Sunday, October 18, 2009

Breaking the Sixth Commandment

In Victorian times, the period of mourning depended on the closeness of the relation. Think this way: the entirely-black outfit, chin to toes; no going to balls or festive events; not leaving the house at all except for church. And previously mentioned, the duration of this deep mourning depended on the relationship. If your husband died, it would last for 18-24. If one of your parents died, 12 months. 8-12 months for a sibling or grandparent, 9 months for a child, 6 weeks-6 months for an aunt, uncle or cousin. After the proper time of mourning has been observed, you may gradually add color back into your wardrobe and begin to attend social events, always keeping your loss in mind. It would not do to rush into such things. Like the strumpet in the below picture did. And consider where it left her: lonely and desperate.

Apparently in these modern times, the period of mourning for an Australian Bearded Dragon is 37 hours. And you don't have to wear black at all. After that time, it is perfectly acceptable to go to the nearest pet store and find a suitable replacement.

Don't think, however, that choosing to do so is a sign that you do not feel grieved at the loss of your pet. You have gone through the stages of grief, however abbreviated, as outlined below.
  • Stage One: Shock and Denial--This is what your mother expressed when you came into her bedroom at 6:43 on Saturday morning to announce that Fyreborne had indeed died in the night. It could be that she reacted thus due to lack of sleep, but for our purposes, we will consider stage one duly met.
  • Stage Two: Pain and Guilt--This period of intense questioning happened after your mother woke up enough to digest what you had announced. This is when you discussed whether it was your fault that the lizard had somehow found a toy rubber lizard and eaten it, later extruding it from his nether-regions. Your tears watered your mother's pillow as you struggled with culpability, but soon dried as you shifted all blame for the ingestion to your sly younger brother who had always had a fixation with Fyreborne.
  • Stage Three: Anger and Bargaining--Well, there was not so much anger as bargaining in this stage. This is when you tearfully asked your mother whether she had been sincere when she told you BEFORE the purchase of Fyreborne that if this pet died an untimely death, there would be no more pets in your household. You had already prepared an arsenal of reasons that this death was not your fault, but she shushed you with a hug and you let the sense of reprieve flood your thin grief-wracked body.
  • Stage Four: Depression and Loneliness--After your mom finally stumbled out of bed and began to make her way through her first bleary cup of coffee, she noticed you sitting pensively in her favorite chair. She held you and rubbed your back as you blinked back tears. These tears simmered most of the morning, always threatening to overflow, as your loss began to sink in. Every time you walked past Fyreborne's tank, you felt a pang. Finally, after the fourteenth time she had asked you how you were doing, you told your mom that you didn't want to talk about him any more.
  • Stage Five: The Upward Turn--Your mom told you that Fyreborne needed to be buried, and you shrouded his frail body carefully with a long skein of toilet paper before digging a shallow grave in his favorite basking spot in mom's flower bed, murmuring goodbyes as you shoveled the dirt over his body. Strangely, after doing this, you began to feel better.
  • Stage Six: Reconstruction and Working Through--When you came back into the house, you cleaned out Fyreborne's tank and put his favorite climbing logs into the garbage can. You decided you needed to take a break before getting another lizard. Then your mom told you about daddy's surprise plan. (Sometimes she has a hard time keeping a secret when it's really good.)
  • Stage Seven: Acceptance and Hope--All night you deliberated between the leopard gecko and the three-legged bearded dragon (and half price! Your dad is nothing if not frugal) you had seen at the pet store a few nights before when purchasing what had been Fyreborne's last meal (not the rubber lizard; an appetizing treat of tender young crickets). It took a trip to the store to make your decision, and you came home an hour later with your new friend, the three legged dragon, currently un-named, who, despite his tender youth, has already shown himself to be a fighter: he survived an attack at the pet store by a ferocious older beardie who bit his foot off before the keepers could pry them apart. This young beardie, only two months old, has great potential for longevity in this (possibly) doomed household.
And thus, although Fyreborne will remain on his pinnacle in your heart as the best pet ever, you have found solace in this new pet. Already, differences have been noted, aside from the obvious foot-less-ness. Newbie doesn't gobble his food like Fyreborne did. As well, the new beardie is less content to rest on your shoulder as you walk around the house. You, however, hold high hopes that this is a learned behavior that your new pet will pick up after a few days or weeks of handling. And you would like to officially rebut your sister's suggestion that purchasing a new pet so soon after the death of its predecessor is not remotely like adultery. Nothing like it at all.

Indeed, all hints of possible adultery aside, we have high hopes for this tiny new inhabitant in House Genthner. We pray he lives a long and fruitful life, and we all solemnly pledge to keep lizards of rubber far from the reach of his agile pink tongue.

Fyreborne Genthner
June 2009-October 17, 2009
Rest in Peace

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Another reason on my list... visit Paris.
I don't know if the books are finding me, or if I'm finding them, but I just can't get enough of this city! One of the perks of my friendship with Ron, editor of this magazine, is that he also writes reviews for Library Journal, so he sometimes sends me books he's reviewed (pre-publication, folks!) that he thinks I might like. He was dead right with this one.
It's Rebecca Stott's second novel, and it's set in post-Napoleonic Paris. The protagonist, Daniel Connor, is a naive young Englishman sent by his professor to study natural science with the masters at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, where Daniel has hopes to work directly with M. Cuvier himself. He has been brought up with a firm faith in God and the Genesis story of creation, a belief that is shaken on the coach ride to Paris when he discusses natural history with an alluring older woman. She talks about the near-agelessness of coral, of the stories those polyps could tell if they had words to do it, of how Paris itself used to be a seabed above which monstrous plesiosaurs and other fishes used to swim before one day one of them crawled forth from the water and exchanged its fins for feet.
Daniel tells her about the rare corals he has in the knapsack beside him, along with his notebooks and a letter of introduction to M. Cuvier. They talk long into the night, and just outside the outskirts of Paris, Daniel falls asleep. When he awakens, he finds that his knapsack has been stolen, all except his wallet which has been tucked inside his jacket.
With no letter of introduction, no notebooks, no rare specimens for his mentor, Daniel thinks of leaving Paris for home. But he decides to stay a bit longer, talk to a detective, and search for another glimpse of that bewitching woman, the woman who probably stole his treasures.
Daniel finally does find Lucienne Bernard, or rather she finds him, and somehow, he discovers he would rather NOT tell the police detective about their meeting. Or the next. Or the next. And soon, Daniel finds himself caught in a web of deception where nothing is what he once thought it was.
I found myself caught in that same web as I read. Rebecca seamlessly weaves the strands of history with adventure and romance, and I learned much about Paris in the beginning of the nineteenth century. But I never felt like I was being schooled. It was an education that I was pleased to recieve, as I learned about the origins of street names in Paris, about the love the Parisians had for their lost Emperor, about the cutthroat world of scientific discovery in the decades before Darwin, about the night life of Paris in 1815.
Read it. I promise you'll enjoy it. And you'll certainly learn something.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Words of Affirmation

She was precocious even when she was still in diapers. I'm quite certain her pediatrician (crazy Dr. Hess--don't get me started) must have written an article about her amazing little patient, who, at her one year checkup, could make over thirty different animal noises on command. Dog, cat, cow? Easy. How about fish and squirrel and elephant? She knew them all. And before long, little Lauren was speaking intelligible words and soon sentences. Heck, this creative kid even made up a few words of her own. Go ahead: look mastus up in the dictionary. You'll see it's the answer to every question that begins with the word why. And secubaba, that's in there too. Can't remember what it means by now, but I'm sure it was something amazing.

Her journey through elementary school was equally stellar, and I always enjoyed hearing her teachers laud her praises. But I must admit: I had a few niggling doubts. Did they speak highly of her because they knew her and they knew us (after all, Clint teaches at the same school)? Or was she really as exceptional as we believed her to be?

At home, we see her grace, her maturity, her humor, her love for language and music. But was she really that amazing at school too? And even if she had impressed her teachers at Trinity, where she was the child of a teacher, probably as comfortable with her place there as she is at home, how would she act in a new environment where nobody knew her? Yes, that's right: high school. A big city high school. (Well, is 1800 students big to you? It is to me...)

So last night I headed out to her parent-teacher conferences with Clint and (I won't lie) a bit of doubt in my heart. What would her teachers have to say about her? I'd seen some of her assignments, and they seemed good. She had said, though, that she felt shy, that teachers often didn't notice her in class.

But as we spent an hour meeting with one teacher after another, our fears were laid to rest. Okay, maybe just my fears. Clint doesn't really worry about these things. Each one said basically the same thing: We love having Lauren in class; she is bright and fun; she seems to love learning; she is so well prepared; she never misses an assignment; she's a great writer; she has wonderful insight into the discussion; we can always count on Lauren to have the right answer. And her grades? 3 A pluses, 1 A, one A minus.

Can you feel my pride? Is it transmitting over the digital waves to you? Five weeks ago, none of these people had a clue who my daughter was, and in those few short weeks, she has managed to find a place for herself in a brand new (at first, very frightening and overwhelming) environment. And not only has she found her place, she has made it comfortable enough that she has shown these five strangers who she truly is.

I wish I could take all the credit (well, half--shared with THE MAN), but I don't really think it's us. It's God. It's God who created this amazing treasure He gave us, who gifted us with a daughter who amazes us daily and who brings a glow of pride to my face every time I talk about her. I know I didn't do anything to deserve her. It's all grace, people, and it's a grace I am blessed to bask in.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Miraculous Recovery of Jonah E. Genthner

Remember that part in ET where Elliot fakes sick by holding a thermometer up to the light bulb near his bed? When I first saw that scene, I thought that was so diabolical, a kid feigning illness to stay home from school. I guess it never crossed my mind (I know, I know: I was--actually, I still AM--one of those weirdos who actually LIKE school) to try to actually GET OUT of school by pretending to be ill.
Unfortunately, my children have not inherited my love for education. I can't begin to count the number of times Lauren or Jonah has begged to stay home in a croaking voice, pleading a serious case of sore throat/upset tummy/plaguing cough, only to have a full recovery before lunch.
Today was one of those days. Jonah complained last night of a sore throat and sniffles (now that I think about it, he was just setting up his plan). This morning, I had to use a crow bar to pry him out of bed, but he seemed fine, so I retreated to my room to get dressed. As I was poking my arm through my shirt, a timid knock sounded on my door. "Mom?" a weak shaking voice called. "Mom?" It was Jonah, looking unbearably pathetic. "My throat," he rasped, "it really hurts. I think I need to stay home."
My reaction was pure and simple: I caved. Just like I do every time. What kind of mother sends her sick child to school, right? Even after twenty-three miraculous recoveries, I caved. "But I can't stay home with you, hon," I said. "You'll have to stay home by yourself."
He nodded slowly. "I can do that," he said.
"Go back to bed, sweetie," I crooned, smoothing down his hair.
I went back into my room to grab a pair of socks and that's when it hit me: today was the trifecta dentist appointment. All three kids in one shot. If Jonah missed his appointment, it might be months before we could reschedule him.
I popped back into his room and explained he'd have to go to school after all. But as he got showered and dressed, I reconsidered. I have plenty of sick days, and if I stayed home WITH him, I could pick Lauren up from school and take her to the dentist myself without having to ask
someone to do my chauffeuring for me. I called a sub.
And guess what? Jonah recovered in record time. Before nine, he was dressed, kicking a ball around the family room, asking me if we could go to the pet store. It's a miracle, and I am so so grateful that he had such a remarkably brief illness.
Of course, I got to stay home today, too, with my not-so-sick boy. And you know what? Sometimes it's nice to take a day like this and get some things done. I finished a sewing project and started a new book, caught up on some of my favorite blogs, and I still have time to get to the dentist. It's a good day.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Book Review: The Glass Castle

Remember how you felt when you read Angela's Ashes? That's the way Jeannette Walls's memoir The Glass Castle makes you feel. You laugh, you cry, you shake your head in disbelief, and you thank God for what you have.
Jeannette is the second of four children belonging to Rose Mary and Rex Walls. Dad is a brilliant man who is convinced that all politicians are crooked, labor unions are a front for the mob, and the police are part of the gestapo. Therefore, the Walls family rarely lives in one place more than a year, because it doesn't take Rex long after getting a job to lose it, and whatever money he brings home is quickly spent on food and cigarettes and booze. Oh, and Mom's art supplies. Yes, she has a teaching degree, but she only got it to stop her mother from nagging at her, and really she just wants to be an artist. Not a teacher, not a secretary, just a free spirit. And really, not a mother either. Her philosophy of child rearing is that children need to learn to fend for themselves. That's why the book opens with three-year-old Jeannette boiling herself a hot dog and catching her belly on fire. Where was mom? Painting in the other room. When doctors and nurses in the ER questioned precocious little Jeannette about how her parents were caring for her, she said she often cooked her own hot dogs; they were easy to make.
The memoir is told in brief scenes, following the Walls family as they flit from one home to another, sometimes living in a house, but more often living in their car or a rundown shack. Once even an abandoned train depot.
And yet despite the appalling neglect the children face, Jeannette still loves her father. Even though he later cons her out of money and basically prostitutes her one evening, she dwells on all the things he taught her, all the ways he made her childhood magical.
She writes about the games her father played with neighborhood children, having so much fun that kids were more likely to ask if Mr. Walls would come out and play than any of his children. She writes about the Christmas they didn't have any money (ONE of the Christmases) when Rex took each of his children out one by one to sit under the desert stars and offered to give each of them whichever star they wanted. She writes about his brilliant architectural plans for the glass castle he vowed to build the family one day. And she writes.
Jeannette's stories about her mother are less forgiving. Rose Mary was a selfish woman who snuck bites at a King Size Hershey bar when her children had eaten nothing for dinner for two nights running. She sulked about getting a teaching job, complaining that she just wanted to do what SHE wanted to do, often staying in bed until her children roused her, dressed her, and sent her off to work. She didn't keep their house clean, didn't cook regularly, didn't tell their father no when he took the family's money to feed his habits.
The memoir spans the family's journey from the deserts of the Southwest, to California and Phoenix, to West Virginia, and then to New York City. Starting with Lori, the oldest, each of the children fled West Virginia one by one as they grew old enough to survive on their own. And despite their desperate beginnings, three of the four made wonderful lives for themselves as an artist, a writer, and a policeman.

Since finishing the book, I have found myself thinking about the relationship between parents and children. I wonder why a child would continue to love a parent who neglected her, who let her go hungry so often, who stole from her and lied to her and didn't care for her. I wonder about what creates and sustains love. And I have discovered (again) that all the things we think are essential (how many pairs of jeans? shoes? this new gadget or that one? camp and lessons?) really aren't. Now, I'm not saying I'm going to quit my job and toss my family into the van so we can drift across America. But I am saying that time is priceless and infinite, and it is the best gift we can give each other, especially our children. The poor have as many hours as the rich, and they are probably less miserly with their time than the people living in the comfy houses.
Just a thought.