Last Friday Christopher and I picked up Eden from art camp and took her to lunch. It was so nice being with the two of them. The only change I had for meters was a roll of nickels which buy two minutes each. I plunked in about fifteen thinking we would be fine unti we walked into our chosen restaurant and it was packed. Throughout our visit Christopher checked the meter a couple of times and added some more nickels at the end so that we could go next door to another place to get him a chili dog. Eden was not comfortable with me letting him go in and out of the restaurant. “Mom, that’s not safe! He’s only 13, do you want him to get stolen?”
I assured her that Christopher could handle himself.
He gobbled down his chili dog to keep us from waiting. It was gone before I could protest, but I told him to take his time eating and that I appreciated the consideration behind it.
The reason we stopped for lunch was that Eden saw the Children’s Museum and asked to go. They have a new exhibit and she hasn’t seen it. The day was rainy and cold, the perfect sort of summer day to go to a museum, but I hesitated because I am done with the Children’s Museum. When Christopher was a little guy it was his favorite place to go and we took him there weekly and always had to drag him away – at close – sobbing. It was also a favorite meeting place for my friends which meant I spent a lot of time there chasing Christopher and Lydia on my own. It’s a beautiful museum and we have been members for years, but it reminds me of hard times.
So, I didn’t particularly want to go, Friday, but I knew it was the perfect day and that, if I told Eden we’d come back another, the summer would fly, tomorrow it would be November, we’d miss the farm exhibit she was hoping to see and I would have broken my promise.
I am careful to follow through on the things I promise my kids (basic trust and all) but the Bean is causing me to be doubly sure I can do something before I say I will. “You LIED to me!” is her immediate response to a change of plans, even when it’s completely out of my control. They say the best defense is a good offense and Eden has that down cold.
We poured the remainder of our nickels into a meter near the museum, which gave us an hour.
We had such a good time. After the bathroom and gift shop I made them hit the farm exhibit first. There was a barn, a henhouse with beautifully painted wooden eggs and large chicken puppets. Christopher is a bit of a puppet master. A favorite of his at the museum is a large crow puppet with which he has tormented his sisters and cousin, Ren whenever we visit. He makes it caw fiendishly and will sit it near his victims, moving it’s head in such a freakishly life-like way, Torey and I have collapsed laughing. Of course we had to pull ourselves up to deal with annoyed girls and the puppeteer, so it wasn’t as entertaining as it could have been.
Christopher is a natural performer, but two truisms of every successful entertainer have (up until now) escaped him:
1. Know your audience.
2. Leave them wanting more.
Fortunately, the chicken is a more timid bird than the crow and Christopher played it accordingly. He still had girls running and shrieking around the “barnyard” but it was happy screaming. Still, I kept an eye on him. He had been entertaining a trio of sisters with his chicken’s antics then drifted off to find Eden. The three girls had been busily arranging eggs at the henhouse when Christopher noticed the chickens and they were an extremely appreciative audience. After he hunted down his own sister, he returned to the henhouse.
“Chicken Boy is baaaaaaaaack!” the youngest, who was about five, yelled and they all started running.
Perched on a log stool by the barn, I had a front row seat. Later, when the area emptied out, he caught my eye. He was walking around, holding the chicken, making it cluck quietly.
“I’m just waiting for someone to amuse.” He said.
A couple little kids came by and he put on a quick show, which I noted he adapted to their ages, keeping the chicken calm. I still made eye contact with their ubiquitous mothers who were smiling and appreciative.
A couple of years ago a freelance writer was doing an article about the museum for a magazine up north. She interviewed my kids and commented to me, how glad she was to have spoken to Christopher since she was going to point out that there were lots of things for older kids to do too. I cautioned her that Christopher might not be representative of the general population, but she seemed to take my warning with a grain of salt. About that same time Lydia, (two years younger than her brother) was realizing she was done with the museum, but not Christopher. Two years later, pushing fourteen, he’s still showing no signs of stopping.
I gave the kids a warning that our time was running out. Christopher asked to go upstairs to the bubbles, another favorite, but Eden wanted to stay with the farm a bit longer. She was in the midst of re-attaching magnetized apples someone else had picked from the wooden apple trees between the barn and the hen house. I helped her with the apples and then we followed Christopher upstairs.
The bubble area is really wonderful. It consists of two huge tables with raised sides. They are filled with soapy water and all sorts of wire hoop with handles. People have different techniques to make bubbles, but the general rule is to swoosh the circle side to side, carefully pull out of the water, and if a membrane covers the frame, carefully pull through the air and watch a bubble form, detach itself and then lazily float and spin until it pops. Some people like to blow the bubble, but both ways work. There is some argument about the bubble forms. Circles are the most common, but there are squares too and a couple of small triangles, although I’ve only had success with the circles.
An extremely popular feature of the bubble area is a slightly raised platform that resembles an open air shower. A rope dangles in the middle of the space. Pulling it, raises a giant metal hoop that rests in an equally giant, open dish of sudsy water. If you pull, slowly and steadily a bubble tube is pulled up to surround you. Since it’s not an actual bubble, spherical and self-contained, this tube immediataley begins to cave to the pressure of air and the center goes first. For a second it can look like a person is trapped inside two tornadoes, stacked tip to tip, and then it pops and soapy water splashes every where.
It can be very tricky and it’s rare to see any one get the tube all the way up. Some can’t even get a bubble to form. I have had uneven success. Though I try to follow the same regimen: gently pull on the rope a couple inches which causes the hoop to tap, tap, tap the bottom of the soap dish, then QUICKLY pull up; my results are inconsistent. Christopher does it every single time and almost always over his head before it pops. I stand breathlessly still, but this boy frequently dances. It’s a wonder. And he does it so quickly, so easily that it lures the unknowing into believing it’s a simple thing. He always steps away when he sees someone waiting, and time after time I’ve seen other children and adults step onto the platform confidently and watched them try, try, try to do it and I read on their faces, as clearly as if there was a thought bubble above their heads: How does that kid do it?
Friday, Christopher was focused on the tables. They were surrounded, but there wasn’t anyone waiting. Soon, a young father approached and picked up a circle. He was good. He made a bubble every time. He was standing next to Christopher who was holding a much larger circle. Out in the world, the bubbles this guy was making would be huge – six, seven inches across – but here they are the smallest you can make. Christopher had paused and was watching these lovely bubbles float in the air. When he was younger, Paul and I made the bubbles and he madly chased them, clapping his hands to pop them…and anyone else’s. I hadn’t really thought about it, but he doesn’t pop them anymore.
He dipped his hoop into the suds and the man, who had noticed Christopher watching him, leaned in to give a tip. The man had just made a beautiful little bubble that was floating above and just in front of them. I smiled; this guy didn’t know who he was talking to. I don’t know if Christopher even heard the advice. He pulled his hoop out of the water, reached up and past the man’s bubble and then gently pulled the hoop around it, enclosing it in his own bubble probably ten times the size.
Those of us watching gasped and Christopher just smiled that way he does, clearly self-satisfied. We all watched the bubbles float down until they came within the reach of a little girl and they popped. The man sent up a couple more bubbles (that Christopher neatly caught with his own, larger bubbles) and then he quietly drifted off to another part of the museum. The mother of the little girl took over, sending bubbles in the air and it was clear that it was as much for her pleasure as it was for her daughter’s.
For me, with making bubbles, there’s always a certain amount of tension. I know that sounds ridiculous, but with every one I successfully launch there is the anxiety waiting for it to pop and then there is the lower level worry that I might not be able to make one again.
Watching bubbles being made, I realized, is entirely relaxing. It was so fun to watch Christopher in his element. People at the other table were beginning to notice what he was doing. He smiled at them and when the bubbles began to fall he would fan over them which caused them to pull up, if only briefly. He glanced at his audience and with both of his hands he presented the bubbles, still afloat.
So often with children there is the constant, “Look at me! Look at me! Look what I can do!” but it’s never been like that for Christopher. I don’t know if it’s because he couldn’t talk until he was older or because he always had someone’s attention, but when he does something dramatic, it’s not about him. He definitely wants your attention, but as he smiles and points you to whatever he wants you to see, it’s as if he’s saying, “Look at this! Look at this! THIS is my gift to YOU.”
Christopher was not a planned child. We called him a surprise, but he was more of a shock and if abortion had been a moral possibility for me, Christopher would not be. He was conceived years before we planned to have a child, but even more than that, I was so scared of becoming a mother.
I actually told myself, with hope, that lots of women have miscarriages.
And then one icy February morning, when I was just a few weeks along, I slipped and fell down our front steps. Paul helped me to the car and drove carefully to work, but on the highway a huge piece of ice launched off the roof of the car in front of us and crashed against our windshield. I shrieked and my hand flew to my abdomen: the first time I felt a maternal instinct. And that was that: in a second I crossed over from fear of having a child to fear that I wouldn’t be able to protect him or rather fear for the child, himself.
My pregnancy was marked by fear, but after Christopher was born I was suffused with love for that perfect and beautiful boy.
The Bible says that perfect love casts out fear and I wish I could tell you that I was so filled with love for Christopher that there was no longer room for fear, but there was and for years I carried both until dull exhaustion seemed to evaporate the love and only fear remained. Fortunately for me and Christopher – for all of us – there is grace and forgiveness.
Watching him the other day, I think I had an idea of what it means in the Bible when it says that God delights in us. I took such deep satisfaction watching my son be his brilliant, quirky, incredible self. Seeing those bubbles within bubbles that Christopher wonderfully made, I got a sense of the way it could have been between the two of us all along, from the very beginning, the way it can be from now on:
Look at this! LOOK at this! THIS is my gift to you.