Monday, February 4, 2013

Church Life

It feels so good to say this - we have a new priest. Not that we didn't like our former one, he's been good to us personally, but there comes a time when change is better. Our parish is multi-ethnic, being as how we're the only game in town. If you're Orthodox here, it's our church or a drive of 45 minutes, minimum - and that's just to another Greek parish, the nearest Russian church is farther, and if you're Coptic, you have to drive to St. Louis. Or, you show up here, Sunday after Sunday, in spite of the fact that the service is largely in Greek, and your first language is, oh say, Amarhec. Which our Africans do!!! We have at least two families each and every Sunday, often three, sometimes as many as five families from Ethiopia and Eritrea, none of whom understand a word of Greek, English is VERY second-language, and one older woman speaks almost NO English, and they come to worship with us regardless of that fact, because the Church is the Church. It's inspiring; I don't know if I'd be as steadfast if the only options for church in a three-hour radius were in a language COMPLETELY foreign to me. We have a lovely Egyptian couple, some Russians, Serbs, add all that to the American-mutt converts and the Greeks were easily outnumbered many Sundays. And yet our services remained largely in Greek, and our now-retired father's English wasn't good (or even all that understandable) either.
I was nervous, when Father's retirement was announced, about the cohesiveness of our diverse community under a new priest. We desperately needed ENERGY - and English - but I was wary of getting a young man who had not been in full command of a parish before. We didn't need someone making all his first-time-managing mistakes with us, it needed to be someone old enough to exude an automatic air of authority. But in any case, we were hemorrhaging non-Greeks. Not the Africans, but the converts were staying away in droves. There were even fewer Greeks. Our parish was not large to begin with.
I think I can say, after our third Liturgy with him yesterday, that Fr. G is what we need in about every way. He's middle aged, used to command, has energy and charisma, and likes to have the Lord's Prayer in EVERY LANGUAGE THERE IS. His first Sunday here he asked, after we said it in Greek, whether anyone spoke Amarhec. We had it in Amarhec. We had it in the other language of Ethiopia that begins with a T, the name of which I don't recall. We had it in Russian. And as he said, "Anyone who speaks...?" the response was not shy or self-conscious. Hands went up eagerly. That went over VERY well. He's planning on organizing people to bake our bread for the Eucharist fresh, not bought frozen from Chicago. He wants to organize a church library, and set up a bookstore. He wants the congregation to sing along with the choir, and leads by example. He uses a LOT of English. He has ideas, and I think he will be able to win people over to them.
I'm used to being IT for the hymns that change with the day, which means that if Honeybee starts fussing minutes before the Small Entrance, I have to move heaven and earth to keep her happy just a few minutes longer, and entertain her while shuffling books and finding hymns. I'm resigned to being indispensable. I have sung half from memory, with a fussy baby sitting on my diaphragm. Fr. G prints out copies of the hymns of the day, in English, and encourages everyone to sing, and this week I got to find out how VERY nice it is to be... dispensable! If Honeybee needs to nurse five minutes before the Small Entrance, noooo problem. I can totally just up and leave, no disruption to the service, no awkward pause while someone else hunts up what hymn comes next. It's so relaxing. I can just "be" in church, for the first time in YEARS.
On the language front, just to be clear - I have no problem with Greek. I, personally, know what's going on, I know the hymns, and I am in favor of keeping a certain amount for the sake of longstanding (2,000 years...) tradition. But when it's far more Greek than English - and the English may as well be Greek, for all that an outsider could understand of it - and our parish is simply not as Greek as the service would lead you to think...? We need English, we need enthusiasm, we need a congregation that sings along. I know it all because I'm the pseudo-chanter. The people in the pews need to know it too. We also need to celebrate the fact that HEY, we are THE Orthodox community in our state's capital, Greek or not.
I feel really, really good about this. I'm really excited, for the first time in a long while. It's so refreshing to really look forward to church again.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Life Changes

Life has changed a bunch since I last wrote back in early September. In December, I was asked by a friend at church whether I would want to babysit her daughter. I had actually been going to babysit for her when her maternity leave ran out back in fall of '11, and then my own pregnancy took a bad turn and bedrest put a stop to that idea. Well, a year later, here I am a nanny after all! Her little girl is half a year older than Honeybee, a whole bunch bigger, and very much a toddler. The first week, or week in a half, "Ladybug" cried every morning. Every morning she cried, every morning we rocked with animal crackers and milk in the big rocking armchair while Kittyboy and I sang the alphabet. I think that was about a week and a half. Then the last two days, she's cried when her dad picked her up in the afternoon! She doesn't want to leave! I must be doing something right!
Ladybug and Honeybee have become great friends. Honeybee is bound and determined to catch up six months worth! She went from cruising to taking a couple steps between handholds to taking up to six steps at a time, in two weeks. She now wants very much to drink from a cup. She wants to do everything Ladybug does. Unfortunately for Ladybug, Honeybee is an alpha dog, and WILL run roughshod over her if she gets the chance. She takes Ladybug's cup, her snacks, her place in front of the coveted toy, etc. And for the first four weeks, I spent a LOT of my day following Honeybee around and giving Ladybug back her stuff. And Ladybug would just stand there. Just this week, Ladybug has started taking stuff back (GOOD GIRL!). Now I have to follow them around to break up the tugs-of-war!
They're very different personalities. Honeybee knows no fear, while Ladybug is afraid of Kittyboy's toy T-Rex, his huge Perry the Platypus balloon, and the sound the dryer makes when it's finished. She has to wake up just so, or she is very fragile for some time afterward. Went through THAT with Kittyboy, his first year or so, the bad wakeups, so it's old hat to me. Just leave her the heck alone when she wakes up, let her get up at her own pace. Nothing loud, nothing sudden, don't touch her unless she's already upset, etc. And then the poor girl wakes to Kittyboy on one side of the playpen, reaching in for her, saying, "Do you want to get up? Do you want to come out?" over and over, while Honeybee stands at the other side, gleefully clawing the mesh and shrieking like a baby pterodactyl. "I FOUND HER! HERE SHE IS! MOMMY, MY FRIEND IS HERE! GET HER OUT TO PLAY WITH ME!" is my rough translation. Poor, poor Ladybug. I rocked her for an hour one afternoon, after waking too early from her nap, while Honeybee (who HAS to be on my lap if Ladybug is) sat opposite her, trying to be helpful and cheer her up. And by "cheer her up" I mean "alternate between trying to pat her head, and cheerfully shrieking like a baby pterodactyl." New napping procedure - everyone stays the heck out of the living room while Ladybug sleeps, with the exception of Kittyboy reading quietly, and once she is awake, NO ONE MOVE. Not until she does. This means I spend the last half hour to hour of her nap redirecting Honeybee, who will come happily charging down the hall on all fours, squeaking with each stride in a determined manner, to seek out her friend, who has BEEN SLEEPING A WHOLE HOUR OR SO, OH MY GOSH, WHO DOES THAT?? (not Honeybee! She may sleep only half an hour all day!)
Feeding the two is like feeding two dogs, trying to keep the food separate and ensure that each gets to eat, and remember Honeybee is ALPHA. She also loves to eat. She will clear her plate, and once released from her chair, try to go over to Ladybug with the intention of clearing hers as well.  "You're not eating it anyway, I'll help you! Mommy, why are you moving me over here? SHE'S NOT EATING IT ANYWAY!"
I'm also tutoring the boy next door. Because... I'm not busy enough? And because his mom wants him to pass kindergarten. He's six months younger than Kittyboy and hates reading with a passion. He CAN sound out short words, which Kittyboy didn't do, KB just memorized them to start with, which gives me hope that I can do this. Problem is, his mom doesn't read or write English. So it's the teacher and me, which puts him at a disadvantage even with the best of attitudes, and then there's the fact that he reeeeeaaaaaaally doesn't want to. Yeah, NOT the best of attitudes. And I know enough Spanish to know that his mother, poor woman, is nagging him, "Listen to her, pay attention, listen, listen, pay attention, pay attention, pay attention." She's serious. Serious enough to pay the homeschooling neighbor to teach him. Which makes me want to scream when he says "but I caaaaan't!" and then laughs. A couple days ago, I got him through half of "Hop on Pop!" one letter at a time, before he became so uncooperative I called it a day, so I've made flash cards with words from the book, plus a few more -op, -all, -ing, -ed, etc words. Time to DRILL. "A-Y says long-A. Always, every time. So D-A-Y says?" Until he's got the endings down pat. Dr. Suess was a genius, I swear. Who else could make as unphonetic a language as English seem simple to teach? If I can get him through Suess, I can get him to first grade, is my mantra.
So yeah. I'm busy. But I want to get back to blogging!

Honeybee is one year old! (doo dah, doo dah)

Darn it, I AM GOING to blog.
The Honeybee is A WHOLE YEAR OLD now, and just grew fully into 6-month clothing. HA. She is tiny. But DETERMINED. Absolutely 100% determined that she WILL catch up to her brother, and from there, conquer the known universe. She is pushing a milk crate around the kitchen, pulling up on everything there is, and just a few days ago, took SIX STEPS in a row, holding onto nothing.
We joke she's on a seafood diet, she sees food, she wants it. I've been rather sloppy this time around with introducing things one at a time and slowly. "Yes, this is pretty pasta salad. Not for you... oh what the heck." She likes everything. She likes rices, pastas, vegetables, meats, everything. If you can dice it small enough, she will eat it. She enjoyed shreds of my pickled ginger at a sushi buffet. Her birthday meal was tilapia with ginger mayonnaise sauce, and sweet potato hash browns. She emptied her plate by the fistful. I can't eat in front of her if I'm not willing to share. No teeth yet - drooling and chewing on stuff since Mother's Day, but no teeth yet.
It is so much fun to WATCH a baby's development this time around - just sit back and watch, and not do a thing about it. With Kittyboy, we were teaching him stuff, with Honeybee it's "Holy cow! You're doing THAT!... Okay then..." And it forces us to be creative sometimes, like with having her push a milk crate, because when she started doing that, she was still in 3-month clothes. They did NOT make walking toys for babies her size. I expected that by the time her legs were long enough for a walker, she'd BE walking, and I was basically right.
Her heart murmur, praise God, has shrank a bit, and her cardiologist had the honor of being the one to discover her extreme anemia. He asked, when he saw her at the end of September, whether he could check her levels, juuuust to be sure. Maybe she really was "that" pale naturally - and maybe she was naturally SO pale that even her sinus membranes were lighter than normal - but he'd like to just be sure. I asked if it was a heel stick or blood draw, because I gave my already tiny daughter my tiny, tiny veins, and he said just a heel stick, so I said sure. I didn't really think anything of it, because my mother and grandfather and great-grandmother are all very fair-skinned, and she's always been very fair. Well, I forgot to turn my phone's ringer back on when I left, and at 4:30, I realized I had three missed calls, from two different numbers, and an ominous voicemail that mentioned following up with our family doctor the next morning. I called back. The office was closed. Then the cardiologist himself called, after hours. Her "number", hemocrit I think, was supposed to be at least 10.5. It was 6. "I'm so glad I saw her just this morning, so I know she's stable." "Children with anemia of this level are at risk for heart failure," was one of the oh-so-comforting sentences I remember.
Started her on lots of iron. Found out she didn't tolerate that well, and after taking a shower with her, fully clothed, because I knew no other way to deal with the Explosive Iron Barf covering her clothes, my clothes, and in my hair, we started soaking bits of toast with it. Infuse a large enough portion of empty carbs with it, and she would take it and keep it down. Thank God, we are over that. Our second health hurdle, out of the way. I'm told babies can turn anemic around six months, because that's when the mom's iron in their blood runs out and they have to make all their own, and I was thinking "but she only just had her six-month checkup, how could she be THAT anemic, THAT quickly?" and then I remembered this is one thing where adjusted age doesn't mean anything - it's how long the baby's been out of the womb. And she was actually six months in July, not September. So she'd actually been quietly going anemic for the past two months when the cardiologist caught it!
The Honeybee, enjoying her birthday feast!