The Savior 4: Three Chords

Continued from March 10 post, The Savior, Part 3: La Culpa


My second year as a Jesuit Volunteer (JV) in Belize the church was my job. An American priest who’d spent most of his time in country on the grounds of a private school became the pastor at St. Martin de Porres (nicknamed St. Martin de Poors) Church, across the street from our JV house. I’d worked myself out of a job with the Lay Ministers Program. The wonder-JV a year ahead of me who played guitar, ran the children’s choir, coached the soccer and track teams at the adjoining school, and had attracted legions of grade school admirers who affectionately ran after his bicycle as he rode onto the church/school grounds calling, “Mistah Phil, Mistah Phil!” had completed his service and returned to the U.S. I became the Pastoral Assistant.

I’ve written about this before, trying to lead the children’s choir with my three chords on the guitar Mr. Phil left behind, the genios Father would throw me from the altar when I got it wrong. Teaching religion to the kids in Standard 3 because their regular classroom teacher was Jehovah’s Witness. Setting up the school counseling program with another JV, though I had majored in History and my only training was a three-day course put on by an all-white team from the U.S. whose orientation to Belize was a coffee meeting with a former Embassy worker.

I naively (it goes without saying) believed the kids at St. Martin’s would trust me, that all they needed was a good person to listen to them, and that together we’d develop the skills they’d need to navigate poverty, violence, absent parents (many of whom were trying to establish a foothold in the U.S.).

“They won’t go too deep,” Father said. “They just need a little encouragement.”

Sometimes we drew pictures. Sometimes we did homework. Sometimes we sat in silence. I thought instinct would guide me. I was afraid to ask for help. And the one time I did, reaching out to a family violence prevention organization, I got called into the principal’s office to face the mother whose son told me she beat him. “He’s a naughty boy,” she said. I walked straight from her office to an empty classroom and wept loud and messy for the shame of f#@*ing up, for the certainty that I’d failed him. He didn’t come to me anymore. Even now, I don’t know what else I could have done.

To Be Continued

Published in: on June 18, 2015 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Mommy Diary


Because there are no bad nights, only good material

ImageIt’s five in the morning, and I am in a deep sleep until I hear K. calling, “Daddy. Daddy.” Daddy is snoring because he slept four hours last night and got up before the sun to finish a presentation he was giving at an eight-thirty board meeting in Santa Fe. So I go to K., and he is crying because he can’t breathe through one of his nostrils and nothing will come out when he blows his nose, “even when I stick a tissue up there.”

“Do you want a steam bath or a little tent like we did this afternoon?”

ImageHe wants a tent. I boil water, move the purple ottoman into the bathroom, set a bowl on top of the toilet seat. I pull the tea kettle off the stove just before it whistles. Pour. One drop of peppermint oil. One drop of eucalyptus. I am thinking that Henry is selfish for sleeping and doesn’t care about any of us, and in a few hours, he will wake rested and happy, and everyone will like him more just like they always do because he’s the real dad, and I’m just the stepmom.

“Okay, little guy,” I whisper from the foot of his bed. “Bring the Kleenex.”

In the bathroom, I drape the towel over his head and close it like curtains around the bowl.

“Close your eyes. Just breathe. Stay under as long as you can. Then we’ll blow your nose.”

Every time he blows his nose, I swear he’s losing brain tissue. He coughs, which is good, because it turns my thoughts away from selfish, sleeping Henry and to the cough syrup on the top shelf of the medicine cabinet.

Eight years old. Two teaspoons. I pour and hand it to K. He doesn’t take it, so I put the spoon to his mouth and tip. He holds the syrup in the well under his tongue, and at first I think he’s playing, like that night almost a year ago when he woke itching from chicken pox, and I fixed him an oatmeal bath and he froze like Han Solo in carbonite, or like those mornings when he takes twenty minutes to make his bed because he twists himself up in his sheets and wedges his head between his pillow and pillowcase, and walks around, bumping into doorways and furniture and calling for help.

It sounds like he’s laughing, but he keeps on, and he’s not swallowing.

“You gotta swallow it, okay?”

He’s crying.

I say, “This is the same cough syrup you took yesterday, and it was fine,” as though reason were what this parenting moment required.

He’s still crying and trying to talk, “I don’t like it, I don’t like it,” and every time he moves his mouth, he spills purple syrup onto the dinosaurs on his pj bottoms.

“Okay, spit it out,” I say, handing him a tissue, and of course, the tissue is too small to catch everything, and it’s five-thirty in the morning, and we’re a little uncoordinated. So then he tries to clean his pj bottoms with that tissue, which only makes things worse. I hand him a damp washcloth from the shower ledge, where I’ve been sitting this whole time.

“We’ll change bottoms, okay?”

He nods. Wipes his eyes.

“How’s your nose? Can you breathe through that nostril?”

“Now it’s open, but the other one closed.”

By this time, the water in the bowl has cooled, and I’m thinking maybe it’s best to change tactics.

“How about a bath?”

ImageHe shakes his head, so it’s back to the kitchen and the teakettle and the peppermint and eucalyptus oils, and how could Henry sleep through all of this? Any minute now, he’ll get up and take over because he always knows what to do, and I’m just making this up as I go along.

While the water heats, I pour cough syrup into a half teaspoon.

“Let’s try this a little at a time.”

K. opens his mouth, but he won’t swallow.

“If you just swallow, it will be over faster. Honey, you’re making it worse.” There I go with my reason again. “Do you want some sugar? Do you want some water?”

How about twenty bucks? A new Lego? A puppy? Please, for the love of God, swallow the damn cough syrup.

He’s shaking his head, his mouth open. And then a wet booger creeps out of his nostril and is just about to hit his lip, when I say, “Ooh! Blow your nose.” It happens so quickly, he swallows without thinking.

This only works once.

The water boils. I set up the facial tent, rub his little back, hold tissues up to his nose each time he pulls the towel off his head, look at his cute little face, how long his hair is now, how much he’s changed in the five years I’ve known him. How much I’ve changed. The first time I gave him a bath, I forgot to put my hand like a visor on his forehead and got shampoo in his eyes. He cried like I’d cut off his arm, and I left K. and the bathroom to Henry to finish.

I learned how to keep the soap out of K.’s  eyes. When he calls for his dad at five in the morning, and I show up, he does not send me back to my room.

“Can you breathe through both nostrils?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he answers.

And now I’m glad that Henry is still asleep because when I tuck K. into bed, he asks, “Will you lie down with me?”

He offers me some blankie, and I cuddle him until he falls asleep.  

ImageIt’s six-thirty in the morning when I get back to bed. Henry stirs enough for me to scoot next to him. Too soon, P. is out of bed. I can’t move. Henry gets up and gently closes our door behind him. When I open my eyes again, it’s ten o’clock. I never sleep until ten. I feel rested. I hear Henry and the kids chatting in the living room. I smell bacon. I get up, open the door, and step into another day of life.



Published in: on February 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm  Comments (5)  
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