I’m not sure anyone who has met our second eldest has managed to forget her. I like to say that I’ve never met anyone like her, and it’s still true.
Ruth is a child who has seemed to love life from birth; one assumes she was not unhappy in the womb, either. For most of her life, she has run, nearly at a dead sprint, everywhere she wants to go. When we have gone on walks, she runs. Her wavy blond hair bobs behind her, and if I know anything about running, I’d say she has excellent form.
She was already trying to turn cartwheels…well, I’m not sure if anyone ever told her what one was. I would not be surprised if she had invented them for herself. All I can positively say is that, when she struggled at first to get them right, I gave her a little coaching.
A little. I am not a gymnast, or a gymnastics coach. I can’t do a cartwheel myself. But a few words from an amateur about how to push and propel her body, and she was doing them end-over-end. A complete natural.*
Ruth’s affections are over-the-top, and she was often in time-out for nearly smothering her siblings. She has unbelievably good comic timing, bringing me to tears a number of times. Ruth has made up languages and wants to know all about bodies and is very savvy about social cues…when she wants to be.
I could say as much as I want, but it is nothing like a few minutes of Ruth in her full strength. Her presence is such strong stuff, her energy so potent, that many have come away amused, thrilled…
And they expect trouble for us, her parents. She is the quintessential willful, wild child. Ruth broke her leg when she was two, and while the doctor set up her cast, I said, “Is it ok if she walks on this?”
He was puzzled at first, then understood my meaning, and waved it off, “Oh, she won’t be able to walk with this cast on.”
“Well,” I insisted, “If she does manage it, is that ok, or should we prevent her from doing it?”
“With the way I’m setting it,” he said, with a hint of condescension, “she won’t be able to walk on it.”
Somewhere around her four-week appointment, I brought her in, and he watched her shuffling around the exam room…walking on the cast. He was in disbelief, and told me we had to prevent her from walking on it, because it could mess up her gait.
Having known Ruth for two years, I was so completely nonplussed by this development that I did not bother telling the doctor, “Told you so.”
It’s easy to see why others are impressed – well, overwhelmed! – by Ruth. She is a cyclone of enthusiasm, a three foot tall force of nature. She will leap onto your lap without warning, ask some intimate question about your body or your relations, then pull you three directions to play cards, dress up, and do cartwheels, all at once if possible.
You will say something surprised you, or hurt, or that you need a break, and she will let up for all of three seconds. Maybe. But whatever you say, short of absolutely putting your foot down, she will not stop. And even then, she will negotiate.
One hardly knows what to do with her. One only expects that she will flit and flutter and positively burst in all directions at once, and naturally that gets more serious the older she becomes. Naturally, eventually, that becomes actual trouble.
I utterly reject this conclusion. I spit it out for the lukewarm drivel that it is.
First – Have you ever been called, “stubborn as a mule?” Some mules have been dubbed, “stubborn as Ed.”
Where our guests are too polite or too timid to drop the hammer, I have few qualms. Where Ruth pushes, I am all but immovable. Where she might burst, I de-fuse. Where she is sophisticated in her appeals, insistent on her intentions – I cut her designs at the root, and leave them stacked for the fire.
If she is a cyclone, I am the deluge, a 1,000 year flood. (A father ought to loom large).
Second – why all this talk, anyway? Do you think I boast? Do you think I compare my strength with a child and thus exalt myself?
God love you, no. I am about the serious, absurd, disruptive, epoch-making work of forming a Saint. It is not about me at all, except that God has seen fit to give me the task.
And He has given it to you, too.
But think about Ruth – she really could be a wild child, no? How if I simply threw up my hands, and no one loomed large in her life? What then?
The very thought disgusts me. Honestly, somebody bury me alive if I display such cowardice. But first give me a chance, and simply slap me across the face.
No – I see St. Ruth, not Ruth the wild child. I see the eternal youth of God in her uncontrollable enthusiasm. I see the perceptiveness of the Oracle in her understanding of social cues and in her moral compass. I see St. Teresa of Avila, chiding God Almighty, in her easy chiding of adults and parents alike.
I see the hope of ages, light in darkness. I see the blistering, unrelenting love of Christ in her smothering kisses.
Think she is uncontrollable? Cause her the least part of scandal, and watch what I do. They’ll cast Jason Statham in the title role.**
I’ve told her, as we’ve told all our kids, that our goal is that they should be Saints. I don’t know if she invented it, or if I did, but one day she declared that she would become “St. Ruthie the Silly.”
Amelia, her practical older sister, objected that this was not how Saints are named. But I gently corrected her, “She can be St. Ruthie the Silly, if that’s what God wants.”
*It’s no joke. We signed her up for gymnastics classes, and she was quickly invited to the advanced level. I came to watch just one of her practices, and it’s for the best, because I hardly made it out without weeping. I’m a sap, but she is gifted, and that’s beautiful to behold.
**Now I see what is meant by the “jealousy” of God. It is ferocious.