Sunday, March 27, 2011

Memories of Grandpa's House, Part 2

Though my grandparents’ house is small, every one of its few rooms holds sweet memories. There are two bedrooms, and in one of those, I remember watching a few great movies. I’m not sure if the TV was always in that room, or whether it was wheeled in there so the grown-ups could have some adult time. But “Black Arrow” was one story that impressed me as a child.

I spent my first 14 years living within a couple hours of San Diego, so I had many chances to spend nights at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. One such night, I was sleeping in a sleeping bag, on an inflatable air mattress, and woke up in the middle of the night to the repeated sound of a bell ringing. In my groggy half-dream state, I assumed it was the grandfather clock striking midnight. The next morning, I found that I was completely on the floor, rather than on the air mattress, and heard the report that there had been an earthquake the previous night. My grandparents didn’t own a grandfather clock, so what I had heard was the doorbell dinging during the quake. And I’d slid right off the mattress during the shaking as well.

The kitchen holds both really early memories and much later ones. My grandma was an artist and I treasured the times we spent in the kitchen working on projects together. Sometimes she would have ceramic figurines ready for us to paint, and I’m not sure which I liked more: painting them myself or watching my artistic mom painting hers. Sometimes she would have iron-on crayon activities for us. One year she let us decorate pairs of underwear with our own designs. This was a fun thing for 6- and 8-year olds! Another year, she had us make designs that reminded us of special summer memories, and we ironed them on to bed-sheets, one for each of us kids.

I also have fond memories of my grandpa in the kitchen. The funniest was when Grandpa would throw spaghetti noodles onto the ceiling to see if they stuck. I think the idea was that if they didn’t, they weren’t yet ready to eat. But many years later, as a college student, the kitchen is where Grandpa and his wife Julie kindly taught me about American football. On the small kitchen TV, I watched my first football game. Can you believe it took me 19 years to see football? At the time, I was developing a friendship with a classmate who was quite athletic. Football was one of his sports, so Grandpa and Julie felt I should learn at least the basics. A month later, as I watched the Superbowl at Jeff’s house, I was glad that Grandpa and Julie had helped me out like that!

And finally, my very sweetest memory of Grandpa’s kitchen was when I was 21. My friend (now husband) Steve had graduated from Wheaton College in ’97 and was living back in San Diego. He and I had spent some time together over Christmas break, while my family was staying at Grandpa’s house. As a grand finale to our time together, I planned to “kidnap” him and take him out to coffee. I borrowed our family’s car, made arrangements with Steve’s parents, blindfolded him, and took him to Starbucks, where we had a great time to talk and pray together.

Then, not wanting the evening to end, Steve borrowed his dad’s car and took me for a driving tour of the hills above his neighborhoods of Escondido and Poway. We were both falling in love, but hadn’t said it yet. And as I drove back to Grandpa’s house at midnight, though I was on cloud nine, I was a bit worried about waking my family up when I arrived.

Imagine my surprise and delight, when my dad greeted me at the front door, and invited me into the kitchen for cups of cocoa. He wanted to hear all about my evening and all about Steve. He’d waited up for me and shared in my excitement. Because my parents and I had been an ocean apart for all my other dating experiences, I hadn’t gotten to share like that with them any other time. I thanked the Lord for a dad like mine, and for my Grandpa’s kitchen.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Memories of Grandpa's House, Part 1

I have lived in 27 homes over the course of my 34 years, some of which were only for a few months, and none of which include my 4 years of dorm-living in college. My homes have spanned 4 states and 4 continents, and yes I feel homeless in many ways.

The one geographical constant during my entire life, is my grandpa’s house in San Diego. Though I sadly haven’t visited there in the past 5 years, I still have many precious memories of every room in his house. When I do go back, I feel like it’s the one safe place in the world. My refuge. My place of identity. My place where I belong, even just as a grand-daughter.

In the front yard, my memories involve plants. Under the living room window were some strawberry plants which provided yummy fruit for little fingers. And along the driveway were sweet pea plants, fragrant and beautiful, as well as an “Elizabeth rose,” which I liked because it matched my name. A large tree on the street sometimes dropped seed pods that I remember coloring in an effort to create pretend food for our childhood make-believe games.

The living room is one of the most precious places. A large wardrobe stood in the corner, the bottom drawer of which held games and children’s books for us to enjoy whenever we visited. It also had a full-length mirror which was fun to dance in front of. When I was little, the living room couches were ones that rocked. We spent many hours cuddling with Grandma, Grandpa, aunts and uncles, on those couches, reading books, singing Christmas carols, playing “Dictionary.” My grandparents used to have a black cat, who would also join us in the living room. For my first 9 years, it was the only “pet” in my life.

Another prize of the living room was a player piano. We would choose a song scroll, load it on the gears above the keyboard, and then pump the foot pedals to make the piano “play” the music. I remember watching in fascination as the piano keys magically moved up and down, producing beautiful music. It was so fun!

The piano was also my first place to test out some piano playing of my own. I’d fallen in love with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (movement 1) and when my uncle David heard me trying to copy it on the piano, he offered to get me the sheet music for it. For years, it was the only music I owned, and I quickly memorized the first two movements.

My mom, my aunt Marybeth, and my Grandma all played piano, and Marybeth and Dad also played guitar, so we spent many hours enjoying music in the living room. I have a cousin Marcy who’s 2 years younger than me, and since I didn’t have a sister until I was 5 ½, we liked pretending we were twin sisters. One year at Christmas time, we planned a “ball” and dressed up and danced as the adults patiently and kindly played Christmas carols for us. Those were some of the happiest moments of my life.

Other precious moments were sitting in Grandpa’s lap, enthralled while hearing him read the “Bear story;” lying in my sleeping bag on the floor as Grandma stroked my hair – she was the only one I remember doing that; and then more than a decade later, Grandpa comforting me (the big college student) as I writhed in pain on the living room floor because of a terrible boil in my ear. “If these old walls could speak, they would have a tale to tell…”

Reflections on Sports

My first memories of sports are fond ones. I remember kindergarten field days and winning a second place red ribbon in the standing long jump. I remember happily running through my family student housing neighborhood, and learning how to ride a bike.

But as elementary years progressed, I felt less and less happy about sports. I didn’t have a physically active family, so didn’t have any weekend practice at throwing, batting, or catching balls. I seemed to be uncoordinated when a moving object was approaching me and I had to make it go somewhere else. And because I felt I was bad at sports, I chose to not even try. I remember even lying sometimes to my teacher when it was P.E. time, saying that I didn’t feel good so that I could sit on the side, watching everyone else do baseball or some other game.

Upper elementary was the worst. By then, kids were choosing their own teams in P.E. games, and I was inevitably one of the very last picked. I remember being proud of my time after running the mile, but everything else was negative.

Finally, in sixth grade, I had a long-term substitute teacher who was really kind, and spotted an ability I didn’t know I had. While I thought I was bad at everything athletic, she helped me see that I was pretty good at sports like basketball, where I could have the ball already in my hand and then make it go somewhere. Soon I was playing basketball everyday during recess, and even the boys were calling me “Magic.” Basketball continued to be my favorite game through middle school years, and to this day, basketball and Frisbee are my most loved “sports.”

Junior high youth group leaders also had a huge influence on me. As I entered the group at age 10, I was self-conscious about my lack of physical ability, and in the midst of a boy-majority group, often chose not to play the games. But college-aged friends like Tracy and Katy encouraged me to just go out and try, and have a good time. And as the years passed, I became one of the most enthusiastic youth group game players. It’s what I missed most about youth group when I moved to Nigeria.

Now my own kids are 7 and 8. Since they have always been homeschooled, they have not had much experience with sports and group games. When I was invited to join a group of ex-pat families, meeting weekly at a park for sports and games, I excitedly went. My kids were shy and unsure of themselves, and it took a while for them to warm up to the group. But in the last few months, they’ve gotten to play volleyball, dodge ball, tag, and baseball with this group of kids ranging in age from 3 to 12. I’ve watched them grow from being timid and whiny, to being enthusiastic and risk-taking. And now they’re thrilled about being part of Amman Little League softball.

What made me so happy about the Tuesday park group was the sweet encouragement my children received from both kids and adults. They were cheered on, even when struggling to connect bat to ball. They were gently invited over and over again to join games that they weren’t sure about. They were made to feel a special part of the group.

When I think of the horrible feeling in my stomach, time and time again, at being ridiculed for my inability or at being picked last, I thank God that my kids have such a positive beginning. I want them to enjoy using their bodies and playing with others. I want them to grow in their skills, even if they’re never MVPs. I want them to feel good about being team players and to always have hope.