Break through

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For the past year, Mary Claire’s been attending an art class for homeschooled students at a local church. It’s once a month and is packed. There are usually at least 70 students, often more. The man who teaches the program is wonderful. The kids all work on the same picture. He guides them through the process and techniques involved step-by-step to draw a specific picture. It’s more about learning how to recreate something … which is good  a first step. The pictures they work on all have a Christian theme. He tells them some story through the process and keeps them totally engaged. Mary Claire loves it. And this month, for the first time, it was Henry’s turn to attend the class (now that he’s going to be eight).

Henry was excited. Or at least he expressed he was excited. That is, until the day actually came. I was packing them a snack and when Mary Claire ran upstairs to get her supplies, Henry approached me.

“Mom,” he said quietly. “I don’t want to go. I’m going to be terrible at it.”

My boy has no misconceptions about his artistic talents. To him, a pencil’s greatest purpose is that of projectile. He hates writing. He hates drawing. Always has. Getting him to work on his handwriting is like pulling teeth. He does it. But not without complaint, pain and apparent agony.

“Henry, this isn’t a contest. This is about learning. You aren’t going there to create a masterpiece. You are going to learn a little about drawing, a little about God and a little about some other boys and girls,” I reassured him. “You have to a least try it, or how will you ever know?”

“Okay. But if I hate it, I’m not going again.”

“We’ll see,” I said. I really had no intentions of letting him get out of it in the future. But, well, you know, we had to move on.

I took them to the class. Asked Mary Claire to show him how they check in, etc. She did, then immediately found a table that had only one vacant spot and slid into the empty seat. Henry marched to another table with five boys all in orange shirts. Brothers. Seven-year-old twins and nine-year-old triplets. I asked the boys to introduce themselves. They did … but their names could have all been the same. They all looked alike and the matching shirts didn’t help matters. Henry looked comfortable with the orange boys, so I quickly left.

After the class, Mary Claire and Henry were instructed to walk home. The church is only a block from our house. It was drizzling but they had umbrellas. When I first caught sight of them, Henry was carefully protecting his picture by holding it high up under the dome of his umbrella.

When he came in, he announced that his drawing was terrible, but he seemed to be beaming just the same.

“What did you think?” I asked.

“I’ll go again,” he said.

“Do you like your picture?”

“It’s okay. Yeah, I like it okay.” Then he handed it to me.

I loved it, especially since it came from my I-will-never-willingly-hold-a-pencil-in-my-hand-unless-I’m-shooting-it-at-something boy and was complete with his own embellishments, including a whole row of smiley faces along the top of the picture, instead of the more predictable skull and crossbones (the God part must have rubbed off, too). I could tell he was proud of himself. And I was proud of him. I thought maybe this is just the break through he needed to feel a little more confident in writing in general. (I was wrong. He argued all through handwriting today, but I look at the picture on the fridge and know there is hope.)

Henry's break-thru (notice the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow).
Henry’s break-thru (notice the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow).

Can’t you see I’m crying?

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Today three-year-old Lillian took a turn in the dentist’s chair. And yes, we brush, we floss, we don’t do juice. It’s apparently just their teeth.

She had this reluctant look on her face the moment we got out of the van. This silent pleading. “Do I have to go?” was all I saw in her eyes. As we traveled from parking lot, to office building, to elevator, to the dentist’s suite, she knew the answer was yes.

Prep work, then Novocaine. Then tears.

I was analyzing the situation. How much should I coddle? I don’t want to be overly sensitive and perpetuate some kind of behavior that will make her a dental wimp. I want to do my best to keep her strong. Brave. What kind of attention did she need? I studied the situation for a sign. And I got it.

As the doctor and her staff moved away from the chair, giving time for the numbing to take hold, Lillian looked at me, motioned for me to come to her and said, “Mom! Can’t you see I’m crying?”

A lot of help in her little ways


Today is the feast day of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She was the first saint that became real to me. st__therese_of_lisieux

I encountered her in New York City one day when making a regular visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. At every chance I could while a student at Hofstra, I would travel from Long Island into the city. Even though I was a heavily loaded full-time college student, I took acting classes at HB Studio in the Village. Depending on how my classes fell during the day, I would try to make a trip up to St. Patrick’s. Sometimes I would hightail it up to the cathedral from Penn Station (about 23 blocks), then take the subway all the way back downtown to the studio. It was always worth the time and worth the trip. A good walk and a great God, what could be better?

For a time during that period, there was a traveling display about St. Thérèse of Lisieux. On one long side of the cathedral were life-sized photographs of this beautiful, sweet young woman. Who, in those photographs, was the same age I was at the time. I could stand there and look right into the eyes of a saint. And although they were inanimate photographs, they beckoned me to learn more. And I did. She’s been my friend ever since. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I learned that as a girl my mom loved the sweet saintly Little Flower as she’s called. If you don’t know about her, I urge you to find out more. There’s a lovely movie about her life that is a family favorite around here. And here’s a nice article at today’s Faith & Family Live site.

St. Thérèse reminds me to find the joy in some of the minutia of the day. To remember that my troubles are small. My favorite quote is from her autobiography, The Story of a Soul.

And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden. He willed to create great souls comparable to lilies and roses, but he has created smaller ones and these must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looks down at His feet. Perfection consists in doing His wil, in being what He wills us to be …

When I’m struggling with something that causes me grief or pain, and I have to fight to temper my own response, when God looks down at His feet, will he see me? Will I be a daisy, a violet? Frankly, sometimes, I’m a weed. Or worse a dandelion: a weed disguised as a flower. But by learning from those who have gone before like St. Thérèse and asking for their intersession, I’ll keep trying to grow and bloom.