A song for parents

Sometimes, when I tell my kids to put away their toys and I have to repeat myself five times before they actually do, I wonder if they hear anything I say.

And then there are other times when, completely out of the blue, they reference something I said months earlier.  It comes back, that obscure comment I made, and I’m always astonished to discover that the kids not only listen to what I say, they retain it.  It makes me realize that a parent’s words are more powerful than I tend to think.

That’s why I love this song.  It’s  by the incomparable Stephen Sondheim, sung here by the incomparable Bernadette Peters.

Careful the things you say 
Children will listen

Enjoy the music, the singing, and – if you’re a parent – the gentle reminder.

Labor Day and one big soul that everyone’s a part of

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At Mass yesterday, the closing hymn was “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored

That, in turn, got me thinking of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, which I’ll be teaching again this year. (Interesting bit of trivia: It was Steinbeck’s wife Carol who suggested that he use the song lyric as the title.)

And The Grapes of Wrath got me thinking about labor, and Labor Day.

Have you read the book?  If not, I highly recommend it. It’s a book about the dignity of labor and the laborer, as well as a call to justice in the face of worker exploitation.  Italo Calvino once said that “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”  In a post-Citizens United world,  The Grapes of Wrath speaks as powerfully now as it did during the Depression.  (It also has one of the two best endings of any book I’ve ever read.  It weirded me out as a high school student, but now, I’m in awe of what Steinbeck managed to do in one perfect scene.)

And as I sang along with the rest of the congregation and thought about the book,  I found my mind wandering to labor in general.  As much as we (or at least I) like to think of free time as being the real stuff of life, it’s work that makes this world run.  That’s true whether it’s crews building the roads or  migrants picking the crops or moms bathing the kids or  teachers setting up their classrooms for the start of the school year.

Still,  I think it’s fair to say that society as a whole seems to value some work more than others.  I know women who are disparaged for being stay-at-home moms, and we’ve probably all heard people make dismissive comments about the people who work in fast-food restaurants or work as sanitation engineers.  (And then there’s that saying about how those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.  That one makes me nuts.)

Looking at the two young boys on either side of me, I realized how much I care about counteracting those attitudes. I want my kids to grow up to respect all kinds of workers  and all kinds of work  (save, of course, something  like dealing drugs).  Whoever we are and however we earn a living, we can only do our jobs because other people do theirs.  No one is an island;  we’re all part of a complex web of interdependence, one that works best when we all recognize and respect its existence.

As the ex-preacher Jim Casy famously says in The Grapes of Wrath, “Maybe all men got one big soul and everybody’s a part of it.”  (If you read the book in high school, I hope your teacher did the instructional equivalent of putting that line in neon lights.)  And if the book teaches nothing else, it teaches that there is a life-giving power when people remember that.  We all share a common humanity, no matter what kind of work we do, and that’s worth remembering all year long.

I like to pray this way

Savoring life is a powerful form of prayer.  As a working mom, I’m glad about that.  Even if I don’t have time for the kind of prayer I used to do, I can make a point to notice the things around me as I go throughout my day.  The things I see, hear, smell, touch, taste — they point me toward the source of all creation, and I’m always happier when I realize that.

Here are a few of the sensory highlights of the last week.

TOUCH

Yesterday evening, I spent a half- hour throwing footballs with the kids on the front lawn.   It wasn’t easy; there were two boys and two footballs and only one me, so I had to stay on my toes so as not to be whacked in the nose, Marcia-Brady style.  But it was fun, and the feel of the grass under my bare feet — cool, soft, inviting — was intoxicating.  I don’t go barefoot often enough.

SOUND

In the mornings on the way to work, I listen to classical music on the radio (I used to tune into the news, but I’ve realized it doesn’t get me in a good mental place for the start of the day.  Chopin is much better.)   And along with the music, the morning DJ has a wonderfully calming voice.  Call me crazy, but his soothing tones always makes me feel like the day will be just fine, even if I’m running twenty minutes late and have just spilled my coffee on myself.  (It really needs to be a new Beatitude: Blessed are those who bring peace to the commuter.)

SIGHT (and SMELL)

These are the latest offerings from my garden.  Aren’t they something?

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The red one is the Mr. Lincoln I planted earlier this summer.  It seems very contented  and has been blooming profusely.  I feel happy just looking at this gorgeous trinity.  And the smell … no words can do it justice.

Where have you been finding God this week?

If I could pick my own set of superpowers….

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As the mother of two boys, superheroes are often on my mind (and on the floor, and under the table, and wedged between sofa cushions).   This is one of the many discoveries of parenthood; as a kid myself, my own tastes ran more towards Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake than Batman and Spiderman, so the whole Marvel thing is pretty new to me.  But I have to say, there’s something pretty cool about these characters and all their superhuman powers.

And all this leads to an irresistible question: If I myself could possess any  set of superpowers, which ones would I choose? 

Obviously, if this were a real choice I’d go for the big ones, like curing cancer or ending child exploitation or global warming.  But once those powers were firmly established, there are still some secondary superpowers I’d like to have. These are powers that would exist simply to make my life as a working mom a little bit easier.  (I can dream, can’t I?)

Here they are, in no particular order.

*The ability to find an available parking space just by thinking about it, even in the most crowded lot (particularly when a small passenger has just informed that he really REALLY needs to use the toilet).

*Related power: The ability to snap my fingers and clean even the most noxiously disgusting public restroom.

*The power to bilocate (needed for the days when the boys are on vacation and I, alas,  am not.)

*X-ray vision so as to immediately locate the miniscule Lego figure that is lost somewhere in the snarl of our messy house and whose discovery is absolutely critical to a small boy’s happiness. (Couldn’t they make those guys bigger?  Outfit them with  GPS tracking devices? )

*The power to make all airline flights run on time.   (If you’ve ever been delayed in an airport with small kids, you know that every minute feels like a week).

*Super-elasticity, so I could make the bunk beds without flirting with back injury

*The power to freeze time, for those moments when your child does something heart-stoppingly earnest or sweet or touching.  (If only we could, right?)

I’m sure I’ll think of more, but that’s my first pass at the list. What are the superpowers that YOU long to have?

I concur.

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I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

–  Joyce Kilmer