Every Child Matters. Every Child.

According to an audit done by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), in the summer of 2017 there was a significant increase in children who were separated from their families at the US/Mexico border. The Trump administration did not officially announce its family-separating zero tolerance policy until June of 2018.

The children detained after the policy’s official implementation have mostly been released to their families, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintains that the children detained prior to implementation have been similarly reunited.

So. No harm no foul?

I don’t think so.

There are a number of frightening things at play in this latest bit of breaking news, one of which is that while DHS and other government agencies can say these children have been released to their families or “sponsors,” the truth is, we simply don’t know. It appears that the government agencies responsible for these children can’t really know either, as the number of pre-policy detainees has been put in the vague range of “thousands” of children, and no adequate records of these children exist.

There are many (MANY!) jaw-dropping pieces of news floating around right now, but I implore you not to ignore this one. Even if the relevant agencies knew without doubt the exact number of children and had proof positive of reunification, the question remains: how did we, the American people, not know about this?

(DHS spokesperson Katie Waldman maintains that the practice of detention has been going on for decades, and so at this point it should be well known and old hat. What Waldman is referencing, however, is detention of unaccompanied minors, which is not what is at play here. I’ve worked with a few of those minors in the past and feel generally well informed about what goes on in those equally sad cases.)

There is no need to wax on about why this story should break your heart, make you so angry you could spit, or send you to the streets in protest. I assume you already feel all of those things and more.

But what feels even worse is what this all of this implies for the collective soul of our nation.

As someone who prays daily that we might all be able to fully realize one another’s humanity, it is this type of news that renders me breathless and overwhelmed. I cannot think of many clearer cases than this of failing so completely to see the face of God in others. When a parent of five knowingly and intentionally separates a child and parent, I can think of no other reason for it. Because if the humanity of “others” was realized, that person would know there is no difference in how “their” children versus “our” children feel when taken from their parents. No different heartbreak for a mother or father when his or her child has been taken to God-knows-where and is being cared for by God-knows-who. Have no doubt about it, memories of this moment in time will be reflected by history books, and we will not like what our grandchildren will read of it.

And then there’s the helplessness to stop it.

Because yes, while we, the American people, put so much pressure on the President that he signed an executive order meant to end the practice of separation, and the courts compelled reunification of the families, we didn’t even know about the thousands previously detained.

As a mere citizen, there are a large number of things I don’t know about what goes on in the world. I’m well aware of that, and I know that in most instances there is little I can do about it. So, I push those things aside and focus on what I can do now, and how I can learn to do more in the future.

But this. I didn’t know about this?

As a long-time child advocate, as someone whose primary concern in life is the care of children, this frustrates, saddens, and angers me beyond belief. It is something I feel in my gut. In the tips of my toes and in the pounding of my temple. It is one of those things that makes life unbearable, and yet makes me realize that with the one life I have, I better live it well and for not just myself, but for the well-being of others.

News stations don’t seem to be focusing much on this story, although every reporter I’ve listened to says the news is “huge.” Instead, the focus today is on the letter-writing pissing match between Speaker Pelosi and Mr. Trump. Today’s other, more important news is a much-needed reminder to focus on the things that truly matter. Not trips to Brussels, but children.

 

Cuddles’ So-called Life

I almost ignored it.

I was raking thatch out back, watching the kids pretend long, fallen branches left over from winter storms were light sabers, and our willow tree Darth Vader. Vader had won this battle and the kids were headed in, the youngest crying at his loss, when I saw something shimmery and black wiggle a little in the grass. I thought for a second it was a trick of the light, but then remembered the baby copperhead we found a couple of months ago and figured it was better to be safe than sorry.

Three steps later and I was staring at a mostly naked baby mouse, no mama mouse in sight.

I had no idea what to do. It was too young and cute for me to have the typical “mouse” reaction, and besides, it was barely breathing, let alone moving. What could it possibly do?

I dropped my rake and ran in, calling for the kids to come outside. Aaron resisted at first, still crying but now sitting at the kitchen island. “But Aaron,” I said. “It’s a baby mouse!”

If that mouse does nothing else in its entire life, it can always say it stopped a four-year-old’s tears.

The three of us went to look, the kids getting too close, while I went through the various scenarios in my head.

We couldn’t kill it. And we couldn’t keep it. And we couldn’t just dump it over the fence and make it someone else’s problem. Maybe drive it to a field and let it go? No. It was too little; it would die.

I decided to call Andy, who was still at work, but thankfully his office is in our basement so he didn’t have far to travel when I said, “Come to the backyard ASAP, please.”

He didn’t know what to do, either.

“If we leave it alone its mom might come back,” he said.

“No.” I’ve worked with neglected children long enough to see the signs, even in a 5-inch long rodent. “It’s been abandoned. It’s going to die.”

We took pictures. We hemmed and hawed. We told the kids not to get too close or to touch. We shushed all the pleadings to take on a new pet.

“I’m making an executive decision,” Andy said.

I immediately got nervous. I don’t do executive decision too well, unless I’m the executive.

“We’re leaving it alone to see if its mom comes back. I’ll check on it in a couple of hours.”

We agreed and went in the house, but went straight to the window overlooking the shiny, black, clearly dying lump of almost-hairlessness in our backyard.

I started dinner.

The kids and Andy played Uno.

The dog wanted out.

“Oh no. He might eat the mouse.”

“He wouldn’t eat a mouse.”

“He tried to eat the copperhead.”

“Yeah, but snakes are tasty.”

“Andy…”

“Well, Winston eating it might save the mouse from something worse.”

Rachel started screaming.

“I’m also worried about Winston bringing mouse-mouth into the house!”

“Oh, right.”

Rachel was still screaming.

“We aren’t going to let him eat the mouse, Rachel. Sit at the window to play cards. If Winston gets near the mouse tell me and I’ll get him.”

Winston didn’t eat the mouse. He didn’t even try to.

I kept cooking and they kept playing cards. Every 5 to 10 minutes, one of us would check on the mouse to see if it was still breathing. It always was.

As I cooked I thought, what are we doing? This is crazy. A month from now I’d try to kill that mouse if I saw it. We have mouse traps in our basement for crying out loud. And babies are always cute. Then they grow up and turn into adults and sometimes become completely unlikeable.

But still.

This was a baby. Its eyes were still closed. It wriggled and writhed in the grass, clearly rooting for its mama and her milk.

I called Petco.

“No, we don’t take wild animals. Sorry.”

I called our vet.

“No, we don’t take wild animals. Sorry.”

I started to say thank you and hang up.

“But let me give you a number,” I heard just in time. I wrote it down, but it was 4:55 on a Friday. What could be done?

I called the number anyway and got a woman’s voicemail telling me she was only accepting baby birds on a limited basis. She didn’t mention mice, I thought, so that must mean she’s taking them in droves. Score! I left a message.

We ate. We checked the mouse. We told the kids to eat. We checked the mouse. We finished dinner. We checked the mouse. We started to pick up. The phone rang.

It was the limited-number-of-birds lady.

“Sure. It won’t be the only mouse I’ve ever raised.”

She told me where to go – a town 30 minutes away. On a Friday. At rush hour. Right before the kids’ bedtime. And those kids also need baths.

But still.

She told me how to transport it safely. How to warm it if it were cold to the touch. How to cup it in my hands and rub life into it and give it sugar water in just the tiniest amounts because otherwise I could drown it.

I donned gloves. I filled a Tupperware with Kleenex. I grabbed a dipping bowl and medicine syringe and headed out back, the kids begging to do the work for me.

I noticed it had rained while we were eating. The mouse was now even slicker, shinier. Colder.

I scooped it into my hands.

“It’s a boy!” I said to the three people gaping at me through our open living room window.

I carried it inside. I laid it in its box. I let the kids touch it, ever so gently. I dribbled sugar water into its mouth.

“Was he cold when you touched it?” I asked the kids. They nodded.

Well crap.

I would now incubate a mouse.

And it worked. Slowly he started to wiggle more in my hands. His heartbeat became stronger. He twitched his little mouth and drank the sugar water. His ears – once flattened against his head – were somewhat softer. Perkier. After a few more minutes, he wriggled more. Became ever more alive. And I didn’t want to put him down. Feeling that life come into fuller being in the palm of my hand was … miraculous. Somewhat indescribable, although not entirely.

Eventually I put him in the Tupperware, leaving one corner open just like the limited-birds woman told me.

“Y’all better hurry. She said time was of the essence.”

But still I stood there, plastic box, tissue paper, and life grasped in my hand.

I told Rachel that she was the mouse keeper. She would have to be the one to keep him safe during the thirty-minute Hanauer Medi-Vac trip. Her smile was huge.

Aaron, however, sat at the table, sad.

“Should I take him?” Andy mouthed to me, gesturing slightly towards Aaron.

“Why not? It’s Friday. May as well.”

I said good-bye to Cuddles, placing him safely in the van, Rachel’s keen eye watching the whole time.

I turned to go in and saw a box against the garage. A delivery.

Well crap again. I knew already what was in it.

Inside, I grabbed the scissors, sliced open the box, and saw before me peppermint oil – mice don’t like it – and mouse traps. Ordered two days ago, BC: Before Cuddles. Before I became an incubator.

Earth Day is tomorrow. The next day is Sunday. I could hear the Sunday School lesson forming in my head as I stared at those traps, then realized I wasn’t teaching that week. What a shame. I’m sure there’s a lesson in this somewhere.

Just as I sat down to post this, the phone rang. I noticed the call was coming from the town 30 minutes away.

“Hello?”

“Do you have a cat?”

It’s the bird lady.

“No, just a dog.”

“Well, he’s a bunny.”

“My dog?”

“No, the mouse. He’s a bunny.”

Of course he is.

Heavenly Treasures

Today I have the pleasure of writing for my friend, Lindsey Smallwood. I wrote this over a year ago, as we prepared for our move to Maryland. I’m happy to say I’ve learned my lesson, but it did take a while. We’re all a work in progress…

You can read the post here, at Lindsey’s excellent blog.

(Graphic by Lindsey Smallwood)

(Graphic by Lindsey Smallwood)

There’s Sick, and then there’s Homesick

When I was somewhere around 19 years old, I was the assistant manager of a wallpaper store. Wallpaper 4 Less, it was called, and I was proud of my title of “manager,” even if preceded by the word “assistant.” Truth be told, there were only two of us: the manager and me, so really, it wasn’t so impressive after all.

As assistant manager, I learned how to use a ten-key, an old school credit card machine, take inventory, deal with finicky customers, and certainly more about wallpaper than I ever thought I’d know. And I like wallpaper to a certain extent. I like paint better, but wallpaper really isn’t as bad as HGTV may tell you.

In fact, I’m wondering if I should once again make wallpaper my go-to cosmetic upgrade, and forever shun paint and it’s lustrous beauty and wide array of possible colors.

Once again, we are painting. I wrote a post back in the summer about our Berkeley painting adventures as we prepared to sell our house. Now here we are, working in reverse and making the home we just bought truly ours. Three to four guys have been here every day this week (and will be here tomorrow as well) to paint most of our main level as well as Rachel’s room.

I planned it perfectly.

Andy and Rachel would be out of town, and Aaron would go to preschool every day but Monday. That way we could avoid the chaos of our last painting experience. I made a DMV appointment and scheduled a haircut, which would get me out of the way, too. The rest of the time I would sit nice and quiet in my lovely, underused office working on interviews and writing a new pitch I have high hopes for.

Yeah, right. Best laid plans and all that jazz.

Rachel and Andy left Friday. It was bliss. Quiet, tidy, calm. Aaron ate like a gentleman and behaved nicely. All was going according to plan. For about 24 hours, anyway.

Saturday afternoon the projectile vomiting began, and it didn’t end until Wednesday. No fever or other symptoms, just throwing up. Lots and lots of it. By Monday, the day the painting began, the doctor’s office had called twice to urge me to take Aaron to the ER.

“Let him sleep for about two hours, then take him in.”

One hour and 50 minutes passed and the office called back: “Have you left yet?”

I hadn’t, because it hadn’t been two hours.

“Right,” she said. “Ten more minutes then go. But try water first, just in case. 5mls.”

Sick baby

Sick baby

So while Aaron sat in my arms, weak and lethargic, I syringed 3mls into the corner of his mouth. He gulped greedily and it stayed down. I tried 5mls more. It stayed down. This wasn’t the end of his sickness—not by a long shot—but we were out of the ER woods.

Then… I got sick. And when I say sick, I mean sick. So sick, in fact, that Andy (who was still in California) called my mom in Arkansas, and asked if she could come.

Of course,” she said.

Sixteen hours later she arrived to find me delirious and weak, with Aaron not faring much better.

And still, the men painted.

From 8am to 6pm every day, they painted. Amid delirium, vomit, crying, threatened ER trips in ice storms, and one very opinionated retired general contractor who had come to stay a while, they painted.

Still today, they paint.

And let me tell you, it looks great.

For a while, my mom and I mostly talked paint colors, but as time passed and I began to emerge from my virus-induced near death, Nana asked an essential question: “Isn’t there anyone here you could call? Not that I mind coming, but… isn’t there anyone?”

Well, no.

We’ve lived in this town since October. We’ve had folks over, and are having more next week. We know our neighbors, and some even came to Rachel’s birthday party. But who do you call for Pedialyte and Gatorade during an ice storm? When you desperately need help scrubbing the carpet before it stains and forever stinks? When your baby has gotten sick over and over again for days, but you yourself are too sick to bathe him, because who knows if you’ll pass out while he’s in the water?

That’s just a lot to ask.

“You know,” my mom said thoughtfully, “I tend to avoid the stay-at-home moms in my neighborhood.” She went on to explain, “I guess I’m afraid they’ll want to stop by and have coffee and talk, and I just don’t have time.”

“Mom,” I stared hard. “They are stay-at-home moms. THEY don’t have time.”

“True. But I’m also afraid they’ll ask me to babysit.” (in case it isn’t clear at this point, my mom is a very, very good babysitter.)

“I could see that.”

(But note: she flew from Arkansas to Maryland for a less-than-48-hour “visit” with two very sick people).

I know what she means. Sometimes I won’t even go check my mail because I’m scared I might get caught in a conversation that I’m “too busy” for. Yet… when that happens, it’s often quite enjoyable and even makes my day better. And sometimes, that little bit of conversation is just what my soul needs.

Andy and Rachel returned home last night. Andy brought me fries from my favorite California-only gourmet burger place (Barney’s, the home of our first date), and Rachel brought me lots of handmade presents and excited chatter. She and Nana stayed up past midnight doing only God knows what, and today Nana woke at 4am to fly back home, where she will spend the next few days babysitting for my sister and brother-in-law while they travel to Oklahoma for work.

After we finally shuttled everyone to their rooms for the night, I lay in bed, struggling against hunger and memories, unable to fall asleep: I miss Barney’s. I miss my in-laws so very much. The Facebook and texted pictures Andy sent this last week from their kitchen, from the Lawrence Hall whale, from Gordo’s, ran through my head, along with memories of our home, especially the Bay view we had from our deck.IMG_1763

I spent every moment possible on that deck, soaking up warm January sun and cold July fog, looking at the Oakland cranes to the left, San Francisco skyscapers to the right, and the Giants stadium in the middle. Come April (and maybe even October), I will so miss seeing their fireworks cut through night fog, not quite bright and brilliant, but beautiful. So beautiful.

I thought of these things and of my mom flying here to care for us. Of how much we love our new incredibly spacious and comfy home. I thought of my mom’s words: “isn’t there anyone here you could call?”

And just like that, I became officially homesick.

But I’ll keep waiting and watching and hoping and praying and writing of all these things in an up again/down again bloggy way, and someday it will all click perfectly into place. I know it will.

As for the paint, Andy and Rachel were both surprised and happy, because it really does look lovely. But I still wonder if next time maybe I shouldn’t try wallpaper.

Feeling better

Feeling better

2014: The Year That Really, Really Sucked.

2014 has been the worst year of my life. No really, it has been.

“Life,” of course, is lived more in stages and vignettes than in a totality of lived days. So when I say 2014 has been the worst year of my life, I don’t mean it’s been worse than the year my son passed away, or the times from my life I was completely destitute, or any other terrible year from a prior life of mine. I mean instead that 2014 has been the worst year in this stage of life—the stage in which I’m in my thirties, married with (what to me is) lots of kids, and have lived out one career and am in the early days of another.

But to be honest, 2014 is the only year that has been so consistently bad from start to finish. Rather than a series of vignettes, 2014 has been a 1.2-million-word Mission Earth kind of year.

“Why,” you may ask, “has this year been so bad?”

To which I respond, “it’s complicated.”

Complications aside, the simplistic glory of a bad year is how the good times shine all the brighter through the dark and mired days, such as:

–joyfully celebrating a fairly stress-free Christmas.

–seeing my oldest walk towards me, suitcase in hand, smiling and ready to stay a while.

–finding four walls to call home.

–witnessing a four-year-old’s first snow.

What I mostly see as I look for the constellation of pinpoints from 2014 is family. Lots and lots of family. Family gathering at the dinner table (always my favorite thing), singing in the van, packing boxes, and, yes, even saying goodbye.

Instead of a dearth of community, I see within those shining lights a husband and wife determined to make a go of it, walking hand in hand into new churches, a new neighborhood, a new town.

Instead of a lost career I see an exciting opportunity to be more, live more, create more.

Instead of children separated by miles, I see joy-filled, tear-filled reunions, brimming with tickles and stories and glitter and Elsa… so much Elsa.

Instead of overwhelming sadness, I see through always-threatening tears a friend’s newfound dedication to living a lovehard life, searching for her own pinpoint-constellation in this darkest of years.

Although I’ve always made them, I’ve never really believed in New Year’s Resolutions. If you have a goal, why wait for January 1? Why not start now? But this year I’m convinced that January 1, 2015 will start something new. Something wonderful, full of laughter and friendships and loving hard. A year in which I fail at times to exhibit patience and grace, but will succeed in forgiving myself, determined to try again. A year in which goal setting is less important than life living, and playing trains and creating crafts become my be all and end all.

Today isn’t the day to start. I have a cold. I’m tired and I’m cranky and the kids’ schools have been closed for what seems an eternity. But in these last two days, whether my family believes it or not, I will be working on building up a reserve of all the things I know I’ll need in the year to come. Should you have any of these things to spare—love, patience, grace, serenity, humor, wisdom—please feel free to send them my way. Your kindness may just help me close out 2014 with a happy bang, and usher in 2015 with the strength of community—virtual or otherwise—propelling me forward into my fresh start in a new place, shaking off the vestiges of west coast living to embrace fully this new chapter of east coast life.

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Why the Lutherans Won’t Have Us

“There is no way to capture the hilarity of what happened,” Andy said. “It simply isn’t possible.”

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Yesterday we attended a Lutheran church near our home. We aren’t Lutheran, but the church is close and it has the only service that will fit with Aaron’s nap schedule. Besides, having never been to a Lutheran church and being very much a fan of the ELCA, Andy has always wondered if perhaps there isn’t a raging Lutheran inside of him. I’ve tried to explain that there isn’t a raging Lutheran anywhere, let alone in him, but he won’t listen.

We walked in and were immediately greeted by warm air, the smell of chili, and Usher Darrel.

“Is there childcare?”

“Childcare? Um, let me check.”

When an elderly usher who has likely attended the same church since the 1950s doesn’t know if the church has childcare or not, it’s a sure sign it doesn’t.

“Should we just leave?”

“No, I’ll walk around with him.”

So there we were, one child happy to sit at the coloring table in the back of the (very staid) sanctuary, the other child happy to terrorize all present in the narthex.

Rachel and I sat side by side, neither of us listening but each happy in our own way: Rachel because she loves to color, and me because anything is better than sitting at home all day being terrorized into playing trains. I flipped through the bulletin and saw that there was indeed a Kids Time that the bigger children are escorted to right before the sermon starts. Score!

When the time came, I walked out with Rachel to introduce myself to the teacher. As I started to head back to the sanctuary, Rachel begged:

“Stay with me, Mama! Stay with me!”

Sure, why not? Like I said, anything beats all-day train attacks.

Even though Aaron is too young for Kid Time, he and Andy followed us down the hall. And what did we find? That the kids were going to watch VeggieTales! Merry Larry to be exact, and boy were they excited.

But no one was excited as Aaron. Aaron’s current obsession is trains, but it’s followed closely by his love of “BobMato.” Aaron’s eyes grew large when he saw what was on the screen and he struggled to get out of Andy’s arms. Andy let him. After all, surely Aaron would just sit and watch the movie. You know…. Like the 15 other kids there.

Uh, no.

Aaron went right to the TV and stood directly in front of it.

“Hey, I can’t see!” A chorus of protests rang out and the teacher kindly moved Aaron to the side. Andy ran to the teacher, arms waving frantically.

“He’s going to turn it off. He’s going to turn it off!”

“Oh, he likes buttons does he? Don’t worry. It’s fine.”

And it was.

For about 30 seconds.

The theme song kicked on and Andy and I exchanged looks. We knew what was coming.

Still at the front of the room, only slightly not in front of the TV, Aaron began to dance. And I don’t just mean dance. I mean dance. Like American Bandstand, Soul-Train-on-steroids dance. The kids snickered, but not meanly, and Rachel, poor sweet Rachel, didn’t even think to be embarrassed. This was, simply, Aaron.

For those who are unfamiliar with the VeggieTales theme song, it has a couple of drawn out notes that the fruits and vegetables are especially enthusiastic about singing. Aaron likes those parts the best. The first long note came…. “If you like to waltz with potatoes, up and down the produce AISLLLLEEEE…” Aaron howled. And danced. And howled some more. I smacked my forehead and turned around to avoid the teacher’s eyes. At this point the kids were way more into watching Aaron than the show.

The second long note came: “…It’s time for VeggieTales,UHALES,UHALES, UHALES,UHALES!” Aaron howled again. The cucumber fell, the tuba bleated, and the song ended. “Yayayayayayay,” Aaron clapped and shouted his thrilled endorsement.

Then turned off the DVD player.

I walked away.

Thankfully, the movie started right back up. Andy and I grabbed Aaron and for the next 30 minutes chased him up and down the hall. At one point, Aaron began climbing the steps to the chancel. Right before Aaron entered the spotlight, Andy realized what was going on and snatched him away. Oh. Dear. God.

The teacher approached me and I felt I had to explain.

“He’s really a good kid. He’s just… energetic.”

“It’s fine,” she said. “At least he’s joyful.” Yes! That’s it! We are successful parents because when all signs say otherwise, our kids are joyful. The thought buoyed me for at least five minutes.

Eventually we had to head back to grownup church and I begged Rachel to leave now. To get while the getting was good.

“No! I want to go to church!”

Well, crap. I couldn’t very well say no to that.

Darrel, oh-so-helpful-and-kindly Darrel, explained we hadn’t yet missed communion. “Take the kids up front! They’ll pat their heads and give them a blessing.”

Our youngest walks straight into koi ponds, ladies’ restrooms, and traffic. Only my good manners kept me from laughing.

“Now, Rachel. NOW,” I hissed once we were out of Darrel’s hearing range (which, frankly, wasn’t very far.)

We headed back out into the cold and found Andy and Aaron already in the van, Aaron in the driver’s seat, Andy sitting balanced on the edge of Aaron’s car seat. An apt scene, I thought.

Driving home we discussed what had happened.

“It’s close to home, but there’s no childcare.”

“That’s okay. Maybe I’m not a Lutheran after all.”

Sigh.

“So can we go to a Presbyterian church for service and the Lutheran church for the chili?”

Sure, why not. They already think we’re pretty terrible anyway.

(Seriously, this doesn’t even begin to capture what happened yesterday. He’s being, like, a gazillion times calmer. But do watch to the end; it’s pretty darn cute.)

(PS – if you know of any parents who have a similarly “joyful” child, please share this with them. I’d love to provide them with the virtual support of knowing they aren’t alone!)

(featured image courtesy of bible.ca)

A Dish Best Served

A couple of years before my oldest was set to graduate from high school and set off for college, I began putting kitchen and household items away for his future use. Little did I know that he would attend school 3000 miles away from home and would get there by plane. It’s a bit difficult to ship (or travel with) old plates, mismatched saucers, and the chipped Christmas mug from which I envisioned him sipping cocoa, head bent over widespread textbooks, hair shining under a hot-burning lamp.

This box of would-be hand-me-downs made it’s way to Maryland with us when we moved. In the flurry of moving day, boxes presented to me every few minutes for appointment to their proper home, I glanced and saw my son’s name on brown masking tape: the downstairs bedroom, I said, already turning my attention to the next box. And so there it sat, placed by movers, unremarkable, unassuming, among all the other boxes.

So I was surprised when in the midst of unpacking concert flyers, baseball paraphernalia, and things indicative of college-shenanigans, I found a box of my old dishes, languishing unused in already-yellowed newspaper.

Deciding that they would not get the collegiate use I had hoped for, I moved them to our basement kitchenette for easy snacking during family movie night, pool hustling the neighbors, and playing seemingly endless games of Chutes and Ladders.

As I unwrapped each dish one-by-one, I was struck by nostalgia. By the memories of friends gathered around my table, eating off plates collected from a variety of sources: Factory 2 U, a storage shed my restaurant-owner landlord forgot about, Goodwill, family hand-me-downs.

My collection of plates used to stack so high that my mother, at every visit, would ask why I didn’t pare it down. “It’s just you and Collin,” she’d say. “Why do you need so many plates?”

And I kept telling her: because you never know.

You never know when you will decide to host, for years on end, college (and later law school) classmates who can’t make it home for their too-short Thanksgiving break. Or when Easter will call for gathering friends, atheists and Christians alike, to stuff plastic eggs with coins for a little boy in a cowboy hat to hunt for among the devil-heads in your West Texas yard.

You never know when someone will knock on your door, and the smell of fried chicken and scalloped potatoes will convince them to stay.

My dishes now are from a wedding registry years’ past. I still have a towering stack of them—I’m too used to hosting not to—but I find these days that half the stack sits sad and surly, and the ten chairs around my dining table (and the eight in my kitchen) get a little too dusty between use.

Back in the day I used to fuss: I’d clean, scrub, tidy. Beg Collin to do the same. That’s not different today, yet my fussing goes unnoticed and my plates remain a tower.

The other day some men were working in my back yard. It was cold: in the 20s, and with the wind, the mid-teens.

“Do you want coffee?” I asked.

Oh yes, yes, yes. All three of them would love a cup.

Inside my warm house, I brewed a pot. Set mugs on a serving tray along with scalloped spoons, lidded sugar bowl, and a tiny pitcher of milk. I carried the tray to the back and set it on the patio table. As I cleaned up the breakfast dishes, I couldn’t help but see these men through my kitchen window, just moments before working in freezing weather, now leaning against the deck rail enjoying the warmth of ceramic against their hands. One or two of them removed their gloves and picked up the dainty spoons to stir in a bit of sugar, a little milk. They laughed and talked and I rejoiced in their comfort.

All that day I wondered: why don’t I serve more? I finally got nice plates to serve from, forks and knives for any number of guests. And yet… more guests arrived when my towering plates were a rainbow of colors, my stemware non-existent, my “good” spoons so weak one once bent in half over a half-gallon of ice cream.

More kids, more dogs, more obligations. I’m not busier these days, but the type of “busy” is different. The torture of nap- and bedtime loom large, and most of my work must be done in the wee hours of the morning and the witching hours of night.

Things change, time passes, and this week I will host only family. Husband, kids, and Mom, we will enjoy our time together, and I will stress less without the pressure of “guests.” I will also miss those guests, both of recent years and of years past. I will think often of the discard dishes now housed downstairs, waiting patiently for popcorn and potato chips, and wonder if perhaps I should run down when no one is looking and say a quick hello to the memories of having time to spare and friends to spend it with.

This week when we share with one another over Thanksgiving dinner what we are thankful for, I will say that I am thankful for our new home, this new place, the looking-forward opportunity to turn towering plates to rubble, to run out of saucers and cups and have to ask someone else to watch the baby while I go fast to the basement to grab a handful of Factory 2 U and landlord-discarded dinnerware. I will be thankful for finding forgotten dishes among a heap of mess and for remembering that hospitality is a dish best served. Hot or cold, messy or pristine, mismatched or Martha Stewart, it simply must be served.

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