Monday, February 28, 2005

Steven's Hair

Taking care of Steven’s hair is a completely new experience for me.

I am used to Caucasian hair. Every six weeks or so, I set my guys on a stool in the bathroom and give them haircuts. First a pile of thinning blond falls to the floor. A thick red layer follows, and then brown.
My girls and I have long hair as per First Corinthians 11. I have brushed and braided and ponytailed hundreds of times—two blond-red heads and one brown. My own hair is twisted into a bun and hairpinned in place every morning.

We are used to the inconveniences of long hair. We clean it out of the bathtub and cut it out of the beater bar on the vacuum cleaner.

Steven, our new 10-year-old son from Kenya, thinks long hairs are gross. This is a child who lived on the streets and dug in garbage for food, and he gingerly picks up a stray 2-foot-long hair by the bathroom sink and says, "Ewwww" with a look of horror and disgust on his face.

They kept his head shaved in Kenya because of lice, but I want him to have hair. So I am charting these new waters of caring for African hair. Each strand is amazingly tight and kinky, and it tends to gather into little bunches. It also dries out so easily that he has to limit how often he shampoos.

The wonderful ladies at Sally Beauty Supply in Eugene showed me how to care for him. Every day, we rub his hair with something about the texture of Vaseline. The stuff would turn my hair into greasy rat tails, but it makes Steven’s look healthy and clean. Then we brush with what looks like a wooden scrub brush, and it fluffs his hair into a soft, even carpet. I had figured a good brushing should last a few days, but we can brush in the morning and it’s back into clumps by the time he comes home from school.

African hair is a world unto itself, with its moisturizers and corn rows and beads. I find myself scrutinizing pictures of black athletes in the newspaper—how do they get their hair to look that way? Jordan Kent’s hair looks nice and neat at the end of a game—how does he do that?

When Matt was a baby and reached his first birthday, I had this huge sense of relief that he actually survived babyhood under my care. When Steven leaves for school with his hair looking neat and healthy, I feel a similar relief.

Quote of the day—
"It’s pathetic how perfect their life is. They fall in love, they get married, they have a baby on Valentine’s Day."
--Hillary Yoder, age 14, speaking of Phil and Rosie Leichty and their new son Blaine. Rosie is Hillary’s dad’s sister’s husband’s sister and Phil is Hillary’s mom’s dad’s cousin’s son. (I am Mennonite; I track relations)

Friday, February 25, 2005

I Hate to Write

People who read my column in the paper often say things like, "So you enjoy writing, do you?" I hope I am not lying when I politely smile and nod because the truth is that I hate writing. I find it as tedious as picking burrs out of socks, as easy to put off as cleaning the oven.

Until I heard Lauraine Snelling speak at writers’ conference, I thought I was the only one who felt this way. No, Lauraine said, most writers hate to write. When deadlines loom, they do laundry, sweep cobwebs in the attic, even (I believe Ellen Goodman does this) line up the spices in alphabetical order, anything to justify not writing. Lauraine’s very last stalling tactic is cleaning the refrigerator, a job she despises. We all need a non-writer friend like her friend Sylvia, she says. She calls up Sylvia and says, "Umm, Sylvia? I’m about to clean the refrigerator." And Sylvia says, "Lauraine! You get back to your computer right now and get busy and write!"

I should clarify that we do like to write letters and blog posts and love notes. It’s those formal things that editors are waiting for that do us in. Dragging our reluctant selves back to the computer to once again pull stubborn words from the back of our heads and arrange them in the right order, we wonder, again, why we do this to ourselves.

The answer is that even though we hate to write, we love to have written. We love that byline just under the title and those neat paragraphs marching down the page. We delight in any attention we get, most of us not having gotten enough as children. "Are you the lady that writes in the paper?" a clerk at Costco asks, and we glow for the rest of the day. The mayor of Coburg emails to ask if we would participate in a spelling bee for History Days (yes, this happened to me this week) and we eat it up like a husband eats a dish of hot apple pie.

My deadline is at the end of the month, three days hence. I’m being very stern with myself: no blogging until I’ve spent an hour on my newspaper article. And if writing a blog post ever feels like harder work than cleaning the oven, I’m quitting.

Quote of the Day:
"I wonder when I'll get armpit hair."
--Jenny, age 5, who has too many teenage sisters

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Watching for Teapots

There are two kinds of people at our house--the teapot spotters and the teapot scoffers.

About five years ago Matt manipulated the computer (how does he do these things?) so that when it sat unused for a few minutes the dark screen would suddenly grow pictures of pipes, colored water pipes that popped in from the side and turned corners and grew ever longer and more complicated until the whole thing looked like a roomful of convoluted pipes in the basement of the Eugene Water and Electric building. Then they would all fade away and a completely new roomful of pipes would appear.

One day Emily was watching these pipes appear and disappear when she yelled, "There's a teapot!" The scene faded away but she insisted that an actual picture of a teapot had appeared on a bend in the pipe. We were all skeptical. Not for nothing did Beverly Cleary once write a book called Emily's Runaway Imagination.

Emily was vindicated the day a few more of us saw the phenomenon. There on a perfectly normal elbow in the pipe sat an honest-real short-and-stout teapot, as incongruous as a baboon hopping into church in the middle of the sermon.

Since then, some of us have been staunch teapot-watchers. Stuck in long phone conversations, I wait for teapots. "Um-hmmm, yes, I understand, oh my, I would have been upset too [YES!!!] dear me, what are you going to do?" My two youngest children squeeze onto one chair and sit in a dark office staring at the computer. We attach profound meanings to teapots. If one appears, then life is good, the stock market is up, and God is smiling on me.

The teapot-scoffers, on the other hand, think we're nuts. So someone was clever enough to program a teapot on a pipe every 5 minutes. Big deal. And reading some kind of cosmic meaning into a teapot--you've got to be kidding.

They're probably right: we're nuts. But if you can't appreciate life's incongruities, what a dull existence you must have.

Quote of the Day:
"So far my MPS is very low."
--Ben the 11-year-old math guy, calculating his Mushrooms Per Scoop as he dipped curried chicken and rice onto his plate

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Tooth Fairy

First a disclaimer. We don't teach our children that Santa and the Easter Bunny are real. But when they would lose a tooth, I'd tell them to put it under their pillow because You Never Know what might happen. And if I remembered, I'd slip the tooth out and a quarter in before they woke up.

So, Valentines Day, 2005. My first idea was to have pretty valentines on all the plates at breakfast. Got up too late for that, so maybe supper. Too busy all day, so ok, on their pillows at bedtime.

I sneaked into each bedroom and placed the card and a Hershey Kiss on each pillow. All went well until I went in the girls' room and there's Emily studying. "Don't look," I said, and laid the card and kiss on her pillow.

"That reminds me of the time I had my illusions shattered about the tooth fairy," she said. "You came hurrying into my room first thing in the morning and I was already awake, and you said, 'Pretend you're asleep' and then you put this money under my pillow."

She sighed and went on sadly. "Before that, I used to have these visions of a silvery boat floating in the window and it had maybe five people on it with bags of money, and I pictured them drifting over to my bed and carefully taking out the tooth and replacing it with some money."

She talked dreamily on but I was stuck on that silvery boat. Why on earth...?

I interrupted her. "Emily, why did you imagine a BOAT?"

"You know, the TOOTH FERRY."


Emily is 14 years old and I think she has given my mind a twist every day of her life.

Quote of the Day:
"It should be this much work to eat chocolate."
--Amy, age 16, after peeling and eating a grapefruit