When your kids are in third grade and you’re in the midst of a construction project and you discover that the foundation of your mudroom needs to be replaced and that while you’re at it adding a second floor room wouldn’t cost too much more – when all that happens, building an upstairs playroom sounds like a good idea.
At least it sounded like a good idea to my husband Scott and me in the summer of 2003.
A playroom would build a breakwater to keep the relentless surge of
kid junk from spilling into the other rooms. We could get a bumper pool
table. Scott could finally have a place for the 1980s pinball machine
he’d been hankering to buy from Mike Knudsen. We could set up our old
dartboard. At last we’d have a place to hang the entertaining campaign
posters we stole from lawns across the Micronesian island of Saipan when
we were teachers there in our youth.
And it was a good idea. Vast Lego and Playmobil cities spread out
and could be left for days at a time without ever puncturing the tender
parental foot at midnight. Pinball machines came and went. Posters and
memorabilia from vacations were added to the walls. But slowly –
especially in recent years as our twin sons have entered high school and
are more apt to request iTunes gift cards instead of Nerf guns – it has
become a place to dump stuff no one knows what to do with: old
computer monitors and obsolete gadgets, clothes meant for the rummage
sale that never quite made it, a castoff electronic putting green from
Granddad that nobody really wanted but couldn’t not accept.
All four of us are guilty of covert dumping, especially Colin, who is
responsible for the layer of cream cheese adhered to the surface of the
bumper pool table from a bagel he laid down one afternoon in the late
20-oughts. While we’ve been living with growing playroom chaos for
several years, today something happened that caused me to take the
matter in hand: Scott finally consented to procuring for Colin a real
It’s a problem when your child starts playing the piano at the late
age of 15 and it becomes apparent after the first two months that he
really knows what he’s about. Recriminations of “Why didn’t you start
me with lessons when I was small?” have often cut deep to the maternal
heart this last year. Colin’s dissatisfaction with our ancient digital
Yamaha Clavinova became apparent about six months ago. “The action,” he
said, “it sucks. I can’t play Debussy with that thing. I need a real
“Well, I can’t play Debussy, either,” I replied. “And your dad
doesn’t believe in real pianos in Maine. He’s certain they don’t stay
in tune in this climate, so don’t hold your breath, kid,” I warned.
Perhaps it was when Granddad, over for dinner recently, gave Scott a
certain look that said, “I supported your interests when you were
young,” that made him relent. All I know is that last Friday I returned
from a work trip to Miami and suddenly there, on the kitchen table, was
a copy of Maine’s quirky classified ad magazine, “Uncle Henry’s” with
an entry circled: “Chickering baby grand. $500. Call after 5.
In many ways 2003 feels like last week. Our boys were a perfectly
sweet nine years old, and I was writing pieces about the election of
Gene Robinson. Now they’re almost 17 and thinking about colleges and
+Gene just announced his retirement. How do these things happen?
I don’t feel a day older. But here’s the thing: Scott and I work at
the same places. We live in the same house. We eat the same food and
read the same magazines and wear (sad to say) many of the same clothes.
Lots of things have happened around us since 2003 but a remarkable
number have stayed the same. Except boys: they grew an alarming number
of inches and shoe sizes and turned from funny, smart, adorable little
boys into funnier, smarter, handsome young men.
So amidst the work of clearing out all of the plastic bins and
bookshelves and tubs of junk in the playroom, I had trouble accepting
that no one wanted the mongo T-Rex that had been such a prized
possession. Everyone but I was indifferent to the Mr. Potatohead that
had served as a space capsule for intrepid Playmobil pirates on so many
adventures to the planet of Zumbar.
I started a pile on top of the pool table for things I couldn’t throw
away: one of the little black super-soft stuffed puppies I bought for
the boys the day after my father died. We’d been out buying chocolate
to take back to the nursing staff at the hospital and, when the children
pleaded, I couldn’t say no.
“Hey, Martin,” I hollered. “C’mere.” After a moment my wise
wrestler-poet leaned on the doorway to the playroom. “What do I do with
some of this? I can’t chuck it.”
“Aw,” he said, fingering first a beanie baby hedgehog that his
Kindergarten teacher had given him and then a much beloved Star Wars
“Make a nostalgia pile and we’ll go through it
later,” he said, leaving me sitting on the floor surrounded by the
vestigial tokens of our precious family life. But, well-adjusted person
that he is, Martin left with nary a trace of nostalgia in his deep
voice. He’s ready for the next thing.
In the Diocese of Maine – and in many places across the Episcopal Church
and indeed, we’ve heard in recent months, in other denominations – we
are embarking on a strange journey and asking ourselves many questions
about how to transform the Church to meet the needs of a changing world.
Our diocese is one year into a study process that is compelling us to
look at both our mission strategies and our mission priorities. The
coming year will reveal an emerging set of both. And, I gotta say, I’m
curious about what they’ll look like and how they’ll be received.
It all started in October 2009 when Bishop Steve Lane offered a
convention address that stunned members of our diocese with its
combination of forthright truth-telling and the firm reassurance that
together, with God, we will walk through whatever comes next.
Click here to hear the address.
In his sermon last month at our 2010 diocesan convention, Bishop Lane had this to say:
“The process of adaptive change is many things: a journey from one
paradigm to another, a journey through a new and risky landscape, a
journey often without a clear destination - but most of all it is a
spiritual journey, a journey from habitual ways of being and doing to a
closer, more trusting and self-conscious relationship with God. The
journey we're on will require a change of heart and a new spirit in
every congregation. It will require all of us to be flexible and to take
“The ways we serve God, the shape of our communities, the nature of
our buildings, the relationship between clergy and people - all these
may change. But our call to announce the good news of God's merciful
presence with us never changes and never ends.”
Our church is a lot like my family’s playroom. It’s hard to believe
that time has passed and the same practices that have given us such
pleasure and comfort over time are no longer relevant or in demand by
the people around us: the people we’re called by Jesus to serve. Our
nostalgia pile heaps to overflowing. And, yet, as my boss maintains –
ever confident in the love of God that holds us altogether and all
together - we don’t quite yet know what will take the place of all the
things that we must give up.
Seven years ago, if you had told Scott and me that we would be buying a
piano for the playroom so Colin could play Chopin and Mompou with such
dazzling skill and passion, we would have said you were crazy. “This kid
has fine motor skills below the 5th percentile,” we would have sighed.
“Piano lessons would be a frustrating, futile effort for us all.”
But it turns out all the people who took a gander at him were right.
“This kid has many strengths. He will compensate. He will turn out
We couldn’t have imagined a piano in our playroom, but Colin had other plans.
Perhaps if we, as a people of God, let go of some of the things we
can’t imagine our corporate life without, then possibilities we can’t
imagine will emerge is the space left behind. The hard truth is that
there’s not enough room for everything.
Right now, as I listen to the lovely sound of Beethoven coming from
the grossly inadequate Yamaha in the living room, I can just hear the
sweet strains of what might be possible.
Winner of a 2011 Polly Bond Award for devotional writing.