4th grade is a whole new world for us. Not that Kindergarten through 3rd grade was a cakewalk for W or anything. The teachers at his school don’t mess around. They run a tight ship, and they are excellent at what they do. I can’t imagine a better learning environment for my kids. We’ve just noticed that 4th grade suddenly feels very…grown up. He’s spelling words like “omniscient” and “camouflage” and doing research projects online. It feels like we’ve turned an academic corner to the uphill climb from here to graduation. Bittersweet for this mama. 12th grade will be here all too soon.
Currently, we’re working on his “Bug Collection” project. Can I just take a moment to say how much I hate bugs? Hate. Them. He is tasked with collecting at least ten different insects or spiders or centipedes, etc. He is supposed to study what they are doing in their natural environment, write down where and when he found them, draw a picture of them and then brutally murder them. Okay, okay. The instructions don’t include the word “murder” but…let’s just say they are supposed to take a trip to the freezer, after which they’ll never be the same. After they are…no more, he is supposed to put them in a plastic tackle box (formerly one of my earring organizers–not anymore. I intend to burn it and its contents on Friday at 4 pm sharp).
So, here’s the problem. My tenderhearted boy does not kill things. He is a vegetarian. A staunch defender of all creatures, no matter how disgusting. For this reason, we are only collecting dead bugs for this project. Less murdery, but more challenging to find bug corpses in good enough condition that they’ll work for the project. So far his diary looks like this:
Name: Common Wasp
Where did you find it? In an old birdhouse. My mom killed it with Raid. I didn’t kill it. She did.
What was it doing? Nothing. It was just curled up all sad and alone under its nest full of dead offspring where my mom ambushed it and killed it. She killed them all.
You guys, the struggle is real with this boy. He is one bucket of red paint away from an anti-fur rally. We smuggle meat into our house like drug mules. I’ll distract him with a plate of soy nuggets while the rest of us crouch in the corner, stuffing steak in our mouths, shooing the cats and dogs away while we guiltily savor each cholesterol-laden morsel.
Why don’t I drop the hammer, and force-feed him some meat, you ask? Because he means it. It’s not a show. It’s not an act, or a means for attention. He is truly convicted that eating or killing animals is not something he wants any part of. He has stuck to his guns for nearly three years, despite our cajoling and ploys of tempting him with hot dogs (used to be one of his favorites). He knows that God put animals on the earth for our use, but he chooses to go the veggie route, and that’s okay. He’s extremely healthy, his eyesight is perfect and he’s an honor student.
Go on with your bad vegetarian self, W.
I am confident that his compassionate heart for all of God’s creatures doesn’t go unnoticed by their Creator.
Back to the bug collection. While he was at his grandparents’ lake house this weekend, he and his dad found an obscenely large, incredibly crunchy, disgustingly horrifying grasshopper. It was alive. He couldn’t bear to kill it for the sake of science.
Everyone, meet our new pet grasshopper “Lonely.”
I figured it would survive a day or two at the most in captivity. Oh, no. It is thriving under W’s diligent and loving care. Thriving. I swear it’s getting bigger. I threaten it. I show it the tackle box and assure it that it’s “only a matter of time before it joins the others.”
It won’t die.
I emailed W’s teacher today to ask if we might have a stay of execution for our stupid grasshopper so that he can use it as part of his collection but spare its life. If I were her, I would not want to set a precedent of my students (no matter how convicted) bringing live bugs into my classroom. Nope. In her benevolence, however, she has graciously chosen to humor our plight. Lonely is going to 4th grade.
As much as I don’t want a grasshopper in my home, and as much as I would like to eat meat freely in the light of day with the rest of the carnivorous world, I can’t help but admire my son. His compassion is real. It’s honest. As he grows, and that compassion takes root in things besides the sparing of grasshoppers and the avoidance of chicken nuggets, I imagine the difference he could make in the world.
Empathy is in short supply these days. You go ahead and save the planet one bug at a time, my boy. I could learn some things from you.
Now, if you’ll excuse me—it’s time to feed the grasshopper.
When I was a little girl, my mother, who at the time, I thought was the most unfair, vindictive, Amish mother in the world, made me wear very modest swimsuits. You know the ones. Not just one-piece, but one piece with a skirt. A skirt! Oh, the injustice! Oh, the stifling of my personal expression! While my tiny little friends sashayed around the beach and pool in their adorable bikinis, I was billowing around in my layers of body-covering rayon, so very aware of my too-tall frame among such petite lovelies.
Oh, mom. I am so sorry. Sorry for saving up my money and secretly purchasing those hideously neon bikinis from the clearance rack. Sorry for shoving them deep down in the recesses of my sock drawer, or once you caught on to that, between my fitted sheet and the mattress pad (the only hiding place for anything I might have slipped past you). I am sorry for leaving the house in my rayon swim-burka, only to hastily change into a bikini when I got to the pool. I totally, 100% get it now.
Do I think there is anything inherently wrong with wearing a (respectably cut) bikini? No. It’s a hot topic among Christian women, and I see both sides of the debate, but no. I do not. In fact, throughout my college years, I competed in the Miss America pageant system wearing a modestly cut, body-flattering bikini and was completely at ease doing it. The whole point of the swimsuit competition (the original point, y’all. Not the media-sensationalized point) is fitness. It’s called the “Physical Fitness in Swimsuit” competition. It’s designed to show that a young woman competing for the title of Miss Indiana/Miss America/Miss Whatever is the whole package. The brains to rock an interview chock full of current events, the talent to captivate the audience with a well-done performance, and also the desire and ability to be physically fit and invested in her health. Finding time to go to the gym and eat healthy is not easy, right?
Bikinis weren’t required in the swimsuit competition. I could have worn a one-piece. Truthfully, I wore a bikini simply because my abs were sick, you guys. Two babies later, I can say that without any ego, because my abs are no longer sick (in that sense, anyway). I look at those photos from the glory days of my mid-section, and it’s like looking at a younger, hotter long-lost cousin. I have mixed feelings of admiration and hate for the girl in that picture. I totally underappreciated the tummy of my youth–my goose that laid the golden egg of scholarship money.
RIP, old friend.
Oh, stop. I can hear you gasping in horror.
Anyway, back to life now. So my daughter, a fashionista at the tender age of 6, desperately wants me to let her wear a bikini, and I will not do it. I will not. We’re at the stage where she won’t wear the tutu one-pieces anymore, so I have acquiesced to the tankini. It covers everything a one piece covers but comes in two pieces. Easier to pee. What’s not to love?
My little girl, however, still so young by the measurement of years, but so mature in appearance and intellect, thinks I’m terribly unjust for refusing to let her wear anything less covering than her tankinis.
“Why can’t I wear a bikini? They even make them for two-year-olds, Mommy.”
“I know, but I wouldn’t let my two-year-old wear one either.”
“You wear one sometimes.”
“I know, but I’m a grownup. I don’t want creepy people looking at your body.”
“Do you want creepy people looking at your body?”
Well…shoot. Swift shut down from a 2nd grader.
My sweet little girl is growing up so fast. Her physical development is one step ahead of her emotional development. I experienced the same tug-of-war at her age. Navigating a body that changes so quickly, you hardly recognize it day to day, while your brain bounces between wanting to watch cartoons and wanting to catch up to your body. I remember knowing I wanted to wear a bikini and makeup and high heels and perfume, but not knowing why I wanted to. It’s an odd instinctual pull, the desire to embrace the idea of womanhood while you’re still only a child. I grieve a bit for the little-girl-me and the fight she had to navigate those strange emotions. People look at you differently and make comments about you that seem vaguely uncomfortable to your young brain, but you’re not exactly sure where the discomfort lies or why.
Yes, knowing Jesus helps–but at that age, there’s something a little weird about being like “Hey, Lord? Why are my hips wider than all my friends’? Also, I held hands with a boy while I was roller skating, and I didn’t hate it. What’s going on? Boys are gross, Lord. You made them. You know this. What’s happening to me?” We are free to come to Him with anything and He deeply cares about all of it, but still– I can’t help but imagine Him fielding some of my more angsty prayers back then with His hands over His ears going “Lalalalalalala! I can’t heeeeeeear yoooooou!”
I am holding on to my daughter’s innocence with white knuckles. I am not going to let go. I will protect her for as long as I can from the sideways glances, the comments that are callously made within her earshot, and most of all from a society that wants her to desire bikinis and boyfriends long before her tender heart is equipped for any of it. In hindsight, I am grateful for the struggles I had as an “early bloomer” and the perspective it gives me on how to pray for and talk to my precious daughter. I can still feel the same awkwardness of growing up as if 1987 were just yesterday.
We’ve got this, my sweet girl.
I stand by my statement that bikinis don’t ooze sinfulness just because the hem of the top piece doesn’t meet the hem of the bottom piece. I will stand just as firmly, however on the fact that my tall, curvy, lovely daughter doesn’t need the masses at the pool to be privy to this vulnerable time of growing up while she’s trying to figure it all out. That’s just where we are.
She might be six, going on 16, but she’s my baby. Please treat her as such, World, or I will cut you.
Suffice it to say, my collection of bikinis has since been boxed up. Tankinis, here I come. I draw the line at anything with a skirt, though.
A girl has her limits.
I saw my GI doctor yesterday for my regular visit to check up on the fiasco that is my insides. We celebrated the fact that I haven’t had an extended hospital stay in just over two years. We lamented the fact that I still have SOD and IBS and GERD—pretty much all the letters.
As he poked around on my furious innards, he asked what I’ve been up to. I told him we just finished the longest and shortest summer EVER, and I’m getting ready to start my busy travel season for work.
“Remind me how many kids do you have?”
“Five, between my husband and me.”
“FIVE? And you work full time? And you travel? My dear, you don’t just have irritable bowel syndrome. You have irritable LIFE syndrome.”
We proceeded to talk about how your brain and your digestive system are tightly connected (please refrain from any head vs. rear end jokes, thank you very much). You can lie to your brain sometimes, but you can’t lie to your gut. The gut knows. The gut sees. The gut reacts…like a boss.
As usual, he implored me to take a vacation, reduce my work hours, create something called “free time” for this thing called “more sleep.” So many magical unicorns. I only rolled my eyes twice. Maybe three times.
I left the office with a shiny new drug to placate my angry insides. It’s a pill roughly the size of a ping-pong ball, and it tastes like dryer lint and old potatoes. I have high hopes.
Irritable Life Syndrome. I don’t feel like that’s the case, but my GI bills say otherwise. How can it be that when my brain’s glass is half-empty, and my tummy’s glass is fizzing with Alka-Seltzer, my heart is full to the brim? Because God nourishes my heart with the peace that passes all understanding. The peace that keeps you from completely losing your junk when you find the bathtub full of chocolate milk. The peace that stubbornly replaces your resentment with compassion when life isn’t “fair.” Stoically bridging the gap between my southern and northern hemispheres, my heart makes peace with what should be an “irritable life” to the casual observer–one desperate prayer at a time.
Admittedly, sometimes my brain tackles my heart like a 300-pound freshman linebacker who just got put in the championship game. Sometimes there’s no stopping it, and my heart gets clobbered.
More often than not, my heart is there to gently pat my frazzled, pulsating brain and say “there, there” when it threatens to revolt. Heart can talk Brain down from the ledge 9 times out of 10. It runs interference between my pragmatic gut and my idealistic thoughts of how things should “really be.” It reminds me that my life is GOOD. On my worst day, my life is so good.
Heart gently nudges me to look when my kids are playing some imaginative, albeit horribly messy game. It softly shushes Brain when it starts to calculate how long it will take to clean up after whatever creative display of childhood has just taken place.
On the occasions when Brain sneaks an angry outburst past it, Heart marches me in to meekly apologize to my children. It reminds Brain that they will only be little for such a short time.
I don’t have Irritable Life Syndrome. I have everything I’ve ever wanted. It doesn’t always look exactly the way I thought it would, but as long as I continually ask God to keep my heart soft and full, my brain will be just fine.
Now, Gut…that guy’s always going to be a jerk, but I’d rather have Heart than all the Guts in the world anyway.
God, please make my heart soft for You and for my beautiful, crazy life.