Oceans take me home…

I recently returned from our family’s now annual trip to South Carolina’s coast. We all made it, four grandsons included, for a week of clear blue, cloud-dotted skies and cool nights. Ocean temperatures just shy of tepid bath water. October beaches call to me now more than summer. Tourists are gone.  The beach nearly deserted with only a handful of umbrellas and chairs sprinkling the shore.  Most inhabitants cottage owners and a few canine friends.

Paradise.

Ocean vacations have a special lure for me as they were the only vacations, other than a visit to a cousin or two, I took as a child. And as a family.  My dad would save up all year for one week at the beach. My brother and sister and I all rallied for this event even into college days.  The chosen beach was always a day’s drive away.  God forbid my dad would get on an airplane.  And my mother’s box of children’s books, quilts, pound cake and pile of hats would never fit in a carry-on anyway.

No our treks to the shore were an event.  An event I looked forward to from the moment the sea and salt air and seagulls faded in the distance to the moment I could see and feel them on the horizon again. I got this same feeling when I drove to the beach last month.  Dad-like in my fear of flying and mom-like in my desire to have all the comforts of home whenever possible, my car was filled to the brim with beach towels, beach toys, beach chairs, pillows, porta cribs and a case of bootlegged wine.  All that I schlepped across six state lines over three days.

And as soon as I saw my first seagull and the southern mica began to sparkle in the asphalt and brackish water filled roadside waterways, my heart began to pound with childlike excitement at what lay ahead and the treasured moments our week would most certainly hold.

My mind drifted back to rides I had taken with my family.  Same roads. Same peach stands. Same cotton fields. I was transported to the backseat of the family Dodge sedan. My older brother and sister asleep, or lost in their own thoughts, on either side of me and I wrapped in my favorite blanket, cozy laying across the backseat shelf. Yes, that was legal way back then. Untethered children could slip under the rear window and watch the evening sky whizz by.

In the quiet of the car dreaming of our days in the sun ahead, I could hear the faint crackle of static on the car radio as my dad tried to pick up a station on the backcountry roads.  I was lulled by the sound of mom and dad’s whispers as they talked most likely about nothing more than our mileage or the next turn. But their whispers seemed intimate and reassuring.

All seemed right in my world.

As my eldest grandson once said, “We are all a family, all on the church bus together.”  Where he got that is baffling to me as he at that point had never been on a bus much less a church bus. But he is like that.  He articulates feelings with insights beyond his years. And that one is exactly what I felt at that moment.

At the beach, the family magic continued. We ate out every night, something we never did at home.  Children’s menus and placemats to color felt like Christmas to me. We spent lazy days on the sand. Watched my dad burn his knees as he always did and insisted he wasn’t, made sand castles, watched fisherman cast their lines into the surf.  Walked the shore peeking in fish buckets for a glimpse of their catch. Rode the waves, took outdoor showers and slathered apple cider vinegar on our rosy skin for those of us who admitted we had gotten a little too much sun. Try it. I promise you will be brown by morning.

Going to bed smelling like Easter eggs and waking up to sugar-coated cereal, peanuts in the shell and store bought cookies, all rarities at home, the hours turned into days and the week inched toward the dreaded Saturday that meant cleaning up, packing up and heading back to reality.

I hear and feel those memories when I am at the beach now. I could reach out and touch that young family, those sacred trips. I see my mom or my dad or brother, all gone now, behind sunglasses, lounging on beach chairs, sifting the sand for shells. I hear them in the pound of the surf.  I sense them in the soft breezes and star lit skies.  They are all there. In my thoughts, in the laughter of my grandkids, in the dinner table chatter over boxes of carry-in.

They live on in the next generation. That circle of life is a comfort to me.

And I feel that hope and reassurance most by the sea.

 

“What was the name of that dog you had?”

I have been thinking about a comment my brother made a couple of autumns ago. He said, “It’s fall with it’s heartbreaking riot of color. A short and poignant season.”

That thought was particularly touching at the time since he was fighting a cancer battle that we all knew, including him, he would lose. And it has stuck in my mind since, especially now that days are shorter and leaves are starting to change. He has been gone a little over a year, and this observation as well as many things he said, are bubbling up on my mind at times when I search my brain to retrieve them and others when they just show up unexpectedly.

But unlike that cousin of an uncle on your father’s side who shows up at your door out of nowhere and stays too long, I welcome David’s words with open arms and wish I could hold him and his thoughts closer. Have them both stay a little longer. Forever. Truth be told, I’d take an hour or even fifteen minutes.  A one line text.

Recently, I have come to understand something my mother used to do that I never got. In fact, I thought it was silly or even a little compulsive.  She would write dates and names of of those in the picture on the back of all her photos. Similarly, she kept copious journals of daily events, not long, in depth thoughts or musings.  But simple logs of a trip or a visit from an old friend or a book she read. Just normal daily stuff.  If a journal wasn’t nearby, she would jot thoughts on 3×5 cards she kept by the phone in our living room. Or if one of her treasured books was at her fingertips, she would tuck a favorite thing inside for future readers to enjoy or a grandchild to discover forty years later. Which happened last night when my daughter opened The Language of Flowers, one of my mom’s favorite books.

Little did I know, she was giving us a gift I wish everyday I could receive more of. The gift of getting a person back for a moment.  To catch a glimpse into their thoughts, their longings, their soul. I suspect she knew then what I realize now. She lost a sister and her own mother way too young and she knew. She suffered those losses and she longed for that one afternoon. She understood all too well that once someone leaves you, there will be hundreds of things you would love to ask them that seemed trivial or mundane when you had them there beside you day to day.

So in her subtle, or even subconscious, way she was leaving breadcrumbs to lead us back to her on the days we thought we couldn’t bear another day without her. Or wondered what she might say or feel about a profound moment or something as simple as flower preferences.

My husband lost his sister twenty five years ago.  Recently at his niece’s wedding it came up in conversation that her given name was Florence Buffington but she was always called “Molly”.  Neither he or his brother or any family in attendance could answer the question of why. His parents both are dead as well as most of their generation. So there we sat playing guessing games with how one gets to Molly from a birth certificate that reflected nothing like it.

Twenty, even ten, years ago it would have taken a simple phone call. A question asked while passing in the hall before breakfast. But our own worries and challenges seem to leave little time for idle chats with those we love most. And too often we get stuck seeing no further than our own mirror.

We forget to take to time to look, really look at those closest to us and ask them what’s in their hearts. What they hope? What they dream? Their regrets. Their favorite ice cream flavor.

There is no way of knowing what we will miss about someone most until they are gone. Or what we forgot to ask. After my grandfather died, I longed to hear his voice so I have saved voicemails I can pull up when my heart can take it.

Ask. Ask again. Leave a trail.

So that someday, some child won’t open a musty, dust-covered photo album and point to your face in a group shot and say, “Who was she again, mama?  What was her name?”

 

 

Life through my living room window

There is a question that has been plaguing me lately. Not really a question. Perhaps more of an observation.

When did everyone get so old?

Athletes like Jack Nicklaus, dashing princes such as Prince Philip, heart throbs like Robert Redford–even perkiest of perkies Sally Field–are over 70, some a decade or two more.

I watch current movies and the sex symbols of my youth like Jessica Lange are now playing grandmothers, not femme fatales. King Kong’s object of affection is now a Nanna?

Men I used to think of as the hot dads at elementary school spring sings now have a head full of gray and tote grandchildren to these events.

Most notably watching this slow progression to the grave has started through my living room window. For thirty years I have seen the same faces walk past my house to ride the morning and evening trains to the city from our suburb.

Folks who used to jog to the train bouncing by my house with backpacks now shuffle by, humped over dragging their ancient briefcases. Some park outside my house to save the half-mile walk. Same faces. Same people. Just an image and persona that’s older. Tired.

It’s as though I have watched Shakespeare’s Seven Stages of Man performed right out my front door.

Recently, we took our kids out to dinner for my son’s birthday. Being the hip mom that I am, I planned a pub crawl of sorts and at the first stop, the bouncer asked for ID’s.  Without blinking, I said I didn’t have mine. He gently patted my shoulder and said with a smile, “Don’t worry, we are letting minors in tonight.” He might have well asked to see my AARP card and offered me a walker. I knew I should have left my Ray Bans on a minute longer and taped my loose neck skin behind my ears.

I was standing in a children’s shoe department a few days later looking for Natives for my grandsons. (Natives are the new Crocs.) Their display is my least favorite merchandising idea of all time. They have each pair attached by cardboard hangers on long hooks off a pegboard with at least eight pairs to a hook. And the size you need is invariably in the back. So most often as you reach for your size, the entire line of shoes fall off to the floor or worse, the whole metal peg detaches from the wallboard and you are left with six pairs of rubber shoes dangling on the metal pole like you just played Go Fish for Keds at the county fair.

Anyway, as I reached for the size 11 , sizes 6 through 10 went tumbling to the floor, piles of colorful rubber rolling in all directions. I looked down and staring up at me was a miniature human no taller than my knee with saucer-sized blue eyes. “What happened here?” he asked earnestly, offering me a single capped toe orange shoe.

And I thought, “Man are you right, tiny person.”

What did happen here? Where are my babies and how I am shopping for grandkids?  Can tempus fugit  please stop? Or at least slow to a nice stroll?  Can I just take a deep breath before I am the face in old family pictures where the next generation asks, “Who is that again?”

I remember my mom saying in her 80’s that she looked in the mirror at a face that didn’t match the 18 -year -old girl that lived in her heart.  And maybe that’s the secret to aging.  Keeping your youthful joy in your soul.

It makes me think of one of my sister’s favorite quotes by Albert Camus:

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”

Invincible summer. What a great name for a season.

 

 

 

Anger

I’ve been thinking lately about anger.  Where it comes from and who I am really mad at when it boils up inside of me. I just finished a 21 day meditation with Oprah and Deepak online. (Like Adele, last names not needed.) It was my third round of meditations with those two.  Since Oprah thinks she has reached enlightenment and Deepak appears to actually have, I thought it was a combo worth trying for a meditation neophyte like myself. The idea of stopping for ten minutes to breathe deeply and clear your head has always intrigued me, but I have also dreamed of being 5’11” or 21 again, so go figure concerning the general practicality of the thoughts that fly though my brain minute to minute.

Meditation I thought, and now believe, can bring a calmer, more reflective outlook on life rather than a knee-jerk reaction to events or people. And my quickest responses to upsetting situations is most often anger. What confuses me about anger is that it is seldom directed at the correct person or situation.  And often I realize, the person I am angriest at is myself.

As a child,  I was angry when I received Poor Pitiful Pearl for Christmas (not kidding, look her up: http://www.dollinfo.com/pitifulpearl.htm) when my playmates got Barbies. I was angry I wasn’t Shirley Temple after hours of practice dancing up and down our basement stairs and laborious, stinky Toni perms. I was angry I was number 11 in my high school graduating class when the top ten were featured in the newspaper. Childish resentments perhaps but I was angry nonetheless.

In therapy sessions sprinkled throughout my adulthood, I worked though some of those childhood slights and tried to heal my bruised inner child as Oprah and Deepak suggested I do. So now, I wouldn’t call myself an angry person. But maybe a closet resenter is more appropriate.

Like many of us, I resent unfairness, injustice, incompetent politicians and those who function with a myopic view, often no further than their own nose.

But on a day-to-day basis, I resent people and situations that don’t reflect my view of the world and how we all should act or interact. What I think should happen, how I think a person should react, how I want to remember my past and what I want for my future is not what I always find when my expectations meet reality.

When those two don’t match up, I am disappointed. And too often when I am sad or hurt or disappointed, I get angry. And anger, like failing to forgive, hurts you much more than the object of your anger. It raises your blood pressure, interrupts your sleep and makes you look much worse than the person or situation you are attempting to dress down.

Anger is ugly.  Spewing vitriol looks and sounds ugly.  And although harsh words often reflect a deeper pain, the message they send does nothing to heal or fix underlying feelings. In fact most often, they push the receiver further away. And give you a heavier load to carry in your backpack of anger and resentment.

Throughout my meditation experience, the underlying theme seems to always drift back to letting go. Letting go of expectations of others, letting go of judgment, letting go of the past, letting go of worry about the future. While meditating, my goal is to stay in the present.  The exact time and place you are in at that moment.  That is a tall order for someone who functions with at least an eighteen track mind where my thoughts always seem to be speeding and colliding and intersecting.

But I stop.  I make time.  And I try.

Deepak would say, and I agree, that meeting others where they are, rather than where you expect them to be, with compassion and hope is life altering. For me, putting that attitude into my everyday life would be a game changer.

I do believe that accepting life as it actually unfolds, rather than how you have planned it, keeps you in the present. Where the real stuff happens. Where the living is really done.

And offers a life of more joy. And less anger.

 

 

 

 

 

Gracie

Visiting by brother toward the end of his life, when he was under Hospice care, I found myself thinking as I  turned the corner to enter his corridor, “What should we chat about today?” It’s a weird transition to get to that point with family where, because of  the elephant in the room, we think ahead occasionally of discussion topics.

Not that the depth of the relationship is any different but with terminal illness there is so much medical stuff to discuss, that talking about the weather seems trite.  But heavier life/death discussions seem a waste of precious breath at this point.

So as I entered his room I said, “I got a dog.”  And my bother, who after recent treatment was functioning with half  his brain power which for most people would feel perfectly normal on a good day said, “A dog? Why would you do that?”  And I said, “Why not?” And he said, “Because it is a dog.”

We both laughed and I have thought about that conversation many times since my year-old Gracie entered our lives.  She seemed so simple and sweet and the perfect addition to our family when I purchased her.

We “rescued” her actually but as my husband loves to remind me, she is the most expensive rescue dog on earth. She was purchased as a purebred by a woman who mistreated her and then rescued and trained by a lovely woman who trains service dogs.  She’s actually head of the National Association for Service Dogs.  So when I “rescued” Gracie, she was a certified emotional support dog and came with a pretty big price tag. But who doesn’t need emotional support and with my brother dying, I surely did.

So I brought this dog home and all was well. She was my little bundle of grace that I needed at the time and by little, I mean eight pounds and a handful of ounces little, so how much dog trouble could she be?  As it turned out, rescuing a dog at eight months right before the holidays gives you little time to spay a dog. So when she went into heat, which in my part of the country is like saying you just married your first cousin, I remembered what my brother said and thought how “doglike” of her to go into heat without checking with me first.

I even went to the vet to discuss this heat thing, which we are now on week seven of, and the vet after my first question said, “Honestly, I don’t get these questions often.  Ninety percent of our dogs…”

Point taken.  Point confirmed that I am a hillbilly owner in a neutered world.

In this part of the country, we go to the anti-cruelty society for mutts. We don’t breed them. Dogs don’t just show up one day with a litter under the basement stairs like my childhood pet, Chips, did. I know, go figure. Male name. Female dog. No wonder my sweet mama was surprised by the pups. I’ve joked with friends that with all the “fixed” dogs in my neighborhood the only chance Gracie will get pregnant is if a coyote slips in the yard. Which God forbid they have been known to do now and then as we live near a heavily wooded forest preserve.

Which brings me to another interesting tidbit. The east coast has recognized a new breed of animal in the last decade or so. A coywolf. And no, I’m not kidding. Over a century ago, as wolves were nearing extinction, nature took it upon itself to preserve this species by having them interbreed with dogs and coyotes. All with similar DNA, this new “species” has produced enough offspring to be recognized as a newly evolved animal. Ten percent dog and the other ninety wolf and coyote, these coywolves run in packs, combining a dog’s fearlessness of humans with the open prairie instincts of a coyote and the woodland preferences of the wolf. Before you think just I’m blowing smoke, read for yourself.

http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21677188-it-rare-new-animal-species-emerge-front-scientists-eyes?fsrc=scn/tw/te/pe/ed/greaterthanthesumofitsparts

These animals are roaming closer and closer to urban settings and survive on rodents and small animals. Rodents, cats, squirrels. Small mammals as in little white dog. Like the one in my view, in my yard, off-leash as I type. Guess I’m two for two in flunking Rescuer 101. Fenceless yard.  Allowed heat.

Male dog magnet, fences, vet visits, coyote bait, tripped-over chew toys at every turn.

A dog? Why would anyone want a dog?

Because in spite of her messy little problem and her penchant for toppling wastebaskets and barking at the wind, she loves me best– completely and unconditionally. And on my lonely days when I miss my brother most, she finds a warm spot on my lap and licks my face if I cry.

That’s why.

Full Circle

I wait for blogs to come to me. I hope for them.  When I go months without one, I feel guilty as though I have failed my readers. That is silly, of course.  Really.  I am not your weekly anticipated op-ed or Anna Quindlen column.

But God, how I’d love to be.

babiesTonight I had dinner with old friends at a cozy local pub. Soon after we sat down, talk drifted to our grandchildren. And other friends walking by chimed in about theirs and iphones flew out, pictures were passed around, voices became more animated and joy was shared.

I thought.  Oh my.  We have come full circle.

One of the ladies at the table was a friend who used to hitchhike about the country. Alone and uninhibited. Blonde and happy and free as a bird. Male drivers, female drivers, pick ups trucks, semis–nothing daunted her.  Her baby pictures were the first to show up.  Hers were some of the proudest. From seventies liberated chick to grandmother. Just like that. A blink. A blur.

I ordered Christmas cookies this year, as I did last, from my college suite mate who was the sassiest girl I had ever met at that point in my life  She wore a kimono as her robe and sang like an angel in the shower.  She snuck boys up the fire escape in an all female dorm. I adored her spunk. Her cigarettes.  Her joie de vivre. She was exotic. And now she is back home with her beloved mama making hand-cut sugar cookies. She even admitted to me recently, she doesn’t like to “merge” on highways and often takes the backroads.

Another high school buddy, who had her share of uninhibited youthful escapades, makes sausage now. Like her daddy. And her grandfather. And probably his. She is the backbone of her community and works hard for clean water and fair trade and lends a generous hand to all those who need it. When the city’s main water source was polluted by corporate monsters for months, she and her Uncle Dewey handed out crates of free bottled water from her factory dock.

We all rebel in some way, at some time against all we needed, loved and believed in. And then, most often in the end, we do what we know.  We come back.  We come back to some part of those who loved us best. Who shaped us. Gave us the chutzpah to stick out our thumbs on a freeway or buy a pack of Winstons on the sly.

And if we don’t return, we miss it.  Even if the people that formed us broke our hearts or, intentionally or unintentionally, tried to take our souls. Messed with our minds or confused us. Inspired us to turn right when our hearts craved what the enticing left offered.

We miss that familiar sound of the familiar. And we come back.

It’s a good thing to come home to that intrinsic part of ourselves. For me, it keeps me sane. I often joke that I open my mouth and my mother talks. I view a situation in a way I never did before and I hear her voice in my head. I look in the mirror and remember her saying her reflection didn’t match the 25-year-old girl that still lived in her heart.

And now I understand.

I understand her unabashed adoration for her grandchildren because I have my own now.  I understand the joy of loving a child, a tiny human miracle, without the angst of making it perfect or changing its dreams. No desire to guide its direction in life. Just a heart full of boundless love and awe. Grandchildren are our gift for our own sleepless nights and driver’s license tests and “wherearetheywhenwilltheycomehomewhydonttheycall.”

They are our gift for hanging in there.  Through medical crises, marriage crises, death, disappointment, loss and renewal. These babies are a welcome tonic for the unsettling understanding that we are the older generation now. With few left to look up to and seek for guidance. But many to thank and look back upon with grateful hearts and a new understanding of how hard it is to do all of this gracefully.

Now it is our turn to be the guide. And sometimes just watch it happen.

Because that’s how people and traditions and families survive.  And hope remains.

We pass the baton to the new ones.  The next generation. Whether they are our own babies or students or neighbors, these fresh, innocent faces are who will bring on the future. Embrace it and love it. Mold it to make their own version of history.

And hopefully, occasionally, they will hear our voices in their heads.

Carpe Diem

david-for-paperWell I suppose I should rename my blog to a quarterly newsletter as the past few months might reflect that change in pace. But with fall in the air and grandchildren back in school, I find myself sitting at my computer. Hoping to return to at least a monthly entry.

The past year has been a bit of a blur to be honest. Both my mother and my brother died over the last twelve or so months, my brother six weeks ago. Losing your mother at 92 is life changing but a bit expected. Losing a sibling is another thing altogether. Especially this sibling.

David was a true individual.  True to himself and his own set of values. He spent everyday of his life with a lust for learning, living and taking it all in at his own pace. He didn’t waste a second of his life being bored. Carl Jung said, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” It was as though David was born with that understanding and enjoyed the freedom to be who he was meant to be, at birth, by the stars, every day he lived.

Nothing he loved more than bantering with friends and family. He was witty with an uncanny ability to tell a story and laugh at himself as easily as the situation. He was entertaining and easily entertained by a broad spectrum of interests. A gifted English literature scholar, he was often voted Professor of the Year.

He was a romantic who saw the world in soft focus as well as full of truths and ironies. He could be a crusty curmudgeon who covered a soft and sentimental heart.  Never simple, often complicated, being around my brother was an adventure. Whether telling a story or living it, he pulled you in for the ride.

And ride we did over the past year.  My husband called it his farewell tour. David loved water. So we traveled to oceans and lakes for holidays and getaways.  We always had something on the calendar to look forward to.

David approached death as he did most other things. Head on.  Early in his diagnosis, when we all had this faint but persistent hope that the doctors were mistaken, we sat on my sister’s front porch and planned his funeral. Actually, he planned his funeral and I wrote his obituary.  I even read what I wrote and he listened and smiled. And added a line.

His memorial service was as individual as my brother including his love of literature as well as Doo-Wop music. A secular gathering, we had five songs and five poems. Starting with A. E. Housman’s  Loveliest of Trees followed by Maurice Williams’s 50’s single, Stay, profound simply in its title, we ended with the Ronettes singing Be My Baby. With Pavarotti and Shakespeare thrown in the middle for good measure. There was some dancing, some clapping, some tears and laugher. The event celebrated the life and personality of my one-of-a-kind brother.

David had an unflinching distain for any sort of authority.

He fought traffic cops, dress codes, deans, job interviewers, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, anyone who told him “no.” But death was an authority he could not defy.  But damn if he didn’t do an incredible job of trying.  When they gave him six months to live, he lived fourteen.  When they warned of dramatic side effects of treatment, he would have none of it.

He took his prognosis with a grace and dignity I am not sure I possess, but he certainly showed me how it is done. Part of his stoicism, resignation was that he knew, from the first test, that 50 years of smoking his Vantage Blues had brought him to this moment. But far beyond that, he dove in, took what was prescribed and with every fiber in his being, lived every second he had left. And lived it fully.

No self pity. No complaining. No “what ifs.”  Only “what nows.”

And he “nowed” the hell out of every breath he took until his last. Bald and too thin, he never lost his sass.  His sly grin, his sense of humor, his love of the moment always shone through.

Every nurse who cared for him was a little in love with him. He never lost “it.”

That intangible, beautiful, sometimes frustrating, always intriguing thing that was David.

I only heard him utter one sentence of sadness about his plight. We were sitting on the beach in Florida, a cloudless cerulean sky on the horizon and sweet, sea breezes rustling the palms. He said, looking outward not at me, “It’s much easier to think of dying in the bleakness of winter than it is at a moment like this.”

I miss him.  I miss him every day.  But he gave me something.  Something huge. He reminded me that life is to be lived, not worried about, over-analyzed and most importantly, it is not to be lived on someone else’s terms.

You only get this one chance.  One try at this living thing. And I am working on a shift.

A carpe diem shift.  More salt water in my hair.  No guilt for staying up too late to watch Dirty Dancing one more time on Bravo. Pushing on when fear holds me back.

Living as the authentic person I was born to be, the one I was meant to be.

I want to find her.  And live her unafraid so that when I come to my last breath, I can close my eyes and see all that I did, loved, dreamed of and hoped for. I want a parade of beautiful memories. Opportunities embraced. Failures accepted.

A life of carpe diem.

 

Holding tight and letting go

baby stauntonIt’s a funny thing, this life.  Full of ups and downs and twists and turns.  And the older I get, the more I feel I have little to say in which direction it takes.

As a kid, I thought it would be the opposite.  If I got good grades, went to church, brushed my teeth, came home on time, I had this illusion that I had some say in what would happen to me.

If I was good, life would be good.

And for awhile, actually, it worked for me.  I got my A’s, my teeth didn’t fall out and I was rarely, if ever, grounded. I was surrounded by good friends, my home was a safe haven. I had much more than food and shelter.  I had love and security.

Now forty some years later, I am fortunate to say I still have most of that. My teeth included, give or take an implant or two. But there has been a major shift in my thinking.

This world we live in is both fragile and solid, turbulent yet predictable. And I have come to understand it is all more out of my control than within it. Much to my surprise, that realization has been more liberating than frightening. Accepting that fate or God or something much larger than my little finite mind can imagine is at the helm, has started me on a journey of letting go.

I am trying to stay in the moment, with the joy or pain and just live it as it happens. Appreciating the present which is after all, the only thing we can really be sure of.

Since my last post I have been busy living plenty of beautiful moments.  My eldest had her third baby, her third boy, who melts my heart and lightens my days.  My son, who fourteen years ago I worried would not live to be married much less have a child, just had a son who shares his name and gentle disposition. This expanding brood is a gift.  And brings me peace and solace amidst the storm of the daily news.

My brother who was given months to live a year ago, just celebrated another birthday. He surprised his doctor and himself. We know he won’t beat this thing but he is showing me how to fight it with grace and dignity.

Moments. Savored moments in between the stuff we think is so daunting but in our hearts know is not. Too many days of rain or parking lot scratches on our car or Murphy’s Law lines at the grocery store.  Just stuff.

My son and his son and I had a spontaneous, quiet afternoon yesterday.  It was a rare day for Chicago summers. Clear and crisp. Little humidity for mid-July. Breezy verging on windy per the city’s reputation. We took a long walk in his neighborhood. Places we have never walked, just he and I, since he moved in three years ago. I knew it was a moment.  I relished it.  Every step.

And after a couple hours of walking and talking and stopping and cooing over his beautiful boy, a half block from his house, out of nowhere, without a snap or a crack or a bit of warning, a healthy huge tree limb crashed to the sidewalk fifteen feet in front of us. We were both taken aback. Startled out our placid little stroll.

We stopped and almost in unison we asked what was it that we did in those couple hours that put us twenty seconds behind that limb, not under it?  Was it the second pair of jeans I tried on at the 75% off sale, or when he insisted I step onto his knee to hoist me up to see over the picket fence of his favorite house in the neighborhood?

I looked to the heavens and said, ” Thank you, Mama!”  My agnostic son did not laugh or chide.

We walk through this world thinking we have some control and out of nowhere we can be stopped in our tracks. Or spared.

The now.  That’s what we have.  I’m trying to live there.

Staying there is my challenge. Unfortunately, it takes something within my feeble reach but something I often cannot muster up.

Self control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring

robinI have been  thinking about a post on spring.  And the problem is, it’s hard to muse on spring without sounding trite. The mounds of crusty, black snow have melted. The air feels a bit fresher. The sound of birds chirping wafts in morning breezes. (Insert visions of the bluebirds tying ribbons in Cinderella’s hair here. Darting in and out of her open window.  Sheer white curtains dancing in the wind.)

Daffodils and crocuses are popping though damp, brown earth. The hope of grass and the smell of green and summer is in the air.

I saw my first robin a few weeks ago.  I asked her if she was my mother. No kidding.  I did.  I have been looking for mom in nature. She loved it so and I have had the hardest time finding or feeling her since her death.  My dad was much easier.  I could smell the scent of his Old Spice, the comfort of his hand on my knee on a turbulent plane flight.  I could hear his words of counsel when I was confused or longing or lonely.  He’s been with me these past ten years.

But mom just looked out that nursing home window and closed her eyes and poof!  She was gone. It’s the strangest thing. But not really.  Mom always was more ethereal. Whimsical and unpredictable. Almost childlike in her ability to conjure up magic in a moment. Dreamy. And a bit elusive.  Dad on the other hand was solid. Given to rituals. Clocklike in his predictability.

With the anniversary of her death a couple weeks away, I have a feeling this spring she will appear.  Unexpected, I will feel or see her. In something she loved or felt or shared.  A cup of tea.  A moss-covered rock. I remember once, as a child, we had a field mouse in our house and instead of setting a mouse trap, she drew a picture of a tiny door on the baseboard of my room and told me bedtime stories of the adventures of Mr. Mouse and his family and their secret life inside the walls of our home.  Dad would have had a broom or a shovel after that rodent faster than mom could have said “Once upon a time,” but for weeks, it seemed, our little friend lived under my closet door.

And my imagination soared higher with each new tale of his adventures.

So perhaps mom has been busy whispering her angel magic into the ears of little ones everywhere. Telling them they will be OK after a tumble.  Loving them after a bully calls them “stupid” or just holding them close when they are afraid.

That was her strength.  That is what made her special.  Her ability to love openly and unashamed in a fearless, endearing way. And I’m thinking, that is who she has been busy with as she finds her way to whatever world her spirit will settle in.

Or more like mom, she will stay in the wind. In rebirth. In joy. In unguarded laughter and chance meetings, coincidences that aren’t really. Things that happen that we are too busy to stop and notice.

Things we miss if we are not listening to the rustle in the grass. The whispers in the wind.

But I am going to try to stop.  Or at least slow down.  And notice.

And to be as sappy as a Hallmark card writer on Mother’s Day, I’ll remember the words to the Cinderella’s song she sang to her birds as they chirped and fawned and made her bed and tied her bows:

“A dream is a wish your heart makes.  When it’s fast asleep…No matter how your heart is grieving if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish for comes true.”

Politically Correcting the Holidays

PC cartoonSo I have been thinking about my older grandson’s “Winter Sing.” I missed the younger’s “Winter Gathering” but the name alone was enough to keep me away. Felt like just another euphemism for tip toeing around the holidays in the schools.

The “Winter Sing” was definitely politically correct, perfectly bland, weirdly instructive but pretty much as they had billed it. We were there to celebrate winter.

Well, sort of.

 

Themes for each K-4 performance, to avoid stepping on any religious toes, were things like winter safety, the woeful demise of Native American homeland and immigration and entry at Ellis Island during the early 1900’s. Very cheery stuff to sing about, right? The songs were preceded by a short video produced by the classroom depicting their subject matter.

The first video included local firemen cautioning the children about falling through thin ice on ponds and lakes. A pediatrician’s nurse giving great detail concerning prevention of and proper care for frostbite. The school superintendent spoke about the necessity of school closings in inclement weather to keep the little ones safe inside, away from sub-zero temperatures and dangerous windchills.

I know.  I wouldn’t believe it either if I hadn’t watched with my own wondering eyes.

Next up was an uplifting series of old black and white photos of sad, hungry Native Americans ravaged by aggressive, selfish western settlers.  Dead buffalo.  Empty mud huts. And just when you thought is was safe to come out of those bleak and dreary woods, the third graders enlightened us about the horrors of the long boat ride for European emigrants to come to the United States. They spoke of disease and food shortages on the vessels. First class accommodations vs. lower class steerage. And ended with the saddest pictures of doctors turning twelve-year-olds away at Ellis Island if they were too sick to enter the country.  Sent back to their native land alone after mom and dad had passed the test and stayed.

At this point, my five-year-old was sucking his fingers and looking like he had seen a ghost and the three-year-old was cuddled into my underarm holding on for dear life.

Seriously, I’m not exaggerating here. You can’t make up shit better than this.

Somewhere between the slideshows there were some songs thrown in. I recall a version of the Pow Wow the Indian Boy theme song replete with tom toms sans headdresses. There might have been “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” God knows how his light bulb nose and Santa paws slipped into this thing. I know for sure we sang “Dreidel Dreidel.” To which an anonymous donor behind me whispered, ” It’s a folk song, not a Hanukkah song.” A fact I cross-referenced with my dear friend, an Orthodox Hispanic Guatemalan Jew. Yes, she really is. She without hesitation said “Dreidel Dreidel” is indeed a Hanukkah song. Guess that spun by the critics with old Rudolph.

The last performance was the fourth grade chorus in tie-dyed T-shirts singing “Don’t Worry Be Happy.”  Probably the only program choice in the entire sing that was appropriate. Because that was the one thing they did get across very well.  Worry.

So all in all, it was a mishmash of all things cold and woeful in winter and nothing vaguely cheery or bright or holiday.

As I left holding my grandsons’ hands and musing over what we had really just witnessed, a mother beside me turned and said, “I heard it was heavy.”  I nodded and pondered which direction had the closest ice cream sundaes with whipped cream Santa hats.

As chance would have it, I passed the director and said something subtle like, “You certainly covered some serious subjects in there.” To which he responded, “It’s important to be relevant in our teaching moments.”

Well on that one I have to disagree, Mr. Director.  What does a “Winter Sing” have to do with teaching or relevance much less Native Americans and Ellis Island? Can’t we just jump in that old one horse open sleigh and sing some happy songs? Dash through the snow and not worry about sinking into an icy pond or the tips of our fingers turning blue?  All of us in it together, bundled up and rosy-cheeked. With our Santa hats, yamakas and burkas blowing in the wind singing all of our beloved songs.

Celebrating our diversity rather than avoiding it.

Instead we celebrated nothing at all.

I’m pretty sure my grandsons can’t hum a thing they heard that day but I feel confident they remember the hot cocoa and candy cane cupcakes we had after.

Nothing like a good sugar rush to erase all evils.

I think for next year’s sing, I’ll stay home and watch paint dry. Or maybe the Kardashian’s. Vacuous as they are, at least they say anything they feel and think. About anyone or anything they think about.

I mean, of course, in between trips to the bank and reinflating their fish lips.