This is me...

This is me...
I'm having a mom moment....

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Remembering Halloween the Way it WAS

**Disclaimer:  I was feeling pretty nostalgic about Halloween this evening and I sat down and just started typing.  I rarely do that.  Usually there is a whole blogpost in my head before I even pull up this site, but this one...this one is purely for me. 
I remember alot of Halloweens growing up.  Probably one of my first memories is when I got my 1st store bought costume.  I think I was 3.  We went to the Big B store on the corner of Sparkman and Jordan Lane and bought a Mickey Mouse costume.  What I remember about it was this -- it was cheap.  The mask was uncomfortable plastic that was so thin and stiff, you could probably cut yourself on it.  The "costume" was also plastic and you stepped into it and it tied in the back like a hospital gown.  I remember that the mask cracked before the night was over and that a couple of the ties broke when we put it on.  Maybe that is why I didn't have another store bought costume until I was 14 and needed something impressive for a friend's Halloween party.  One year I wore a purple sweat suit and painted my face purple -- I was The Purple People Eater.  Another year I wanted to be a ghost, but mom wouldn't let me cut holes in a sheet, so I was some kind of incredibly politically incorrect version of...well, I don't know what I was.  I wore a shirt that my grandparents had brought me from the Caribbean, holey jeans, a gardening hat of my mothers, and I carried a coffee can with beans in it like some kind of drum/maracca hybrid.  It was horrible -- but I walked around the neighborhood like a panhandling migrant worker asking everyone for candy.  One of the most memorable costumes I ever made was when I was about 12.  I was a robot.  I painted a huge Whirlpool Dryer box with silver paint, as well as a smaller square box that I affixed to the top for the head.  I raided my dad's garage and found all sorts of weird looking bulbs, wires, etc to form a face, cut the sleeves off of an old shirt, attached gloves at the ends, stuffed them with newspaper and duct taped them to the sides for arms.  The most ingenious thing I did though was to push dozens of Lite Brite pegs through the front of the box, so that when I lit my flashlight on the inside of the box and swung it back and forth, the costume came alive.  I did not go trick-or-treating that year -- I went to the Halloween party at our church and won the costume contest.  I have been thinking alot about my childhood and how much holidays like Halloween have changed since we were kids.  The idea of having "decorations" for Halloween beyond a Jack-O-Lantern or two was ludicrous for our family and our neighborhood.  No one had Halloween lights, or stretched fake spiderwebs over their bushes.  Occasionally, we might come to a house that had a blacklight in their porch light, or a scarcrow on the porch, and I think that there was one house that had fake ghosts hanging in their trees one year.  But for the most part, a grinning Jack-O-Lantern was it (not the elaborate pumpkin sculptures that you see today, but just triangle eyes and nose and a jagged grin).  The Jack-O-Lantern went out the night of or the night before Halloween and went into the trash the next day (unless your mom was like mine and made it into pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, or pumpkin muffins). 
We have become so commercialized as a society that a simple holiday that used to be comprised of a $5 pumpkin and a homemade costume has become one of $50 kids costumes, $200 inflatable spiders, and month-long celebrations.  People rarely have ONE Jack-O-Lantern, but instead they have several -- many of them fake and plugged into the wall.  I love Haloween.  Fall is one of my most favorite times of the year, and Halloween is consumate "Fall" with pumpkins and apples and red and gold leaves.  The crisp Fall air that is cool and dry and the coming of Halloween go hand in hand, and you know that soon after will be Thanksgiving, with turkey, sweet potatoes, family and football, followed closely by the holiday of holidays -- Christmas.  I really miss the simplicity of the holidays the way we used to celebrate them -- Halloween was like a warm up of good holidays to come.  The candy we collected was an appetizer to the rich foods of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Now, people decorate more for Halloween than they do for Christmas and many families never see each other -- even on Thanksgiving.  (sigh)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Growing up at Central

As a Southern woman raised in the Church of Christ, a lot of people believe that I am rigid -- believing that I am "saved" and you are not.  I have heard all of my life that "those Church of Christ folks think that they are the only ones going to heaven" but I have never been taught that -- it has never even been implied to me.  I even attended a Church of Christ private school from the age of 4 through the 8th grade and I never heard it there either.  I was taught what it took to get to heaven based on the scriptures, no more, no less.  Prejudices about other faiths was not part of the curriculum. 

I grew up as a bonified member of the Central Church of Christ in Huntsville, AL and I loved it there.  I do not know what others who grew up in the church went through, but for me, it was a blast.  I loved the people and the building and the quaint downtown atmosphere.  I was baptised there and on a cool, sunny, Saturday in October 1998, I was married there.   A lot of this will not make sense to you unless you also attended church and some of this will not make sense unless you attended Central. 

We were not an affluent church, full of monetary wealth.  No, the riches of Central lay in the hearts of its members.  As a young child, I worked hard in Sunday School to impress David and Marlene Thomason, Tim and Jimi Johnson, and even Marrietta Neiland (even though she never taught me personally, she was like the "Matriarch" of Central's youth).  I opened my heart, sharpened my wit, and delved into more serious theological questions with Mike and Lora Porter, David and Laura Bell, and Dorthea Thompson as a teen.  I learned to respect my elders -- Henry Bragg, Clyde Jones, Richard Brown, D.O. Matthews, J.D. Jones, and countless others.  I wrote a letter to the elders when I was about 12 asking to be moved into the teen group early because I felt I was "much more mature" than the kids in my current class.  I have no idea what it said, I would love to read it now for a laugh, but it worked, (much to my older sisters chagrin who had hoped to avoid me encroaching on her territory for at least 2 more years).  I do not know if I impressed them with the words in the letter, or simply by the act of writing it.

I do not remember how old I was, maybe 8 or 9, but I still remember a lesson that J.D Jones taught about singing.  What I remember about it is this:  Singing is important.  It is as important as praying and sitting still and listening to the sermon.  He told us that it was important to not have instruments crowding out our voices as we lifted them in praise to God.  And he told us to breathe which I thought was a little unnecessary until he explained further.  We shouldn't all breathe at once so that a song sounded like this:  "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound (GASP) That saved a wretch like me! (GASP)..."  It is an odd lesson to have stuck with me for so long, but it has, and I still try to practice the intermittent breathing when I sing at church now.  We had no organ, no piano, no bass guitar or drums, but on a good Sunday with Ed Smith or Gerry Binford leading the singing you would never miss them.  We sang, we clapped, we stomped our feet to the rhythms of "In My Father's House" and "Amen" until I thought that we would raise the roof or at least blow the doors from their hinges.  We had an inner-city ministry, a class for divorcees, a jail ministry, a class for single parents, and 2 college ministries -- one at UAH and one at A & M.  On any given Sunday, you could look out at the congregation and see people from as many as 4 or 5 races and 10 or 12 countries all side by side smiling right back at you.  We had no qualms about race that so many churches in the South do even today. 

The building was old (still is) but it was my playground every Sunday and Wednesday night.  I would hold onto the brown metal poles that stretched to the ceiling as part of the staircase and swing from the 3rd or 4th or 5th step while holding onto the bottom pole in an impressive display of upper body strength that would make any stripper proud.  I swung like a monkey on the silver painted poles that barricaded the parking lot across the street with my long brown hair dragging through the dirt.  I begged every Wednesday night to walk to Gorin's for a waffle cone after church and was usually told no.  I took great care in my hard soled Sunday shoes to pop as many seeds that fell from the huge tree out front.  That tree is gone now.  Its huge roots were buckling the concrete and its towering branches stretched high over the church roof.  I wriggled in my seat as the invitation song, the announcements, and the prayer were concluded so that I could bound from the pew and run to the gym (we called it "The Family Life Center," but it was a gym).  I would play while my mom and dad visited (or fellowshipped), and then I would whine when it was finally time to leave.  I helped decorated that gym for the Harvest Banquet every year, and hosted several Parent Appreciation Dinners there as a teen.  Some of my fondest memories are of the Halloween parties that they used to have there -- popcorn, Abbot & Costello, and costume contests.  I won the year that I made a killer robot costume out of an old dryer box, silver spray paint, and light bright pegs. 

For those of you not raised in the church, this might sound odd, but when you are raised in the Lord, surrounded on all sides by Him, even before you choose to be baptised, you have taken Him on like a reflection from those around you.  I always knew that I would choose a life with Christ, and at a weekend teen retreat at Henry and Melba Bragg's Elk River cabin, I decided it was time.  I was 14, and I was baptised by Clyde Jones at Central the Sunday morning after we got back with my parents and grandparents looking on.  It was a good day. I didn't know it at the time, but the first real attack on my faith was just a few months away in the form of "The Boston Movement" where I saw our congregation that was bursting at the seams one Sunday go to a meager gathering of the faithful just a few weeks later.  Although I have prayed alot about forgiving those responsible, I will never get over the effect that it had on me.  It was my first experience with church "politics" (for lack of a more universally understood word), and in many ways it left me cynical.  I am certain that the church had its problems before that, but I was oblivious to them.  Sometimes, growing up sucks.

I know that I have romanticized the building, the grounds, and even the people in my head, but they are still the standard by which I judge other congregations.  Central, in all its glory, warts and all, is "Home."  There will never be another church that I can walk through and feel so at ease, so comfortable, like I belong.  The people who taught my Sunday school classes, now teach my kids when we go home to visit.  Ed and Gerry still raise the roof with the singing.  Kids still swing on that banister.  It is a constant comfort to me to know that it is there -- growing, flourishing, changing, yet always the same.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Letting Go

I have been working on streamlining things around my house lately -- getting rid of the junk, the old, the worn out.  Today I tackled the linen closet.  I finally bagged up all of the old hooded baby towels.  It looked great when I was done, and it no longer takes excellent hand-eye coordination to open the door and put in the clean towels and washclothes so that the entire contents don't come spilling out onto your head.  But as I looked at the pile of old towels I had removed, many of them grayish with the wear and tear of 9 years worth of use and washing, I got a little pang of regret.  I mean, these were the towels that I wrapped William in after his first bath, the washcloths that I washed Bella with for the first time, the towels that Lorelei and Jackson played "super-heros" with just last year, and I was bagging them up to give to Goodwill.  Some stranger is going to buy these and probably use them to wash his car or his dog.  How could I let that happen?  These are precious mementos of my kids, of too many "firsts" to count, and they are destined to become someones "rags".  

I know that you cannot hold onto everything.  It is a lesson that I learned after we moved and I realized that we had too much "stuff."  With 4 kids, I cannot hold onto every picture that they draw, every card that they give me, or every cute outfit that they ever wore.  And the truth is, why would I want to?  I used to think that I would hold onto their "special" outfits and give them to them for their own kids some day.  Then my mother moved to a new house and gave me a virtual trunk load of MY old baby clothes.  Now, I was a child of the 70's -- there was NOTHING in the things that she gave me that I would ever put on my kids unless the only other choice was that they go naked.  The same will hold true for my kids in 25 years or so.  They are not going to want to dress their kids in the height of early 21st century fashion.  And since I know I am not having any more children, what would be the point of holding onto a bunch of clothes that they will never want and that I will never need? 

Memories.  Of course I hold onto the things from when my kids were little because they will never be little again.  William is already catching me in height, Bella's attitude and wit rivals my own, Lorelei is growing like a weed and Jackson (who was never little to begin with since he was over 10 pounds at birth) is almost as big as his sister.  I tell myself to hold on.  Hold on to that sleeper, that blanket, that towel, or whatever it may be as if their childhood is somehow magically contained within the fibers.  It is a HARD lesson to learn that those things are just things.  They are not my kids.  They are not even my memories.  My memories of those times are not going to Goodwill -- just some old gray towels.

So I paused to think about those precious times that are long gone now as I folded each item and placed it into the bag.  I remembered the way each one of them squirmed in my arms all slippery with soap as I gave them their first baths, how clean they smelled as I sang to them wrapped up in those now old towels, and I cried a little as I reflected on how they will be constantly growing and changing.  It is one of the hardest things about being a mother, a parent -- letting go.  I WANT them to grow and change.  I want them to mature, to learn, to try, and to sometimes fail because that is how they become adults.  It would be nice to freeze time and hold onto them for even just a little while longer as they are, but it is not possible and it would be going against my job as a parent.  My sole responsibility to them in this world is to help them grow up -- to teach them how to be responsible, contributing members of society.  I cannot do that if they never grow up.  So I am learning how to let go.  It is a daily struggle, and it isn't getting any easier.