This is Summer: Season Two {#16}

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Sunday afternoon
at the park; it’s been awhile
since I last see-sawed.

~ Natalia

This is Summer: Season Two {#15}

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The three musketeers,
an afternoon at the beach,
under cloudy sun.

~Natalia

This is Summer: Season Two {#14}

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You’ve not seen pics yet,
of our WOW Camp time, last week.
Don’t worry- you will.

For now, as a peek,
Glendy’s tall, on the way to
Friday night’s picnic.

~Natalia

Sunset Pause

Wednesday evening, the camp day ended four hours ago. Dinner has been served, enjoyed, put away. It’s prep time, this evening, and the teens are in the Pavilion, scattered into threes and fours on that cement floor, spread further out into the grass. Meeting, planning, preparing for the next day’s camp.

We have an errand, we say. We’re looking for face paint for camp. We used to have some, years ago, but it’s been awhile and the campers are asking. So we go, Jessa and I. We drive the green van, the van I’d driven the night before. Last night, the van bumped fast over dusty dirt roads to the beach, six high school boys in the back, shouting the lyrics to the country music I’d cranked up loud. Tonight, I drive again, windows down, like always. But it’s just Jessa and me and the music is low and the conversation easy, gentle.

It’s a steep hill up to the road, and the van purrs, determined, as it putters up the incline. I know the way, familiar, to the store, but there’s a road closed and a detour and we’re improvising turns and backtracking by the time we arrive. The dollar store’s closed five minutes before (that detour!); we drive across an empty evening parking lot to the grocery store. It’s a long shot, we know: grocery stores aren’t known for their face paint selections. But this evening trip is much more about a break, a rest, a quiet moment in a busy week, than it is about face paint, to-do checks, shopping lists.

We buy a pack of markers, Crayola, to say that we’ve bought something, then head out again. Back to the van, to the quiet radio and the easy conversation, soft laughter. I almost miss the detoured turn, and there is a mason jar rolling around by my feet (what?). We swap memories like candies, sharing what comes to mind. We arrive once again at that long, steep hill and we’re snaking down, down, down, when the trees give way to field and the sun, setting, is red, purple, brilliant over distant grass. I’m saying something, but it’s suddenly so very unimportant, and there’s a driveway on the left and I hit the breaks steady, pull in quick.

We sit for a moment, quiet, still. Driver seat, passenger seat, looking up, ahead, above, at that beautiful sky. We get out, the doors of the old green van creaking, clicking open. We stand in the grass a moment, looking still. Taking in the sight, the creation. The perfect stillness.

Then it’s back in the van. Back to the farm. Back to sitting around the kitchen table, laughing and yelling. Back to planning the next day. Back to teens all around, asking questions, telling stories, living the full, rich, crazy life that comes so natural to high schoolers. But that evening car ride, that face paint errand, that sunset-breathing stop was the calm-bringing pause in a long week of go, live, move, run.

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~Natalia

Sunscreen Stories

Saturday night, rain. Hard and heavy, I hear it in the night. The windows are open, in that upstairs girls’ room, and I get up, 4am, to close one. Outside, the rain clinks against the pane, thunder rolls. Inside, ten girls breathe soft, asleep.

Monday, Tuesday, the days following, break foggy, the grass slick with Michigan dew. 7:30 breakfast in the schoolhouse, folding tables lined against the wall, under the chalkboard. Plates away, food cleared, it’s 8am and the sun beats warm already, fog and dew quickly disappearing. Camp begins at 9:30, and when lunch rolls around, it’s sunscreen time.

They line up inside, all those campers. The lunch man, beard, gloves, serving spoon, on one side of the table, 100 little ones lined on the other side. There are picnic tables outside in the sun. Seven, eight tables. Weathered wood, benches attached. These tables are full. Kids, campers, swinging short legs under the bench. They use little fingers, plastic silverware to eat. Their leaders, the teens, sit with them. They lean together, the kids and the teens, and they talk, laugh, be together.

It’s a blue bottle of sunscreen that I use. Sport. I start at the same table every day, a pattern of steps that feels familiar after five days. After Monday, the first day, they know what’s coming. They see me, bottle in one hand, right hand already white with the liquid lotion, and they look up. Wait for me. Every table, every day, the same.

Can I put some sunscreen on you? They don’t say no, of course. Don’t say yes, either. They have food in their mouths, child cheeks full of pizza, chicken quesadilla, meatloaf. They nod, mumble, and I take it as a yes. They need this, because it’s hot and sunny. So they sit, still, and I rub that white on their small faces.

By Tuesday, it’s easy. A system. Cheeks, forehead, chin, nose. Sometimes arms, shoulders. I remember the neck half the time. Thursday is painfully sunny, hot, and I do their ears, too; ruffling gooey sunscreen, from a new bottle now, onto tens of miniature ears. It’s Thursday, too, that I realize I look forward to this sunscreen ritual, this lunchtime pattern. All around us, life, action, chaos unfolds. The lunch line steps forward, child by child, plate by full plate. Across the playground, the swingset creeks and swings, little legs pumping, blond ponytails soaring. Basketballs bounce fast, heavy against the concrete. Yells and voices are everywhere.

But right there, there with that sunscreen, there’s no chaos. Everything is calm; there for a moment. There, while I lotion their cheeks, their ears, I can speak quietly. No yelling, no repeating to be heard. Certainly no microphone. There as I spread that white lotion on little necks, little noses that scrunch involuntarily, conversation is quiet.

Are you having fun? I whisper, they nod.

What did you do today? Sometimes an answer. Sometimes a shrug, a shy, mouth-full mumble.

You did a great job. A smile, uncertain. Shy. A grin, beaming.

I lean over to check their cheeks, smear white on their foreheads, and they look up, catch my eye.

God gave you beautiful eyes.

I love your hair.

I love that smile.

{You’re so valuable, child.}

Sometimes there are more words, and these sunscreen conversations stretch long. Long so that I sit down, squeeze onto that wooden bench, and stay awhile. Sometimes, I rub a head, brush a stray hair back from a sticky, sunscreen face, and I move on. Next table, next face, next story.

And I cover those faces with sunscreen and those sunscreen faces have hearts along with, and with every round, child face covered, my heart catches a little more on each precious little one.

~Natalia

This is Summer: Season Two {#13}

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To the library,
the tall and the small pair walked;
Three friends in the sun.

~Natalia

She Wants to Sing

Tuesday. She wants to sing on stage, they say. They look at me when they say it, eyes shifting to where I sit, cross-legged, on the ground. They look at me because I’m on stage often, I suppose. Choose the songs. Make the playlist. Lead the worship. But I’m not the only one- Tese is on stage with me, Naners, too. I catch their eye while we dance with the kids, and we laugh.

We’re all up there and Tuesday afternoon, after camp, those eyes find me and she wants to sing, and I don’t say anything. Second grade, maybe first, I can’t let her, I reason. Every kid will want to. You can’t just make exceptions. No favorites. Maybe she’ll forget about it. It sounds like a hassle, I don’t want to do it. So the argument goes.

Thursday, they say it again. After camp, again. On that cool cement ground, talking over the day. I wave my hand, mentally, physically dismissing the idea. The conversation flips, changes. I’m saved again; hope they’ll forget again.

Friday morning, one more time. She wants to sing. Don’t mention it to her, I instruct. I don’t know what to do, am too busy to think logistics, hope desperately that the child will forget. She can’t sing.

Friday afternoon, camp is almost over. Another year come, lived, passed. The day is almost over, we’re handing out prizes now. 90 kids, two toys each. They file past the prize table, hem and haw over the decision. Plastic ring or miniature notepad? Sillybandz or noisemaker? The consider, thoughtfully dragging chubby fingers, nails dirty from so much camp, along the table. They choose.

I’m on the stage. Just me up here now. Standing on the wooden boards, I watch the table, the line. That’s in the corner. In front of me, across the Pavilion, the ground is littered with towels, backpacks, little bodies. Having selected their toys, they play. Gathered in little groups around their leaders, they talk, yell. The noise is everywhere. Overpowering, almost. Noisemakers, conversations. The hum of Newsboys music playing over it all.

The last group in line, I sit on the edge of the stage. Six, seven, eight little ones play in front of me. We’re at eye level, me sitting, them standing, and they smile, call my name, show me their prizes. I lean over, hold my hand out to see, nod and laugh, almost yelling to be heard over the rush of sound. My other hand, behind me, holds the microphone still.

Can I sing in the microphone?

I didn’t see her coming and I’m unprepared. Brown hair, bangs grown long swing into her green eyes. Her cheeks are pale and round, freckles sprinkled heavily across her nose. She’s in front of me, eyes patient, passive. Hopeful. Speechless, I find myself nodding. She smiles, just a little, and I recover myself.

What are you going to sing?

Awesome God.

Try practicing for me now.

She sings then. The microphone, behind me, hears nothing. All around us, the yelling and the running and the music roar on. But she’s confident, quietly so. She sings the chorus, eyes unwavering, watching me mouth the words along with her. She knows them all.

Nodding, smiling, I stand up. Catch David’s eye, at the back. A short motion and he’s turned down the music, a little. In front of me, she gazes up, unsure. I sit again, quick. Holding the microphone in front of her, I nod.

Go ahead.

She hesitates. I’m gonna do it? I nod again, laugh a little. Yes, go for it. I’m a little nervous. But then she’s started.

We’re inches apart. Me holding the mike, her singing. I’m mouthing the words, but making no sound. This is all her. She holds my gaze as she sings, line after beautiful, God-praising line. We’ve forgotten the other campers. The prizes. The noise. The only things I know are the microphone in my hand, and the child singing into it.

Slowly, the Pavilion becomes still. The games stop. The yelling fades out. David turns the music all the way down. By the time she’s done, it’s silent. She holds the last note long, then closes her rosebud mouth. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I hear the clapping, the cheering. She holds my gaze a second longer, smiling serenely. Content. She sits then, and I jump up, hurry to move. There are tears in my eyes, my heart is pounding hard. The noise in the Pavilion begins to hum again, slowly, but my mind replays, over and again, the sound of her voice, and the reverent silence of one hundred listeners,

~Natalia

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