Saturday, March 21, 2009

A plumbline

As a baby, he was the smiliest, most cuddly of our children. We began early on to call him "Lovey-boy," sensitive and earnest. He didn't speak until he was over a year old, about the same week he began to walk--late at both. But his words came in a rush one day when we were at Beve's parents' place on out on a deep-water lake in Northern Idaho (I'd tell you the name but I have trouble spelling it correctly).  That afternoon, while holding the video camera, his Grammie asked, "Johnson (E called him this and the rest of us followed suit), how are you?"  And to our great surprise and delight, he answered, "I fine, how you?"  From that moment on he spoke in complete sentences, and we spent the rest of the vacation asking him questions like he was a wind-up talking doll, recording every answer on tape.

I'm thinking about J today because yesterday was his 22nd birthday and I neglected to write.  To tell the truth, I've been so swamped with pain the last couple of days, I haven't done much of anything but lie on the couch with basketball on, then limp to my bed early. Ok, I'm still lying on the couch, but J's is the last birthday (from when I began this blog almost a year ago), so I definitely don't want to overlook him.

Not that J can be overlooked.  Once he began to talk, J barely stopped.  He never met a stranger as a child, and his innately honest nature compelled him to ask such questions as, "Don't you know that smoking will make you sick?" to a salesman at a car dealership, and "Is that a baby in your stomach?" to a older, rather portly man.  He once turned off a stranger's gas at a filling station, and told a doctor that his Dad knew how to trick the bank out of money.  This last came after Beve had told him we didn't have money for whatever toy he wanted in a store, then went to an ATM machine.  But my all-time favorite (though not in the moment!!!) bank experience with J came one frazzled Friday afternoon when I went to the bank with all three small children, our youngest still a babe in arms.  The drive-up window was inexplicably closed, but I had to deposit and get money (remember the days when banks closed at 5 on Fridays and didn't open again until Monday morning?). Sighing, I got all three children out of their carseats (I think J was 2, and E was 4 at that time), and took them with me into the bank.  There was a long line winding through the lobby, with one of those velvet covered ropes keeping us in line.  J began swinging on the rope, and I repeatedly asked him to stop.  But even then he was efficient at ignoring my voice.  By the time we were second in line, he was really being a pill, and I was at the end of MY rope, so to speak.  So I bent down, holding the baby, and whispered to J, "If you don't stop, I'll spank you."  And J looked up at me, and, like we were all in the EF Hutton commercial, spoke in his deep voice loud enough to still the room, "No, I'll spank you, butthead."

If you could have seen my face in that moment!  I don't usually blush, but I'm pretty sure smoke was coming out of my ears!  The dilemma, of course, was that, at about that moment, I'd just moved to the head of the line. And, in those on-the-edge-of-poverty days, absolutely had to get that money in our account.  With the whole bank watching, I slunk to the teller, did my business, holding my breath and giving J the evil eye as I held him by one arm.

Just so you know, Beve and I never use that word, and, as matter of fact, I think it was that moment that we began to plan our move out of the city, away from the house where, just across a chain-link fence was a blended family of boys just older than J, who played hard and spoke harshly, and he was like a sponge to it all.

It's a telling thing about J, though.  He really is a sponge for life.  He loves learning, loves truth, tells the truth about everything he feels.  It's sometimes been as disconcerting--even dismaying--as that moment, but we also really value that quality in him.  As an elementary school kid, every day he'd get into the car and pour out the truths about his day, his questionably rambunctious behavior, his standing up for smaller, more picked-on kids, his desire to be right--even sometimes telling teachers when they were wrong.  In our house, after me, J has the largest library, and if you saw them you'd be impressed by the depth and breadth of them.  He's a student of history, has been since he first learned to read (the first book he remembers reading is Johnny Tremain, which I think he read in second grade).  In fact, our son is so committed to truth and justice, when he was a senior in high school, he decided to change his middle name.  Justus is an old family name from Beve's side, and J loves both the name and the idea of it.  Needless to say, Beve's dad was pleased as punch by the name change.

J's still committed to truth and justice. He will argue as the day is long if he believes he's right.  I think he gets this from his mother.  We've been known to clear a room when we get going, because he's far to the right of me on most issues.  But I value that he thinks deeply, works to understand issues, and doesn't ever mind taking a stand. And he still stands up for his friends, especially those more needy than himself.  He still sometimes tells a truth to us that I'd rather not hear, but it makes him incredibly trustworthy.  J's plumline has shown us time and time again, that the walls in his life are perfectly square. 

It's quite a journey, being J's parents.  We never quite know where the road will take us, but it's journey I wouldn't miss for anything.  I know what kind of man he is--and is becoming--because I still see that little Lovey-Boy in him.  I see the tenderness this adult male tries to hide, I see the child who was willing to speak openly, even to strangers.  J's life has shaped him in ways that I could not have predicted, but at his heart, he's still square, his plumline is still hanging true.  And that's enough for me.

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