Fred Was Right

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A father sometimes knows his son better than his son knows himself. Occasionally — but rarely — he knows him better than the boy’s mother. Parental conversations leading to decisions about a troubled child’s welfare are private. But the outcomes of  decisions are sometimes a matter of public record.

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Mary Anne

Imagine, for instance, a conversation between Fred and Mary Anne about their difficult son whose behavior at school was bringing shame to the family name. Mary Anne, a Scottish-born immigrant raised in a small fishing village on the Outer Hebrides’ Isle of Lewis, was aghast at her son’s rude behavior.

A product of her Scottish Presbyterian heritage, Mary Anne had a high sense of right and wrong, and a low sense of human nature — and of the British crown. “Fred,” she said, “I don’t like the Queen! Donald thinks he’s a king! I don’t like that! I didn’t raise my son to be a Brit, let alone a monarch!”

“Mary,” said Fred, “it is troubling and he’s troubled. He needs discipline. He needs boundaries. If we don’t act soon, he’ll be sent off to reform school by the end of the year.”

“Fred, if your strict discipline here at home hasn’t reformed him,” said Mary, ”a reform school won’t do any better. I think we need to think outside the box. I can’t take it anymore. I’m tired of his insults, and the faces he makes. He makes fun my work with kids who have cerebral palsy and adults with intellectual disabilities. They’re not ‘crips’ and ‘morons’! And I’m not ‘illegal’. He thinks he’s the Queen! If you don’t agree with him, you’re just a Scot from the Outer Hebrides, a chamber maid working in his palace.”

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“Well, dear, it’s hard to remember that you were working as a maid when we met at the dance. Donald knows right where to get you. He knows your Achilles heel. He’s taken that ability with him to school and that’s what’s getting him in trouble: finding people’s sore points, their weaknesses, and calling them names. The only times he responds to my discipline is when I call him a name.”

“Like what, Fred? I can’t hear your conversations from the kitchen.”

“I hesitate to tell you. I don’t want to hurt your feelings more than he’s already hurt them. I’ve tried different names. Some work; some don’t. I thought calling him ‘Adolf’ or ‘Benedetto’ might get to him, but he didn’t take it as an insult. He’s a chip off the old block. He likes being strong like Hitler and Mussolini. But he hates it when I call him ‘Scottie’! He thinks Scots are sissies — crossdressers, running around in tartan kilt and knee socks. Sorry to say, dear. He’s not proud to be a MacLeod.”

“That breaks my heart, Fred. I know he doesn’t respect me. He treats me like dirt. He treats me the same way he bullies vulnerable kids at school.

“There’s only one answer I can see, Mary. A military academy. I put in a call to New York Military Academy this morning. They’ve agreed to take him on probation on condition that we not interfere with their discipline. We can visit once a month on the weekend and take him to church.”

“He doesn’t like church, Fred. He hated confirmation class. He says church is for losers.”

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Norman Vincent Peale

“I know. We won’t take him back to First Pres. The neighborhood is changing. I’ll take him into Manhattan to hear Norman Vincent Peale. We’re dealing with some hard facts, Mary. So is Donald. He needs some positive thinking. Like Dr. Peale says, ‘Any fact facing us is not as important as our attitude toward it, for that determines our success or failure. The way you think about a fact may defeat you before you do anything about it. You are overcome by the fact because you think you 

“Norman Vincent Peale is President Eisenhower’s favorite preacher, Mary. Who knows? If someone like Donald learns to face facts by thinking positively about himself, he could become president.”

“God forbid, Fred! How could we have raised a son like that?”

Years later, the son returned to Scotland. Over dinner he paid tribute to his mother at the Turnberry Hotel of his Turnberry Golf Club.

“Her loyalty to Scotland was incredible,” he said. “She respected and loved the Queen.”

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  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 11, 2018.

 

Long before the children were separated

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He will look with favor on the prayers of the homeless;

he will not despise their plea. (Ps. 102:17)

It was the psalmist who said it (Psalm 102:17). Not the New York Times or the Washington Post. Long before the children were separated from their parents at the Mexican border.

I lie awake and groan:

I am like a sparrow, lonely on a house-top. (Ps. 102:7)

The loneliness is known. Expressed. Likened to a small bird alone on some else’s house-top. The plight is seen from the place above every house-top. The groans of the captive are heard on high.

The LORD looked down from his holy place on high;

from the heavens he beheld the earth;

that he might hear the groan of the captive,

and set free those condemned to die… (Ps. 102:19-20)

The voice from the holy place on high echoes among the people who had forgotten who they are. The partisan and the complacent hear the children crying in the Pit of cruelty. They remember their better selves. Because of a national outcry across party lines the separation policy that began six weeks ago comes to a sudden end with an overdue stroke of a pen.

He redeems your life from the Pit;

and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness. (Ps. 103:4)

The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great mercy. (Ps. 103:8)

Families will no longer be separated at the Mexican border. But 2,300-plus children who have been separated from their parents remain at-large, their identities and whereabouts unknown. Their plight makes America less again.

Every day I turn to psalms for sanity.

Gordon C. Stewart, June 22, 2018

FEDERAL POLICY CAUSING ATTACHMENT DISORDER

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“Not only is it cruel and unAmerican – the federal policy of separating children from their immigrant, asylum seeking parents — it’s a basic cause of future mental disorders that affect not only the victim. It’s the perfect situation to create attachment disorder.

via FEDERAL POLICY CAUSING ATTACHMENT DISORDER

  • Thanks to Mona Gustafson Affinito, clinical psychiatrist; Professor Emerita, Southern Connecticut State University, for bringing this to light.

My Father’s Voice

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I lied. I can’t keep quiet! One more post — a follow-up to “Memorial Day 2018” — before retreating to the north woods.

Dad on board ship

Rev. Kenneth Campbell Stewart, my father the chaplain, on board ship to Saipan, World War II.

My father was the Army Air Force Chaplain leading worship for the troops on board ship on their way to the South Pacific in World War II. Dad is buried in Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Annville, Pennsylvania.

He was honored with a 21 gun salute, which, years later, I blamed for my hearing loss.
“Have you worked around loud noises? You have the ears of a forty-five year-old jack hammer operator,” said the audiologist. “No,” I said, “my mother’s deaf as a post.”

But my mother and I did listen to Dad’s preaching after he returned from the war. His words were soft-spoken. Peaceful and comforting. But there were times when his words from the pulpit afflicted the comfortable and rattled the saber-rattlers who glorified war and militarism. He preached the gospel, and, because he did and I heard it, I chose to follow in his footsteps. I chose to preach the gospel.

On Memorial Day 2018 on my way to the Minnesota wetland, I hear the echo of Taps from a bugler at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery and remember Dad and the fallen he buried. Sometimes the dead still speak.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 29, 2018.

 

Grandmother’s Day

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Mothers Day brought together three mothers and one grandmother. Kristin is the mother of Elijah (11 months). Alice is the mother of Calvin (five months). Kay is the mother of Kristin and Andrew (Calvin’s father) and grandmother of Elijah and Calvin.

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Elijah, Grandma Kay, and Calvin

It’s only a matter of time before Mark Twain’s description of his relationship with his mother will describe Elijah’s and Calvin’s relationship with their mothers and grandmothers:

“My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she rather enjoyed it.”

Grandma is having a great time with these little guys. Already Elijah is wearing her out chasing him around the house to protect him from his curious self. Calvin is not yet peripatetic, but he already offers his own kind of trouble. He’s huge and heavy for Grandma to carry. But, when all is said and done, when Elijah and Calvin are able to talk and look back on Grandma Kay, they will echo the serious complement Mark Twain paid his mother.

As Andrew’s picture from Mothers Day illustrates, I think she rather enjoys it.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, the day after Mothers Day, May 14, 2018.

Elijah’s first time at the park

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Elijah, a usually confident, bold,11 month old, animated, happy-go-luck jokester of the last few months, was dramatically transformed as soon as we arrived. Instantly he turned into a watchful, tentative, cautious and slightly intimidated new little guy.

This persona was rare for him and a sight to behold. He was almost—if I could say one so young could be instantly so sophisticated—humble. He began computing this new playground environment right away. When lowered to the ground outside the car (no stroller for baby today), equipped with his brand new sandals, (and brand new hat!) it was as if he forgot how to walk. He was tentative, almost clumsy. I get it how new sandals could freak anyone out—but this was more than coordination— Elijah was processing information and it was taking all the “hard drive” his little brain had on board. All brain cylinders were required. You could almost see the wheels turning, experiencing every morsel of new information inside his gaze, one newly captured gaze after the other. The kids. The equipment. The mommys. The daddys. The wind. The sun. The grass. The sidewalk’s cement. 

He required carrying, the “walking thing” just wasn’t working. Mommy was up higher in a more controlled setup, providing more time to figure this whole thing out. The look on his face was precious beyond measure. He was just plain serious. His confident persona was nowhere to be found. 

We first chose to sit by a gray “teeter-totter” contraption. It looked like metal, but was made of some polymer material that would not absorb the heat of the hot sun, would not sting the skin on little grasping fingers. Elijah needed to sit on mommy who sat on the teeter-totter. He was all eyes. It became clear that moving slowly would be required in this new world of park. Intuitively we chose not to look him in the eye. He was grounding himself, it was not a time for him to be distracted. I took some pictures of course—this precious face could not escape record. He sat on Kristin’s lap, his left arm held snug to Kristin under her protective right arm. This way of facing outward would be less exposed. I must say he wasn’t scared in the classic sense of being afraid. There was no sense he was ready to cry. Definitely okay with him to be right where he was. He was definitely in his own body—but his body was attached to his Mom, his safety net of record. 

IMG_6678The whole time in the park his mouth never cracked a smile, it never even opened. It stayed solemn, determined, right in the center of his gaze. The only animation of this whole experience was when he decided the leather molded baby-swing he had been lowered into, which he accepted initially, was really not that much fun after all—way too far away from mommy. Right after that, though he was ok to be seated in the big molded chair hung onto an overhead glider-thing (new high tech park!), because he could see mommy right in front of him.  She taught him to hang onto the chains right beside him—indeed, like a big boy.  

 

Elijah never cracked a smile the whole park experience until walking towards the car to go home. Still being held by his mom, he finally gave out a little tiny smile as Grandma made a funny face like her routine baby-joke. It broke the serious persona and he began to return to his old self again.

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Elijah’s smile

The whole park experience was classic Elijah—he is fundamentally a full-time observer. I thought to myself “I bet he is going to sleep well tonight—an exuberant but exhausting first trip to the park!”

  • Grandma Kay (Kay Stewart), Chaska, MN, May 6, 2018.

Grandpa, do I need lawyers?

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Oh, my! Why would you think you need a lawyer, Elijah?

IMG_0255I didn’t say ‘lawyer’, Grandpa. I said ‘lawyers.’ Sometimes you don’t hear so well or just don’t listen. But that’s okay. So, how many lawyers should I have? How many do you and Grandma have?

Right now we don’t have a lawyer, Elijah. We don’t need one.

Why? 

Well, we don’t have need for one, and our lawyer retired, so she’s no longer practicing law.

You have to practice to be a lawyer? Can we practice being lawyers?

It’s confusing. Practice doesn’t mean trying, like trying to walk or say ‘Grandpa’ or throwing the ball to Barclay. It’s a different kind of practice.

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Fred Trump

Yeah, and you can’t practice alone if you’re a lawyer, right? I’ve been watching Ari on The Beat. Michael Cohen’s a lawyer and he has lots of lawyers. President Trump has lots of lawyers. He keeps hiring and firing them. So how many lawyers should we have, Grandpa. You need at least ONE.

Okay, I see where you’re going. But Grandpa doesn’t need a lawyer right now. Neither does Grandma or your Mom. We’re not in any trouble.

I’m in trouble, Grandpa. ICE is coming to my daycare! I know my rights under the Constitution! But Juan and Carlos don’t have rights like me. Their parents don’t either. We’ve been practicing what to do if ICE comes to our daycare. I’m going to be a lawyer when I grow up!

Good for you, Elijah. But before you think about practicing law, let’s practice saying ‘Mama’ and ‘Grandpa’. So far ‘Uh-oh!” is your only word. You need more words, not more lawyers.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, April 21, 2018.

Elijah’s first word

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Elijah and Kristin are home alone again today, snow-bound by the blizzard that’s hit Minnesota. Elijah is entertaining himself with the car Grandma gave him. His Mom looks on as Elijah’s speaking his first word — well, not exactly a word. Or is it?

“Uh-oh!”

Elijah’s daycare provider only speaks Spanish. “Uh-oh!” is the universal language at daycare. It’s also becoming the first word of those trying to keep up with Elijah at home or at Grandma and Grandpa’s. It’ll be a long day for Kristin. Say a prayer there won’t be too many reasons to say “Uh-oh!”

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, April 15, 2018.

Elijah’s Splish Splash

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Elijah emptying a drawer.

The sound of a big splash came in the split second his Mom turned her back in the bedroom. Elijah had scurried down the hall a few feet to the bathroom, just a quick crawl or walk from the bedroom and his favorite dresser drawer. He’s walking now and he’s into everything. Every drawer. Every light socket. Every everything.

“SPLASH!”

Elijah loves water. He loves his bath. He loves his rubber ducky.

“SPLISH! SPASH!”

Elijah’s no Bobby Darin. He wasn’t taking his bath. There was no rubber ducky in the toilet. To a 10 month old, the whole house is a playground.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, April 14, 2018.

 

Grandpa, am I safe?

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Ten (10) month old Elijah has been listening to the news at his Spanish-speaking day care provider’s.

Grandpa, What’s a tweet?

Well, Elijah, a tweet is something like a chirp. It’s real short.

Marissa’s short but she doesn’t like tweets.

No, not short like “not tall”; a tweet is short like a flash.

IMG_0255Yeah, that’s what Marissa’s worried about — a flash, like the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico and tweets that make her cry.

Is Marissa Puerto Rican, Elijah?

No. She was crying a lot about tweets before Maria hit Puerto Rico. “Maria!” she’d say every time a tweet showed up on CNN about ice coming to the dock to round up kids here in Minnesota.

I think you might have misunderstood, Elijah. When Marissa says “Maria!” it’s like praying. She’s calling for Mary, the mother of Jesus. And ice isn’t frozen water like we still have around the docks here in Minnesota. She’s talking about ICE and DACA, not ice and docks.

So we’re safe around the docks?

Yes, but you need to be careful. The ice is starting to melt around the docks and you could fall in.

I’ll tell Marissa and all the kids at day care. Stay away from the ice around the docks. Stay away from all tweets. Just say “Maria!” every time CNN talks about another tweet.

  • Elijah and Grandpa, Chaska, MN, April 8, 2018.