The Girl sang in her school’s talent show this morning. She sang “Dziś idę walczyć, Mamo!” which is a song about the Warsaw Uprising. She’s been practicing it for weeks. I’ve found myself humming it as I walk down the corridor at school. E sings snippets of it every now and then. K sings it as she’s working around the house. It’s infected our whole family, but what a wonderful infection.
After dinner, we got another concert, a performance of a music that’s thousands and thousands of years old, a music that both calms and excites.
The owls have nested in our neighbors’ backyard, and they came down for a visit today. The would sing and hoot, caterwaul and even almost purr. It was hypnotic.
L’s First Communion was two years ago. So quickly have those two years melted away than I still find it somewhat surprising when I see L lining up for communion. It’s one of those milestones in life — your own and your children’s — that we all remember it.
The Boy still has three years to go. When he first lines up in the communion line, L will be at the tail end of her seventh-grade year.
And at that point, I’ll likely be writing about how it’s incredible that it’s been five years since L’s First Communion.
Saturday is always busy. This time of year, the lawn always needs a trim, and hedges often need their season’s taming. Tomato plants are starting to blossom, literally and figuratively, so it’s time to stake them. All fairly common late-spring Saturday work. Today, though, was a little different because of timing: tomorrow we will be going to a friend’s First Communion, so the Mother’s Day celebration had to be rescheduled.
Since I’ve neglected K’s vehicle the last few weeks, the Boy and I decided it was time to clean Mama’s car — well, that’s not exactly how it happened, but it sounds better that way. So the first thing we tackled today was the interior of the car. Every surface was exposed to an area of low pressure — e.g., vacuumed — and then wiped down. The Boy to the windshield rag and wiped down the parts of the exterior that, concealed by closed doors, never really get clean from normal washing. And of course, with the two of us involved, there was a bit of playing as well.
Afterward, the lawn got its weekly trim and the Girl prepared her Mother’s Day present for Nana.
Our Mother’s Day celebration isn’t the only thing tomorrow’s First Communion throws off, though. Tomorrow is the Boy’s birthday. “I’ll be a five-year-old tomorrow,” was a common refrain today.
So after dinner came presents. It’s a sign of his growing maturity that only a couple of the presents was a toy: a small jeep and trailer set that he took to bed with him and a Lego set that he will put together with Papa on Monday. The rest of the gifts were practical, useful even. A backpack — an appropriate, camouflaged design — will get its first test in a month when we head off to Poland. “And I’ll use it in K5 for all those big books!” he explained excitedly. A new cycling helmet to match his new bike. A flashlight so he doesn’t have to keep borrowing mine. “Daddy, I just need to…” So perhaps more than a couple of toys.
I sit writing this and glance down at the clock: five years ago, we would be leaving for the hospital in about an hour. It was Sunday night, and I was just about to drift off to sleep, some time around eleven, when K woke me and said we had to get to the hospital. A couple of hours later, we were holding the Boy in our arms. And now, in a few hours, he’ll be the same age — year-wise — as L was when he was born.
In another five years? The Girl will be almost old enough to begin learning to drive. She’ll be in her second year of high school. Entirely new worries, concerns that are now non-existent, will likely consume me. Boys will no longer be icky. A moment of inattention could result in more than just a broken glass. Her grades in school will no longer be of little consequence.
Five years used to seem like such a long time…
We get our shoes on and head down to the swing. Mama has kicked us out: she can only do two things at a time, and she’s currently baking and helping L with something, so we’re on our own.
We play around a bit, here and there, but a hard-workin’ fella can play only so long before he grows restless. He’ll pick up any sort of tool he can find and get to work, because what’s the point of doing otherwise?
You might protest and suggest, “You’re just a kid. Take it easy!” But you’ll get a protest in return.
Eventually, I manage to get the hard worker to take a break and play a little bit. We go exploring, looking for more honeysuckle. It’s all dried up. We head to our favorite spot in the creek. But nothing’s really satisfying.
We head to our hideout to spy on our neighbors, but they leave soon and we sit there.
“What do you want to do?” I ask.
“I don’t know. What do you want to do?” he responds.
“Whatever you want to do. I just want you to be happy.”
“I just want you to be happy.”
What makes us both happy for a time is to carry on with such silliness, but it’s getting late, and soon, the Boy will need a bath. Tugging off his shoes, he notices how dirty his ankles are at the sock line. Smiling, he repeats his favorite saying: “It was a good day.”
K is still baking when we get back in the house. The cake didn’t turn out as she wished, so she’s doing it again. She’s like that. A perfectionist. I’d probably just go buy something, but not our K.
In the house, the Girl is being silly. I take the camera and snap some closeups. Instantly, the silly faces appear.
A satisfying Thursday evening.
Today is the last Sunday of the month, which means Polish Mass. It’s not much of a Polish Mass as much as it’s an English Mass with responses in Polish. Finding a replacement Polish priest is not all that easy, it seems. Yet L’s recent involvement in the children’s choir has energized and interested her: she doesn’t want to give it up. So we went to Mass in the morning, the three of us, and K went in the afternoon. Kind of like we used to do when one of us was sick: one stays home with the kid then goes to Mass later in the day.
It’s been a real benefit to the Girl, children’s choir. It keeps her focused in Mass for thing. It’s hard to fidget about when you have to pay attention and be ready to sing. It’s also helped her make new friends with girls who seem to have their heads looking forward and their priorities straight. It’s a constant worry we have: what kind of friends is she making at school? What kinds of behaviors are being modeled at school? We’ve met her best friends, of course, but she comes into contact with so many other children that it would be impossible to keep up. And so we’re happy to have some more positive influences in her life.
After lunch, it’s the same old Sunday tradition: exploring. The Boy and I headed to the other side of the creek to the neglected, overgrown portion of the lot of the all-but-abandoned house. The owner of the house died in his backyard a few years ago — we heard the cries of anguish in our yard when they discovered him — and I guess they moved his wife into assisted care or something. At any rate, someone comes and mows the yard a few times a summer, but the long triangular off-shoot of the lot has been completely neglected. There is now a stand of Sweetgum trees there that just makes me shudder.
But we were after something else, something sweeter.
Honeysuckle. When I was a kid, finding a fine of honeysuckle was a rare and wonderful treat. Our neighborhood didn’t have any wild areas, and I don’t think many people cultivate honeysuckle.
Later, in the early evening, E and I went back down to have another snack. The Girl joined us, bringing a small bowl to bring back some blossoms to enjoy during the movie.
I love the simplicity of that.
The Girl apparently is anxious to get one — they’re all the rage at her school. Everyone’s got one, and they’re so fun.
It’s the same at our school — the now-ubiquitous fidget spinner. They’re marketed as aids for kids with attention issues and hyperactivity issues. Supposedly they’ll help these kids to focus by giving them a little outlet for their hyperactivity.
What ends up happening, though, is that the kids who have them become fixated on them. They’re just another in a long line of distractions that keep them from staying focused for more than a few moments. The kid in the front row who can’t keep his eyes on his work for more than two seconds now has to contend with this little gadget in his hand and, when he starts sharing it, who’s got it and when he can get it back.
A similar trend (in our school anyway) is the fight with the eternally-in earbuds.
“Take the earbuds out,” I tell a student.
“You tell me that every day,” he says.
Not only that, but I’ve referred the matter to the administrator a couple of times and he’s sat in ISS (probably with his earbuds in ) — but every day, there they are again.
What do these to things have in common? Simple: they’re symptoms of the current generation’s need to be constantly stimulated with something.
L is starting to develop those symptoms as well. She loves to have something playing on her little CD player at all times. She wants to read with it on, do homework with it on, color with it own, play on her tablet with it on. However, what she’s playing on it is somewhat different than what the kids walking down our hallways have blaring into their heads. (How much rap can you take before you go insane? How much misogynistic, materialistic machismo can you listen to before you realize how empty it is?) No, no music for the Girl: she’s always listening to a recorded book.
One: Alone Together
The Boy wanted to get into the Girl’s room; the Girl wanted some “alone time,” which we all do from time to time. With the two of them, that conflict is a frequent occurrence. As parents, K and I must balance the two opposing factors:
- The Girl needs to learn that she can’t be by herself all the time. She needs to have a relationship with her brother.
- The Boy needs to learn that he can’t play with L all the time, that she needs some privacy.
I feel like we need to be keeping score of the whole thing: one time forcing L to let the Boy in her room; one time getting the Boy to understand that the Girl needs some privacy from time to time.
The Boy was looking for his Bugatti (toy, of course).
“I last saw it on the counter downstairs,” I tell him.
He thumps his way downstairs, wanders around a while. Then I hear him ask K, “Mommy, what’s a counter?”
Three: Special Music
During the announcements at the close of Mass, Fr. Longenecker pointed out the fact that the text of the communion hymn dates from the twelfth century and the music from the sixteenth. At that moment, several thoughts that had been swirling randomly in Mass coalesced.
First, at one point, I was thinking about how different a Roman Catholic Mass is from the church services I attended in my youth. All the smells and the bells have no correlation with the staid services we had. And yet there was a certain similarity: each service was identical in its format just as each Mass is identical in its order of liturgy. I suppose that’s true of all churches.
Still, our church being Protestant (though its members then would have begged to differ most vociferously), liked to suggest that if it wasn’t in the Bible, we didn’t do it. I found myself in Mass briefly wondering about the liturgy (for lack of a better term) the church followed: it’s no where in the Bible. I believe the pastor would have suggested it’s one of the traditions mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2.15: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold to the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle.”
Thinking about it further, I remembered the little distinctives of our service. We had a short warm-up message called a sermonette. Google shows that other denominations use the sermonette format, but it’s certainly not a common feature. After the sermonette were announcements, followed by something called special music, then the sermon.
The special music was always some kind of choir performance or solo piano performance. Choral numbers were always selections from sacred music (but we had to be careful about that text!), but instrumental music was often some kind of classical composition. I choked down a laugh in Mass thinking about that, wondering if it was “special” music if it appeared every week.
Four: Divine Mercy
The first Sunday after Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday. Since this particular celebration began in Poland, it’s a pretty big thing for the Polish community. At our church, we have a newly-consecrated shrine to the Divine Mercy with relics of St. Faustina and St. Pope John Paul II.
Not bad for a little Catholic church in Greenville, SC, home of Bob Jones University — probably the most virulently anti-Catholic school in the States.
Easter is the highlight of the liturgical year, and so for Poles, it’s the highlight of social year in many ways. As with Christmas, begin quietly at home, breaking the evening’s fast (and the non-meat fast of the last several days) with treats from the baskets blessed yesterday.
Bread, ham, sausage, boiled eggs, a lamb-shaped cake, slivers of apple and orange, and a horseradish sauce. A simple meal, a somewhat humble meal.
It’s not like the equivalent for the Christmas Eve dinner. That will all come later. But the Boy is simply not waiting for anything more elaborate.
“One more piece of ham,” he chirps, sliding it to the side of his plate. “Save the best for last,” which he doesn’t — he eats it in a few moments, then repeats.
He downs four or five slices of ham, a serving of veggie salad, a large proportion of the orange, a couple of sausage hunks, some bread — he eats at least twice as much as L.
After breakfast, it’s off to Mass with us. I take the Girl an hour earlier for choir practice and sit in the pews, watching the brightening sky slowly illuminate the church.
This is our first Easter in our new parish, and it’s parish’s first Easter in the new church.
All the colors seem to glow as a result. Or perhaps that’s still the sheen of newness. Likely a bit of both.
Mass in this wonderful space feels like it should: an explosion for all the senses. The altar servers process in, the first swinging a thurible and filling the middle isle with incense that drifts upward, catching rays of light and glowing. The choir is sublime. We kneel, stand, sit, kneel, cross ourselves. The physical beauty of the place surrounds us. The sweet Communion wine lingers as we head back to our pew.
In front of me, a young lady has brought a friend — boyfriend? — and he’s clearly not Catholic. I remember the first time I witnessed all of this. It was so different from everything I’d experienced growing up. “The smells and bells” forced out of me a begrudging respect as did the humble faith of the parishioners.
This young man keeps his hands in his pockets most of the time, rarely looks around, and seems bored. Perhaps he’s not having the same experience I did twenty years ago when I first went to Mass. Perhaps he is and simply doesn’t show it.
After Communion, the girl, still kneeling, eases back onto the pew, and her father, sitting to her left, places his hand on the small of her back and massages gently. The girl pulls herself back up into a full kneeling position. I smile at the universality of fathers: I’ve done that many a time with the Girl, but she’s never with us in Mass these days. Instead, she’s in the choir loft.
I think about the obvious: there will come a time when the Girl might want to bring a young man to Mass with us. She’s already growing so fast that K and I can’t keep up with her, but right now, she says boys are disgusting.
“They’re always messing up things on the playground,” she often complains. “They steal balls, bother us, chase us.” How long will this last? Not long enough, I’m afraid.
I can still get into my wedding suit, but looking at the picture reveals the sad truth: a bit of a gut has formed that pushes the jacket into slight wrinkles. “I forgot to suck it in,” I think to myself, remembering all the times my own father did something similar. Like father, like son.
In the afternoon, all the usual suspects come over. We eat; we drink; we eat; we laugh. After a while, a couple of us go out to hide Easter eggs for the kids. Some we hide in the open; some we actually hide.
In the end, a perfect day.