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March 03, 2004
A Song and a Prayer

I got an email yesterday from the charming mommy and writer Jordana Adams, who informed me in no uncertain terms that a post on pockets is completely inadequate. So today seems like a good day for one of those posts that contains several seemingly random snippets from life in the Woodlief house, which I masterfully tie together at the end into a bow such that they dovetail nicely, if you will, if I may, to mix two loathsome cliches.

As I write this I'm in a section of the train where three guys have run everyone off with their loud yapping about computer games and the composition of beer. These are grown men, mind you. They never bring anything to read. Instead they sit and talk about how they would operate the Virginia Railway System if they were in charge, and whether the Roto-Rooter model 2000 auger is better than the Evinrude model 350.

But I harbor no malice toward them. What's this, you ask? Have you turned over a new leaf, Tony? Do you have nothing but sweetness and love flowing through your veins now for your fellow man?

No. But I do have an MP3 player, by virtue of the fact that I lived yet another year, which my darling wife chose to reward by giving me a tool to augment my introvertedness. No dummy, she. Enough talk at the dinner table about killing your fellow train riders and you get results, at least in my house.

So right now, while they are debating just exactly how dumb it is to have two rather than three stairways to the train platform, I'm cranking Third Day. Isn't technology a beautiful thing? Today it may just have saved three lives.

It seems like I always have more to write about Caleb than about Eli. I've thought about why this is so, and I think it's primarily because Caleb doesn't shut his cakehole. Talk enough and something interesting is bound to pop out sooner or later, unless you're John Kerry.

Eli, on the other hand, has this habit of getting up close to you, like he's telling you a secret, and then murmuring very softly. "Read book? Read book." That's his method; he asks for something, and then he confirms that you will in fact deliver it. Right now it's cute. When he's six feet tall and 190 pounds of seething muscle, it might lean more towards intimidating.

We'll come back to the little pumpkin whose birthday, by the way, is next Monday, the same as his mother's. First, a little about Caleb.

This weekend I was working at my computer when the boy came stumbling into the room, groggy and messy-headed, fresh from a long snooze. He crawled up into my lap, put his head on my chest, and sat there gathering his thoughts. I knew what he was looking at: a box of Bazooka bubble gum given to me by my wife on Valentine's Day.

Caleb is a chewing gum freak, even more than me. I knew he was working up his case. Finally, he pointed a little finger at the box and declared, "Daddy, God says you have to share that candy."

My son, the televangelist. He called it "candy" because his mind works like a grocery store. Chewing gum belongs on the candy aisle. "Really?" I replied. "Well, I wouldn't want to defy God, now would I?"

"No," he said with the same ominous tone Moses must have used on Mt. Sinai. I gave him a piece and he spent the next minute unwrapping it with fumbling little post-nap fingers. He finally popped the pink rectangle into his mouth. I could feel his jaw working against my chest as he returned his head to its resting place, satisfied.

My wife came in and sat down in a chair beside my desk. She surveyed the scene: me with approximately seventeen pieces of bubble gum in my mouth (I was in the writing zone -- gum helps this), and Caleb working on his own piece. I'm sure we looked like a couple of grazing bulls.

"Daddy, this is good candy. Did mommy get that for you?"

"Yes, she did."

"Mommy, you are the best candier ever."

Little suck up.

Actually, he's not a suck up, he's just polite. A few weeks ago we stood outside his Sunday school class, in a bit of a line created by a recalcitrant child who wasn't quite convinced that her parents were coming back for her after the service. This was probably with good reason -- had I been her parent, I might have considered that option. Don't worry; I'm just kidding, as far as you know.

Behind Caleb stood his little friend William. "I like your coat," said my son.

"Thank you. It's blue." William seized the edge of it and thrust it forward to make his point.

Caleb smiled approvingly. "Splendid."

Now I ask you, isn't that so much better than "cool"? There is such joy to be found in raising literate, well-spoken children. Now, if I could just find the "off" button from time to time.

I don't want you to think my boys are nerds, though. The other night we had a boy's night out -- the three of us set out in the party wagon (actually, it's a Honda minivan) to a suite at the MCI Center (working for a large unnamed corporation has its benefits).

On the way Eli demanded a song performed by Nickel Creek called "The Fox." For he and Caleb, this song is entitled "Bones-o," because that's a word in one of the stanzas. I won't try to describe it; just go buy the first Nickel Creek album. If you don't like their music, I'll thank you to exit civilized society and procreate no more.

Anyhoo, the three of us are cruising down Constitution Avenue, kicking it to "Bones-o," and I look back to see that Caleb is playing air guitar. That's right, air guitar. I don't mean half-hearted strumming, no -- I'm talking full-on, stern-faced, heavy concentration-to-get-the-chords-right air guitar. I tried not to let him see me laughing.

Not that I'm judging him, mind you. My friends and I used to do a pretty pathetic Led Zeppelin imitation in college. I take no pride in that. It might surprise you to learn that no woman ever pounced on any of us after witnessing that wretched spectacle. In many ways air guitar is a very effective form of birth control, right up there with a Kucinich for President bumper sticker.

So I'm hunched over towards the driver's side window, giggling at what I've just seen. The sound of Eli mumbling in harmony because he doesn't know the words, and then randomly shouting out "bones-o! bones-o!" only added to my delight. I turned back to steal another glance and now Caleb had a fake microphone to his lips. He even had the singer's grimace going, like what you might see on "Star Search."

I swear by all that is holy, I have never allowed my child to watch "Star Search." Are these things just hard-wired into little boys, along with farts and stinky feet and an aversion to salad?

But little boys are not all goofiness and odd noises. At least, mine aren't. They're both so tender-hearted that sometimes it just melts me. I'm not so easy to melt. At nights before bedtime I'll kneel down beside Caleb's bed, and he and Eli will join me. I'll ask Caleb what he's thankful for, and I'll get a list that includes close family members, Mickey Mouse, and his favorite toys. I'll ask him who he wants to pray for, and he'll usually say "Eli." That boy needs help, is his point.

Then I'll ask little Eli what he's thankful for, and his answer is always the same: "Um, ABC's." For a child who talks so little, he sure is thankful for his letters. I suppose that's a sign of something good. When I ask who he wants to pray for, he also says, "Um, ABC's."

That's been his consistent answer, until last night, when he said, "Mommy." I can't conjure up a sweeter joy than hearing your child pray for you. I've heard people say that every prayer reaches God's ears, and I'm not always sure that's true. But I think the gentle whispers of children, who don't yet know enough to be so sure of their own wisdom and so doubtful of the mysteries of their Creator -- I think these prayers always find their way to God, and I think they must always make him smile.

Posted by Woodlief on March 03, 2004 at 09:23 AM


Thank you, Tony. That fits the bill most admirably. Those two little ones sound like they bring a lot of joy along with noise and chaos, which is as it should be.

Posted by: Jordana at March 3, 2004 9:37 AM

The Lord asks us to have faith like a little child, and our youngsters help model that for us.

My five year old gets a turn at saying grace before we eat, and he usually (and hurriedly) sticks to the script, "God is great, God is good ..." A few weeks ago I had messed up my ankle. During one of the mealtime prayers, without prompting he asks God to watch over me and to heal my ankle. It was difficult to start eating since I had trouble seeing the food.

Posted by: MarcV at March 3, 2004 12:39 PM

Ah Tony, you're always a pick me up. I've just discovered Third Day myself and I love them. Mac Powell has a great voice.

Posted by: Tim at March 3, 2004 1:30 PM

I came by because of Dean Esmay. He has a deep love for tender stories such as this one but do not let him know I let you in on that. I bet his Mom that reads his blog everday has some tender stories of that staunch ole' guy Dean.

Anyway, thank you for such a little precious story of our children and how they ARE the MOST VALUABLE TREASURES we will ever produce...

Posted by: Janelle at March 3, 2004 4:27 PM

Two post in 8 days, wow. It starting to seem like the old days.

Posted by: Gray at March 3, 2004 5:47 PM

Between listening to the Collected Speeches of Fidel Castro and keeping up with this barrage of Woodlief dispatches, I'm swamped. But thanks all the same. It's good to be hearing from you again.

By the way, we have a CVS on the ground floor of the office building where I work. They always ask me if I want a CVS shopper's card. I refuse, however, because I don't want them keeping track of how much Bazooka gum I buy.

Posted by: jim at March 3, 2004 7:10 PM

Now that's what I call an acceptable post. Your children sound like wonderful blessings. I hope you share more about them with us all.

Posted by: Sara at March 3, 2004 7:57 PM

When my sons were younger, they prayed for each other also. They weren't allowed to tattle on each other, so they would resort to prayer. "Please God forgive my brother for...(fill in transgression)."

Posted by: Earth Girl at March 4, 2004 1:45 AM

"I could feel his jaw working against my chest as he returned his head to its resting place, satisfied." You caught a beautiful magical moment in time. I close my eyes and I'm there. What a wonderful way to end my horrid week. Thank you Tony!

Posted by: MoJo at March 6, 2004 12:23 PM

Tony, your boys are about the same age as mine, and we have the same situation: the older one (Jacob, 4 1/2) talks non-stop and is very LOUD; the younger one (Jordan, 2 1/2) is much quieter and content to watch what is going on around him, which is usually something Jake is doing. It seems like the younger one has to mold their personality a bit to fit the older one ...

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at March 11, 2004 9:56 PM

And, thanks for the Nickel Creek tip, I've been meaning to one of their CDs for a while now.

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at March 12, 2004 11:13 AM

Make that "get" one of their CDs ... duh

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at March 12, 2004 11:18 AM

Tony - Just discovered your website, and thus just read this entry. This is great. I won't list here all the things that I loved about it because there isn't enough space. ...Our family grooves to "Bones-O" too. Only my 5-year-old calls it "The Sock", because of one time when I foolishly started making up new lyrics: "Oh, the sock went out on a smelly foot..." Anyway. Long live Nickel Creek!

Posted by: Jen at March 27, 2004 11:16 PM

Tony, it's wonderful to hear from you again, and to have some news of Caleb and Eli, your little treasures. Love you.

Posted by: Patricia at March 28, 2004 7:46 PM