Good Friday 2017

Good Friday in our family is just as it would be in Poland: work, work, work, then more work, work, work, then church — not for Mass because that’s not celebrated on Good Friday, but rather the Liturgy of Good Friday — then back home for more work, work, and still more work.

K, after a small breakfast, spent most of the day in the kitchen. Doing what? I’m really not sure. Baking, I know. Fixing lunch. Other than that? I don’t know: I spent the entire morning giving the carport a good scrubbing, literally from top to bottom.

The kids got into the spirit, too, helping me by cleaning every single thing we’d taken out of the carport. E was a little upset because he felt at times he didn’t have a real part in helping out, and for him, that’s about the worst thing he can experience.

“Have I ever told you how happy it makes me that you are so eager to help?” I said at one point as he was using an improvised squeegee to pull away water that was puddling in the corner of the stairs to the kitchen from the carport.

“Yes.” I often play this little verbal game with him. “Have I ever told you…” followed by something I tell him all the time. If it’s “I love you,” he smiles and shouts, “Everybody knows that!” One thing I haven’t told him is how much joy it gives me that he consistently says “Yes” as opposed to “Yeah.”

“I hope you always stay that way,” I said.

“I will.” I really don’t doubt it.

At the church, it was like being in Poland again. Our pastor is a very traditional priest. (In most aspects, that is. He’s married with kids, which is rare among Catholic priests, but not so rare among Anglican priests who convert to Catholicism and after years get a dispensation from the pope for the discipline of celibacy. But that’s another story.) He’s really a “Say the red; do the black” priest, which means traditions that I haven’t seen since Poland are present everywhere, including the use of wooden clappers during Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday liturgies. One site explains it thus:

In most liturgical services during the year, the consecration of the bread and wine is marked by the ringing of altar bells. The Easter Triduum, consisting of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, is a time that is set apart from the rest of the liturgical calendar. Because these three days represent the three days that Jesus spent in his tomb before he was resurrected, they are traditionally marked by increased silence during mass. In traditional catholic worship services, the last time the altar bells are rung before Easter is on the evening of Holy Thursday. In between then and the Easter Vigil, a wooden clacker is used. A wooden clacker, sometimes called a wooden clapper, serves the same function as the altar bells. The clacker is sounded at the consecration of the gifts during the liturgy of the Eucharist, reminding the congregation of the awesome transformation that takes place at these moments.

So we knelt and stood, knelt and stood, kissed the cross, and felt at home.

Back at home, we got back to work, putting everything back in its proper place. K ran to the store for the thousandth time. (I’ve got a few store runs waiting for me tomorrow, without a doubt, but it wouldn’t be Holy Saturday otherwise.) The Boy finally got to use the pressure washer, helping clean out the cuts in the concrete portion of the driveway, which resulted in a wonderfully dirty little boy.

At bath time, looking at himself in the mirror, he said, “It was a great day!”

I think we all agree.

Holy Thursday 2017

Last night, I went out to get something I’d left in my car, and as I was opening my car door,  I heard behind me a thunk. I turned and saw silhouetted against lights of the house a shape that moved ever so slightly. For a moment, I thought it might be a raccoon: we have them all over the place, including in a hole in our neighbors’ Sweet Gum near the base of our driveway. That didn’t make sense though: why in the world would a raccoon jump onto the car? And would it even be possible? Sure, one had jumped onto our deck once several years ago, but that jump was from our not-so-long-gone gas/AC package unit, a jump of about three feet.

A closer look showed it wasn’t a raccoon but looked positively owl-esque. I walked slowly to the back of the van and saw that it was indeed an owl. It came back this morning, drawn by the birds nesting in our downspout. Determining that there was no way it could get to the birds, it left as quickly as it came.

That was probably good, because everyone had lots to get done today. For K, it was a baking day. She finally was able to bake a miodownik like her mother always bakes. “You have to bake four sheets, and we never had an oven big enough,” she explained. Now we do.

So K baked and baked while I was out cutting grass and cleaning up the lawn for our Easter guests.

I got the kids out to help by picking up Sweet Gum seed balls, the spiky little bits of hell that can spawn dozens of almost-impossible-to-kill saplings each. They decided to count as they collected. Front and back yard yielded over six hundred, they said. And the probably only got about thirty percent of them in total.

They finished up just in time to do some egg painting. K tried some new method that involved whipped cream (or shaving foam) and food coloring, which remained a mystery to me throughout the process,

but the girls elected to go with more traditional methods. An egg painting mini-party has always been a staple in our Easter preparations, but it’s been on the decline over the last few years. This year, it was at its most minimalistic.

One chore left: smoking the meat. Two racks of ribs, two pork loins, six large chicken breasts. The ribs will go into K’s Easter żurek along with generous amounts of horseradish. The soup is my favorite part of the whole meal.

The soup is my favorite part of the whole meal.

Rain Day

Snow days — those make sense here in South Carolina. Most municipalities don’t have the equipment to clear snow properly and effectively. Add to it the lack of general experience drivers here have with snow and it’s fairly obvious why everything shuts down. The snow starts falling in the morning on a school day, and everyone realizes it’s likely only a matter of time before the announcement. At our school, it’s usually something like this: “Teachers, please check your email.” And there we find the procedures we will follow for early dismissal.

Rain, though? I remember there was a kid in the apartment complex we lived in when I was in kindergarten whose mother would keep him home if it rained, but I thought that was a one-time thing, an exception. Today, I found otherwise. By the end of fifth period today, probably a third of the school had already gone home. Early dismissal. To be fair to parents, there was supposed to be a horrible storm passing through: flash flooding, potential tornadoes. Nothing to take lightly. But what ended up happening was so much less dramatic: a few parents began taking their kids out of school, and every other kid, realizing the possibility, texted home. Probably something like this: “Everyone else is going home. Come get me — please!” And soon, there were so many parents waiting to pick up their kids that instead of calling individual classrooms as with the standard procedure, general announcements echoed through the school.

“Will the following students please come to the office for early dismissal,” and then ten, twelve, fifteen names. Five minutes later, “Will the following students please come to the office for early dismissal,” and then ten, twelve, fifteen more names.

Later in the afternoon, an apologetic email from the principal: “I understand that very little teaching can take place due to the announcements,” it began. But what was to be done?

I sent a text to K during lunch: “L is going to be sad because she didn’t get early dismissal. Kids are leaving here in swarms.” Something along those lines. K texted back: “I’m at home with the Boy. He had early dismissal, too. We’re going for L soon.”

And so what do you do with an unexpectedly free afternoon, that rarest of all gifts?

There was a movie, of course. The latest from Netflix, another Studio Ghibli film, Pom Poko. (We as a family have grown to love those films. Not a bad one in the bunch.)

There was a bit of playing, of course. The Boy can find entertainment anywhere. Just add some cars and he’s set.

And K finally got some time to work on a project that’s been haunting us for years: pictures for our living room and kitchen. What to include? How to arrange them? What, sadly, to leave out?

Tomorrow, everything goes back to normal, but only for two days as we near Easter and spring break.

Turnabout

One of the Boy’s favorite books for a while was My Cold Went on Vacation, which tells the story of a little boy who catches a cold and recovers, only to wonder where the cold has gone. He loved it because in each picture, the cold — a green-faced, long-nosed, always smiling circle — was visible somewhere; I loved it because of the style of the illustrations. It was an educational book for the Boy as well: we got to talk about how colds are spread, and he told me about kids in his pre-school class who had gotten ill throughout the year. He reminisced about his own colds and giggled each time he saw that the cold eventually returned home to visit with his sister a while.

Morning drawing

So went our week as a family. The Boy started us off with a stomach virus on Monday that kept him home Tuesday as well. He let it take a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood before letting it back in Thursday to lay me out all day Friday. And then last night, K was complaining about being more tired than she should have been, and I knew where our family virus had gone after it left me.

Re-organizing the Boy’s Crayons.

As a result, most of this week has been kind of start-and-stop. The Boy got sick and everything slowed down; he got better and everything returned to normal. And so went the cycle.

Late-morning nap

It’s something of a short metaphor for this time of year: the end of the school year is within sight, but it’s still off in the distance a bit, just a little way down the line. We can see it, and we’re all ready for it. We’re ready to close the year out, pack our bags, and fly to Poland for a few weeks. But it just keeps chugging.

“I’m wearing gloves so I can get the thorns out of the way.”

And so do we. But that light — it’s there, in the distance…

Mid-March Sunday Afternoon

Every day has a story in it. That’s what writers will tell you. “You just have to find the thread of the narrative and follow it.” Something like that. If that’s the case, the threads of our Sunday afternoon stories area always the same. They always weave about our little recreation area down at in the corner of our property.

First, there’s the green swing. “I call green swing!” one of our children — usually L — we shout when we head down the hill. Yesterday, before the kids went down (our Saturday evening threads are often the same as our Sunday afternoon threads), while the Girl was still getting ready in her room, the Boy whispered, “I call green swing.”

Sunday

It’s been in the seventies for a couple of weeks now. The blueberries are covered in blossoms, and various trees are sending out leaves. So of course it makes sense for winter to get one last dig in before giving up for the year.

We were supposed to have a three-day week this week but because of two snow days earlier in the year, we lost them. My worry, hearing about the potential for snow, was that we’d lose our third and final make-up day, which is the Monday after Easter. Sure, having a snow day Monday would be nice in a sense, but at what price?

So the small amount of snow that dusted the grass — areas in the backyard that had nothing but soil melted the snow immediately — seemed a little threat. Only one thing to do: put the new police uniform on and spend the day chasing bad guys.

And play some games.

Falling Down

There are two trees in the back corner of our lot that worry me. One worries me as a cause of a potential problem; the other is the potential problem. They’re both tulip poplars, with one having a diameter of at least five feet. The smaller of the two has succumbed to some kind of disease or infestation or both. It’s been dying for a couple of years. The bark has just about completely fallen off, and the base of it is beginning to rot. It will fall of its own accord within another year or so, but I’m worried that the enormous tulip poplar next to it — the biggest tree by far that we have in our hard — will develop the same problem. If the sick tree falls, it won’t be a big problem, especially now that the top third of it fell this week, leading to a change of Saturday plans and extensive use of the chain saw. Falling of its own accord is not always an option, though: the large tree if it were to fall, would cause some major damage. It might take out a power line that runs behind the house, and it’s tall enough that it could even damage a house behind us.

Besides the fact that I’m not really what the financial ramifications might be for a tree falling on someone else’s property (from my rough research, we might be held responsible if it was a question of negligence, which would be more of what we’re doing about it now: nothing), there’s the simple fact that I love that tree. It must be at least two hundred years old, possible older, and so it’s a history lesson right in our own backyard. It was around when Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Court House. It was a large tree when Somme Offensive became the largest killing field in history to that point. In a country of new things, I value the old.

But falling down is a part of life.

As a Catholic, falling down has a spiritual, metaphysical sense to it: it requires a visit to the confessional. Like with the tree, there can be collateral damage when I fall down. A lie might tell someone could have far-reaching repercussions. The angry word spoken in spite might damage more than the moment. That’s what this Lenten season is all about — thinking about that collateral damage that accompanies sin no matter how we try to compartmentalize it. Our parish priest began a Lenten homily series on the nature of sin, and the communal nature of sin is a key Catholic teaching. We are responsible for our own actions, of course, but we always seem to rise and fall together.

As a parent, falling down is something my kids just have to do. They have to learn how to fall, how to absorb the impact without breaking bones or, later, hearts. More importantly, they have to learn how to get back up. That’s a lesson many of us never learn, I’m afraid. L has learned how to take a tumble and hop back up, or perhaps even laugh about it.

The Boy is slowly learning the same. Sometimes he’ll fall with a thump and hesitate for a moment before hopping up and proclaiming, “I’m okay!”

With L finishing up fourth grade, though, K and I have begun thinking about the simple fact that we’ll soon have to start thinking about considering middle school. (We’re masters of procrastinating at times.) That will begin a whole new cycle of learning: the broken heart. I don’t necessarily mean crushes that turn sour, though that too is in the back of the mind. I simply mean the cruelty with which teenagers can treat each other: the cutting comments, the fair-weather friends, the peer pressure, and all the sundry stresses of teen life.

But for now, sometimes it’s probably best not to fall down but just let yourself down, gently, and enjoy a lazy Sunday afternoon. Those worries will wait. For a while.

Growing Older

The Boy’s on a slightly different schedule at pre-school because of the lack of Monday sessions, so today was the 100th Day celebration. I’m not really sure why, but everyone was to dress up as an old person. E borrowed a cane from our neighbor and put on some new-to-him dress clothes (passed down from friends whom we gave L’s old clothes — it’s a circle) and looked positively dashing.

The Girl, while completing her chores tonight, slipped her tablet into an old purse and danced the floors clean.

“She’s almost a teenager,” K said.

She’s starting to look it and act it.