Friday, September 5, 2014

His First Birthday

One of my favorite pictures of me—I love me—shows me in jeans, boots and a large belt buckle.  (I was about a year old, in case you were imagining me as a thirty-year-old in just jeans, boots, and a belt buckle).  I looked like I had a beer belly because it flopped over the belt.  I also looked like half our uncles at the family reunion.

Anyway, I got the great notion to dress Jonah in that same get-up, complete with obnoxiously large belt buckle, for his first birthday party.  I called Mom to have her look at the same Western store that we got our fancy duds when we were kids.  I believe she was weeping tears of joy when we hung up the phone.  (There have been deaths of good, close friends where she hasn’t shed a tear.  A large belt buckle?  Let the waterworks flow!)

I don’t know why I asked Mom to look, though.  We in Kentucky have a rather large contingent of the population here who prefers to starch their Wranglers and wear chaps.  So, I meandered down the street to a boot store with Jonah for a fitting. 

As I entered the place, I could tell everyone was watching, hoping that I was buying Jonah his first pair of boots.  Although they could probably make double the sale if I bought boots, having cute boots to show off simply is fun.  It took me about a minute and a half to get all his clothes—jeans and boots—purchased.

When I showed Sunday his little boots and wranglers and she cried.  (I don’t know if she liked it or not.  Maybe she saw some sort of inevitability in all this, but she seemed to like the jeans and boots).

When Jonah’s party came about, we dressed him in his outfit, complete with a pressed white shirt.  He greeted everyone who came in the room with a “HEY!” and a smile.  When everyone got there, the party started. 

As with many Towleses I know, Jonah started the party by stripping down to his diaper.  While some of us have attended other parties where someone strips down to his diaper, it’s extra fun when your kid is doing the stripping.  The cake that Sunday’s aunt made had a whale design—the party was a whale of a party—and she also made a smaller cake with a whale on it, too. 

Jonah sat there in the middle of the room, with a drop cloth under his high chair and hands poised to devour food.  (Don’t you just love meals where a drop cloth is needed?  It seems to add to the ambiance).  I was betting on him eating that cake in about three seconds.  In fact, I was thinking we were going to need one of those rodeo calf roping announcers:  “That cowboy ate that cake in four-point-three seconds.  It’s a new naked cake eating record.  It’s going to be tough to beat!”

When the cake was placed before him, however, nothing happened.  Nothing.  For a kid who has tasted every piece of furniture, every shoe, every tile and every square inch of our carpet in the past six months, his cake eating left a lot to be desired. 

It was like he was saying, “No thanks.  I think I’ll have some coffee instead.” 
Or, “No thanks.  Whales are out of season.” 
Or, “No thanks.  Quit staring at me.  I’m not going to do it, mostly because you want me to do it.”

We waited a good two or three minutes, until I stuck his hand in the cake.  Then, he was forced to lick it off.  And the fun began.  I believe Sunday’s aunt included her own special ingredients for Jonah’s cake—cocaine icing—so by the time Jonah was finished, I was really worried that he’d pawn something so he could buy more icing.  He was all hopped up on cake.  His eyes were bloodshot, he was waving a gun around, he had the icing all over his nose—a clear sign that someone’s been using—and he could only moan for more cake.  Toward the end, he resorted to picking bits of cake and icing off his little body to support his habit.  Jonah had become a cake head. 

We took the cake away just in time and put him in a bath.  (Again, another party where someone gets so messed up, he needs a bath.  Just like family reunions).  By the time Jonah was washed and dressed again, it was time for the presents.  In the middle of the presents, though, he became tuckered out. 

I have a theory about life.  You can only do great or exciting things if you can handle the celebration.  I call it the “little league home run” theory.  (The worst beating I ever got came as a result of my teammates congratulating me on a home run).  While Jonah didn’t quite last his entire party with a full head of steam, he handled it. 

We had a great time, mostly watching him. 

Isn’t that what all this is about, in a sense?  Just watching him and enjoying it and making sure that he gets cleaned up when he gets messed up?   Not to extrapolate too much from that little party, but for the past ten years, that’s basically what we’ve been doing.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Jonah's Got the Fevah!!!

During this month, Sunday and I have entered the new and disturbing world of ear infections.  While neither of us thought that Jonah’s ear infection was a cakewalk, his reaction to sickness didn’t match many of the claims some of my parental colleagues have. 

You’ve heard the horror stories of sick kids:  screaming all night, bleeding eye sockets, shifting of the tectonic plates, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.

Sunday and I didn’t really experience any of those things.   Most of the time, I hadn’t realized he was sick until Sunday came back from the doctor’s office.   If you’ll recall, I have Dad’s power of diagnosis, so he could have needed stitches and I wouldn’t have known it.  (Remember Luke’s stitches?  Eight!  He needed eight!)  But Sunday came in for the rescue. 

This month, however, Jonah was sick enough for me to know. 

I took him to church, and he looked a little tired.  For some kids, “a little tired” calls for non-stop whining and fussiness.  For Jonah, “a little tired” means he’s mellow.  By mellow I mean 45 minutes after a 3-hour Grateful Dead concert kind of mellow.   Jonah was sporting slits for eyes.

When I came around to pick him up from the nursery, he was sitting in the middle of the room, looking up, counting the ceiling tiles.  When he saw that I was there, a slow smile spread on his face, and his eyes drooped a little.  He was not feeling well.  I took him to lunch, though, because I was hungry.  (I’m sensitive like that). 

When I handed him to Sunday, she had an immediate diagnosis:  fever with a slight goopiness around the eyes caused by possible flu, pink eye, or malaria.  I just thought that maybe he wasn’t feeling well.  Sunday knew he was sick.  By the time we got him home, he had a fever (102˚) and we both lost our good common sense. 

As we both looked up from the thermometer, we looked at the numbers and then we looked at each other.

“He’s got a fever,” Sunday said.  Tears pooled in her eyes.

“We got any tea?” I asked, not noticing the tears.


“Hey, what was that for?”


I saw the numbers on the thermometer.  I knew he had a fever.  I just didn’t know that Sunday wanted me to dwell on it with her.  So, as I recovered from the vicious slap upside the head, I began dwelling.

Dwelling, dwelling, dwelling.  I came to this conclusion:  “He’s got a fever.”  I didn’t say that, though.

I did say, however, “What do you want to do?”

“What do you think we should do?” she replied.

“Maybe we should give him some water.”

“Put him in water?  What’s that going to do?”

“I said give him some water.”

“Oh.  That sounds good.”

Conversations like these brought us to the high level of marital performance we currently enjoy.  Jonah’s fever has brought a realization to our lives:  neither one of us wants to be the idiot to make the bad decision.  If we’re both there, then we can live with our own jackassedness.  If one of us is alone and makes a mistake in judgment, however, then our parent’s license could be rescinded.   We don’t want that just yet.  (We might want to quit that job sometime in the future, but not now).   Plus, we realize that we have a virtual army of other parents who know we are parents now, too, and we don’t want them badmouthing us.

So, as Jonah had a fever, we stayed at home, as a family.  We hunkered down, hoping that the food would last until we could get him to a doctor.  It was like we were sharing a wilderness cabin with the Unabomber or something, rationing food and making sure the cable didn’t go out. 

By the time Sunday and Jonah left the apartment to go to the doctor, the light streaming through the open door was greeted with a vampire hiss and shielding of the eyes.  We hunkered down, buddy, and we did it because of a fever.  A FEVER!

Jonah ended up having a virus and pink eye.  (No malaria yet).

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Reluctant Missionary

It was not often that I had seen my father scared. He was sitting there in his reclining chair, a light shade of green, with luggage piled up next to the door.  He hadn’t slept over three hours on any night the entire week, and he was due to take about twenty college students to El Salvador for a ten-day mission trip the next day. 

As a Spanish professor at a Christian college, Dad was the likely choice to take students on mission trips to Spanish-speaking countries.  He had contact with students who wanted to learn Spanish; he had contact with native speakers who lived in the countries where the trips were to occur; he had contact with the language and the cultural mores of the country visited.  If you were to make a list of the people on the campus where he teaches who would be the most likely person to take a group to El Salvador, Dad would be near the top of that list.   Yet there he sat, turning ever-more olive-toned. 

At the time, I really didn’t connect with Dad’s fear.  It was the summer of 1994, and I had just finished my first year of college.   I had seen much of the effort he had put forth to make this happen. He’d worked hard, and he had built a team that, by all accounts, should work well together.  As is his practice, he put in long hours and trained these students the best he knew how.  He listened to the ministry organization and leaned heavily on their advice.  He chose highly-motivated Spanish speakers as his student leaders.  The group had worked together, prayed together and unified to have a successful time of ministry in El Salvador.  His effort was exemplary. 

So, I thought, “why didn’t he feel comfortable?”

Knowing my Dad, he had been thinking the previous week about why he shouldn’t feel comfortable.  He thought about the insanity of taking a group of college students to a country that had, until recently, been embroiled in a violent civil war.  He recognized his own personal weaknesses, some of which were not perfect for overseas ministry (weak stomach).  He considered all the work he could do—around the farm or at his office—that he could get done during these ten days.   He imagined all the bad things that could happen to his life, to his career, if things went wrong.  He even chose I Corinthians 2:2 as his verse for the trip, focusing on the “For I determined not to know anything among you” part.   He knew he wasn’t truly equipped for this trip.  And he turned ever-greener.

As the caring college student I was, I thought most of this was pretty funny.  I had thought about the trip for a whopping thirty seconds, so I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the situation.  At least I had a good enough handle on it to offer a bit of humor. 

I said, “Dad, you’re looking a little sick.  Shouldn’t you get Montezuma’s revenge after you eat the food?”

He looked up at me with the “get-away-from-me-or-I’ll-throw-this-recliner-at-you” look on his face.  I smiled internally.

I continued.  “No, really don’t you want to go?”

He answered.  “Not really.  No.”

I was a little surprised.  Most of the time, Dad’s pretty enthusiastic about his ideas.  If he’s come up with it, he’s also discovered the reasons to get excited, or at least motivated, to do it. 

My next question was pretty bold.  “Then why are you doing it?” 

I was still at that stage in life where I thought that people didn’t do anything they didn’t truly want to do.  (My interaction with the federal tax code that summer would change my thinking somewhat, but that’s another issue).  Dad had volunteered for this, hadn’t he?  He had prepared; he was equipped.  Why dread it now?

He answered.  “You’ll never mature if you don’t do things that make you sick.”

Even now, his answer is a little odd.  I’ve grown up in a society that encourages the avoidance of discomfort and the rejection of pain altogether.  Hard times—even in Christian circles—are seen as the result of bad decisions or loose morals.   Too hot?  Turn on the air conditioning.  Relationship gone bad?  Find someone new!  Get too fat and your pants don’t fit?  Don’t lose weight—buy new pants! I was swimming gleefully in those philosophical waters. 

I thought about it for a while, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Dad was following in the footsteps of some pretty significant men of God who didn’t want to do what God had asked them to do.  Who were afraid.  Who turned green at the thought of the upcoming tasks, ticking off the list of things that could go wrong.  Men like Moses and Abraham, David and Elijah, Peter and Paul.  These guys, and a bunch of guys like them, had moments in the reclining chair, thinking.  They had sleepless nights.  They had swirling visions of utter calamity.  (Quite often, they also had a smart-alec beside them asking stupid questions).

These guys weren’t imbeciles out for a quick thrill or a thoughtless adventure.  These were men who planned and worked and led other leaders.  They weren’t without talent or brilliance or ability.  Yet they were asked to do things that made them nervous or scared or sick.

Friday, August 1, 2014

He'll Bat Left

I was discussing a very important issue with Sunday the other day, and I thought I’d include it here:  from which side of the plate will Jonah learn to bat?  I said that a left-handed batter and a right-handed catcher is a great combination.  Sunday, on the other hand, could not have cared less. 

These issues, like which side of the plate to learn to bat from, are issues that I believe are solely up to me. 

As I watched Jonah move around, however, I realized that I wouldn’t get the opportunity to decide if he’ll be a right-handed catcher or not.

I was trying to feed him during this month and we’re trying to get him to feed himself.  Since I am right handed and I am facing Jonah as I fed him, I usually handed the spoon to his left hand.  As he grabbed it with his left hand, he would deftly throw the spoon full of sweet potatoes and corn across our apartment as he giggled with delight.  I would take a step back, wiping the sweet potatoes from my eyes and ears, and think, “That’s a pretty good throw.  Quarterback or center fielder?”

Then, I would think, “Let’s see if he can do the same with his right hand.  Or, maybe he’s ambidextrous.  If he can hit the wall with his right arm, we’re in business.”  I would give him the spoon full, but this time in his right hand.  He would throw it, but it only would go as far as my forehead and bounce back.  While the velocity of the throw was impressive—I was temporarily dazed—I don’t think he could have hit the opposite wall. 

After this little experiment, I have continued to watch for left-handed preference, and I’ve found it everywhere. 

Things he does primarily with left hand:
1.  Gave me five.
2.  Waved bye-bye.
3.  Got his hand wet. (in toilet or sink)
4.  Threw things.  (see above narration.)
5.  Fed himself.  (see above narration.)

Yes, Jonah certainly progressed in his development.  I just don’t know how he’ll bat yet.