Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Pause Game"

My son John, age 7, is a very intense person. When he is engaged in something, whatever it is, he is in there 300%. When he plays "Yankee Doodle" on the piano he plays it up and down the keyboard in every octave, then tests out a variation on the black keys. Sometimes he'll do it all as fast as he can. He reminds me a lot of my younger brother, Mike, who when he was a kid used to wander around the house all the time totally in his own little world. Mike was a sports freak (still is, I think). When watching a game on TV he would flop around on the floor, a basket-case of overblown emotion, his life hanging in the balance of what his team (a Chicago team) would do. He would sob and cry furiously when they lost.

John reminds me of Mike in how he thumps around the house, making sound effects to the imaginary battles going on in his head. With Mike it was more sports-oriented. He'd be walking spasmodically around the house, occasionally taking a tumble or a dive (purposely), mumbling under his breath a very soft sounding sportscaster sort of sound, like a radio turned way down while a game is being played. Then, getting louder it became audible,"...and, and, he shoots--and, he SCORES!!!!" Perhaps a somersault would follow.

John is just beginning to get into sports. For him it's always been fighting. Warfare--and that's what my bigger boys always loved too. I think they inherited it from their dad, who introduced them to games like "Brave and Noble Knights" and built castles with them from an early age. Since John could just toddle around he's been shooting--everything. He would make shooting sound effects from morning til night every day. Sometimes it's guns, sometimes bows-and-arrows (which are usually plastic coat hangers). I have spent weeks of my life, literally, yelling at John to stop spitting (the sound effects).

So now that he has started watching sports with his dad it is nice to have his imaginary warfare resembling something different than blasting people to bits constantly. Last night as he was going to bed he announced happily, " I know what I am going to play tomorrow--my football game!" So now he really is starting to remind me of Mike.

Anyway, whatever John is doing, he is doing it with gusto. Whether it is building with blocks, reading a book, or playing computer games. When he is focused in on something it is very difficult to pry him away. One thing I spotted immediately (from his having older brothers) is his complete obsession with video games. He is one of these kids who gets hopelessly addicted and becomes like a junkie--lying, cheating, anything to play more nintendo. So, of course, we had to take it away. I really think he was relieved. It's too much pressure on a kid to expect him to get a grip on that, really.

However, because of his experience with video games, John knows what "pause game" means. He knows about the pause button. So one day when he was wildly entrenched in some activity, and I needed him to come eat his peanut butter sandwich, (though he was not playing video--just a board game or something) I said, "Come on, John, Pause Game." That phrase instantly broke his concentration. He understood my lingo. He got it then that he could come back to his activity later. He "paused the game."

So now "Pause Game" has become a common phrase in our household. In fact, John and Daniel can be heard saying it many times throughout the day, "Pause Game!" Whenever I need anyone around here to stop what they're doing and listen to me, I just say, "Pause Game," or even just "Pause." It's part of our family-speak.

But you know, we have been having lots of stuff going on around here lately. I mean the grown-ups--my husband and I. We needed to buy a new dishwasher. The tires on my car were shot. Our telephone was broken. We still don't have a flatscreen TV. And several other items could be added to that list. But because we pretty much had to buy the dishwasher, as the door is so rusted out it just flops open and could hurt someone, and one of my tires was completely flat, we decided to subscribe to consumerreports.com.

Well, next thing you know we are lining up items from here to Kansas that we want to buy. Now we have the make & model of everything. We know which is the best dishwasher, the best phone, the best TV, the best tires...and it's just making me itchy because we need to go to all these different stores to look at these things. And right now I can't drive (long story). So the only way to go to these places and look at all this stuff is after my husband comes home from work, and after we eat dinner, and then we have to schlep the kids along...or on the weekend.

Saturday the weather was horrible. And the kids were kind of sick. So, I was frustrated. There was Sunday, but, lately I've been really convicted about keeping the Sabbath. It is one of the ten commandments. I mean, I know we're not under the law, but the commandments are good. I don't know of another one people would so casually blow off. Just because it doesn't seem a big deal to us doesn't mean it's not a big deal to God. And that's just it. I kept reading it over and over in my daily Bible reading: In Deuteronomy 12,in Isaiah 56. I knew that I should not be transacting this business on the Lord's Day. I knew that, for me, for this time.

So I wrestled a bit with Him about it. Like John, I had my mind set on what I wanted to do. I was intent on getting those things I thought I needed and did not want to wait for some unknown future time. But thankfully the wrestling match was not a hard one. I gave in pretty easily. The blessing I received was complete peace and contentment, no longer arguing with myself about the whole mess.

Sunday the kids were kind of sick so we didn't even go to church-- so they wouldn't spread their germs in those little closed-in Sunday school classrooms. However we still could have gone shopping, but we didn't. Even when I got kind of bored. But something neat happened. My husband finally got around to fixing that broken phone. Saved $65. And there are all those other purchases that we "paused" on, until maybe a better time. (Maybe never).

Also I prayed about a problem I had with a friend, but didn't want to have to confront her with. I got this overwhelming peace to where I knew the Lord was going to handle it for me. And He did! Got the email this morning. I feel that God is smiling on me. Not that He has to, or that it's a reward. He just does that sometimes. Like when he lets me see a cardinal AND a bluejay at the same time. I feel like He was telling me, on Sunday, Pause Game, and see what Life is really like.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Aunts: Part Two

My Aunt Jakie is a crazy character. I don't think she'd mind my saying that. I think I have a little bit of her zaniness, but she is much more forthcoming with it. She is a very exuberant person, can emcee like a pro. I saw her in action at a huge surprise birthday party she had for her husband, my Uncle Gary. She was quite hilarious and entertaining.

She has white hair which she doesn't dye, big deep blue eyes, and these really neat expressive eyebrows. I can't explain them, they are really arching in an angular way that makes a unique beauty and interesting face. Her daughter has them, and she is a total knockout. My son Tim has Jakie eyes. The blueness and the expression, but his eyebrows are really bushy. Oftentimes when I look at him I think of her.

Jakie has been in a barbershop quartet for years. They are very good; I've heard them. They travel around all over the world and win competitions. Once at Christmastime I wandered into a fancy little dress shop in my town, and there they were, singing for a holiday event!

She is also a fabulous cook. She makes the kind of food that is just so good and gorgeous looking that you can't not eat it. The funny thing is, she claims not to be creative at all with cooking. She says she just follows the recipes, which is really kind of funny, because she definitely has this rebellious streak to her. I find that I can never follow a recipe without changing it here and there, to make it somehow my own. Jakie has such a strong personality, and yet, she has found a secret in cooking that I resist.

She also has cats and dogs. Well, usually just one dog and a cat or two. Even though she has allergies. She has been a speech therapist most of her life. She is very generous and sweet and gregarious. She has two children and now three grandchildren and she is very involved with all of them. She sends my kids elaborate and fun gifts, which is totally unnecessary, but she likes to. She's a wonderful funny lady.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


You know how you have these random recurring memories of certain experiences in your life? Like something that happened in childhood, and the thought will just pop up over and over in the course of your life in different situations. And I'm not talking about anything traumatic, just small occurrences.

I have this one where I am in a swimming lesson. I must have been about eight years old. Every summer my mom would sign me up for swimming lessons at New Trier, East or West I couldn't say, don't remember. I would walk down to the bus stop and a bunch of us kids would ride along together, bouncing in the springy seats, singing corny camp songs like "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall," "Found a Peanut," and "Old Hogan's Goat." Fortunately I had this experience because I never did end up going to camp.

Anyway, the memory is not about the bus, or even about swimming, really. It is about being in "the zone." The swimming pool was huge and there were groups of kids clustered all the way around it, according to their different skill levels. I had made it up to the last of the beginner-ish groups, the one just before moving up to the diving board. I am thinking I was not too anxious to get to that rank. I had never been on a diving board and was not in a hurry to jump off of one.

The way you moved up, as I recall, was that some sort of adult evaluators would walk around the edge of the pool, observing the swimmers. When they saw someone they felt was ready to advance they would point them out, somewhat like judges at a competition, I guess. (I've never competed at anything either.)

Well, one day in my comfortable and appropriate group, swimming away, I felt the presence of one of the "judges" shadowing overhead. I just had a couple of strokes to the end of the pool and suddenly, I felt myself enter "the zone" of completely graceful and elegant swimming. My arms curved perfectly as my fingers almost imperceptibly parted the water, my legs gently bent at the knees--not too much--just perfectly. I had never swum so beautifully in all my life, and it only lasted a moment, literally. It just happened at that particular time when the grader was watching. Immediately he pointed me out for promotion as of course I knew he probably would.

I was proud, happy that such a thing had occurred while someone was actually watching. And then, the terror struck. Oh no!! I was going to have to go to the diving board! And I don't remember much after that. The memory is about being in "the zone," and feeling like an impostor because it really was only for a couple seconds I could actually pull it off. Or so I thought.

It reminds me of Peter, when he walks out on the water with Jesus, until he starts freaking out and thinks,I'm guessing,"What am I doing? I can't do this!" Then he begins to sink. It's not exactly like that, but maybe it is somewhat; in that the abilities I have are given to me by God, and when I see myself exceeding my wildest expectations of what I think I can do, I panic, and fall out of "the zone." Hmm, I am pondering, what does this have to do with walking with Jesus? I am not prepared to answer that just now.

Anyway, a very similar thing happens to me when playing the piano. I have never put the time into practicing enough to be consistently as good as I can at random moments when I fall into "the zone" of truly artistic piano playing. But when it happens, I inevitably find my mind wandering back to that swimming pool, and how absolutely fulfilling it is to feel your whole being working together seamlessly, gloriously, to express something inexpressible, a beauty that is greater than what you are actually capable of--"the zone." And then terror strikes and I make a mistake, like waking up from a beautiful dream. Or maybe falling out of bed.

Like I said, I have never competed, never stuck to anything long enough or put my heart and soul into anything to find out what it might be like to actually spend more time in this "zone." I guess that is called being an "underachiever." But at the age of 47, I am not so much afraid anymore of trying as I am of not trying.