Lindell has never been particularly shy. It’s all part of the gig of being the youngest of three. I know from experience; like Lindell, I have two older brothers. If Ford (my firstborn) is like a weed whacker cutting a messy path through the wilderness of youth for his younger siblings, Lindell is the one in the back who is unplugging the weed whacker’s electrical cord and laughing about it.
There was a time when Lindell believed that the best way to get attention was to pull down his pants and moon someone. Doing so brought riotous laughter from Ford and Owen and discipline from me and his dad (even negative attention is “good” attention to the baby of the family). I grew more nervous about this behavior the closer we got to Lindell entering preschool.
Sure enough, the night after his first day, Lindell lay in his bed in the room he shares with his big brother, and from the living room, Dustin and I overheard Lindell say, “Owen, it’s not a good choice to show your butt at school.”
Lindell’s old stand-by routine, however (and thankfully), is acting like a dog. He will fetch a ball — with his mouth — and drink water out of a bowl on the floor if you let him. Sometimes we do.
Our second dinner in the ongoing series “Dinner with the Smileys” fell on Lindell’s fifth birthday. We let him choose the guest, and he picked his preschool teacher. (The teacher, by the way, apologized for not being “someone important like a senator,” but when you’re turning 5 and your teacher comes to eat chicken and pasta with you, well, that’s pretty much like having the president over for dinner.) When Lindell’s teacher came through the door, she asked, “Are you Lindell the boy or Lindell the dog tonight?” Because she had a birthday gift for both. For Lindell the boy, a remote control car. For Lindell the dog, chocolate chip cookies in the shape of a dog bone.
Lindell did not so much “fall asleep” that night as he did “flame out” from the sugar high and excitement of having his teacher over for dinner. At one point, I remember yelling, “If you don’t get in your bed right now, you’re not eating sugar for the rest of your life.”
Oh, and by the way, Lindell the boy, when he’s not being a dog, has about 452 different facial expressions. Which makes it all the more difficult to discipline him and not crack a smile.
All of this is to help you understand why it was a very big mistake on my part to not hold Lindell when the boys and I went on stage at church on Christmas Eve to light the Advent candles and read a prayer.
You see, I was rightly more concerned about the long stick with a burning flame on the end of it that would be swaying behind my head. While Ford and Owen fought over who would light which candle, I watched anxiously out of the corner of my eye for the glowing flame that came within inches of my hair, made more flammable with hair spray. And I tried, as best I could, not to lose my place reading from the printed sheet under the microphone.
The congregation laughed. At first it was just a few chuckles scattered here and there. Then the laughs flowed like a wave from the front door at the end of the center aisle to the foot of the stage where I was standing.
Was my hair about to catch fire? I wondered.
I saw flashes come from the pews. People were taking pictures.
I checked behind me. What were Ford and Owen doing back there anyway?
And then, while reading the prayer, I caught a glimpse of Lindell in the middle of the stage. He had seen his shadow, made larger by the bright lights shining in all directions, cast across the congregation. He raised his hands like a bear and made funny faces. Then he danced around, shook his bottom, and turned back to the congregation. When they laughed, he put his hands on either side of his cheeks and feigned surprise.
I told myself, “Think of the flu, or pneumonia, anything to keep from laughing during this prayer.”
Behind me, Owen said, “What’s so funny? What is everyone laughing at?”
My cheeks burned and I begged myself not to laugh. Not now.
But the damage was already done. Lindell’s giggle made me giggle. I started laughing and couldn’t stop. Lindell danced some more. Any minute, I was sure a big silver hook would come across the stage and drag us off.
I took a deep breath before I said the “Amen.” And I thought to myself, “Well, at least he didn’t moon anyone.”