Extraordinary – Ordinary

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My life is filled with ordinary life stuff. Like many people, I work full time, I have children full time, I do more in a week than I generally want to, and sleep way too little. I’m not proud of this, I just haven’t mastered the art of doing it differently. Maybe someday.

We are tired this week – things have been I suppose a bit busier than usual, and there’s this last (I hope) big wave of winter before spring arrives finally. We’re all cranky. The cats are underfoot and snarling at each other (mostly the big one at the baby one) because who wants to be inside anymore, and outside is still cold, damp, icy and unappealing.

And my teen, who is largely pretty solid these days, has  been melting a bit.  My ability to cope well with this at the end of the day varies widely depending on how rested and solid I’m feeling – not much these days.

But somehow, in that tired, too late and we should all be in bed already mid-week moment, I was able to pull it out. And we all ended up in her room, me telling stories of my youth (she knows most of them already, the little one hasn’t heard them all yet), and in particular, the one where my cousins and my brother and I were playing funeral, because we had a record of dreary ballet music that worked so well for this. And my brother, the “deceased” fell asleep face down on the bed (why was he face down?) and we thought he really died and scared the daylights out of my mom and aunt, innocent to our antics and having coffee in the kitchen.

And the little one laughed so hard that she shook, and the big one smiled and asked for stories about the things that sucked for me when I was her age. Because puberty and being a teenager really sucks sometimes, when everything is changing, and you begin to lose the stuff of childhood, but haven’t gained adulthood yet. I remember this so well. She is so much braver, tougher, and more confident than I was at that age, that I can easily forget that this time can be hard on her. That was a very lost and lonely time for me, and I can’t think of much of anything from then I’d repeat. So it’s good to remember where she is now, even when she seems strong.

And last night, she voluntarily came into the kitchen and we made dinner together, something she hasn’t done without serious prodding in ages.  And we laughed and talked about what is important in her world these days.

My life is ordinary, but filled with these beautiful rich, ordinary moments. Moments I’m likely to forget, as time goes by.  But moments I know are absolutely precious and to me, extraordinary.

Degrees of Separation – How close is close enough?

In this week+ after the horrendous shooting at at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland , FL, I have been pondering what the hell does someone like me do or say about something like this?

I vote. I vote for gun control and the candidates who support it. I make some calls (not enough). My children participate in the lockdown drills that are now mandatory 4 times per school year in our district. I talk to my daughters about them, about why we do them. About what to do if this comes to their school. I talk to them about kindness and about speaking out. None of this is enough.

And I stare at this messy pile of boots and shoes in my entry.  The one that exasperates me, that I’m constantly reminding them to pick up and put in the bins. And I think about the parents who have lost their children in these preventable ways, and how many of them have messy boot piles, and dirty laundry piles, and all the stuff of living with and raising children.  And they will pick these up one last time and never get to do it again, or maybe want to leave it there forever, because they never get to do it again. And my heart breaks for these parents, the siblings, all the people who lost their loved one in these preventable ways.

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Also, I remember.

I remember sitting with my good friends in the days just after the Sandy Hook elementary massacre in December 2012. Sitting with them, still dazed from the loss of my mother a few months earlier, as they prepared to go do the impossible, travel to Newtown to comfort their friends, who lost a child that day. I remember talking with them afterward, I remember the palpable devastation that clung to them when they returned. I’m sure they have not forgotten.

The details of this belong to the family who lost their child, to my friends who lived it with them , this not my story to tell, except for the impact on me. I remember thinking, oh my God. I’ve met the mother of this child, when she visited with her older son, when all of our oldest children were toddlers. I sat on my friend’s living room floor and had tea and watched our children play. I remember thinking, how does this woman, this mother who lost her child in this unthinkable, preventable way, get up in the morning? How does she eat, shower, care for her other child? How does she remember to breathe or even want to? How does she do any of these things even now, when it’s still freaking happening? This is three degrees of separation from me. Not me, not my child, not my friend’s child, but the child of their friends, someone I’ve met. This is close, this is way too freaking close, this is close enough.

I’ve been sitting back, watching the reactions this week on Facebook as much as I can bear (which isn’t much these days), and engaging minimally. I’ve read and shared some good articles and opinions, I’ve been moved by the students who survived this and now refuse to be complacent. I’ve been watching with stunned fascination at some of the commentary by a few friends and acquaintances that range from suggesting that we arm veterans and teachers in schools to some completely whacked out conspiracy theories to scorning the Tide-Pod eating teens who want to challenge the 2nd amendment. And I wonder why, at 46, these types of reactions still shock me, and whether there’s anything to be said here.

This is a question I’ve asked myself repeatedly.  Is it worth my breath to engage when I see something like this? And if I don’t, am I complicit, and aren’t I just preaching to the choir? And let’s be honest, I’m mostly surrounded by my choir, and I’m good with that. If I’m frank, what I need to admit is that I don’t trust myself to respond here. In situations like this, my frustration and anger surface and I know that my sharpness and judgment don’t build bridges or solve anything. I saw a friend of mine respond gently and beautifully to something completely asinine just yesterday, and it humbled me. I have something to learn there. I’m watching and trying to learn so I can be a more effective part of the conversation.

The current rhetoric is that we have to come together somehow, to talk it out, to find common ground, and I don’t disagree with this.  But I think we have enough common ground to enact change. Current polls show that more Americans than not favor stronger gun control laws. As for those who don’t, well I don’t want to try sway you. You have to find your own way here, through whatever is binding you to the problem, rather than being part of the solution. Some of you are doing this on your own. I will say just this. I hope this never comes close to you.  I’m going to do what I can to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’m going to do my best to help push us all forward and leave you behind if you won’t come along.

When I first see all of this, I lose heart, and I’ve been stuck there  for awhile. I look at the ugly corruption in our political system, well exemplified by the fool at the top, and down through the ranks. And I lose heart. I vote and it feels like a waste. And I lose heart. I listen to fools with no apparent wisdom in them sound off. And I lose heart.

So now I want to preach to the choir, and maybe mostly to myself, and say now is the time To Find Heart, To Take Heart. To Not Back Down. To stop saying what I do doesn’t help, and just keep showing up in any way, large or small, until we make this better.

When I slow down a bit, and breathe, I see it. Change is on the wind, I can smell it like I can smell a hint of spring in the air when I step outside today.  The world is shifting and unlike many, I have faith in this generation that is coming of age now. They are different than we were, they’re supposed to be, they are shaped by evolving challenges and circumstances, and they are responding. Change is inevitable, integral to life. Someday, we will look back on this as we do on so many shameful parts of our history where we waited too long to demand change, and say this too is part of our shameful past, and but no longer our present. And it may well not be completely solved, we are still addressing the flaws, but we’re heading in the right direction. And I will not take in the words of fools who say there’s nothing to be done, that common sense regulation won’t help. I am not that fool.

If you need a little motivation To Find Heart, some good reads….

Fuck You, I Like Guns, from Anastasia Bernoulli. Smart, on point opinion on why we need to ban assault rifles, from someone, who, unlike me, understands weapons and their appeal. I appreciate this educated perspective – given the opportunity, I’d love to buy her a cup of coffee, or a beer, or both.

The AR-15 is Different, from Heather Sher, radiologist who read the scans of the Parkland victims, on how these injuries differ from those inflicted by handguns and, again, why we should ban them.

Dan Rather’s moving Facebook post in support of those working for this change. I grew up on Dan Rather, and I’m grateful still for his voice today, for shedding some light when all can feel so dark.

And, if you’re overwhelmed and not sure what to do, check out Jennifer Hoffman’s American’s of Conscience site where you can sign up for a weekly email of actionable items.

Be well friends, and Find Heart, Take Heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perspective

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

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Not my driveway.

This morning, oh Monday morning, in January, no less. I went outside after breakfast was complete to begin loading the car, and discovered that the lower half of my driveway somewhat resembled an ice rink.

In my quest to love (or not hate) winter and enjoy it with my children, I’m rediscovering a fondness for ice skating. But I like to do it with skates on, preferably on a rink or well groomed pond. My driveway at 7am, on a Monday, in work clothing, not so much.

“Crap,” I said to myself, because I needed to salt the driveway, which I hadn’t factored into my morning schedule. And I came inside to tell the girls to please move toward brushing hair and teeth. I say girls, but really I mean the small one, who needs constant prodding these days to get out the door. “I’ll be outside, salting the driveway so we don’t slip on all the ice,” I stated, only a little grumpily, considering.

“Ice!”  The small one piped up. And proceeded to brush her teeth and hair and pull on boots and coat at record speed. Because, well, ice! Ice isn’t a slightly scary bother to be dealt with when you’re six years old. Ice is cool, cold actually, and fun. It’s slippery and slidy and you only need boots to have fun on it.

Which she did for a few minutes before we got into car.  And due to her get-ready-fast-to-play-in- the-ice mode, we actually arrived at school a few minutes early, on a Monday morning.

So is it ice, (blah)?  Or Ice!? It really is all in your perspective.

Grateful….

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As the holiday weekend winds down, I’m perhaps a bit late in expressing my gratitude for the many blessings in my life. I make a point of counting my blessings regularly, but on this Sunday evening, I’d like to take a few moments to be intentionally grateful for the days that are just passing.

So I’m Grateful.

Grateful for lovely family and lovely friends. Grateful for what felt like many gatherings, large and small, over meals and coffee and tea. Grateful for time to break bread and just sit and be with people I love and respect with time and time to spare in a life that usually feels much too fast. Grateful to be so richly blessed with wonderful people in my life.

Grateful for rest. I’ve slept and slept and slept these past few days. I feel tired a lot, most of the time lately, but I sometimes tell myself it’s in my mind. It’s not. I fell asleep early, slept later than usual, and I dozed off every time I sat or lay for any length of time, which was more often over the past 4 days then in a long time. I’m not sure how to get enough rest in this life, and I could sleep more, but this was a good start.

Grateful for more time than usual with the two girls I love immensely. Grateful for time to talk and hold them. Grateful for the many times over the past few days that they both climbed into my lap. Grateful they both still do. Grateful we had time for a six year old to play pony all day long and to find just the right color snow pants for a thirteen year old, because these things are oh so important when you’re six and thirteen. I’m grateful I still remember a little of what it was like to be both these ages.

Grateful for the many abundances in my life. Grateful for good food, that I have always been able to feed my children in world where not every parent can say this. Grateful we have a roof, and clothing and more. We are so very fortunate.

Grateful to have a little time to remember that I actually like who I am when I’m not so exhausted and strapped for time. I suspect many or most of us would feel like better people with more rest and less fullness. I don’t know the answer to any of this, but I’m grateful for the moments to ponder the question once again.

With gratitude….

Meant for this….

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At the beginning of September, in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, I got the news that a dear, long time friend of my family’s had passed. It was not unexpected, she had been ill, yes, with cancer, for years, and I knew she was in hospice. We live on opposite ends of the country, and I had been in touch not so long ago, but hadn’t seen her in years. I should have been ready for this, but still it hit me, harder than I expected. For a few nights I woke up crying in the wee hours of the morning again in a way I haven’t since losing my own mother.

This evening, as I was pulling into my driveway, I got a text. More, similar news. Cancer taking yet another. More loss, more time nearing an end, more when enough should be enough already, and instead of walking in thinking of dinner, I walked in thinking of this family who will mourn this loved one, and learn to live with the ache.

I have been knocked sideways and off my feet by loss these last 5 or so years, and when the loss of another person happens in my life, I have this almost knee jerk thought of no, not again, this isn’t supposed to happen again.

But I have been chewing on this thought a lot lately, digesting or maybe composting it, trying to turn it into something else. So if I seem to be focusing on death a lot these days, it’s really way my of making sense of it in my own life.

Because it is. It is supposed to happen in our lives, again, and again, and again. It is woven into the very fabric of life that it should also encompass death. That we should think otherwise seems almost ridiculous to me when I stand back from my own deep emotions, and put it in context.

I was thinking a few days ago that my children have known so much more loss in their young years than I did at their ages. Maybe this makes them more resilient, maybe they will have better coping skills, at the very least, they should have a better understanding and acceptance that loss will come to all of us.

No one taught me how to do this, how to accept that life is fragile and uncertain. But I am learning. I am not at all good at this. Truth be told, I have prayed, more than once, since the loss of my mother and since subsequent losses, for a week or weeks off alone. Time to curl into fetal position, and not move from there unless absolutely necessary, and cry until I somehow finally stop. But that hasn’t been my path, and somehow I am still here, and I am surviving losing loved ones, treasured dreams, youth as it fades from me, time as it slips stealthily away.

And as I keep showing up here, in this uncertain place, I am coming to believe that we are meant for this. We are meant for this rich beautiful and sometimes awfully tragic life. We are meant to lose, to mourn, to learn to accept, and then still show up and embrace life with all of it’s uncertainty, all of it’s mystery. To love, to lose, to be crushed by that loss, however it came about, to bleed and heal and love some more, knowing with each subsequent losing that we are choosing to be vulnerable and cracked open again, and that somehow we are even better for this, or at least we can be.

I don’t know how we choose this and still keep our sanity, but we do, I do. I am sitting here, swallowing the lump that has been stuck in my throat since I got that text, and I am choosing. I’m here, I want this, I’m glad I’m here, it hurts like hell these days, but I want to be here.

It is a beautiful, warm breezy night for October and it’s time for me to sit outside for a bit, and maybe hear some of the secrets to the mysteries of life whispered on on the wind.

“Mom, I was an Artist!”

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Years ago, when my oldest daughter was small, she spent a lot of time creating with her grandmother, my mother, and my little sister. They drew, painted, sewed, built and decorated a bird feeder with my dad’s help. This often happened when I was working, but I once had the opportunity to witness an interchange between them regarding a painting gone awry.

My daughter was maybe 5 years old, but already something of a perfectionist (ahem, no idea where that comes from), and was very upset with a mistake in the watercolor painting she was working on. My mom sat with her calmly and explained that artists made mistakes all the time, and that skilled artists would find ways to incorporate their mistakes into their finished pieces.

I don’t recall that this soothed her much at the time, but she’s become quite an artist as she matures, and I’ve seen her do this time and again. I haven’t asked her if she remembers those words, but I expect she does.

I definitely did. In recent years, when my littlest was similarly frustrated, I repeated these words to her, and again, they didn’t seem to impact her much in the moment.

Lately, especially in the evenings, she’s been telling me she’s feeling “crafty, ” meaning she’s enjoying working on arts and crafts projects. Tonight she stated this again. With an eye on honoring this but also keeping us to a reasonable bedtime, I suggested she draw something (I attribute this moment of clarity late in the day to dark chocolate, by the way). She settled on making a book that she could work on bit by bit over the next few evenings as I read to her.

So I read, she drew, and suddenly, she interrupted me piping up with, “Mom, I was an artist!” And she proceeded to show me where she had made a mistake, and incorporated it into the drawing.

I think there’s probably a good life lesson here, something about blending our errors with our intentions and finding beauty there. For the moment though, I’m absorbing that just like that, my mother lives on, in this lovely, tangible way through my beautiful children. That her gifts continue even in her absence, that she’s still gracing us in this way, and probably many more than aren’t as evident, but likely equally as powerful.

5 years later – some reflections on the loss of my mother….

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5 years ago today, in the early morning, my father, brothers, sister and I sat with my mother as she took her final breaths. That was, and remains, the most heartbreaking, moment of my life to date.

I have been reflecting on this, on her life, my life with her, and my life since her passing over the past few weeks. What does one say on such an anniversary? Are words needed or useful?

I don’t know that I am particularly wise regarding this topic, but at least I speak from some experience now, unwonted though it may be.

My thoughts….

It still sucks. The shock, the intensity, the bitterness of it has lessened, but I still really miss her, and it still really really sucks. I still want her back, want my children to have their grandmother. I have a level of acceptance of this reality now that I could never have imagined 5 years ago, or even 2 years ago, and I still wish it were otherwise. I watch my younger siblings grow into more mature adulthood, I imagine some of the big life moments that may be ahead for them, and I want her here for that, for them. They have their own thoughts and perspective on this, but in my mind for them, this really really sucks. I’m probably going to use that word a lot in this post, bear with me please.

I don’t feel her, wherever she is. I’d like to, to have this deep connection that reaches to the other side, beyond the veil, to a place where I could still feel her, believe the connection still exists. Maybe I’m just not that person, or maybe I haven’t figured it out yet, but I don’t like it when people say things like “she’ll always be with you. ” I believe that, in the more symbolic way. I see her in my children, in my siblings, in myself, in some of my actions and beliefs. But I want this to be true in a much more tangible way, and I don’t feel that, and that, yes, that sucks. In the moments surrounding her death, I felt that place, that thinning of the veil, if you will. To me, it felt very much the same as the feeling or energy that surrounds birth. I have, to date, been present for 7 births and 2 deaths, and I believe from these experiences that we return to the place we came from, and that it is good. I don’t know anymore than that, or really need to. But I’d like to feel my mother’s presence. I did once, and once only, in a dream, during a particularly rough patch in my life, where she stroked my cheek and told me all would be okay. In this instance, she wasn’t a character in the mental house-cleaning stream of consciousness type of dreams I typically have. It was different. My cousin told me I would feel the difference, and I did. I woke from this with my cheek still warm from her touch, from sleep? If this was what I want it to be, I’d like more examples please.

Life continues on. There is a rightness to this that I didn’t want to admit or embrace just after she passed, that I can accept and even revel in now. In the moments and days just following her death, I thought, please don’t leave me here without you. And then I looked at my beautiful daughters, and continued on. My baby, not yet 1, is about to be 6, and my beautiful then nearly 8 year old, is about to be a teenager. My awesome siblings are growing and changing into these amazing adults I knew they would become, but couldn’t quite picture in advance. I have the gift of a deepened relationship with my father, this beautiful, compassionate man who I’ve always known, but didn’t know as well until now. I have been able to witness, as I said to my cousin recently, time and life soften him until what exists in him now is rich and lovely, and I’m grateful, so very grateful to have more time with him. Life and time are making their mark on me as well, more noticeably lately, and I doing my best to move forward into this with some grace. All of this doesn’t suck, so there’s that.

The passage of time, of 5 years, has given me time to mourn, to move through the stages of grief, more than once, and to mature myself. I’m glad to have been as grownup as I was when she left, for even then, I was moving into this place of seeing her as more than mom, as well meaning and flawed as myself, as deeply human. It’s an interesting and humbling thing to reflect on both my childhood and my parenting, to see and acknowledge the flaws in both, and then to extend compassion to both parties, to my mother and myself. It’s easy to want to latch on extremes, to the black and white of people. To hold onto only the good, or only the bad, depending on the nature of the relationship. More challenging to learn to hold and accept both. In my teens I remember listening to my grandmother describe my grandfather as this nearly saintly person after his death, while remembering that I learned some of my more colorful swearing vocabulary from the words they called each other when angry. The irony was not lost on me even then, and now, I understand a little. This too, does not suck.

I have one silly thing I do, that I continue to hold onto. My mother was a nature lover, the Lorax in real life. There are moments when I see just a few leaves fluttering merrily at me. Not the whole tree, or all of the trees nearby, just a few leaves. And I imagine she’s waving to me, saying hello. I’m sure there is a scientific, physics based, unmagical answer to this phenomenon, but for now I’ll hold onto the wave. Until we meet again mom.