely old kitchen chairs from my mother’s kitchen “toe to toe” so that neither boy could fall off the side. Valerie made them laugh and giggle and shriek with delight by cupping soapy hands and blowing enormous, trembling bubbles. Joey used my sponge as a raft for the plastic people and soldiers. Then Jack needed a sponge raft so he could make his Gi-Joe’s go “ni-night” as he says, kissing each one and lying him down on the sponge that’s floating through the bubbly lake in my sink. What a lovely way to take a nap, I muse, watching the Gi-Joes snooze as Jack repeats lots of his words – “Jo-Joe, ni-night, bubbles.” I understand that he is describing the scene to me and feel that he’s said it all. And by the end of the morning, not only were the boys and their toys clean, but my kitchen floor had been provided with a much needed wash.

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