Last night, we kept the TV on Max & Ruby. I grilled hamburgers and boiled up some corn on the cob. Carlos stomped around in one shoe while saying, “Cars! Shoe! Banana! Hug! All Done!” Vivi and I made banana muffins with the new mixer. She and G read a book called “100 Ways to Make Your Dog Smile.” She asked the difference between a terrier and a bird dog, so I told her all about hunting dogs–terriers, pointers, sight hounds, retrievers. I told her about the German Shorthair Pointer we had when I was her age, a dog named “Circles” for the three aligned spots at the base of her tail. The TV sat silent. Vivi made up songs about my favorite colors and belted them into a plastic Dora the Explorer microphone. We packed her lunch for camp the next day–she chose strawberry milk, sour cream and onion potato chips, carrots, applesauce, ham and cheese sandwich and a couple of banana muffins for snack.
We didn’t talk about tornadoes. Just like after Boston, when we didn’t talk about bombs, or Newtown when we didn’t talk about guns. Or all the other days before that, when we kept the TV silent, those days where G and I shared long looks over the top of the children’s heads and whispered sadnesses behind closed doors.
Friday was her last day of kindergarten. When I asked her what she thinks is her biggest accomplishment this year, she chirped, “READING!” This weekend, G bought her a big stack of Junie B Jones books about kindergarten and first grade. I think we both assumed that we would be reading them to her, but Vivi has other ideas, grand ideas. She built herself a hidey hole under my desk on Saturday morning. She filled it with two warm blankets, a pack of gum, a box for treasures, a couple of stuffed animals and her stack of books. She calls it her “lair.” She’s already tearing up the books and I am online ordering more, like feeding coal into a roaring furnace. The Magic School Bus is in the mail.
Our town has sirens. Our brick house has a basement. There is a small room down there with cinder block walls and no windows. She knows that when storms get dangerous, we all sit in there. She needs to know that, but she doesn’t need to know…this.
I see her reading in her lair, cozy in her Sonic pajamas, with Pengy tucked under her arm and a bountiful lunch in the fridge, all waiting on tomorrow. One phrase comes to mind: “Shield the joyous.”
I haven’t participated in any kind of religion for 20 years, but after Richard died, my friend Robin gave me a red leather Book of Common Prayer from the Episcopal church. She knows how I love words and poetry. She wanted me to have the words that were said at our wedding and at his memorial. What a gift Robin has been to my life. There is one prayer in particular that she gifted to me, as I had spent so many sad nights alone in my house.“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, sooth the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.”
Many times (even if I edited it some to match my beliefs), I have read this prayer for Compline before bedtime and choked upon the words “weep,” “sick,” “dying,” depending on the time of my life. Now I read it and choke back tears on “shield the joyous.” This night, I am a mother and one of the few things I can do in this life is shield the joy of my children from the weary truths of this suffering world.
It can’t last forever. There will be a time when Vivi and Carlos are old enough to know. There will be times when we turn the TV on and set them in front of it so that they can KNOW. I remember a time like that when I was 10 years old–1978 and the Jonestown Massacre. My parents watching the news, as cameras panned over silent fields of corpses, bloating in the jungle heat. Poisoned by their own hands because their leader told them to. My mother thought that they should turn the TV off, that we were too young to watch. I vividly remember my father saying firmly, “No. You kids need to know this can happen. You need to know about this kind of bullshit so you don’t get caught up in it. Sit down and watch.” He was right. I’ve never forgotten it.
As Vivi was dancing off to bed last night, a thought hit me: “She won’t remember any of this.” She is turning six in a couple of weeks. When I think back to six, I don’t remember much, just a general idea about life and how it was. A couple of school memories. A few friends. There are a few pictures, somewhere at my mom’s house. So Vivi won’t remember this day, those banana muffins, the songs we sang. She won’t remember the tornadoes in Oklahoma because I shielded her from that. I hope that she remembers that she was loved every second of her life by people who put a lot of effort into keeping her safe and healthy and happy. I hope she knows that we kept watch over her while she slept, all for love’s sake.
The Reverend Lauren McDonald has written a lovely meditation on “Shield the Joyous” on her blog, Leaping Greenly Spirits. She’s another one of those super awesome kids from the Governor’s Honors 1985!