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Monday, July 13, 2009

Put the Pig Down

I found myself caught in a conversation with one of Noelle's finger puppets the other day. It was slightly disturbing - my inability to let the conversation drop once Noelle wasn't interested anymore. She toddled off and I sat arguing with her little pink pig wiggling back and forth on my finger.

It began this way: Noelle sat at her little table. I sat beside her, slightly bored, unsure of how to play with her.

I remember talking with my friend, Rosie Bills, who has the joy of staying home with her little ones. She said to me, "Sometimes, I think about going back to work, but then I have such good days with them.." She trailed off and looked at her nine month old baby boy wiggling on the floor. A smile crept across her face.

"What makes a good day?" I asked.

"Well, I just have really fun playtimes with them" and I forget the rest of what she said. I just remember thinking that I didn't know what that felt like. That it has been hard for me to just relax into playing with Noelle. It's like the engine of my imagination is cob-webbed and rusty.

But then, I also worked nearly full-time without child care last semester. I was pretty stressed out. I worked when Noelle was asleep, and when she was awake, I felt my blood pressure rise and rise with the pile of neglected papers to be graded.

Now it's summer break. I have no classes to teach. No papers to grade. Just the delicious feeling of being present in her waking hours, no to-do lists ticking through my mind.

So I sat next to her on the floor, nervous, scanning the room, like a girl making a new friend. "I hope she likes me. I hope I'm not too boring."

In a flash of inspiration, I picked up her little pink piglet off the floor and pushed it down on my finger. The piglet popped up over the side of the table. Noelle giggled. I started up a conversation.

"Well, Noelle, Piglet, this is what we're going to do this afternoon..." both watched me with anticipation. "We're going to color for a bit, then mommy is going to put out the pork chops to thaw for dinner tonight."

The pig was outraged.

"How could you!?" she squeaked in a voice the size of her little body. Noelle squealed and laughed out loud.

"Oh piglet, don't be offended. I'm sure the pork chops weren't related to you."

"But really?! You didn't have the decency to keep quiet about it in front of me?"

With each outraged exclamation, Noelle laughed harder and harder. I was on a roll. The pig and I went back and forth like this, arguing over the meal. Before I knew it, I was engaged in a full-on reasoning match finger.

"Why don't you just have something else for dinner?" the pig asked impatiently.

"'Cause I don't have anything else planned!"

I almost didn't notice that Noelle had stopped laughing or that she was getting up and walking away. It wasn't until she was at the toy box, half way across the room, her back turned to me, that I realized I couldn't leave the argument with the puppet unresolved.

But as irony would have it, and as you already know, the puppet was me.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Auckland, 2

We got back from New Zealand yesterday morning at 8 and I have been pushing my way through the days like wading through a sand pit. I don't remember feeling this weary going to New Zealand. Something about flying against the rotation of the sun must be especially unnatural for the body.

This morning, I was so tired I decided just to sit in the comfy pink rocker in Noelle's room and watch her play. Before long she climbed up on my lap. Then eventually she swiveled around and laid down on my legs facing up and played peek-a-boo with me. Like a wind up toy running out of torque she slowed down, slowed down, and finally one of the peek-a's never became a boo. I looked down to find that she had dozed off. We both slept for two hours - it was delicious.

My sister is now married and on her honeymoon tucked away somewhere in the Northern end of the North Island. Watching my little sister get married and move half way around the world was a fantastic roller coaster.

I left for the trip all bound up and anxious, tearful and grieving. I have returned happy, filled with quiet joy.

Being in New Zealand allowed me to see the life my sister has built for herself. On one hand, this made me sad. While parts of New Zealand remind me of our childhood in England, in the end, my sister's life will be foreign to me. Her husband is South African/Kiwi. Her kids are going to grow up Kiwi. Because of the time difference I'll only be able to talk to her on weekends, and perhaps only see her once every couple years. Her children will grow in leaps and bounds before I get to know them, if I ever truly get to know them. Hence other women will have to step in and fill the big sister role in my sister's life.

But on the other hand, I fell in love with Annie's life. Her city is beautiful and inviting. Her in-laws are some of the most special people I've ever met. The church where she attends, East City Wesleyan, bent over backwards to provide Annie a beautiful wedding. We will never be able to repay all the hard work those men and women and teenagers put into decorating, cooking, arranging, and hosting. They thought of every little thing, even for Dwayne Noelle and I. Little considerations, like the beautiful tea set the pastor's wife brought Noelle, made it hard not to melt into their Kiwi hospitality. (Noelle is now and expert tea pourer.)

Witnessing all of these things put my heart at ease. Allowed a satisfaction and joy to open up.

On the way home, Dwayne sat next to two passengers and heard a little about their life. They shared with him how they each had family all over the world. Admittedly, Annie's in-laws are spread across South Africa, England and New Zealand. My new found friend across the alley is Albanian and is the only one from her family that lives in the United States.

"I think it's more and more common for families to be more global," Dwayne said to me once we got home. I can see the truth in this. We're not the only ones with family oceans apart. Perhaps we're just joining that global community where international travel has become the new "road trip" to visit Aunt Annie and Uncle Graeme.