Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Conscientious Fight

My daughter lives in a beautiful neighborhood in a Chicago suburb, and one of my favorite Chicago activities is walking these neighborhoods. In all the neighborhoods I have walked or driven past, every street is a tree lined street, and most of these trees could be 50-100 years old. Every few blocks amid the humble homes, one will happen on a street with mansions that tickle the imagination.

The humidity makes everything lushy-green and flower-abundant. Bunnies and chipmunks dart about. Meeting and conversing with people is always a possibility. With little tiger in the stroller one day, I passed a woman from Sudan waiting with her two year old for an older child who would soon be getting off the bus. My deathly-pale grandson needed to meet this adorable dark brown two year old Abriel. His mother told me that before she came to America, she spent four years in a refugee camp. She is proud all her children were born in America.

There is however, one street I never go past on foot: Howard. I frequently drive Howard and see nothing dangerous from the safety of my car, but I know from warnings and others' experiences (a friend was mugged and his computer stolen), to not walk in the vicinity of Howard.

My daughter loves her neighborhood. When I read the news and report back to her, Homicides up 52% in 2016, and Chicago Braces for Summer Blood Bath, she bristles and defends her beloved Chicago.

This past week though, while sitting together on her big brown couch, she admited that one night they heard gunshots. Her reaction was anger. Anger at the violence possibly moving closer to home.

Tony flies home a few days later and sits next to a military man who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He reports that south side Chicago is more dangerous than either war-torn country.

"But," my daughter reminds me, "we live in a north Chicago suburb."

"Then the citizens have to fight back."

"They are," she insists, but I wonder how this little mother of two babies is going to fight back.

The citizens have to fight back to keep this neighborhood safe not only for their own families but for the families that left Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, all seeking a better life. It's why my family came two generations and five and six generations ago; it's why families will continue to cross borders, mountains, and oceans. A better life. There is so much to lose.

On a stroller walk one day, I see signs of that fight, a yard sign and a mural on the outside wall of a school.

 We are like a box of crayons each one of us unique
 When we get together the picture is complete


These signs remind me of an island off the coast of Africa. My friend comes from Mauritius and from her I learned of a 12 minute, Covey Institute documentary about the island. The island is densely populated by people of many cultures, races, and religions, yet the island is a bastion of peace and prosperity. Police don't carry guns. All religious celebrations are national holidays. Children attend school with children raised in diverse cultures.

The island, contrary to all the bad examples, demonstrates that peace is possible among diverse people. But it just didn't happen. It takes consciousness and more than acceptance. It takes recognition and acknowledgement that people working together is better than working against one another. The island isn't thriving in spite of its diversity but because of its diversity.



The news-making violence in Chicago is not violence perpetuated by one culture against another. The predicted blood bath, the statistics, show it is black violence against blacks. Typical gang violence, and so at the heart of violence, it appears that violence, thrives when there are two opposing groups each vying for power. The many nations who joined the two world wars had to join one side or the other: the axis vs. the allies. Any two sport teams go onto the field, onto the court, understanding a clear winner will emerge. Competition would be almost impossible if five teams played on one field for the title of "winner." Chaotic conflict of many factions can't be resolved and eventually evolves into realization that respect and acceptance must be consciously sought after in order for peace to be maintained. Instead of the emergence of one winner, everyone wins.

While attending an AP conference for English Literature, I met a man who teaches at an ethnically diverse school, where students wear the hijab, where boys where skirts, where students literally have been in America for two days. The school identified nine different gangs, but the gang leaders came together and decided the high school would be neutral territory: a safe place to learn, develop, and become educated. It's still gang infested, but it's a first step towards hope and a much different scenario from the two-gang all out war of the Bloods and the Crips (who supposedly have united to defeat ISIS).

What is the solution? For Chicago? For the entire world?

I wish I knew; I wish it were simple. It may be that fear of the other is warranted, but this fear may be put to rest by insuring there are many others. It may be that my daughter and her neighbors need to stay in Chicago to protect Chicago-it needs their diversity to survive---

no-- to thrive.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Karma


I'm standing at the Redbox movie rental outside Walgreens. I wait for a woman to pass who gets out of her car after me. The extra courtesy feels right, so when another couple saunters up, I tell them I'm not in a hurry; if they are, please go ahead.

"I'm just returning a movie," the young woman responds. She moves forward and while starting the process, a Walgreen's employee walks up to all of us and asks, "Would you like a free movie coupon?"

Yippee! A free movie.

I spend nine days helping my daughter. I cook, clean, forage for food, hold the new baby, play with and taxi around the three year old. With only four days left as the grandma nanny, I get an airline email notifying me of a first class upgrade. Wooohoo! First class luxury.

When cruising for a parking place along with a pile of other drivers, I acquiesce an open spot to another car, another person. I keep driving, searching, and find an even closer spot.

I dare you to try generous, and to see what happens.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ask

I am waiting to check my grandson into preschool, when a man and his daughter hurry up behind me.

 "Excuse me Ma'am. Do you know how to put on a headband?"

Do I ever.

I slip the band over her head, around her neck, then ease it upward, carefully tucking her hair into place.  She snuggles it past her ears.

It's a skill so simple, I take it for granted.  Sometimes, when something is second nature, we assume it is to everyone else too.

The IT guy at school sent out an email months ago with instructions concerning a certain IT protocol. I didn't remember the months old policy and sent him a question he'd already addressed.  He responded that he'd already sent out the information.

Instead of feeling incompetent, or guilty for my faux pas, the experience actually reminded me of a simple truth. I replied and thanked IT Tom for helping me see why my students ask the same questions over and over when it is so clear to me--it isn't clear to them; it's my job to be more clear, and so what if they ask again and again. Questions are a way to clarify and to understand.

Question asking has become almost a shameful effort. We are embarrassed to admit we don't get it.

I reiterate to my students that school is not a place where we know the answers; it is a place to explore, to guess, to synthesize, in order to find the right answer. I often raise my voice with passion, "Take a risk!" when trying to get a student to respond. Eventually, the ideas and hypothesis start to roll.

The best environments create questions and inquiry. They are places where we are free to say, "I don't know," or "I'm curious," or "Help me understand." Even, "Let's start over," and especially, "Explain to me how you see it."

The magic word: ask.

The magic response: patience.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Woman, My Friend

Two other women and I teach the twelfth grade Language Arts and History at our school. Deb and I share four classes and Heather manages four on her own. We plan independently of one another but we also collaborate. Last year, we developed a new curriculum, so it's been an adventure and an adventure that needs to be tweaked.

I love my teaching partners. They are smart, kind, responsible and creative. And patient. I celebrate their skills that I am missing and they hoorah the things I do right. We are lucky to be in this together, because 100 seniors can be a challenge.

Recently a group of female students mentioned how much they loved that the three of us were friends and supportive of one another. The male students notice it too. Sometimes students ask if we are best friends.  If we hang out on the weekends. They appreciate our relationships, even more than I would have expected. We take our relationships for granted, the students do not. How could this be? This is what I've been wondering about.

And wondering.
And wondering.

Wondering has led me to reality TV. Reality TV featuring women, thrives on discordant women's relationships. Think of of "The Housewives of Beverly Hills, New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, London...etc. etc. etc. The wives of attorneys, of football stars, of you-name-it, I'm sure it will be on next season.  Think of all those bachelorettes (season 11) all vying, eyeing, pining for that one man. All women are the competition, all women stand in her way.

Conflict is at the heart of good story and without conflict, there is no story. Hence for TV to make money, there must be conflict. Unfortunately, conflict is created in the under-developed story, the simple scene of misunderstanding and shallow relationships, where the stars squabble over the petty, the unsubstantial and appear to be petty, disagreeable, greedy, but watched and emulated women.

Thank you women of television for creating the all-women-fight-and-don't-get-along propaganda. Propaganda that appears to be working on our students.

But if  it's going to be a fight, we are making it right, at least for our students. We've taken notice and we're bound and determined to always be different, to represent that our dearest friends are women whom we love and whose relationships we cherish.

 The saddest segue is when we assume and act upon what we think is standard behavior; reality TV is setting the standard and not only for fighting women. Beware. Decide what kind of woman, man, citizen you want to be, decide the kind of attitude you want to possess, the values you cherish, and defy the artificial roles of reality.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Heavy Locks

I was born in the height of segregation. Casinos in Las Vegas still had a separate entrance for black people, and black people lived in a separate part of the city.

I saw the systemic actions and language of my parents, yet I saw how kind they were to everyone regardless of color. They were more victims of early twentieth century American culture than they were of their hearts. Their good hearts. I saw this contrast even as a little girl. I saw how Dad respected his black employees and his one black friend. Louie Connor even moved into a white neighborhood and Dad went to visit him. Even I sensed the changes. But, I also saw how Grandma moved because her neighborhood culture was changing.

I was in grade school when the city introduced school integration. Either the white children would be bussed to the north or the black children would be bussed to the south. The black children lost the fight and were bussed across town.

It was apparent how different we were and how much alike we were. They were more brave. I couldn't imagine how hard it was to board a bus in the early morning and arrive at a foreign school where I could have been among only a handful of people of the same color. There were only three children in my classroom. We all got along and proved the theories were right. Then why was my integrated high school shut down for a day because of a perceived potential for a race riot?

In the early 1970s, I had two weekend visitors I'd met at tennis camp who came to play in a tennis tournament with me. One of the girls was "Red," I was "Blondie" and Dana was "Brownie." Simple descriptions of our physical presence. Mom and Dad welcomed Brownie, but it was new territory having a black guest. I would have never thought twice about her adorable self being black, except that it was a big deal to Mom and Dad. I think they were proud of me, of themselves and happy things were changing.

So when I meet my daughter's neighbors, and they are black, I realize I am still a product of my upbringing and its unique time period. My daughter didn't even think of mentioning their race and for this I am overjoyed. To further divide the generation gap, she can't believe I even think it's worth mentioning which makes me even happier. Joe and Linda will be closer to my grandchildren than I will ever be and how lucky, my grandchildren are to just love people because they are people, and not to associate them with a race. They are free.

Civil Rights fought for the freedom of black people, but the core of the fight was even greater for the freedom of whites, for prejudice is the prison with the heaviest locks.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

What The? No More

While in Chicago a few months ago, each time my grandson encountered me, he said, "What the?" I thought it was funny...and a little hurtful. Worse, it gave me a reason to give up working on our relationship. He is only a three year old and I am an adult, and yes, I needed to start acting like the adult. 

When my students asked me what the best part of my trip was, I didn't immediately know but asked, "Do you want to know the funniest part of the trip--it was my grandson." I told them about "What the?" and boy did we have a good laugh. Since it was now comedy, I had a reason to not care about his rejection. "What the?" became a kind of buzz phrase in the classroom. But one student saw the underbelly of my behavior and challenged me to improve my relationship with "What the?"

A real classroom is a place of reciprocal learning, and I had a lesson to learn. This time, I came to Chicago with high hopes of breaking down the wall between the three year old I was afraid of, and my weak, weak, self. 

I was aware of two important changes:
I was intent on thinking about his needs and feelings more than mine, and his mom and dad weren't around, so he had to depend on me.

One day I picked him up from preschool and as he was walking balance-beam style on the rim of a planter box, he tumbled and skinned his knees. He was brave but anxious to get home and band-aid the wound. 

When I was unbuckling his carseat, he must have been in a little more pain because he wanted me to hold him and carry him into the house. I picked him up and he wrapped himself tight around me. It was a full fledged hug and I was overcome with love for him--so much that I started to cry. When I told him I was crying because I loved him so much, he gave me a questioning/funny look, but then he smiled and started giggling this sweet laugh that was a kind of joy. We stood there and I told him repeatedly that I was crying because I loved him so much and he kept looking and smiling and we laughed and laughed joyously together.

We can't not love the people we serve. I just needed to serve the little fellow....and he hasn't said "What the?" to me once.

I told my teaching partner she could share this story with our students. They needed to know their encouragement had made a difference. In typical teacher student relationships, they were very very proud of my improvement.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Glimpses of Divine Protocal

A friend of my daughter 's, asks to borrow a few hundred dollars. It's the weekend and on the following Monday, she promises to pay her back.  It's ironic someone would ask to borrow money from my student-poor daughter who worries each month about paying her rent. But she does have the money, and she loans it out. Now she's worried.

I hear the catch in her voice.

"What's wrong?"

"Oh nothing."

"Come on, just let it go," I coax.

"Okay, and she tells me the money borrowing incident."

I worry most that if the friend doesn't pay back the money, my daughter will have the burden of disappointment. I don't want her to resent the borrower either. I give her a pep talk, assure her the friend's intentions are good and help her to let it go.

My father had a great plan when anyone needed to borrow money. He lent the money, but in his own mind, he pretended he gave it away- when the cash left his wallet, it's as if it were never his. With his philosophy, he protected himself from resentment if the borrowers never repaid him.

We hang up the phone and I feel her burden. I call her back and insist that if the person doesn't pay her back, I will write her a check for the lost amount.

She insists she will not take my money.

I insist that she will.

"I want to make up the difference. You have to let me," and then I have a golden moment of insight. "Don't you see it? It's like the atonement. Someone falls short, so I'm there to make up the difference, to make it right."

I've seen a glimpse of the divine. We fall short and the Savior makes up the difference. It is grace. It is his benevolence. I cry because I understand just a little bit more the plan of salvation.

Every so often,  I see a shaft of light in a dusky world, and understand just a little more, one of God's principles. The light brings tears and gratitude. It helps me understand our God of whom I have no knowledge, but of whom I rely on with faith.

In another instance, Tony makes a sacrifice for a person in need, but this person cannot show gratitude because he is consumed in his own story. Tony feels a little discouraged, but I have witnessed the entirety of his sacrifice.

I tell Tony how much I appreciate what he's done for this other person and in my eyes, he's grown in stature.

It happens again, my breath catches and I tear and choke up because once again I've glimpsed how heaven views the world.

"It's like Heavenly Father!" I say.

 When we serve our fellowman, it may go unnoticed, unrecognized, unrewarded, but it never escapes the sharp eyes of an omnipotent Heavenly Father who always knows what we have done for our fellowman. It doesn't matter if the recipient of our devotion isn't grateful, because God is. He's told us when we are in the service of our fellow beings, we are only in the service of our God. He's told us to do our alms in secret, for when we do, he rewards us openly.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Human Connection

 While on holiday in Wales, a woman hikes a highland trail looking for a well known, oft visited, waterfall. In this country, the land is private but allowance is made for people to cross, come and go, by way of public footpaths. While crossing fields and fences, the woman looses her way. She sees a cottage and a man sitting on the porch and walks closer to ask for directions.

"Can you tell me where the footpath is?"

"Aye, you're looking for the way to the waterfall."

"Yes," she answers and he gives her directions.

She thanks him and continues on. She never finds the waterfall, but she does find a lovely tree to nap in and spends her afternoon in the splendor of a Welsh forest.

On her way back, the man is still sitting on the porch. They wave to one another and he calls her over.

"Would you like some tea?"

 She accepts his invitation and learns he is on a spiritual retreat. She too is searching for answers and as the two engage and enlighten one another, she finds insight to her quest.

Oh how I want to be walking along a footpath and have someone, even a stranger, ask me to sit down for tea. The encounter, the concept is so enchanting.

I have been thinking of this story for one and a half days, when I take a dusk-time walk in a Chicago neighborhood. I imagine passing my stranger--there is a wave and an invitation, "Would you like some tea?"

"I would love to have tea with you." We would then engage in our own enlightening discussion.

I see how hungry I am to learn and understand; I see how much there is to learn and understand. I see how I crave human connection.

When I see a "Black Lives Matter," sign in the berm of a yard, I want to meet the homeowner and ask about her passion, her disappointments, and the movement that's rocked a nation. Do black people want white people to post signs? Is posting signs for black people only?

I pass a home with a sign to fight prejudice against Muslim refugees.I want to stop and listen to this story while sipping a cup of tea. Is this homeowner a refugee?  I wish I could tell her my refugee encounter with Muslims in Athens. I want to speak of the same love of the same God with just a different name. I pass by the house three times hoping someone will come out on the porch and invite me to sit for tea.

The house on the corner has a bridge, a waterfall, a gazebo and little paths throughout. The sound of water, the twinkling white Christmas lights create an enchanting garden. I loop past it four times hoping someone will notice my admiration and invite me through the rose trellised arbor for a tour.

A day later, I see my chance for human connection, and it is through children. Ezra sees three children playing across the street and wants to say hello.

"Let's grab your sidewalk chalk and ask if they want to draw."

We are across the street in less than 60 seconds.

"Hi, what's your name?"

"Rebecca." I learn she is five years old. A few minutes later, Jacob introduces himself and less than five minutes later, Ike, the mom comes out and says hello with a plate of watermelon. If I lived here all the time, I am sure she would be my friend, and many more days would be spent tracing leaves on the sidewalk.


Monday, May 23, 2016

Leaning

A Book of Mormon prophet, Abinadi, testified of a certain people's wickedness--to that certain people. Not surprisingly, he was gravely unpopular and eventually died for his boldness.  But, it's what he had to do.

It is during this discussion of the prophet Abinadi, in Sunday school, that a woman shares her own Abinadi story.

She was an American exchange student in Germany and was out with the daughter of her host family when this daughter was verbally accosted by three boys. The boys kept speaking cruelly to the daughter, kept criticizing her.  The exchange student, now a woman, still remembers the feelings of discomfort. She knew the boys were wrong but felt powerless to stop the teasing. She reached the point where she could no longer tolerate the bullying. She had to act, but was terrified to do so.

She recalls, "I was leaning on what I knew was right."

I love this phrase, this surety.

While leaning on what she knew to be right, she stood and turned around to face the tormentors.

"Stop. Stop it right now."

She was surprised to see how her boldness to do what was right intimidated the cruel boys.

She was surprised by the outcome of leaning on what she knew to be right.

When the power of rightness is strong, it's like a mighty redwood. Leaning on a redwood is sure to keep us upright.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Goldfish Swimming School

We hop in the car and head off to the Goldfish Swimming School!

We have the swim bag, the swimmer, the address, and the enthusiasm of proud grandparents.

We walk into the pseudo tropical paradise: fake palm trees, painted turtles and whales on the walls, and little coconut huts for changing. Even a blow-drying bar for the wet-heads.

The object of our affections and attentions climbs out of his shorts, shirts and shoes, receives his lane assignment with timidity, and moves bravely towards the deep blue, or in this case the four foot  deep pool.

Grandma and Grandpa and the other thirty-something-aged parents wait behind the glass enclosure or the "shark tank."

After the little guy swims his laps or puts his head under water,  he paddles to the side of the pool, pulls off his goggles, and looks straight at us for approval. We, and the parents, are trained better than Sea World dolphins--when our posterity looks up, we clap, we over-animate our smiles, and we give exuberant thumbs up!

His first glance at grandma and grandpa, is a blank stare.

"He thinks we're ridiculous," I say.

Tony laughs at the almost 100% possibility of this being true.

As ridiculous as he may think we are and actually may be, every time he returns to the side of the pool, he looks straight to those ridiculous grandparents for that repeated and guaranteed reassurance.

I repeat a story Tony has heard many times, "Remember when I was in my forties and I rode that great wave and the first thing I did was look up to see if my mom was looking?

I then heard a new story, "When I used to go fishing with my dad, and when I pulled up a big fish, I'd always look over hoping Dad had seen it."

Parent approval and reassurance; it's something we never outgrow and one thing we always need to give.








Saturday, May 21, 2016

Crepes By the Dozens

Ever since scoring a secret crepe recipe smuggled out of France and finding a hidden Parisian shop with a crepe making tool made from a simple T of wood, crepe making has become my specialty.

All my years of mothering and homemaking and I never had a specialty. Really because I never wanted one. Never wanted to be obligated or have to go out of my way when I didn't want to or feel up to it.

Tony had a specialty, and I saw how it obligated him to Christmas Eve dinners and special get togethers by the requests for his perfected recipe of Kung Pao chicken.

Finally, I think I've mellowed enough to embrace my own specialty, and who would have thought it would be crepes.

The first grandchildren request for grandma-nanny was crepes for breakfast. I'd anticipated this and even brought two cans of squirt whipping cream.

All the little people were pleased with their petit dejeuner.

I've that found crepes aren't just for the little people in my family.

When one of my students needed $250 to finish his senior project of making blankets for an abuse therapy group, I thought of crepes.

Without thinking (proof it's become my specialty), I proposed to the class, "What if I made crepes and we sold them during the school's 30 minute mentoring session?" I asked. "If I could make 250 crepes..." Students jumped in with enthusiasm, "I'll bring plates." "Who'll bring nutella?" Who will help assemble?"

Over the next two nights,  I made 250 crepes and questioned my own craziness. But I kept my head to the griddle.

On the appointed morning, in 30 minutes we sold $251 worth of whipping cream/nutella crepes. The gang pitched in and peddled crepes to classes. I knew kids were hungry, but I didn't know it would be that easy. In the moment of success, I'd already forgotten all of the pre-work (more evidence of embracing my own specialty).

Previous to the crepe sale, I'd made 500 crepes for the senior breakfast (with a lot of help), made crepes for the AP breakfast, for the winterim breakfast. I look forward to helping out in the future with crepes.

My mom's specialty is making quilts and baby blankets. "Hey Mom, do you have an extra for a special friend?" "Of course."  Each granddaughter has received a graduation quilt and a wedding quilt.

For my neighbor, it's her signature Rolo filled brownies. She's filled requests for banquets, parties and girls' camp.

For the nice lady down the street, it's her homemade rolls. They've been auctioned, sold to help refugees and if you're in the inside circle, they're for Sunday dinner.

Food is such an easy specialty to define, but when I think of other people's gifts, I think of how far I fall short. I think of the biggies like compassion, kindness and unconditional love --all the things I want even more to be my specialties/gifts---and realize, crepes may be the price to pay for those greater gifts.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Monsters Inc

I wake up to a familiar little face who snuck into my bed just as I was falling asleep.

"What time is it?" I ask the little face, worried we might have overslept and now will have to late-rush-chase the school age children off to school.

"6:30," the little face answers. Phew, plenty of time. I didn't blow my first day of responsibility.

"What time do the little monsters gets up?"

She informs me it could be any minute.

"Why do you call them little monsters?"

"Cause they're so cute."

And because they might be up in seconds, but only because they are so cute and because monsters are sometimes the unfamiliar, the demanding, the full time focus I'm not used to, especially while all on my own. The little monsters' grandpa, is tending another little monster in Chicago. Little monsters everywhere! How blessed we are!

I was a little concerned when these two grandsons, of whom I'm in charge of for a few days, were born only 18 months apart. My only knowledge of two little brothers born so close together, belonged to a long time family friend. The boys were like a match and gasoline and found mischief in every corner. When they were small, their escapades were hysterical and made funny stories. As they grew, the escapades grew more complicated and costly.

The first incident of notoriety came with a garden hose and a neighbor's open bathroom window. Together, they pulled it across their yard, into the neighbor's yard, and funneled it through the window. One of the boys held the hose while the other turned on the water. The story never included how it all ended, and never needed to. The listener was incredulous and already overwhelmed with sensory and imagined details of the disaster.

The shenanigans continued until the day of the last family vacation. The extended family could no longer take the hotel security reports of  the devious duo or the expenses of cleaning up the messes.

No one talks about the brothers anymore. They're grown and the antics went from inquisitive and mischievous to lawyers, jail time and probation.

Yesterday, as my first day as grandma-nanny was the most time I've ever spent, alone and in charge of the two little monsters.

They wrestle! And oh how they love to dig and dig and dig. Each hour's outings are covered with fresh black dirt. Bath time is like river rafting the Colorado.

I've never had a brother, never had a son--the newness and unfamiliarity helps me to clearly see boys have distinctive characteristics and that two close-in-age boys have a unique camaraderie. Not too unlike what sisters share, but different.

Yet, boy-different has a soft side. When one is hurt, the other hurts too. When eating meals together, the 2.6 year old gets down from his stool, pulls the high chair right next to him, wanting his brother close. When 2.6 is the last one to wake in the morning or last one to arouse from a nap, 1.1 year old can't wait until I open the door and he charges forth on his still shaky legs. When it's close to bed time, they know it. They stick close and carry on in their own conversation, understood only to them. When 1.1 protests when I get near his bedroom, I'm unsure if it's because he's protesting sleep or already missing his big brother.

There's definitely a conspiracy here, but it's not only mild mischief--it's undeniable brother-love too.

Just like Monsters Inc.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

T-20 to Rocket Launch!

The second phone call comes at 9:30.
"Grandma, you can come right now. "
"We won't miss it?"
"No, but hurry."
"We're leaving right now."

The first annual sixth grade rocket launch was at 8:00 am and we were still in our Jammie's. All three of us. "Sorry," I told him, but "we'll never make it on time." It's now 9:30, a second rocket launch is about to take place, and this time, I don't have the heart to tell him we still are all in our pjs. However, this time, we're going to make it.

It's a mad rush to pull two infants out of pajamas and into street clothes. For myself, it's pretty easy; everything I have is in a laundry basket, hastily thrown together minutes before I had to leave.

I pick up the 2.6 year old. Hmm, I hope these pants fit you, and an unexpected bonus--they match his pajama shirt. Hey! It looks like a regular shirt. One step eliminated!

Everyone is almost ready to go. Shoes? The boys can go barefoot. It is then I see in my haste, I forgot regular shoes. Heels coming from school and heels for Friday, but I need runners right now. I rip through my daughter's shoes and am thankful we wear the same size.

A grabbed bottle from the fridge, one little guy in my arms, I lead the other into the garage. We could take the car, but getting each boy in his car seat puzzle is a deterrent.  The stroller is easier until I see it's partly folded over. Squishing one baby and searching the back of the seats, I try to force it into position. Click. The 2.6 year old at the front of the stroller has it figured out. Thank goodness for  two year olds who can figure out technology when their grandmas can't.

Everyone buckled, grandma shoe'd, and we're running down the sidewalk. I can do this. We're going to make it.

A short walk later, we open onto a field of revelry! Sixth grade energy everywhere. Tiny, squirrly girls running here and there. Animated, child-like boys circling and jumping in packs. We barely stop when Whooooosh! The first rocket launches followed by another and another. Cheers and I am laughing like I've never laughed. Almost uncontrollably. The venue is so unique and we made it on time! And the little boys are so serious! I laugh so hard, I start to cry! This is joy: loved ones, great effort with time-luck of the Irish, and so, so different from my usual mornings. Big brother comes over to join us. It's a Mary Poppins moment in the chalk drawing.

And then it starts to rain, or in our case, the baby, long overdue from his morning nap begins to cry.  Our magical world disappears; like Jane, Michael and Bert, we head for home.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Transplants

Every so often life needs to come down a few notches. As I sit in the garden, in an Adirondack chair, thinking like a two year old, because I am in the presence of a 2.6 and a 1.1 year old, and in order to stay ahead of them both, I need to think like both.

They prefer to dig up their mother's potted plants. I watch the dark rich potting soil fly from scooper to dump truck to patio concrete. Distraction is an important concept in my notched-down life. I pick up one and call to the other. We settle at the edge of the grow boxes where I inspect the newly transplanted golden berries from my hearty home stock, from my prized golden berry patch.
It's what we do with our children; we keep them in our patch. We nurture, fertilize, taste of the sweet fruit they bare. One day, all too soon, they outgrow the boundaries of our patch. We send them on hoping they are sturdy stock. We delight when they bare their own fruit.  And we take it down a notch in their garden enjoying the fruit of their hard work.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Margo Is Here

One day earlier: Yesterday morning I walked into my closet and saw the suit I wore last Monday crumpled on the carpet. I hadn't even noticed it before this morning.

 It was in that moment, that I realized I'd shut off a whole week of my life and given it to worry, fear and craving of fried pickles, grilled cheese sandwiches and crepes.

Today: Newborn, new to the world, new to our family, Margo June was born. Thank goodness it was only a week of uncertainty about our granddaughter's life. Yet, I ponder a world of suffering that would be grateful for a one week limit.

The birth of a child can be so ordinary that we sometimes miss the miracle. When it isn't ordinary, we are reminded of the miracle.

Thank God for the little miracle that joined our family today.

I'd post a photo, but you know,....  newborn baby photos are only adorable to parents and grandparents--no matter how miraculous a baby may be.




Monday, May 16, 2016

Oh Samson

The baby is scheduled for a c-section, so Grandpa will be leaving on Tuesday morning to take care of the new big brother until Sunday, when I take over the duties.  How grateful I am for Tony who's willing to represent a new generation of tender men who babysit when needed. It used to be, and still is, the grandma's job, though there've always been those stereotype breaking men willing to carry the load of children and grandchildren rearing.

When my daughters and I think of him going alone and having the sole responsibility of caring for a head strong three year old who has taken to kleptomania recently, we all laugh and applaud. Our love grows for this husband, this father, this super Dad, super man.

It may be that he has ulterior motives. You see, this little grandchild has a mop of curls. His mom knows they won't last forever; the blond is turning gold, the curls are loosening. We too love his curls--except he looks like a "mad" scientist (no biggy-they run in our family), he is sometimes mistaken for a female; hair is always in his eyes, so much that he's asked for clips, but when he sees his hair pony-tailed, he isn't happy.

The final straw came when his mother wrote Grandpa instructions to gel his hair every morning so it stays out of his eyes. If the little guy does it, it will most likely still be a nuisance, so Grandpa needs to do it right.

Grandpa's solution was to get the little guy a haircut while in charge. His mother responded that he doesn't want a haircut. When Grandpa responded that he could be bribed with a donut, she came clean: she likes his long hair. As if we didn't know already.

She knew a donut would be his Delilah.

Maybe a new Lego set, would give him the impetus to convince his mother. Or maybe we are working on the wrong person. Maybe she's the one we need to bribe...


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Lights On

Last night was the school play. I entered what seemed like a pitch black gym a few minutes after the play started. I tried to find my way to a chair, but knew it was hopeless. So I stood for a few minutes looking towards the light, recognizing my students, enjoying their acting.

It didn't take too long for my eyes to adjust enough that I could see an empty row of chairs in the back. As the play progressed and my eyes adjusted, I could see the director, other students sitting here and there. My eyes had eventually adjusted to the dark, and I felt at ease in the gym--enough to stand when my legs needed to be stretched, enough to be aware of the actors entering and exiting from the back of the gym.

How quickly I had adjusted comfortably to the dark.

For a few years, Tony and I have enjoyed a television comedy. We've smiled, laughed, and enjoyed the characters. At the beginning of the new season, one of my favorite character's thoughts and consequent language had changed. A once kind character spoke raunchy, demeaning words. I didn't like it but it was out of character, and I assumed it was a fluke. The next show, the subtle changes in his language were still apparent; it made me uncomfortable, but I kept watching, willing my eyes to adjust to the dark. A third show proved to have the same trend, but I'd already adjusted to the dark. It wasn't until the next day, when I realized I was no longer comfortable. I told Tony I was finished watching the show.

The lights were on, the decision I needed to make was clear.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

If I Had Known

With advanced placement tests (AP) behind us, one student in my literature class has requested we read Antoine de Saint Exupery's  "The Little Prince."

Saint Exupery was born in 1900 and was a pilot during WWII. While on reconnaissance one day, off the coast of Marseille France, he disappeared. It was presumed for many years that he encountered enemy fire or lost control of his airplane, plunged into the sea, his death a mystery--for sixty years---until, a fisherman brought in his net and tangled within was a silver necklace bearing St. Exupery's name and the name of his publisher. A curious archaeologist and diver, Luc Vanrell, had previously noted wreckage at the bottom of the sea. When he pulled part of the wreckage, including an old 1941 engine, he traced the engine to a fleet of German WWII planes. From there, he contacted the pilots, asking each one if they knew anything about St. Exupery.

After sixty years, one man was relieved to say, "Yes, I shot down Exupery. If I had known it was him, I would have never done it."

Such a sad and ironic expression, but an expression of truth.

It was July 31, 1944. The German pilot, Rippert, spied a plan below him with the French tricolor. He maneuvered himself behind the plane and shot it down. Days later, he learned French forces were looking for Exupery. His eyes filled with tears, because he suspected he was responsible for Exupery's disappearance. He had been a fan of Exupery's and the very man who had inspired him to become a pilot, was the man he had killed.

In 2003, Rippert learned Exupery's plane had been recovered. From the location, he knew it was himself who had shot down the author of The Little Prince.

The sadness is that all shot-down enemies, all young men and women killed in battle, the enemy never knew who they were, their stories, their stunted potential. Mr. Rogers said, "There isn't anyone you couldn't love if you've heard their story."

I will never fly a war plane or carry a gun into enemy territory, but for the rest of my life I will encounter possible conflict with people whose stories I have not heard.

I often think that the great armies waiting to go into battle should first be required to sit down at each others' sides and tell their stories.

Would war then, be possible?

When incited to "war" first sit down and learn your "enemy's" story.


Friday, May 13, 2016

The Precious Child

I am waiting for the bolt to be taken out of my tire and for the tire to be patched. The wait is longer than expected and especially difficult. My phone is about to go dead and when it does, I'll be cut off from my family. We are in the middle of a crisis.

Other people are waiting in the service area too. An older gentleman, a woman, and a man with a baby girl who can crawl. She is absolutely delightful and so happy! She moves freely about the children's romper room, comes to the door and wants to engage with me. She smiles and gurgles. Coos. Even laughs. But her preciousness just magnifies my pain. I smile and swoon over her as much as I can, but the tears start to roll and I have to turn away.

The father knows how adorable she is too, and when she flirts with me, he beams with pride.

Under different circumstances, I would ask what her name is. I would ask how old she is. I would tell him how beautiful and precious she is. I might even get down to her level and have a little chat.

The father leaves the romper room and sits on one of the chairs across from the door. Little pumpkin comes to the door, looks at Dad, looks at me, then ventures forward.  She crawls across the tile, makes it to the carpet, then moves right past my back pack obstacle. Dad apologizes for her getting in my way. I can barely squeak out a "She's fine."

Almost two years ago, a dear family friend delivered a beautiful stillborn baby, who died from her mother's cholestatis of pregnancy. She was only days from being a healthy full term baby.  The mother started to itch and one of her caregiver's missed the all important clue.

Today, my daughter called to tell me she's inflicted with the same culprit that took our friend's baby. Her baby must come early, by cesarean section, but it's a tricky decision. A life/death decision: push her birth back as long as they dare so she develops, or just take her now?

I want to tell the stranger with the baby girl how precious she is. I want to tell him I'm waiting to hear an update about my daughter's precarious position. I want to tell him, that my expectant daughter's older sister has a best friend and sister-in-law who both had a stillborn baby and she is in a near panic over her younger sister having the same thing happen. But I can't. I won't. I pull all my emotions inside and stand at the window and gaze.

I'm just another lady at the car dealership waiting for a repair. I keep my facade because that's what normal people do. Who could even imagine the thoughts and worries running through the quiet lady's mind.

I think of a small sign at the allergist's office: Be kind to everyone, you never know what they're going through.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A House Full of Hoodlums

One of our precious children went through an awkward stage--actually, all our children had an awkward stage. Whether it was looks, body, acne, teenage insecurity, friends, bad choices, rebellion, we were afflicted as  a family, because one child's choices or transitions affect every one in the family.

One child's changes seemed to be reflected in her friends. Mostly, I'd heard horrendous stories about my daughter's friends from other mothers grateful their children weren't hanging with the hoodlums. Their children were safe, because the hoodlums were at my house.

I wasn't going to judge these children by rumor, but I did learn that rumors are often based on factual experience, but my child had chosen these friends, they were a reflection of who and what she was at the time, so I embraced them whole heartedly.

I didn't believe there was an alternative. I wasn't going to chase away my own daughter. If she and her friends didn't feel comfortable and welcome, they would have gone elsewhere. Elsewhere has dark corners without restrictions and parental supervision. My space had rules and love--I made sure the love was strong enough so that the rules would be obliged.

There were specific consequences to my decisions. Plenty of good ones and plenty of bad. Because I accepted these friends, my daughter felt she could be honest and open and when one of these friends made a bad choice, she was free to talk to me about it instead of hide it. This open conversation helped her realize some of the foolish choices her friends were making.

In the company of these friends, my daughter dared to do things I don't think she would have done on her own, or perhaps that is what every mother chooses to believe. We are attracted to people with our own nature and ideals. Rejecting these friends would have been rejecting whom my daughter really was. I needed to hang with her through thick and thin. There was never an alternative and because of this, and a lot of prayer, I never worried we would lose her to the vicious vices that trap and ensnare children.

In the end, it all turned out. Yes, there were bumps in the road, and when our family returned from vacation, we'd find beer cans on the deck--apparently, the friends felt more comfortable than I'd wanted.

This approach worked for my daughter, but I do not endorse it for every parent/child situation. A different child might need her parents to ban the hoodlums, even chase them away at night, or an even more drastic measure: move! I always knew I would move for my child if needed.

I recently received this note from the daughter who ran with the wolves:  Something that I value most about you is that you taught me compassion and how to love everyone and to see them as what they truly are, children of God. I always appreciated that you had open arms for all my friends through out the years and I want to teach my children the same. 

Tears, but also a caveat for my daughter: don't assume this is the only way to teach your children about love and acceptance. You may have to let the hoodlums in the house, but be willing to have the courage to do otherwise. The kudos from my daughter, my acceptance, worked for one reason only: I acted with prayer and followed the subsequent promptings. That it worked for us, is a miracle; that it might not work for others is just as much so.

I would hate to have raised children all on my own.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Fox In the Henhouse

They know how to get in, but they can't get themselves out.

This is the third time an animal has gotten stuck in the fenced off pool area. This time the big, furry guy, was lucky I'd stepped out on the deck to check on les abeilles (bees) below. Much to my surprise, this shy and frightened fellow, who is actually a big dog with a very deep bark, was hanging out in my yard. I talked to him, soothed him the whole way down two flights of stairs to set him free, all the while, a little nervous, that he might take a chunk out of his captor.

The first time a dog was trapped in the fenced off area, was the best. Story. Certainly not the best situation for Charlie the beagle, nor his worried family. The best part of the story was that Charlie, locked in my backyard, had barked on and off the previous night interrupting my sleep. I was irritated that someone let his dog bark through the night. As I was about to go to sleep the next night, the dog started his howls once again. People need to be more responsible pet owners! I thought. Then my heart softened as I tried to imagine a different scenario.Worried about a dog in the neighborhood being in possible danger, I decided to drive around to pinpoint from where the bark was coming from. Imagine my surprise when it was my own back yard!

Charlie's family had been praying for his safe return and Charlie's mom had been scouring the neighborhood, the lost pet ads, and the pound for days. The story reinforced the admonition to clean one's own backyard before one cleans someone else's, or the mote vs. the beam in one's eye.

The second caught animal was a sad-ending incident. It was a deer, and when it couldn't push the gate open, it leaped to its death over a spiked fence. If I can ever vote for Animal Control raises, I certainly will. Bless those men who were willing to come and cart the body away.

One morning, Tony and I found a deer stuck in our gate. It was a nervous baby and we were determined to set it free. We steered clear of his kicking hooves and pushed hard. He was free!

The incidents are few and far between, but there is a responsibility as a homeowner to keep this from happening again. I need to be more vigilant in checking to make sure the gates are secure. Dostoevsky said it well: Be kind to animals and children, for God gave them the beginnings of thought.

Yes, they got themselves in but they couldn't get themselves out.

Postscript: The past few nights and early mornings, someone in close proximity of our house, has repeatedly set off their car alarm, or the car alarm keeps going off on its own.

Or so I assume it is someone else's car.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Two Days After Mother's Day

My friend asked me on Sunday afternoon if the kids were coming over to make me a special Mother's Day dinner.

"Well actually," I answered, "I won't see any of them today, but Tony is cooking for his mom, his sister and me."

She says something pleasant of which I don't remember.

"And you? A special Mother's Day dinner?"

My friend goes into thoughtful, mother mode with a tone of......reprimand. "Well," she says, "they are all coming over for dinner, but no one thought to plan a meal for me, so I'm serving them hot dogs. That's what you get when mother has to cook on Mother's Day."

"You should make them stand out in the rain and cook those hot dogs over the fire pit."

We have a good laugh, but the joke is based on some well deserved mother-revenge.

I hope her children get the message.

Though I did not share this day with my own children, I am still profoundly grateful for their devotion, love and most especially that we have a relationship where they can confidently attend to other duties on this day--there are no worries Mom will come unglued if they're not serving my immediate Mother's Day needs. One daughter is in another state; another daughter is enjoying her day as the queen of her own small tribe; another daughter needed the time to pack and leave for a foreign excursion; and the baby, whom we just spent a week with, needed to be with her mother-in-law. I truly rejoiced in our relationships that freed, even encouraged the girls to spend their time elsewhere.

Dinner turned out to be a quiet, sit down affair with lovely adult conversation exploring deep and fascinating subjects. Clean up was easy, fast, and my sister-in-law, also childless on this mother's day, leaned close when I mentioned taboo words for a loving mother: "This was nice. Next time we'll have to call the kids and tell them to stay home."

Oh the conflicting feelings of motherhood.

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Silly, Self Indulgent Post About Clothes For a Monday Morning

My dad enjoyed dressing well. He was observant, and he admired other men and women's taste and style.  He even told me about a certain Vegas mobster (who shall not be named), whose shirts, in order to be stylishly worn, had to be folded just right.....or else!!

While I was growing up, Dad had his shirts made by a Chinese man with a heavy accent, whose name was Sam. Sam embroidered Dad's name or his initials above the right side pocket on his shirts. There were a few of these treasures left in the back of Dad's closet, and I felt lucky to have nabbed one. I wear it when I'm feeling distant from my father.  It's old and stained, but it represents the man who not only enjoyed dressing, but enjoyed knowing his loved ones  dressed well too.



Every occasion required a new outfit! Birthdays, funerals, Easter Sunday, graduation; more often an occasion wasn't needed. He'd open his wallet and say, "Go buy yourself a new outfit."

Through his eyes and actions, I learned to love and appreciate dressing well. So much, that I actually get excited the night before a new-dress occasion, or the night before I have a new outfit to wear. I especially get excited when I have something fun to wear to school.

Yes, dressing should be fun! It's an art form. A chance to declare in cloth--who you are!

Since last week, every time I think about Monday, I get a little elevator-shaft-lift in my stomach. You see, Monday requires full dress (dresses or skirts for female teachers, ties and jackets for the men, and the students look impeccable in their blazers), and I prefer teaching in pants. But this Monday...I have this very serious black and white pin striped skirt and jacket. Very serious. I usually wear it with a crisp-ironed white blouse, and black pumps. Maybe with pearls. But last week, I envisioned a new look. Yes, I envision outfits!

While searching for the perfect souvenir shirt at Disneyland, I found a colorful shirt that would go with everything. I imagined pairing it with something serious to lighten up the end of high school for my anxious-to-graduate seniors. While thumbing through the shirts, I turned to see my daughter who was wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and it was the same color as my suit. Ah ha! The vision was complete!

Hence! All the excitement for Monday morning, or much ado about what should be nothing, but is in fact, everything. What do you think Dad?




While you're reading this, I'll be wearing this fabulous outfit!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Loving Discipline

Two little boys are sitting in the church pew in front of us. One is the older brother, maybe 12 years old, and the younger brother, who might be eight years old.

They are wrestling.

I hardly notice because I'm used to wrestling children.

A woman moves into the boys' bench. Her voice is firm and when she speaks, I check myself to make sure I'm acting and sitting in accordance with church behavior.

"You can either sit politely or sit with your mom," she speaks. When she slides in between the boys,  I'm a little nervous for them.  But right away she puts her arms around the boys and within her encompassing arms, the feeling is distinctly love.

I look around for the mom. I guess she is the woman sitting up on the stand, waiting to lead the music.

The intervening woman stays the entire service with the boys. Not only does she stay between them, but she tickles their necks, helps the younger boy to focus and keeps her arms around them. She's doing so much more than just keeping the peace: she is showing a deep commitment and care to these young wrestling brothers--and I suspect it is the reason they listen and behave. She's disciplining with love and it is the only discipline that ever works, that has lasting effects.


Discipline of upperclassmen is non-existent. I treat them like the adults they are on the verge of becoming and they respond to the responsibility. But there was one time in Quito Ecuador when two of my students went late at night to an internet cafe before bothering to ask for permission. Their failure to do so was proabably planned, as I would have never allowed  the adventure. When I first noticed their absence on my rounds to make sure everyone was safely tucked in, visions of the the movie Taken horrified my head.

The girls needed to be disciplined. I told them the dangers, the consequences, the possibility of being sent home if it happened again, and of course I would notify their parents. And then I took them both in my arms and told them how much I loved them, which backed my sincere worries for their safety.

I worried I had lost two friends.

Because the just discipline was built on the foundation of love and care, they remained my friends.

They were angelic the rest of the trip. The discipline with love had worked.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Farmer's Wife

Farmer Brown's wife, Mrs. Brown gets up every morning to make her husband breakfast. Her preparation is calculated and well timed so the minute Farmer Brown walks in the door, he slips out of his muddy boots, hangs his dew kissed jacket on the rack and slides into the chair at the head of the table.

She serves him bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, pancakes, waffles, cut fruit, and fresh orange juice. Every morning for twenty years, she's never missed a day, never been off a minute.

Farmer Brown knows he's a lucky man. Farmer John, on a morning visit to help birth a calf, started to head home after the hard work. Farmer Brown invited him in for some breakfast. He was astounded by the spread and exclaimed that he never gets up each morning to bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, pancakes, waffles, cut fruit and fresh orange juice. He's lucky if there's some cold cereal and milk to pour in a bowl.

"Yes sireee, I'm mighty lucky indeed. Every morning, for the last 20 years she's made bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, pancakes, waffles, cut fruit, and fresh orange juice.

Then the un-forseen day finally arrived. Farmer Brown, his appetite stronger than ever after cow-milking for an extra hour, took off his boots, his perspiration-heavy jacket and sat at the head of the table. He surveyed the spread and almost jolted off the side of his seat.  The table was set alright, but it was only set with bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, waffles, cut fruit, and fresh orange juice.

"Where are the pancakes?" Farmer Brown bellowed.

"I couldn't find the axe," his dutiful wife answered.

"You couldn't find the axe? What does that have to do with missing pancakes?"

Mrs. Brown looked Farmer Brown in the eye, "If you're going to use an excuse, any old excuse will do."

It took me a minute to think through Mrs. Brown's "excuse," but after I "got" it, it totally made sense, and ever since hearing this story, I've been conscious of each instance when I've contemplated backing out of a duty. I remember no pancakes because Mrs. Brown couldn't find her axe and that an excuse, any excuse, can be a breach of integrity, a sin of omission, laziness, or selfishness. 

I told my mom I'd wash the California car. On the morning of my departure, it was raining and certainly I could get away with that legitimate excuse. But then the rain cleared, so I drove the car to the car wash, but it started to rain again. Certainly another legitimate excuse. But I'd said I would wash the car and I didn't want an excuse. Short on time by now, with other tasks that had to be completed, I asked my daughter and her husband to wash the car. They happily complied. I had to ask for help, but in the end, there were no excuses. 
Farmer Brown's wife, Mrs. Brown gets up every morning to make her husband breakfast. Her preparation is calculated and well timed so the minute Farmer Brown walks in the door, he slips out of his muddy boots, hangs his dew kissed jacket on the rack and slides into the chair at the head of the table.

She serves him bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, pancakes, waffles, cut fruit, and fresh orange juice. Every morning for twenty years, she's never missed a day, never been off a minute.

Farmer Brown knows he's a lucky man. Farmer John, on a morning visit to help birth a calf, started to head home after the hard work. Farmer Brown invited him in for some breakfast. He was astounded by the spread and exclaimed that he never gets up each morning to bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, pancakes, waffles, cut fruit and fresh orange juice. He's lucky if there's some cold cereal and milk to pour in a bowl.

"Yes sireee, I'm mighty lucky indeed. Every morning, for the last 20 years she's made bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, pancakes, waffles, cut fruit, and fresh orange juice.

Then the un-forseen day finally arrived. Farmer Brown, his appetite stronger than ever after cow-milking for an extra hour, took off his boots, his perspiration-heavy jacket and sat at the head of the table. He surveyed the spread and almost jolted off the side of his seat.  The table was set alright, but it was only set with bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, waffles, cut fruit, and fresh orange juice.

"Where are the pancakes?" Farmer Brown bellowed.

"I couldn't find the axe," his dutiful wife answered.

"You couldn't find the axe? What does that have to do with missing pancakes?"

Mrs. Brown looked Farmer Brown in the eye, "If you're going to use an excuse, any old excuse will do."

It took me a minute to think through Mrs. Brown's "excuse," but after I "got" it, it totally made sense, and ever since hearing this story, I've been conscious of each instance when I've contemplated backing out of a duty. I remember no pancakes because Mrs. Brown couldn't find her axe and that an excuse, any excuse, can be a breach of integrity, a sin of omission, laziness, or selfishness. 

I told my mom I'd wash the California car. On the morning of my departure, it was raining and certainly I could get away with that legitimate excuse. But then the rain cleared, so I drove the car to the car wash, but it started to rain again. Certainly another legitimate excuse. But I'd said I would wash the car and I didn't want an excuse. Short on time by now, with other tasks that had to be completed, I asked my daughter and her husband to wash the car. They happily complied. I had to ask for help, but in the end, there were no excuses. 



Friday, May 6, 2016

"People Who Need People" Is Not Just a Line in a Song

I actually woke up with a bad attitude and only because I woke up one year older.

I know, I know...I should be grateful for another year. The alternative isn't what I wish for as I love my life.  It should have been a celebratory awakening, but it wasn't, and I've been trying to figure out why. All day long.

We come into the world as an astounding miracle. Nothing reaches the joyful status of a new baby.  From those first moments of life, everything is progress and becoming: first smile, first words, first crawl, first steps. A child starts to make sense of language. Conversation becomes possible, opinions form. Likes and dislikes begin to define the individual. First day of school, first soccer game, first friends, school awards, talent development! Then that once-little person learns to drive, graduates and goes off to college. The accomplishments start to roll. First job, love, marriage, family, career bonuses, promotions...and then there is a shift. First wrinkle. First strained ligament. Lost words. Running into an old friend who looks so old you hardly recognized him. Gray hairs. A slower metabolism. Extra pounds after one piece of cake. Each birthday is the down side of the roller coaster that hit the pinnacle ten years ago.

One day, we realize it's our bodies job to degenerate. The point of each latter year is a measurement of decline, hence, a good reason to wake up and say "Oh crap, it's my birthday."

Forget the flowers from a niece, forget the dinner party plans, forget the well wishes via text and the present left on the front porch. Forget the grandchildren singing happy birthday and facetime with the little guy in Chicago who actually said, "Happy birthday Grandma." Forget the daughter's homemade cake. Because none of it is going to stop time, nor aches, nor wrinkles nor forgetfulness. Nor the birthday/aging blues.

Or will it?

After waking and diving into a bad attitude, I got up and sat on the couch with melancholy, who'd gotten a tight hold on my heart. The problem was the alone-ness; it's much harder to celebrate alone, much easier to pout alone. My spirits lifted when I got my first text: son-in-law number one, followed by a friend, followed by a daughter. Tony awoke and I opened a well thought out present. After a morning walk, I came home to a birthday cake in the oven and a happy birthday duet.

I needed people; I needed loved ones on this day of change, and no one explained it better than an eighteen year old girl named Katie. In my early morning pity, thank goodness I found and read Katie's essay. It was the reminder I needed, the splash of cold water, the jolt to my mind.

Katie writes:
Memories are most beautiful when created collaboratively and spontaneously; by living in the moment with people you care about; and by loving as freely as you live...At the end of the day, when you crawl into bed, under the blanket your Grandma sewed out of a pile of old jeans, and you close your eyes, you’re going to see yourself cheering at that football game with your Dad, or your sister hiding in your closet to scare you. You’re going to remember that one kid who taught you how to play Phase 10 over the summer, and slow dancing with your best friends. You’re going to remember the moments made spontaneously with people you care about, where you lived fully and loved freely, because those memories are the beautiful ones.

When you read this, my birthday will be twelve hours behind.

Thank goodness.

But my circle of love will still be close.

Thank goodness.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Sisters

I am downtown with 10 free minutes.

It's a beautiful day for a short walk! I head out the door and take the perimeter around a large building which includes a strip of grass, a line-up of trees, and a huge parking lot. Parking lots! There has to be a better way to landscape a city. There are a few other pedestrians, but I especially notice the bicycle leaning against a post, loaded with all the worldly goods of its owner. The owner has to be the man who is sipping through a straw, sitting under a tree. And I presume he's homeless.

A moment of discomfort follows because I have to pass a man who is different from me. Because I've assumed he's homeless, it brings up all sorts of questions: does he need help? Will he ask me for money? Does he need to eat? If I give him money, will he spend it on alcohol or food? A simple walk becomes complicated.

I choose the simplest way to deal with the situation--I walk on past. We do however, nod our heads in acknowledgement of each other. It turned out alright! Until I turn the corner and have a feeling I need to go back and see if he needs anything. The tug of war continues until a clarifying moment cuts through the banter: What would my sister do?

Once I answer that question, the call is clear, YES, go back. My sister wouldn't have to go back, because she would have stopped the first time. I no longer hesitate; I have a job to do and turning back is easy. I'm armed with the power of sisterhood.

I have a friend with four other sisters. As a woman with two sisters, doubling that number is almost unfathomable, because I imagine her sisters are like mine: strong and powerful women who are a force to be reckoned with.

IF I ever need to know what's wrong with me, or if I need advice, I can always call a sister and find out what it is or what I need to do.  Sisters are the humbling force field in life; they are the always present guests in our life party. Sisters can be hard, sisters will haunt our consciousness. Sisters will make us better women.

"Are you alright?" I ask the man. "Do you need something to eat?"

"I have a job," he wants me to know right away. "I just got drunk last night and so I decided to take the day off."

"I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

"I'm good. Thanks for stopping."

"Of course. Take care."

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ladders--A Public Service Announcement


"Mom's been in an accident."

My heart dropped.

"But she's safe and without injury. I just wanted you to know." Mom was okay, but Dad wasn't.

Mom and her sister were driving from San Diego to Santa Cruz for her niece's wedding, when they were side-smashed by another car. The offending car had swerved to miss a flying ladder. Mom and Aunt Brenda were fine: shaken and sore from the jolt; the car was totaled.

The accident happened several years ago, but while driving on the California Northbound 5 today, I was reminded of her accident. When I turned onto the freeway, the traffic should have been clear, but after driving for five minutes, it slowed and almost came to a stop. Oh no, I thought, this is going to be a very long trip if traffic is already at a standstill. As we creeped forward, I saw what had been the problem. A recently bent up and broken ladder was lying on the freeway. One part of it on the shoulder, the other half jutting into a lane. Thank goodness, it hadn't caused an incident besides a momentary traffic slow-down.

I wondered if ladder-problems on the freeway were common, and kept my eyes open for ladders. I passed an open bed truck with a ladder tied down by one yellow band. I then passed another ladder lying on the inside lane of the freeway. The only way it could have gotten there was from the back of someone's truck.

Tony and I once had to transport an immense painting in the back of a rented truck. Tony was fastidious and responsible in tying it down with tarps and rope. It wasn't ten miles outside the city when the ropes had loosened and we had to pull over and re-situate the painting. Less than another ten miles and we were once again pulled to the side of the road re-tying. We kept a close watch for the rest of the trip. We had thought the original packing was good enough, but the speed and freeway conditions proved otherwise.

I realize the audience of people reading this may not include anyone who drives around with a ladder in the back of his or her pick-up truck. Yet, after today's observations, I felt strongly compelled to send out a warning, but not only for loose ladders flying through the air during the morning commute.

I thought of other dangerous things that may fly from the back of our open bed trucks, or our minds and mouths: hurtful words.

Tie them down, pull over and tie them down again. Keep them in check for how easily they escape.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Embracing the Perfect Day

"There's no wind," Tony says after opening the shutters.

"You're right." What am I doing still in bed on a sunny windless morning? I throw on pants and a sweater and head down to the shore to make sure it's as good as I expect.

 The sea is calm and waves are coming in regular sets with a break in between.

Perfect. Inviting.

Not many days are perfect. When they are, one has to drop or rearrange and head for the water. Or the mountains, or the amusement park, the lake, the_______________(fill in the blank). Or discard the project and visit a friend; or hike to the waterfall with canvas and paint; or lay on the grass with Beethoven and Vivaldi or Shusaku Endo; or strike up a conversation with an admired acquaintance.

Perfect days are never guaranteed. They present themselves and if ignored, will vanish. Perfect days present themsleves in ways that only can be recognized by the person whose perfection it may be. We must make the decision to run with it or run away, or to stay tethered to the antithesis of what may be a perfect day.

I went with the perfect day. I struggled into my wet suit, carted the kayak down to the water, took a beating over a wave I didn't paddle fast enough past, but having embraced the perfect day, it started to exceed expectations. After meandering down the coast, I turned around and caught three perfect waves all the way to the shore.

Later that day, events confirmed the need to recognize and go for perfect opportunities---a bike flat tire, a head wind that made it almost impossible to ride, and a mixed up lunch order. All minor upsets but confirmation that indeed...

Perfect days are fleeting.

Monday, May 2, 2016

My Father's Face

When I arrived at the beach house, I walked into the master closet and noticed its emptiness except for the few jackets of Dad's hanging on the back rack. I was drawn to this corner and thumbed through those brand new and possibly never worn jackets. Dad had a penchant for buying nice jackets. He had no shortage of coats. I imagine having grown up in the 1930s with three older brothers who didn't hesitate to take his food, that he could have gone without a coat too. There were so many jackets when he died, and Mom tried to pass them out to the family members who would have appreciated them. My daughter and a son-in-law both ended up with brand new sheepskin coats and I took an older, worn sheepskin. With memories of him wearing this coat, I had it cut down so it came a little closer to fitting. I don't mind the matted down sheepskin in the sleeves and the stained leather at the wrist.

Next to the jackets, was a pair of pants. Why had Mom saved these? I touched the pants and felt a closeness and longing to see my father  again.

As time passes (it will be two years in August), his memory slightly fades. I don't think about him as much, which is a good thing as it became to painful to always have him on my mind. However, when I do think of him, the missing is more intense.

Last night I dreamed of him.

Yesterday, in my reading of Kenneth Cope's The Great Work of Your Life, I came upon the beliefs and practices of an admired colleague of Cope's, a Jungian analyst, Marion Woodward.

Marion was confronted with an unexpected challenge: cancer. The lessons that came from her fight resulted in new thoughts and profound wisdom. She deemed her cancer as what Carl Jung calls the "night sea journey."--the "journey into parts of ourselves that are split off, disavowed, unknown, unwanted, cast out , and exiled to the various subterranean worlds of consciousness." Marion, like Jung, believed that the way to discover these "exiled" parts was through dream analysis, which Jung taught were the "royal road to the unconsciousness," and that "dreams are the path--circular and meandering as it is-- to a knowledge of the exiled self."

I know very little about dream analysis, and frankly would be nervous to have my dreams analyzed. They are more often than not, inexplicable, complicated, and full of things I wouldn't even tell myself let alone a Jungian dream analyst. Yet, the coincidence of reading about dream analysis and dreaming of my father, paused me to ponder and wonder if my dream did indeed have meaning.

In my dream, I had come to visit my mother. In order to see my father, whom I understood at the time was living in a different place, I had to follow a series of clues to find him. My sister had set up the adventure and after taking two right turns,  I proclaimed to Mom that "Loraine always made two rights and then a left. I proceeded to the left where I had to push a button that ejected a card and then I had to scan the card under a beam of light. At this point, I could feel in both my dream like state and my conscious state the anticipatory excitement of seeing Dad. Mom made a phone call to him and at this point I realized he was just up the stairs. I meant to follow the last clue, but I skipped it and ran up the stairs. I had expected that Dad's condition would be worse than the last time I saw him. When I reached the top of the stairs, there he was! Standing. But his back was turned toward me and I never saw his face, because, I awakened.

By writing this, I discover I am trying to be own dream analyst. When I wrote, "never saw his face," it was a cut to my heart and I teared. Why couldn't I see his face? Why did my dream end before the moment I longed for? Why did I choose to wake up? Or did I have a choice?

For me, the dream was real.

What Jungian dream analysis doesn't account for (that I know of), is that dreams are also a conduit to God, an opening to sacred experience and revelation--exactly why dreams can be so bizarre too, because everything sacred is everything with a perverse opposite. What I believe as God may have been to Jung the connection to one's unconsciousness.

Through the dream, I had a real connection to my father in whatever realm he now exists. The difference in our places, that I now exist in a realm so different from his (but possibly not so far away), is what kept me from seeing his face; yet my lack of readiness or faith to actually see him, is the reason why I woke up right before I saw him---the moment he would have turned around and smiled a smile that would have broken my heart.

I want to pay greater attention to my dreams; I am not an innocent bystander to the road my dreams may take. I may drive those dreams with intention and faith. I admit I'm not ready, but someday, in my dreams, I believe is the possibility of seeing my father's face.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Good Story

Friday morning on my way to work, I was in a line of cars making its way west. It was that early morning traffic--everyone hurrying to a destination--one car in too much of a hurry. It anxiously idled on a side street waiting to cross the flow of traffic. When it pulled out, my danger sensor went off because there wasn't enough space for it to fit through. I slowed, and watched it swerve and nick the innocent car just moving along. A burst of plastic, glass, and steel erupted like a firework, but it brought no joy. I came to an almost complete stop and watched the offending car speed past. Not only did they make an irresponsible driving mistake, now they were speeding away from what would now be a crime scene. I wondered if I should make a quick u-turn, follow and get the license plate number. But then I remembered I wasn't a police officer, a private eye, but a school teacher who needed to be at school.

The hit car pulled to the side of the road; my student emerged from the passenger seat! Instant gratitude for her safety and for a minor collision. I pulled over to make sure she was okay and to see if she needed a ride to school since her brother was the driver.

She was a little shaken, but fine.

Both she and her brother were trying to call their parents but hadn't yet made a connection.

"You'll need to call the police since it's a hit and run and that's a crime."

Having done as much as I thought possible, I hopped into my car and headed to school--the first class on this half-day Friday was storytelling and I had a story to tell.

I started with the lesson and part way through, I mentioned the car accident. The class phone rang.

"Excuse me class, hello?"

The secretary on the other end of the line said, "We never interrupt teacher's classes with outside calls, but this woman says it's an emergency." It was my student's mother who was standing at the scene of the crime with a police officer.

I turned to my students, "The police are on the phone and want to talk to me." They all inched forward in their seats.

"Yes."
"Yes."
"Could you describe what happened?"
"Yes." I did.
"Can you describe the color of the car."
"Blue."
"The make of the car? Was it a Ford, a Chevrolet, a...."
"A Chevrolet."
"Can you give me your name?"
"Yes."
"Phone number?"
One student pulled out his notebook and pencil.
"Can you give me your date of birth."
Here is where I hesitated.
"Officer, there are 20 students all waiting to learn how old I am."
Justice doesn't deal in sympathy, but he did chuckle.
"5-5," and then I pretended to whisper into the phone. The students strained and leaned. I laughed and said with pride, "1960!"

Yet, another good, albeit rather long, story to tell.