One day, Louise took Kate to Casper, ostensibly to show her around their favorite sites, but mostly just to go to a particular ice cream shop. They had a leisurely lunch, and then went in search of their real sustenance...the cool, creamy sweetness always so acceptable in pregnancy. And this, Kate realized when she walked in,was no ordinary ice cream shop. The room was bigger than many restaurants she had been to, and the ice cream counter stretched on and on, featuring literally dozens of flavors and many of them quite exotic. She browsed the selections, pausing by usual favorites and intriguing new possibilities: Black Cherry with Chocolate, Triple Chocolate Fudge, Boisenberry, Espresso, Salted Caramel, Coconut Swirl, Lemon Cheesecake...her list of potentials grew too long to keep in mind. She tried some samples and got a small cup of something berry-ish. Creamy berry ice cream with chocolate chunks had never failed her yet. And this shop knew what it was about--the quality of the ice cream was fantastic, the portions large, and the prices lower than anything Kate had ever seen before.
An intriguing neon green called to her from the counter, and she went to sample the Green Apple and Gummy Bears flavor...and promptly got a dish of the same (to share with Louise, of course.) I'm not sure I've ever had ice cream I liked so much! but even as she thought it, she remembered special ice cream shops she had been to--in Alaska (oh, that Ginger ice cream!) and in Cincinnati (mmmm, the Black Cherry with Chocolate fudge!), and in Germany (oh, the Kiwi gelatto!)... But Casper would definitely rank among her top ice cream destinations. She felt a ridiculously desperate love for ice cream. She knew it was absurd... but even so, she found herself wondering how many universities were in the Casper area and if there were any economics positions available. I could live here. Kate thought as she took another heavenly bite and feeling a little bit like Esau, selling his birthright for some delicious stew. I could definitely live here...
On the drive to and from Casper, which was about 30 minutes one-way, Kate worked on finishing a baby quilt she had started for Teddy over a year before. She dared to start a second, with more girly colors, even before the revealing sonogram that justified such an action. But this was not the only project in hand. She had a knitted afghan she was working on. It was turning out to be huge and rather a liability in a car, but she was close to being finished with it. And it would feel like huge accomplishments to finish all three of these projects (though Baby Girl's quilt wasn't even close) because they were creations made from scraps and leftovers and supplies that were lying around, lonely and forgotten and unmarked for any particular use. Whenever Kate was able to take such things and make something beautiful and useful, she felt particularly accomplishing and virtuous.
the view from the precipice
And yet, she still had her doubts. What real good does this kind of knitting and sewing really do for anyone? she sometimes questioned. Maybe my time would be so much better spent doing something else. Am I just procrastinating? Ignoring the things I ought to be doing in order to "accomplish" something that's really just fun and relaxing for me? These questions haunted her, not just as she knitted and crocheted, but also as she worked on their scrapbooks--three of them. The first, their wedding album, Kate was determined to finish before their fifth anniversary. The second was a baby album for Teddy (a gift from Mrs. Mortte in Williamsburg) in which Kate planned on preserving memories and pictures only of the first year. The third scrapbook was their family scrapbook, which was woefully behind and documented their married life together until an abrupt stop at a major hike in Alaska the summer of 2012. If she didn't press on and try to catch up before the baby came, all posterity would wonder what happened to Kate and Mister after those pictures taken on that daring precipice...
on the precipice
Kate had baby blankets to work on too, for two baby showers coming up in consecutive weekends. She had plans to learn how to cook Indian food. She wanted to read the books on her shelves that she had never read before. How contrary the mind is! These desires and plans, current and future and hypothetical projects all conspired against Kate's sense of self-worth and accomplishment. In her more despondent moments, she abhorred her own shallowness, that she could think that such things somehow really mattered. What kind of accomplishments were they...really?
One evening while in Wyoming, Kate took a walk while she was talking to Mister on the phone, and she voiced her concerns.
"Sometimes it all seems so meaningless," she complained, "I can't help but think there must be something important for me to do, and that I'm just sitting around knitting and ignoring it."
Mister thought for a moment, trying to gauge the seriousness of his wife's self-accusation. "Kate," he finally replied with gentle firmness, "the things you do are meaningful. They are useful and beautiful and improve and enrich our lives in so many ways."
Kate grew quiet and stopped on the sidewalk where she stood. "Do you really think so?" she asked, knowing that he did, but needing the extra reassurance.
"Yes, I do." He paused, wanting to give full understanding to her emotion. "I also think that very occasionally, you do use your projects as an excuse to avoid doing some other chore, but you also are perfectly aware of it each time. You don't need to worry about being blind to your duties."
Kate laughed in assent and relief. She felt like she had been going crazy with indecision.
"Work on your projects when you have good time for it," Mister encouraged her. "And enjoy the time that you get to spend doing something both enjoyable and useful. And just make sure that you're not neglecting Teddy or Louise and her family, or those other things that you already know you need to do."
Fully affirmed in Mister's value of her creations, Kate cheerfully moved on to talk about the excitements of the day. A few days later, when she had finished the afghan and Teddy's quilt, she saw what Mister saw--beauty and usefulness. She could hardly understand what her problem had been. How could I think that these things are a waste of time? she wondered. Especially since I usually only work on them when doing something else already, like watching a movie. And of course I'm not blind to my duties...as long as I want to please God and do what He wants, I know He won't make it hard for me to know what that is. Life is good! she exulted. One can't miss...
And once again, the sometimes sinister pregnancy hormones magnified both the doubts and the confidences that Kate encountered in her everyday life. One day, everything she did was meaningless, and the next, each moment was fraught with meaning. Without Mister around to anchor her every morning and evening in the firm reality of humanity's significant smallness, Kate reeled between her emotional extremes and often wished that life could just slow down (or even stop) for a genuine, deep, and delicious rest.
the large afghan, with alternating cables and 4-strand braids
Kate's sleep was quite varied while she was in Wyoming. She and Teddy were sleeping in the same room, and he was still waking up hungry in the night. (Kate maintained that if she went back to bed afterward, it was still night and not morning.) But this made for some early mornings, and generally exhausting days, especially if her pregnancy insomnia kicked in and she was unable to sleep for hours while her son was sleeping.
some people wake up more easily than others....
Louise sometimes had trouble sleeping as well, and one evening, when everyone else had already tucked in for the night, they chatted about their various sheep-counting techniques. Kate tried to describe how she fell asleep, "I pick a focus point out in the distance..."
"Wait," Louise objected, "what distance? Are your eyes open?"
"No, they're closed. I just imagine a point...way out in the black space inside my eyelids. Then, I slowly bring that focus point forward toward my nose."
"How do you move a focus point in black space?"
"I don't know, I just imagine it... I guess kind of like watching a car in slow motion coming straight toward you. I focus on the one spot, and it slowly moves towards my nose. Then I imagine it passing through my face and behind me. And if I focus on trying to keep the spot in my mind's eye, I usually fall asleep at that point."
Louise shook her head, not sure what to think of her friend. "Wow. All I do is read for half and hour or till I'm sleepy, and then I go to sleep."
Kate laughed, and looked at the clock. "Goodness! Speaking of sleep...."
One redeeming thing about getting up early in the morning was the cool air blowing in from the corner windows in the living room. Either Kate, Louise, or Tuck would make everyone espresso lattes in the morning, and Kate would sip hers on the couch, close her eyes and curl her legs up under her (increasingly difficult, but still possible). And she would imagine that she was back in Alaska breathing in the fresh, cool fragrance of summer. It was a fragrance not just of Alaskan mornings, but also late evenings, and green-gold forests where the sun streamed through a canopy of birch leaves. It was the smell of running freely through the woods on a dirt trail and getting sprinkled with soft misty rain. She wasn't sure what made that smell--probably some combination of plants--but it was so beautifully nostalgic (and so deliciously delightful even if it wasn't) that she actually anticipated her morning times of waking up by the window. These moments of simply sitting and smelling the air calmed her and lifted her spirit like so much magical pixie dust and prepared her to be enchanted.
And Kate found Wyoming in general to be delightful. She had visited Cody the year before, shortly after Louise had given birth to Isaac. They were able to hike some and see parts of Yellowstone, and the Buffalo Bill Museum. In Glenrock, the terrain wasn't so generally interesting, but as soon as she drove out on the highway the trees opened up to reveal hilly fields of white grass, riddled with strange bumps that looked like miniature canyons. This was the area of the Oregon Trail, and she couldn't help but think of the difficulty those travelers must have had with the incessant up and down of the curiously steep, short hills. It was not at all hard to imagine away the road and envision the world of Owen Wister's Virginian, who rode hundreds of miles back and forth, slept under the stars with his saddlebags for a pillow, and had his own secret, favorite spots out in this vast open wild. It wouldn't be a life that Kate wanted for herself--especially since she could barely get comfortable on a soft bed with three pillows (at least) surrounding her! But she could easily see the charm of the idea. And then of course, there were the antelope--herds of antelope trotting carelessly across the hills, graceful in motion, but looking comical with their great white fluffy backsides bounding up and down as if they were wearing diapers.
The first couple days of her stay were very busy, since Tuck was in charge of running the Boy Scout day camp in Casper...and of course, that meant that Louise was in charge of planning it. Kate helped stuff envelopes and fold t-shirts and make name tags. By Monday morning, they were officially ready, and left Kate to settle herself until their return in the late afternoon. It was nice to have some quiet time to relax and recover. Three adults and three little boys in a small house filled with all kinds of day-camp equipment...there was bound to be some chaos! But after two days of a quiet house to themselves, Kate missed Louise and her boys, even if they did make life feel a bit crazy with their loud, enthusiastic play. (Kate figured she'd have to get used to it sooner or later.)
And even though the boys were clearly tired when they got back from day camp, they could still be crazy. The evening of the second camp day, Hank was jumping around, playing with the couch cushions. No one really saw exactly what happened when all of a sudden he was lying on the floor screaming, blood running out of his mouth. He had slipped or tripped or fallen and bit all the way through his lower lip. Kate wasn't sure what to do, so she packed up Louise's dinner, which she had barely touched, and then just sat at the dinner table and kept feeding Teddy. All four of them bundled back into the car to go back to the Emergency Room in Casper. Kate wished them well, and tried to settle herself and Teddy for the evening. She had forgotten to bring her journal, but she found Louise's and figured she wouldn't mind a guest entry or two.
After a description of the past few days and the accident, she tried to write just what she would in her own journal: It's definitely been a crazy couple of days. There's always SOME craziness and I know when I share my Crazy with friends, it's easier to see the fun and humorous side of it. I'm just so glad to be here, sharing life. It's what good friends do, and when being with Mister isn't possible, this is one of my favorite options.
The thought of driving to Wyoming with Teddy made Kate a little nervous. Not because of the drive--she loved driving and seeing the scenery and listening to music, and generally being prevented from doing anything else. She was nervous about Teddy. Traveling with him had been so easy in part because he was simply good natured, but also in part because through all those hours, there was someone in the passenger seat who could grab toys or make formula as needed. On this drive, she was solo.
Mister was attending a two-week seminar at Duke University in North Carolina, and after dropping him off at the airport, Kate would continue North to visit her dear friend, Louise, and her family. It wasn't even that far--another three or four hours straight up I-25.
Hard as she tried to prevent it, her pregnancy emotions overcame her, and she cried many times on the way to the airport. (Not to mention the couple days leading up to Mister's departure.) Two weeks was a long time, maybe the longest continuous time they had ever been apart. Kate knew that she was getting a far better deal than Mister: she got to go visit her best friend, see a new place, eat good food, and play with the kids. Mister on the other hand, would stay in an uncomfortable dorm room, be responsible for his own food and cooking, attend lectures that would probably be very dull, and be surrounded by people he didn't know. But all this, instead of making the separation easier, simply amplified Kate's sadness. Saying goodbye, she got out of the car, and sniffed out her usual (and by the this time, almost traditional) complaint, "You're always leaving me...."
And Mister replied as he always did, smiling kindly and wiping her eyes, "Yes, but I always come back."
Kate sniffed again and her voice rose to a slightly panicky squeak, "But what if you don't?!"
Kate nodded dumbly. For some reason, this reassured her.
By the time Kate was back on the road and actually on her way to Louise's house, she felt much better. What a chore it was to be such a basket-case all the time! Emotions and hormones raging hither and yon...what could she do? The immediate and most attractive solution of napping all day was hardly practical. She left the question unanswered and drove on her way, calmed by the open scenery and the puffy clouds ranging all across the horizon.
Teddy had started to fuss when they set out, but she had used up her panic reserve and simply turned on some music. Teddy clearly like music from only 4 or 5 months old, and when few options remained, it was always the best for a distraction. She turned the volume up and delighted in the empty road, seeing herself in a birds-eye view, zooming along the mountain rimmed plane with windows down, belting out the Dreamgirls soundtrack and bobbing her head to the funk beat. "Steppin' to the bad side....Ooo, Ooo, Oooooooo...."
Stepping to the bad side? she thought as she momentarily stopped singing. Should I be playing this for Teddy? And, if I can't play this for Teddy, I won't be able to play a lot of my music...and maybe I shouldn't listen to it either!...But the music I like is good, and has such a great groove, and I want my children to like it. No, having different standards for herself and her kids was not the right answer. Kate had given lots of thought to what music she listened to, and felt comfortable defending her selections.She looked in the rear-view mirror, which didn't show much except the handle of Teddy's carseat, which was fortunately still there. Sometimes she could see a foot sticking out to one side. Well, she thought, he's quite now, and probably asleep. So she turned the volume back down slightly and kept singing, having made a mental note to talk to her kids early and often about good and bad music and what to make of the lyrics.
Teddy took a long nap, and awoke at the convenient time when Kate was beginning to be desperate for a restroom. They took a break at a tiny town store, and she fed him Cheerios as he stood outside and cooed at the passers-by. He was delighted, and Kate was glad for the chance to stretch. Even though the drive was pleasant, she knew her back and leg would be hurting the next day. While they were stopped, the rain started. First, there were just a few drops, but by the time the Cheerios were packed up, the diaper bag was closed, and Teddy was back in his carseat, Kate was standing in a downpour. She carefully pulled out and got back on the highway, windshield wipers on high, slapping the rain and adding frantic motion to the distracting roar of the sudden storm. Then she saw the DOT sign, WARNING: HAIL STORM 3:00-6:00PM
Considering the massive hail storm that she and Mister experienced in Colorado Springs, she most certainly did not want to be stuck in the middle of a desolate Wyoming plane when one came up. She looked at the clock--2:00PM. She probably had at least an hour and a half to go. She suppressed a strong urge to step on the gas. Easy, Kate, she admonished herself, you'll be fine, just be careful, and you'll be fine.
And she was. She drove through heavy rain, but missed the hail. Louise's house was exactly three turns off the interstate, in a small town called Glenrock, not far from Casper. A reunion with Louise was always the same: squeals and hugs, little bounces, and general exclamations of giddy delight. They all went inside, leaving Kate's bags to be brought in later by Louise's husband, Tuck. Louise's two boys, Hank and Isaac were excited about having another little boy in their midst, even if they were hesitant about sharing their rooms and toys.
Isaac was almost exactly one year older than Teddy, and Kate looked forward (with some trepidation) to seeing how the two of them would interact. Of course, it would be different with a brother and sister one year apart--but she braced herself to see the hard work ahead of her in keeping two unreliable little ones in line. So far, Isaac seemed to enjoy Teddy, and was offering him toys by alternately shoving them in his face and then snatching them away again.
Kate and Louise chatted and watched the boys play until it was time for dinner. Louise had never met Teddy in person and couldn't resist the usual comments: "So this is Teddy! I can't believe he's getting so close to walking! Look how big he is!" (Kate had seen already, but never minded looking again...)
25. The Engagement Hike (May 2014) Almost exactly five years ago, Kate had been small (comparatively), spry, and fit. She had trotted up this trail behind Mister, casually checking to see if there were any lumps in his pockets that could indicate the size and shape of a ring box. (She later discovered said size and shape wrapped up in Mister's sweatshirt in the backpack...all in the natural course of getting a water bottle. But she wisely didn't let on until later.)
Now, she was large (practically elephant-sized), slow, and decidedly not fit. She did not trot. In fact, even thinking about "trotting" made her impulsively tuck a hand under her belly for support--even though she didn't need it for the careful, heavy, pachyderm steps she was taking. Nevertheless, this was a hike she wanted to do, though she continued to question the sincerity of that resolve for the next several hours. The hike was the 7 Bridges Trail in Cheyenne Canyon, continuing past the bridges and toward a meadow, where they would cut up the side of the mountain, scale a rocky outcrop on the top of the hill, and survey the Springs on one side and the continuing mountain range on the other.
the "non-proposal" rocks
She was surprised at how much she remembered--the different styles of bridges, particularly steep and windy switchbacks, bare patches where Mister had made her run during the thunderstorm 5 years ago, and the large rocks where she had tried to entice him into "taking a break" (which in her mind, meant stopping to get out the ring box.) She even remembered the nondescript spot where they broke off the trail and bounded (oh, to be spry and fit again!) up the side of the mountain.
What she did not remember was the heat and the sun. Of course, when they hiked the trail before, it must have been cloudy since there was a thunderstorm on their way back down. And that had made the whole hike more perfect than perfect! Kate had never been one to dream too many dreams about her wedding or perfect dates or the like...but she had thought when she was younger that her ideal proposal would be on the top of a mountain in a thunderstorm. And it was God's special gift to her to grant this seemingly unimportant wish, to have thunderstorms both over the Springs and beyond the mountains on the other side. Kate and Mister had sealed their love and promise to each other on the top of the mountain in perfect safety, and then began the descent before the rain came their direction. Kate remembered all this fondly. What wouldn't she give for some rain now!
Mister kept a bottle of ice cold water in hand (which they filled up in the creek running through the canyon) for the sole purpose of dousing Kate whenever she looked overheated. No thunderstorms were in sight this day. Kate had at least expected more shade along the trail, but the sun beat down mercilessly, making her drag her steps and stop frequently. Finally, they made it to the flat area...the true moment of commitment. Would they go up the side of the mountain, and scale the rocks to reach the proposal site? Could she?
Kate knew she would regret it if she didn't at least try. So, like the Little Engine that Could, she huffed and puffed and hauled her heavy load up the mountain, scrambled through scrub oak, scraped her legs, climbed the cliff, and eventually, made it to the top. There were good flat rocks to sit on, perfect for reminiscing and sneaking sweet kisses. When the happy couple cared to look around, the glorious view of the Springs greeted them, framed beautifully by the pine covered mountains. This too, she remembered. And it was all worth every painful step...and the atrocious sunburn she'd have on her shoulders for the next week, too!
Exercising was never high on Kate's List of Fun. Of course, she liked doing active things like hiking, skiing, or going for walks. But exercising for the purpose of being fit? Important, sure. But definitely not fun. And now, with her back/hip pain, her desire to exercise seemed to have a kind of inverse relationship with its importance. After all, who wants to go hop on an exercise bike for forty minutes when they can barely put on their shorts without falling over? And yet, it seemed that however much she didn't want to, that was how much more important it was for her to just go do it. The stationary bike in particular seemed to be what was most helpful, allowing Kate to exert herself at a more constant rate and giving her the most control over which muscles she was using, which should help hold her spine and pelvis in the right place. (This, from a physical therapist online.) Kate hoped rather than believed this to be true. There were so many different and varied painful spots in her lower back and hips, she gave up trying to actually understand what was going on. But for the most part, the biking did at least help in some fashion...sometimes.
The rest of the sometimes, it didn't seem to do anything except make her feel exhausted and dehydrated. Some days, there was no rest from it--sitting hurt. Standing hurt. Lying down on either side hurt. (And lying down on her back made her feel hotter and claustrophobic...and like those pathetic beetles that can't flip themselves back over.) These days worried her, especially in the midst of a seemingly long string of them. But mercifully, they always ended, making what was only "sometimes" quite bearable in hindsight, while it had been rather unbearable as a present "always".
after the hail storm
Mister and Kate tried to take advantage of the better days to occasionally go out together. Unfortunately, their first date was crushed...rather literally, by golf-ball sized hail. They were in the car, under some tree cover, but the storm was so quick and ferocious that Kate worried about the windows breaking in. They still went out once the storm passed, but it was hardly a good time for a walk in the park.
One day, when she was feeling better and in an adventurous and daring mood, Kate suggested going for a real bike ride on a real bike. Kate enjoyed riding bikes, but she also was slightly terrified of going down steep hills--one of few fears that remained from a terrible childhood accident. But from what she had seen of the nearby Santa Fe Trail, it was nearly as wide and flat as a road. She was pretty sure that even in her unwieldy pregnant state, she could manage to stay on board even if she encountered a mild decline.
The day they went was perfect, sunny and breezy. Kate and Mister took off on the trail heading South toward the heart of Springs. They passed parks and crossed back and forth over a small river, generally riding in smiling silence. Once, Mister attempted a comment, which Kate asked him to repeat twice and still couldn't comprehend. When they finally stopped for a break at a park, she asked him again.
"Well," he said (repeating the comment from when they were passing a skate park), "I just said that it was your chance to bust out some moves..."
Kate looked at him. "Oh."
Clearly, bike rides were not the time to have deep and meaningful conversation...or actually, any conversation at all, except during brief stops. But that wasn't necessarily bad. In spite of not talking, there was still plenty of communion together and sharing in the vibrancy of life that still made for a very good date. And this was augmented by several minutes walking and biking around the University of Colorado campus in the Springs. Mister talked about his memories there, potential job prospects, and ideas for the future. It was fun to just sit and muse and dream together about the future. Maybe they would end up in Colorado...maybe somewhere else. But wherever they went, they would be together, which made the dreaming beautiful, extravagant, and sometimes quite silly--the best kind.
Beginning on their return from the campus, Mister led Kate back and forth through some neighborhoods. "The Metz family lives somewhere around here," he said, "It would be fun to stop in."
Kate didn't know very many of Paul's "people" from growing up, but she had met Mrs. Metz in particular several times and had always enjoyed her. And by this time, she was glad to stop in for a longer break before making the rest of the trek back. They rang the doorbell, Kate feeling her usual fluttery excitement that she always felt when unexpectedly dropping in on someone. Mrs. Metz was home and received them with gracious and hospitable delight. Once they were settled on the couch with a glass of water and an apple, Kate felt they could stay far longer than they ought. They told Mrs. Metz about their future prospects and jobs (more pragmatically this time), their church, and about Teddy. Mrs. Metz, in turn, talked about her son (just graduating from the Air Force Academy), his plans, and some of her own, now that he would be moving away from Colorado. It was easy and relaxed and familiar. Kate enjoyed it immensely, all the more because it was impromptu.
When they left, they rode back in silence. But in the car, they reflected together on their time.
"You know," Kate said, "even though we didn't talk much during the ride, it felt like a really nice and memorable time of shared experience."
"I think so too," Mister agreed. "In fact, I was thinking about activities in general that we could do together or that we could do with friends, that can be memorable like this and bonding without needing a lot of in-depth conversation."
Kate laughed, "I guess sometimes we can certainly over-emphasize the in-depth conversation! But hiking is definitely one of those activities...or almost anything outdoors. There's always something new and different and unique about it each time, even if you end up doing something you've done before!"
"Going for walks...playing sports..." Mister suggested.
"And group activities, like in the olden days when they had corn huskings and quilting bees."
Mister looked at Kate. "You're going to host a quilting bee?"
"Well, no, probably not." Kate looked a little sheepish. "But it would be memorable! ...and bonding."
In the morning, Kate and Mister embarked on the next leg of their journey, and their last for a while. Colorado Springs was at least 12 hours away, and with a baby...well, they could hardly expect to arrive before 10 or 11 that night. Kate looked suspiciously at Teddy--he was happy, but how long would that last? Even without a fussy baby, it was going to be a very long day of driving. But the weather was in their favor--a significant boon since their car's air conditioner was broken. On Sunday, it had been hot, and Mister had entertained himself by periodically pouring cold water over her head and front while Kate was driving. Now, as they left Missouri, the morning was humid but tolerable. As they approached Colorado, it promised to get much cooler--in fact, the forecast in the Springs was for snow that same day!
Kate had done the drive between the Springs and St. Louis twice before and remembered it as being vaguely pleasant and mostly uninteresting. Mister (and the other Millers), who had made the trip many times, frequently made disparaging remarks about Kansas. So she was naturally surprised when she realized that, at least this time, she was loving driving through Kansas.The speed limit was high, the clouds were fantastic (and promised some rain ahead of them), and at top of the small undulating hills, the view stretched for miles of golden farmland. The fluffy clouds brushed colors across the blueness of the sky from deepest, stormiest grey to blinding white. And the diffused light from behind the clouds on the yellow-white fields made the view look enchanting.
Teddy was also enchanting. Apparently, the only thing he'd rather do than ride in the backseat with the wind blowing his hair (and periodically sleeping and eating) was get out at a rest stop and see people. Teddy only fussed when he was hungry. But when they stopped and got him out, he absolutely radiated baby joy. He looked up at Kate and Mister with an adoring smile and flapped his arms and wiggled his feet, so delighted to see faces again. And he spread the joy too! He made friends and adoring fans at every rest stop, crawling back and forth on the dirty tile or sidewalks, pulling up and tilting his head back to give a toothy grin and giggle to any passing stranger who looked his way.
So the day passed, slowly but fairly pleasantly. The last half hour, (nearing 11PM) Teddy was awake and slap-happy, chortling to himself in maniacal bursts of laughter, as if he had just hatched a plot to take over the world! But as good as the drive was, how good it was to get to the Millers! There was snow on the ground--tiny amounts, but snow nonetheless! And even though it was late, Kate gloried in the knowledge that they could finally unpack and not be living out of suitcases and boxes. The stability would be good for Teddy too, not changing locations so much and having his own place to sleep (the closet.)
The following couple days, Kate and Mister discovered the true toll that the trip had taken. Kate's lower back (which seemed fine on the journey) now hurt so much, she could barely walk or balance on one leg as she got dressed. Intellectually, she knew that exercising should help strengthen the muscles to keep her back in place, and the Millers had even made this easier and potentially enjoyable by getting her a guest pass to their gym. But practically, she had to acknowledge, "When you can barely move, there's a lot of inertia to overcome in order to go exercise!" Worry nagged the back of her mind. What if she couldn't get better? What if she couldn't lift Teddy and carry him around? Forty weeks was still a long way off.
How do babies play with each other? Apparently, by grabbing each other and snatching away whatever toy the other is holding. All in good fun of course.
Teddy and Elayna were technically first cousins once removed. But to Kate, "first cousins once removed" sounded like a highly starched tablecloth laden with milky white china. They were really just two babies...and even those appearances could be deceiving. Teddy was the gladiator, brute force being his strength, though he was a couple months younger than his foe. Elayna came to battle with cunning, wise as the serpent and gentle as a...well, not a dove. She might almost rank the gentility of a monkey.
Their arena was a mostly baby-proofed living room, Elayna's native turf, the home of Mister and Kate's cousins in St. Charles, Missouri. The first round featured a restaurant ketchup packet and went something like this: Teddy has it...No, Elayna has it...they're both grabbing it! And Teddy has it again...and Elayna has gone to get the soy sauce...and Teddy's after her! etc. The second round was more like a free flowing game of Simon Says. Teddy crawled into the living room, and Elayna followed. Elayna pulled up on the coffee table, and there was Teddy a moment later. They walked around the coffee table one way...and then the other. Elayna went to play with her toy kitchen, and Teddy followed to play with Elayna's hair. The third and final round was a straight-up tug-o-war with a toothbrush. Elayna ended up with the toothbrush, but Teddy giggled with glee as he let go. As Kate was later writing the memories in her journal, she thought and thought about what to say. Finally she just wrote, It was indescribably entertaining. We all just sat around watching the two of them until we put them to bed. I guess it was one of those things where you just have to be there.
the toothbrush round
Kate and Mister's visit was short and sweet. They stayed two only nights. And the day in between held a lovely walk in historic St. Charles, including a stop at a sweet shop where Kate bought some maple fudge--one of her favorites, and something she had been dreaming about for the last 5 years or so. (Apparently, it's not a very common fudge flavor.) Later that afternoon, the rest of the family showed up, and Teddy got to meet his great-grandparents for the first time. They doted on him and Elayna and watched as the two babies continued their rivalry in the little lawn pool. They crawled around and splashed in the water and soaked their diapers until they nearly slipped completely off! But by the time Elayna leaned to far over the edge and tipped out of the pool, the little cousins had had enough fun in the sun and were demanding (in their eloquent, baby way) some food and a nap.
The stay was delightful. Kate and Mister had never before had the chance to see Teddy interact with someone so close to his own age and capabilities. It was fun to watch, and also to know that the two of them would continue to see and play with each other as they grew. And even after Elayna and Teddy were in bed, Kate and Mister stayed up into the wee hours with their cousins. They cheerfully bore the compounded sleep deprivation in order to cherish the late night talk and sharing deeply of life, faith, and family.
Kate and Mister liked to read books aloud to each other. Kate couldn't remember when this started, but it had always been a sweet way to share something and get a good conversation going. So far, they read twenty or thirty books together, mostly childhood favorites including the Anne of Green Gables series (Kate's choice, obviously), and the Pendragon Cycle by Stephen Lawhead (Mister's childhood equivalent.) This summer, the adventurous couple planned to branch into non-fiction for the first time. Kate was generally opposed to non-fiction reading on some kind of principle, but for this summer reading list, she made an exception since it was a topic she found fascinating and compelling.
Perhaps she found it compelling because, at the core of the discussion, lay reasons to choose some books over others...or movies, or games. It involved thinking about what was good food to eat and how much and why. In short, it was a discussion about how to live life--all of life with its many nuances, changeableness, and decisions--in a way that is distinctly Christian. And this was a discussion that she and Mister had been having since early in their marriage. Usually, their conversation focused around their entertainment and finding truly good things to do with their leisure time. When could they decide when one thing (watching a movie, for example) could really be identified as the best thing to do? Their search was not for some proscribed formula, but for a method of thinking, a structure through which they choose from their options not just what they want in the moment, but what is lasting and meaningful and good.
Of course, they understood the answer to be different depending on stage of life and circumstances (there was certainly a marked shift when Teddy was born!) But still, they desired to continue the dialogue, with each other and with their friends, seeking to understand how (and if) their Christian peers answered this question of what to do with our leisure time as Christians in modern American society. And out of this discussion was born a themed reading list on Christianity and culture. Among the favored titles were Christ and Culture, a classic from the 1950s; Temptation: Self-control in an age of excess, a secular consideration of the importance of self-control; Popcultured, a Christian book focused on style, media, and entertainment; and Dancing in the Dark, a similar collection of essays on youth, pop culture, and electronic media.
Their first pick (as being the broadest and most foundational) was Niebuhr's Christ and Culture. Kate and Mister found it to be slow going, trying to read aloud such an academic work. Almost after each paragraph they would stop and discuss some element of his argument. But they appreciated the thoughtful language, charming turn of phrase, and most of all Niebuhr's attempt to lay out five distinct responses to the question "how should Christians interact with the world's culture around them?" Though they were certainly possible responses, the first two weren't terribly helpful for their own questions.
Kate simply mocked the first, radical response which posited that Christ was against culture and Christians should have nothing to do with it. "That's just silly." she said, in her artless, tactless way. "After all, one just can't get away from it. Even if Christians go off and live by themselves, they still form a community with a culture of it's own and it is still based in some respect on human considerations--like eating and sleeping and manners and...."
"Okay, okay." Mister calmed her, "I agree with you! And I think Niebuhr does too...just keep reading."
Kate was equally outraged at the next option: Christ of culture. She complained, "It's as if these people think that culture is the most important and that Jesus is just around to show us which are the best parts of culture!"
Mister nodded again, "Yes, this view is not really a Christian view. I like what Niebuhr says about them thinking that the enemy is Nature, and that God is helping mankind overcome and purify Nature....as opposed to God overcoming the sin within mankind. They seem to completely ignore the fact that people are sinful and need to be saved."
The other three "responses" were much more palatable, mostly in agreement with each other, with only degrees of difference. The "Christ above culture" view considers that God institutes and sustains culture, which means that it's not wholly bad...True, thought Kate...and that there are varying degrees of goodness or evilness in the cultural forms of the world...No, she thought, there's nothing inherently more holy about being a minister than a trash collector. And yet, it's good to recognize that cultural things can be God-ordained and sustained--but, as with governments, that does not make them perfect or righteous.
The Christ and culture perspective resonated the most with Kate and Mister, and presented the paradoxical view from the New Testament that people need to live in the world but not of it. Interaction with culture is a necessity, but conformation is not. And yet this view seemed to lead to a static, conservative response--not really responding to or trying to change culture at all, but merely trying to keep the status quo from becoming more evil.
Kate wanted to join this with elements of the last view, Christ as a transformer of culture, which says that Christ is involved in every area of our lives and being so, Christians can expect to make a difference as they attempt to redeem various parts of their culture. But if taken to the extreme, this view started sounding universalist--as if God was going to transform and perfect people and cultures here in this life, saving one and all with no condemnation for those who reject him.
This was Kate's Mother's Day: after a delightful visit to their old college church, they took a beautiful drive to Ft. Wayne, where they had lunch with some college friends, who were eager to dive into moral and philosophical discussion. Then they continued their drive to St. Louis as they read. And as Kate and Mister talked and thought, they got more and more excited about their growing family.
"This would be a great book to read again every five years or so," Mister proposed, "and what would be really fun is to get together with James and Kelsey and the Howards to discuss it!"
"Ah! SO fun." Kate exclaimed, and wondered if they could really try to make that happen. "It's definitely a great topic to think on as our family grows and we start deciding 'family policy' about different things. It would also be a great book to go through when our kids reach high-school age!" (Kate was already drawing up essay questions in her mind for Teddy's homeschool curriculum.) "I think it would be wonderful to have--in varying forms, of course--these conversations with them as they grow and start thinking more independently about clothes and activities and what they do with their play time."
"Certainly. It's a discussion Christians should have more often, not just with their families! Too often, Christians in America are content with pursuing the 'American Dream' along with everyone else. We need to be careful and always consider just how we're called to be set apart; and then of course, have ready answers for why we choose to live differently."
We're set apart. Kate mused happily to herself as she looked at the passing fields and fluffy clouds. It's what make life secure even when we don't know the future, and an adventure even when every day seems the same. God has a beautiful, exciting plan and a good purpose behind everything, and that is SO comforting and fun.
Aloud, she said, "This is SO fun. Maybe we should take road trips every year on Mother's Day!"