Wartime Palindrome

In my last post, “The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom, I mentioned my Dutch Opa, a radioman, who refused to continue working for the radio when it was taken over by the Nazis in World War Two. In doing so he risked his life. I wrote this poem for him, to honour his refusal to speak words of hate. May each of us fight the battle to find peace in our hearts, so there can be no more war in the world.

Opa,

your silence in the attic–

a defiance,

a refusal to speak false words.

Your face pale

under dusky skin,

as planes drone over Hilversum

and your children play above you,

innocently distracting the soldiers.

Under the floor boards you hide,

cramped–

radio silence.


Radio silence–

cramped,

you hide under the floor boards.

Innocently distracting the soldiers,

your children play above you,

as planes drone over Hilversum.

Under dusky skin,

your face is pale.

You refuse to speak false words,

your defiance–

your silence in the attic,

Opa.

“The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom

Last night I stayed up reading a novel till unmentionable small hours of the morning. I couldn’t put it down. I tried but couldn’t sleep. I had to know how things would turn out for these ordinary yet heroic Hollanders who hid Jewish people in their Haarlem home in World War Two. The fact that this story is true and autobiographical added a bittersweet poignancy which really captivated me.

I can’t recommend this heroic story enough. But be sure to buy Kleenex, and some strong coffee (preferably Dutch) for the mornings after you stay up way too late reading it on the edge of your seat. The sacrifice of sleep will be worth it to renew your faith in the amazing ability of humanity to survive in the most horrific circumstances…and not only to survive, but to thrive, at least interiorly. The women in this story suffer deeply, but instead of becoming darkened by hate, they become luminous…in the midst of evil, they glow. Love does this. Faith does this. Unshakable determination to do what is right does this.

I was extremely inspired by the ten Boom family, whose loving description reminded me a bit of the family in Little Women. It made me feel that my struggles are very small indeed, and that I want to pray for greater heroism in overcoming the bitterness and self-pity that can creep in through the cracks of exhaustion. Corrie, who is a watchmaker in her 50’s when she joins the Dutch underground movement, makes it very clear that any good she did came not from her own virtue or strength, but from the faith and love infused into her soul. God’s providence runs through the story like a shining golden thread.

What is amazing, besides all she did to save her fellow human beings, especially Jews, during the war, is what she does after the war, having been through harsh prisons and concentration camps. She opens homes for victims of war, where they can live in a loving home, grow flowers and vegetables and find hope again. Beyond that, she travels the world sharing her story of the power of love to overcome evil, and that God’s loving forgiveness that exists for all, no matter how dark their past. She does not neglect Germany, the land of her wartime fears and captivity, when sharing her message of peace.

The Hiding Place resonates with me in a very personal level because I have Dutch family who hid Jews in their home during the war, and my Opa himself, who worked for the Dutch radio, hid from the Nazis when they wanted him to spew propaganda. When soldiers knocked on the door, Opa Koenig would quickly open the floorboards in the attic and lower himself into a little hiding place. My cute blonde, blue-eyed Dutch stepdad and his sister would then throw a blanket over the area and sit on it playing with their toys. Thankfully, the soldiers would simply look around the room, pat their little heads, and leave. I can’t imagine the stress of this on kids, but Opa survived the war and was never caught, unlike so many others.

If you’re looking for a book to read this November as we approach Remembrance Day, try “The Hiding Place.” It’s the kind of book that touches your soul and leaves you forever grateful for the goodness of the ordinary heroes among us.

Kid Clutter: Experiments in Decluttering Toy Tornadoes

The floor: for many of us parents, the sight of a bare floor is an amazing and rare spectacle, rather like the sighting of a double rainbow or a shooting star–beautiful and hauntingly brief–before it is submerged under a deluge of toys again.

I’ve tried many things to deal with this problem, like buying more toy bins from ikea and sorting the toys into them…repeatedly! Storage is not the solution, when everything is just going to be dumped out again. I’m also constantly decluttering and making give away bags of clothes and toys for Big Brothers Charity to pick up from my doorstep. I’ve even tried my sister’s method of toy jail, except sticking a box or bag of toys out in the garage temporarily. She told me:

I grabbed a garbage bag every night and a laundry basket. Set the timer. If things weren’t put back where they belonged they went in the garbage or into the “toy jail”. Then the jail went up on the fridge till they earned their toy’s freedom.

She was much more disciplined about doing this every night to establish a habit of tidying up. By the time I hit evening, I’m often too done in to do this. Or I’m just as overwhelmed as the kids by the sheer amount of tiny things to be responsible for. Hundreds and hundreds of little things to pick up, sort, organize, and put away. It’s a lot of pressure to deal with all this stuff.

So I finally hit a wall of frustration last weekend and decided to be a little more drastic. I brought in huge rubbermade bins from the garbage and dumped all the toy bins in them. I gathered up all the toys from the floor, everything but the toy food from in the toy kitchen, and a stuffie or two on each bed, and I put it ALL in the garage.

I waited for an explosion of outrage. For complaints. For tears. For…anything! But nothing came. The kids barely seemed to notice. My three year old Eddie turned all the empty toy bins into a toy train.

In his bed he has his Spider-Man doll and his Star Wars book. He’s perfectly happy. He has his siblings and his imagination. He has space to run and jump and play, instead of living in a toy tornado. We might bring some toys back in after a while, but not until they are specifically requested. So far, in a whole week, only one toy has been asked for, so I’ll go fetch that one thing.

I share this anecdote to demonstrate that sometimes we put too much stock in material things, thinking our happiness depends on them. It is a greater happiness to live the adventure of participating in making the world a better place. Life has much more savour and zest when we are not trapped in the tunnel of thinking mainly of ourselves. I read a great comment by a woman named Lauren in comments in We Are That Family blog:

My pastor said that we expect our children to be grateful when we shower them with gifts, but the only way to be really grateful is to live without.

I think the sheer amount of gifts children receive really cheapens everything. It’s so hard to really care about that many things. Especially when an empty box is just as fun to play with– or more!

We are still a fair way away from Christmas, the season in which loving relatives attempt to drive mothers insane by dumping down the chimney a sparkling deluge of tiny toys, to be picked up and sorted and lost and cried over and fought over approximately 2946393 times.

May I suggest, for those who may be thinking ahead, to consider experience gifts instead? Like taking the kids to a play or paying for an art class? Kids will love it! Nothing has brought my 6 and 7 year olds greater joy than their art class at 4 Cats art studio this fall. They are growing in confidence and learning new skills. Mothers all around the world will thank you for not bringing a million more tiny collectible toys to their house, especially every night when they go upstairs to read their kids a bedtime story, and can actually see that much coveted and beloved object: a clear floor!

As an added bonus, buying less toys is better for the environment, and helps preserve a more beautiful world for our kids to grow up in. Win-win!!

Some days

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

Spread far and wide

And though I’ve tried

My patience fails

My heart, it quails

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

The toddler roars

And slams the door

He lets me know

Who runs the show

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

The baby cries

The empress queen

Will be obeyed

Or price be paid

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

I’m losing sleep

And with is goes

All the wisdom

That I know

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

Chalk in the sink

Paint on the floor

Stamps on the wall

Pens on the door

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

My mind forgets

My plans do fail

Behind me lies

A messy trail

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

Mistakes rubbed in

Do sink my heart

Under their weight

I fall apart

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

I write this poem

Take refuge in

The secret world

I hide within

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

Every Child Matters: September 30th

This September 30th was the 5th anniversary of my daughter Josephine’s birth. And death. Stillborn. It’s a bittersweet day for me, as we mourn and remember and celebrate her, especially by planting fall bulbs which will fill our garden with colour in the spring. We try to fill her birthday, one haunted by painful memories, with as much love and beauty as we can. We feel the wordless warmth of her love in return, across the temporary divide into the next life. The prayers and kind messages of friends take the sharp edge off this poignant day.

Josephine’s birthday is also Orange Shirt day, the special day assigned to commemorate the suffering of First Nations children separated from their families and put in residential schools. Having lost a child myself, I feel a stab of sympathy when I think of these families who had their children torn away from them. They had the additional torture of anxiety for their children’s happiness and well-being, knowing these were being violated. So from the heart of a mother which has been broken by grief, I send all my deepest wishes for healing and hope to all who have suffered in this way.

I was touched by the slogan below when my sister sent me this poster:

Every child matters.

No qualifying statements: no ‘if/then clauses’ like if they’re wealthy, they matter; if they’re white, they matter; if they’re wanted, they matter, if they’re old enough, they matter. No.

EVERY CHILD MATTERS.

When I saw a petition for equal health care for Inuit babies, I was a bit naively shocked….what do you mean, some babies in Canada often don’t receive equal care?? It seems that in their more extreme climate, many Inuit babies suffer seriously from RSV (respiratory virus syndrome), and some even succumb to it, despite the existence of a preventative antibody that is normally given to at-risk babies. It is not standardly given to them. I’m at a loss to know why. Cost, perhaps? Since when have we put a price tag on human life? Moreover, why is that price tag different depending whose child you are? Every child matters.

To say that some babies matter more than others is to commodify human beings, that is, to turn them into objects of variable worth…mere things whose value is determined by other frail human beings. This makes no sense. Either all babies matter, or none do.

Canada is such a gift. A beautiful country which is filled with so many diverse peoples. Let us please work towards making it a place where it is truly clear that every child matters, no matter what.

Homeschool Fun: Making Butter

Recently we did a simple science project from my daughter’s Behold and See 6 workbook: making homemade butter out of whip cream. We poured a litre of whip cream into a glass jar, closed it up, put on some fun 50’s music and proceeded to dance about shaking the jar like crazy. It’s a lot of work, so we all took turns….even the toddler lugged the giant jar about for a few minutes, at her own request.

After some time, and a change of music to Nintendo theme songs, requested by another child, we discovered it had become whip cream. We snuck out a small bowlful, sprinkled it with granulated sugar and dipped chopped fruit in it.

Then back to work with lots more dancing, jumping and shaking, and plenty of admiration for the ladies of old who did this by hand every week, like Ma in “Little House in the Big Woods,” which we are reading together. Eventually the jar started to slosh around again with buttermilk, which had separated from the large yellow clump of butter inside. After a bit we took the butter out and rinsed it off, to get out the buttermilk which could make it go rancid more easily.

After the water which we rinsed and kneaded it in ran clear, we took it out and put it in out butter dish. Voilá!

It’s yummy! Another time maybe we will add garlic and herbs and spread it on a warm loaf of bread from the bread-maker! The litre of whip cream only made about a half pound of butter, which made me better appreciate butter’s price!