Zing! Thwack! Bull’s Eye!

Years ago, I tried my hand at target shooting with a bow and arrow.  I had tried archery several times at Bow_and_arrow
summer camp, and had little success.  However, this time I had a teacher who taught me the proper focus, stance and grip.

“Keep your focus entirely on the target,” he said.  “Don’t think of anything else. Breathe slowly and calm yourself.”

I mimicked his stance and tried to follow his instruction.

He explained that the bow should be brought into position and the string pulled back in one motion, and promised me that when I found the rhythm it would feel right and I’d know when to let go of the arrow.  My first few attempts sent arrows everywhere but the target, but finally I centered myself and slowly heeded my instructor’s patient words.  It was like a form of meditation, only with a weapon, I realized. I considered the bow an extension of my own arm, and in one smooth motion, drew it up to my chin, pulled back the string and released it.  It was a Zen moment; I will never forget the “zing” of the arrow and the “thwack!” as it pierced the bull’s eye.

In many ways, life is like shooting an arrow.

Most of the time we go through life taking aim at what we believe to be the right target, and give it our best shot.  Sometimes we hit it. Sometimes we miss.  We take our shot and move on, often not seeing where the arrow landed.  But every once in a while, we hit our mark. And if we’re really, really lucky, we get to hear about it.

collegeThe day after Christmas I received the following message from an old friend I recently reconnected with via Facebook.  I had not seen or heard from him since the early 70s.  I clearly remember our last encounter.  It was one of those times when I took careful aim, shot an arrow, and walked away, never seeing where it landed. I doubt that my message was delivered with tact or skill. I was a know-it-all-twenty-something who shot first and asked questions later.  But what I lacked in diplomacy was made up in honesty, for I truly did care about the recipient of the message.

“Garrie, wanted to let you know something. When I last saw you in college, you told me something that I took to heart. You told me that you cared about me and that I was throwing my life away. You were much younger than I but I valued the message and it helped me straighten around. Not long after that I stopped the heavy drinking, focused on what I wanted and ended up landing a professorship at BU. It was an important “lecture” and you delivered it from the heart. Never had a chance to let you know. Now I have. Merry, merry Christmas!”bigstockphoto_arrows_in_the_target_1393338_v_Variation_1

It is a rare and special moment when we get to see that we have positively impacted someone’s life.  It may have taken forty years, but on December 26, I heard the “zing” and then the “thwack!”

Bull’s eye!

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Footprints

christmas_tree_decorations_200943It is December and Christmas magic is rolling in like fog across the ocean.  Secrets are whispered behind loved ones’ backs, bells and ribbons are pulled from the attic, and the aroma of pine and cinnamon send shivers down the spine.  The brown soil that November left behind is covered with fresh snow.  It is a time of peace, good tidings and joy.  Everyone is happy.  

Almost.

I came across my nephew’s post on Facebook tonight;

“The world has grown cold now that you’ve gone away, Constance Madison.”

It was followed by comments from my niece, my sister, and my daughter.  They shared the same sentiments.  As I read, the lump that I keep stuffed deep in my throat reminded me that it still lives.  My eyes threatened to spill the hot tears that I blink back whenever my heart longs for my mother, and I thought, “It has been almost four years.”  

It has only been four years.

Almost immediately, I thought of a Christmas carol I learned long ago.

When I was a child, my mother had a beautiful book of Christmas sheet music.  Each carol was meticulously illustrated with angelic children with blushing cheeks and curls gilded with glittering gold.  The pages were as much a delight to peruse as the strains of the noels it contained.

It was from this book that I learned all the traditional carols, from “Silent Night” to “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella.”  My mother pounded the keys of our old upright piano, while we children clustered around her, eagerly chorusing for yet another favorite.   Some of the keys stuck. Some didn’t play at all, but to us it was music of the gods.

One of Mom’s favorite carols was “Good King Wenceslas.”  It’s not one of the more commonly sung carols, and I’ve never understood why, but I know why Mom loved it so.  

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I shall see him dine, when we bear them thither. “
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

I remember my mother wearing the same old coat every winter.  She lived in a house with threadbare rugs and holes in the plaster walls.  But she never hesitated to give a portion of what she had to someone who was in need.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”

I remember putting my small feet into my mother’s slippers when I was a child.  They were big and flopped from my feet.

“Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”

“In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.

The slippers still held the heat from my mother, and warmed my icy toes.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”

I think it is time to walk where my mother stepped.  To take up where she left off- to christmasmirror her love, and kindness. To give a little more and hold on to a little less. 

I close my eyes, and remember her smile, and the world is a bit warmer once again.

Loving Judah

When my daughter Abigail gave birth to my first grandchild, Judah, I knew I would be smitten.  Everyone I knew warned me that the well of love that comes with the birth of a grandchild is very deep.  “You will love being a grandmother!” they predicted.  “It’s more special than anything!” they encouraged me.  “You won’t believe how much you love him!” they assured me.

I knew they were right.  I just didn’t realize that the well is so deep it is bottomless.

Last weekend, Abby and her husband, Johnny went to a wedding and left Judah with me for the afternoon and evening.  I rose early and finished my normal weekend chores so I would have nothing to do but care for my little grand bundle.  At 1:30PM, the prince arrived, and armed with frozen packets of mother’s milk, flannel burp cloths and magic diapers that change color when they get wet, I settled in for an afternoon of cooing and cuddling.

We played judah sleepingPat-a-cake.  We sang songs.   We played with a rattle.  Judah woofed down a bottle, burped and spit up on the living room carpet, grinning with glee.  But shortly after a diaper change, his little face crumbled like the mask of a sad clown and he began to cry.  I gathered him close, stuck his pacifier into his mouth and gently stroked his head.   Within a moment or two his eyes closed and his little body relaxed in peaceful repose.

Afraid I might wake him (okay- that’s an excuse lie. The truth is, he was so warm and snuggly I didn’t want to put him down) I held Judah in my arms for the next hour and a half, moving him just long enough to occasionally kiss a wisp of hair on his little head.  While he slept, I pondered.  “Why is it I love this little guy so much?”

Often times we love people because of what they do.  We love them because they make us feel good. Because they whisper sweet nothings that brighten our days.  Because they make us feel proud. Or important.  Or warm and cozy.  Or needed.  But Judah doesn’t really do anything to earn this love.  He just is.

But what does that mean?  What is it about a grandchild that flips our heart upside down and makes us want to drop everything for a cuddle and kiss?  I decided to break down some of Judah’s qualities and see if I could make logical sense out of this.

  • Judah smells delicious.  I read somewhere that the most expensive perfume sold is Clive Christian #1 Imperial Majesty Perfume.  It sold for $12,721.89 an ounce. Clive-Christian-No.-1-Imperial-Majesty-Perfume-300x200  I can guarantee that its scent is no sweeter than a newborn baby’s downy head.   Sniffing Judah’s neck makes me somewhat euphoric.  And it’s free.
  • Judah thinks everyone loves him. This is probably true, since his experience is limited to family and friends.  But there’s a lot to be said for approaching the world with total confidence that everyone thinks you are wonderful.  When people smile at Judah, he mirrors those good vibes.
  • baby basketJudah reminds of us that life is about the basics. Getting enough food.  Staying warm and dry. Love.  There are a ton of products that advertisers will tell us we need for babies.  But babies don’t really care if their clothes are new, or if they are wearing hand-me-downs or thrift store finds.  Babies all over the world are pretty much the same, whether they sleep on a mat with their mothers, or in a $2,500 Egg Dodo Baby Basket. (No, I didn’t make this up.)   All they really care about is food, staying warm and dry, and love.  How do we so easily stray from these priorities?
  • Judah makes us laugh. We laugh when he splashes in the tub. We laugh at his funny faces. We laugh judah awakewhen he laughs.  Laughter lowers our blood pressure and sets off a small explosion of endorphins to increase our sense of well-being.  I’m convinced that if I took a ten minute “Judah break” every morning and afternoon, I’d be more productive and happier at work.  I just need to convince my boss and work out the logistics…
  • abby and judah 9.Judah is an extension of me. I watch Abigail- my first born- deftly tend to him and am in awe that this capable mother who is clearly this baby’s favorite person on earth was once my own helpless newborn.   I’m sure his other grandmother feels the same way when she looks at Judah and remembers his daddy as a little tyke.  The continuity of this life cycle is comforting and reassuring.
  • Judah has made two families one.  I thought this would happen when Abby and Johnny first got married, and while it did in theory, the relationship was more one of the head than of the heart.  But when Judah was born, we gathered together in one room, as one unit, to welcome him to the family.  We all love him- grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins- and as a family we will raise him to know this.
  • Lastly, but this speaks most loudly to me, Judah has my mother’s eyes. They are big and gray and serious, just like my mother’s.  They laugh easily, but sometimes I catch Judah’s eyes studying mine, as if he’s looking for what’s hidden deep inside my soul.  My mother’s eyes searched mine- when I was a child and wasn’t telling the truth, when I was a young woman sharing my hopes for the future, and in her final hours, when I held her hand and reminded her that the faith that guided her in this life would carry her to the next.  I look into the deep gray pools of Judah’s eyes and I see my judah eyespast and my future.  And somehow, for a few moments, everything is right in the world.

Beating the Sloppy, Soggy, Cranky Morning Blues

I woke up this morning feeling incredibly grumpy.  The central air conditioner in my apartment broke for the second time this season, and besides being against the rules, it’s impossible to fit a fan in the windows.  Because of the tropical temperatures and 100% humidity, I had to sleep with the blinds open, which meant the lights for the parking lot flooded maskmy bedroom.  I tried wearing a sleep mask, but it must have been too hot, because it was under the bed this morning.  I woke several times during the night and by the time my alarm went off, I was more exhausted than when I went to sleep.  I looked out the window at the dripping sky, and hearing a noise, looked to find its source.  Just under my window was a skunk, foraging for its breakfast.  I quickly cranked the window closed and immediately my room became hotter and stuffier.

Getting ready for work brought no improvement.  My hair frizzed and my makeup smeared.  My back ached and my head pounded.  I muttered under my breath at the unsigned lease sitting on my desk, wondering if I could scrape the bottom of my bank account for the deposit on a new apartment.   I pulled on a pair of khakis and a cotton top, packed my lunch and grabbed ticketan umbrella.  As I turned the corner to drive into my workplace parking lot, I almost ran into a police car, lights flashing, stopped on the hill so the office could dole out a speeding ticket.

“Serves you right,” I growled.  “People drive up this hill much too fast.”

I slogged up the stairs, opened my office and turned on my computer.  My email was already clogged with requests.

Five minutes later, there was an announcement of a “Code Red” on the overhead intercom.  Code Red means fire.  The location was the parking lot.  I ran down three flights of stairs to locate the source and assess its severity, only to find that the “smoke” seen by the person calling the alarm was steam from an overheating truck.  I trudged back up the three flights of stairs and plopped into my chair to attack the emails.

Giving an audible sigh, I opened the first one and found this.

And suddenly, the sun is shining.  Judah 7.14.14

Whimsical Wednesday- A Time for Wishing

Make_a_Wish_by_VefobitseqI have a fairly active imagination and sometimes catch myself engaging in a long diatribe of wishful thinking.  Today, on “Whimsical Wednesday” I decided to indulge and invite you to do the same.  You may be surprised when you give voice to some of your deepest desires.  What do you wish?

I wish that…

Fat cells came off as fast as they accumulate.  I can scoff down an ice cream sundae with extra whipped cream in minutes.  However, it takes hours to burn the calories accumulated by such an indulgence. This is grossly unfair.

I wish that…

Money did grow on trees.  I would own a nursery, although with my current gardening skills such a venture might result in bankruptcy.   Still, it would be fun to harvest dollar bills every fall and give away bundles of them for Christmas gifts.

I wish that…

I had bought a little cottage on the beach back when it was affordable.  It wouldn’t have mattered if it beach 29were small and
simple, because most of my time during the summer would be outside.  Besides, when it comes to cottages, the kitschier, the better.   How nice it would be to drink my morning coffee while watching the sun rise over the Atlantic.

I wish that…

Time travel was possible, because there are some people I would really like to dine with- Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Michelangelo, Elizabeth Blackwell, George Gershwin, and Corrie Ten Boom, to name only a few.  I’d love to meet the little girl who my grandmother once was, and my great, great, great-grandchildren who aren’t even yet a glimmer in a young man’s eye.

I wish that…

The days didn’t pass so quickly.  For all its trappings, I love this life and wish it didn’t speed by at such a breakneck pace.  There is never enough time to spend with loved ones, or watch old movies on TV, or sew, or write or splash in puddles during an August rain.

I wish that…

Every child had at least eighteen years of unconditional love.  I suspect that the world would have a lot fewer problems if we didn’t have to spend so much time making up for being unloved, uncared for and feeling unworthy.

I wish that…

Our culture would stop sending subliminal messages to children that hold them to impossible standards of beauty and body shape.  If we put as much energy into shaping our insides as we do to our outsides, there would be no more eating disorders and many more random acts of kindness.

I wish that…

Time1Life gave us equal time for play as it does for work.  Can you imagine how much fun it would be to have an eight day week- four for work and four for play?  Who says we have to be on a seven day cycle anyway? After all, this is wishing…

I wish that…

We could, as Cher put it, turn back time.  I would do a few things differently.  I would have been more patient with my children.  I would have been more understanding of my father and spent more time with him and my mother.  I would have laughed more and loved better, and taken a vacation more than once every thirty years.

The Great Mandella

Peter Paul and Mary 01In late August of 1969, I went to see Peter, Paul and Mary at an outdoor concert in Washington D.C.   It was at the height of the Viet Nam War and outside of the concert area, people handed out fliers that protested the imprisonment of Father Daniel Berrigan, and linked him with the song “The Great Mandella.”

It was an amazing concert. Peter, Paul and Mary were masterful in their ability to lift a crowd to a new social consciousness in a way that was positive, uplifting and inspiring. I clapped to “If I Had a Hammer” and sang along to “Day is Done.”   And when they sang “The Great Mandella” I could not hold back tears.

So I told him that he’d better shut his mouth and do his job like a man.

And he answered, “Listen, father, I will never kill another.”

He thinks he’s better than his brother that died. What the hell does he think he’s doing

To his father who brought him up right? 

 

Take your place on the Great Mandella as it moves through this brief moment of time.

Win or lose now, you must choose now.

And if you lose you’re only losing your life.

 

Tell the jailor not to bother with his meal of bread and water today.

He is fasting till the killing’s over.

He’s a martyr.  He thinks he’s a prophet.  But he’s a coward.  He’s just playing a game.

He can’t do it- he can’t change it.  It’s been going on for ten thousand years.

 

Take your place on the Great Mandella as it moves through this brief moment of time.

Win or lose now, you must choose now.

And if you lose you’re only losing your life.

 

Tell the people they are safe now.  Hunger stopped him.  He lies still in his cell.

Death has gagged his accusations.

We are free now.

We can kill now.

We can hate now.

Now we can end the world.

We’re not guilty.

He was crazy.

And it’s been going on for ten thousand years.

 

Take your place on the Great Mandella as it moves through your brief moment of time.

Win or lose now, you must choose now.

And if you lose you’ve only wasted your life.

~Peter Yarrow

 

The lyrics and melody haunted me, disturbing my soul. It was clearly an anti-war anthem that spoke to my heart and helped determine my life path and personal convictions. And that is all I thought the song would teach me. That is, until this morning.

As I often do, today I listened to my Ipod while putting on my makeup.  The playlist included “The Great Mandella,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpIh68Kh_-sand as I listened, I thought of my daughter Elizabeth’s tattoo.

I like tattoos. On other people’s children.

It’s the mother in me who gave birth to beautiful babies with smooth, perfectly unmarred skin who objects to permanent markings. I cried when Abby pierced her ears, and choked when she pierced her belly button. And when Elizabeth show me her first tattoo, I thought she was joking with me and had applied a decal to her wrist.

Then, a few years later Elizabeth came home and showed me a new tattoo on her hand. I gasped. On anyone else it would be beautiful- a mandella- as beautifully intricate as black lace. mandella image

But it wasn’t on anyone else. It was on my daughter. My beautiful daughter who has huge eyes like bottomless pools of water.  My beautiful daughter who fills the room with her laughter when her brother teases her.  My beautiful daughter who used to clasp her little hand over mine on the gear shift while I drove her to kindergarten.  A hand that was smooth and clear and milky in color. I could barely answer her when she asked how I liked it.

“It’s…um…quite the work of art.”

Her face fell, and I knew I had answered poorly.  “No-really.  It is beautiful.  It’s just… so… permanent.

She shook her head and walked away, and my heart sank a little.

Over time, I stopped catching my breath every time I see her hand, and have even enjoyed watching her converse with a stranger who admires it.  But this morning I had a completely different thought.

Take your place on the Great Mandella as it moves through your brief moment of time.

Like the young man in the song, Elizabeth is declaring who she is. And although her tattoo is not protesting a war, it is a statement- her way of marking her life in the continuum of time.  She is not a pink baby with skin as soft as down. She is not my little girl with skinny legs and braids that fly out from under her bike helmet.  She is an adult.  A grown woman.  An individual soul who must be who God made her to be.

It is not up to me to decide.  Or judge.  Or opine.  She is who she is supposed to be.

elizI suppose Peter Yarrow might have been only protesting the Viet Nam War when he wrote “The Great Mandella.”  Or maybe, he knew something that has taken me forty-five years to understand.  Generations will have their differences.   We sing different songs, speak different languages, dance to different drumbeats.  But our children are not our children, and we must… we have to… allow them act according to their souls’ direction.

Take your place on the Great Mandella as it moves through your brief moment of time…

Try a Little Tenderness

It’s not just sentimental

She has her grief and care

But the soft words, they are spoken so gentle

It makes it easier to bear…

~”Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding

bracesWhen I was a little girl, I went to school in an old building with polished hardwood floors and desks that bolted to the floor.  There was a child in the class who had contracted Polio as a baby. One of her legs, weakened and deformed by the disease, was in a heavy metal brace.  One day, as she rushed to get to her seat, she slipped on the waxed floor and fell hard, bumping her head on the metal desk leg.  As she lay crying, the teacher said something I will never forget.

“That’s what you get for running.”

I was six years old and it was the first time I remember hearing an adult say something pointedly unkind.  It puzzled and upset me, and to this day, when I remember the incident, something in my stomach turns and I feel cold and uneasy.  In the shadows of my memory, I still see that little girl crumpled in a heap on the unforgiving floor, tears rolling down her cheeks.  I want to cry with her.

I was reminded of that story when saying my morning prayers this week.  Of all the Christ-like qualities that I wish to grow in my daily walk, kindness is number one.

I’m not sure when we turned the corner, but it seems that our culture has decided that our freedom of speech supersedes kindness.  Facebook is full of insulting and demeaning posts.  Everyone is free game, from political and church leaders, to athletes and pundits.  Cyber bullying has become our youth’s great American pastime.  Parents scream at coaches and teachers.  Members of Westboro Baptist Church hurl horridly hurtful insults during funerals.  Teenagers play “Knockout”- targeting an unsuspecting stranger, sneaking up on them and punching them so hard they crumple into an unconscious heap.  The media displays stories of celebrities’ struggles with abuse and mental illnesses as if they are Academy awards.  And the stars of “reality” television programs resemble coiled cobras, wildly spitting venomous insults at one another in an attempt to rise to the top of the writhing heap.

It seems to me that we are so determined to stake our claim in life that we often neglect to remember that with each step we affect other people.  Every rung in the proverbial ladder of life gives us the opportunity to change the day of another person, simply by the way we treat him.  And it is not always what we say, but how we say it that makes the difference.

Here’s an example.  The week before Christmas, I ran to the local Target store to buyflat-tire wrapping paper and ribbon.  I was still recovering from back surgery, and walking was painful and slow, but I managed to make my purchase and return to my car.  When I started the engine, I realized there was a long queue of cars snaked across the parking lot, slowly making their way along the path to the only exit.  I maneuvered my car into line with the rest and hummed along to Christmas carols on the radio while inching my car forward with the rest of the exiting shoppers.  I was stopped in front of the store when a woman who was crossing in front of me scowled and thrusting a finger toward my front tire, yelled, “You’d better get some air in there!”

The car queue was too long.  I couldn’t stop to investigate so I gingerly drove home, praying that the tire would carry me to my parking lot. But long after I returned to my warm apartment, my stomach was still in a knot. I knew the woman at Target was doing me a favor by letting me know there was a problem with my tire, but I felt accosted by the aggressiveness of her communication.  Her message, though an act of responsibility, was totally devoid of one precious ingredient.  Kindness.

Lest I appear to be above all this, let me be the first to point out that kindness does not always come easily to me.  I can be a master of maliciousness.  A sultan of sarcasm. The baroness of bluntness. The czarina of… you get the point.  But here’s the thing; the more I pray about this, the more aware I become.  And the more I stop before I speak, think about the other person, and amend my delivery.  And funny thing- my relationships are better.  People around me smile more.  I feel much more at peace.  I sleep more soundly.kindness

So the moral of the story is, if we want our world- the world we will give over to our children and our grandchildren- to be a better place, perhaps we need to try a little tenderness.  Can’t hurt.

A Grand Dilemma

You know that you have entered a new phase of life when you realize that you want to become a grandmother.

Five years ago, if you brought up the topic, I would have said that I wasn’t yet ready for grandchildren.  I thought of grandparents as being old, with wrinkled skin and gray hair.  Like my grandmother.  And my mother. 

But then my siblings-even the younger ones- began to have grandchildren.  My friends began to have grandchildren.  None of them look old with wrinkled skin. Okay, some of them have gray hair, but then so do I.  It’s just well-hidden by my hair colorist.  I saw them with their grandchildren and recognized the special bond they shared.

I began to notice that it’s been more than twenty-five years since I’ve had a baby to snuggle.  I began to miss the scent of baby breath and tufts of silky baby hair tickling me under my chin.  I missed the weight of an infant’s head resting on my shoulder and the way a newborn’s droll little face contorts when she pulls up her knees and stretches out her arms upon waking.  In short, I miss having a baby in the house.

I’ve heard some people say that they were happy when their children outgrew the infant stage so they mompainting_G could do things with them.  While I loved having older children, I also cherished the years my kids were babies.  Crazy as it sounds, I especially loved getting up with a hungry baby during the night.  I would quietly pad to the living room so we wouldn’t wake the rest of the household, wrap a blanket around the two of us, and settle in a rocking easy chair to nurse.  It was peaceful and quiet- time for my baby and me to stare into each other’s eyes, stroke each other’s cheeks, and feel the warmth of each other’s bodies sway back and forth with the rocker.  More often than not, the baby would stop feeding long before I could bring myself to put him down and go back to bed. 

Too quickly those days faded into the past and I moved on to basketball games, band concerts, and waving goodbye at airports, and one day my little ones were all grown.   I adjusted to life without children- eating at odd hours, leaving scissors on low tables, sleeping through the night without opening my eyes to find a three-year-old staring me awake.  Indeed, it is easier.  No running out late at night to buy Pedialyte and popsicles for sick tummies.  No wrestling to assemble toys at 2AM on Christmas morning.  No snowsuits and mittens and boots and “now-I-have-to-go-to-the-bathroom!”  I can come and go as I please.  I do not need to plan meals, or trips to the store, or shuttles to practice.

But then there is the empty arms thing and my friends and siblings with their toothless grandchildren bouncing on their knees.  And I know it’s time to once again have a baby in the house.  So when my daughter Abby and her husband Johnny not-so-casually announced that in June the two of them will become three, my heart leapt with joy.  We refer to the unborn child as “the little cub” and I can’t stop hoping he or she has red hair. john and abby pregnant

There is one dilemma, however.  What shall I be called by this precious little bundle?  It is complicated.  Johnny’s father’s name is Gary.  You cannot have a grandmother named Garrie and a grandfather on the other side called Gary.  The poor little cub will be too confused.  “Nana?”  No- it doesn’t suit me.  “Grammie?”  That’s reserved for Johnny’s mother.  “Granny?”  Not while I have breath in my body.  I thought of a long, trilled “Grrrrrrrrrrrandmama” but that’s just plain ridiculous.

And so, I extend an invitation to my readers to weigh in.  What shall the little cub call his or her grandmother-on-her-mother’s-side?  I await your suggestions.

‘Tis the Season

carly xmas card0001

Photo by Sarah Swan Photography, courtesy of my friends, Carly and Jeff Gartside, whose two little boys are more often full of smiles than this image suggests.

I love Christmas.  I love the surprises, the planning, the decorations, the food and the time spent with family and friends under the glow of twinkling lights.

But not every Christmas is a Hallmark moment, especially when kids are little. White Christmases, filled with late night television specials, trips to the mall and holiday concerts often produce sniffling noses and melt-downs in the line to see Santa.

We experienced one of those years when my children were little.  Abby was to sing in her first Christmas cantata at our church.  I had sewn a cheerful red plaid dress with a white collar and bought her black patent leather shoes for the event.  For weeks she rehearsed with the other children from our church, until she knew every word and every note.  Her father and I were excited to experience our first-born’s debut as a choral singer, and looked forward to the performance the day before Christmas.

The morning of the cantata was bitterly cold, but it was warm in our apartment as I brushed Abby’s long blond hair and helped her dress. She looked a little pale and tired.  “Perhaps she had been up a little too late the night before,” I mused. “I’ll get her to bed early tonight.” Usually she was ferociously hungry for breakfast, but today she refused the eggs I had cooked.  “You have to eat something,” I coaxed.  “How about a little yogurt?”

Abby shook her head, but I insisted.  “You cannot go to church without eating breakfast!”  Reluctantly, she spooned some yogurt into her mouth, and I turned my attention to Elizabeth, who had her own new plaid dress, and Gabriel, who needed help with his white shirt and tie.  Finally they were dressed and as I sat back to admire all three in their Christmas finery, their dad arrived from gassing up the car.

“Time to go!” he called as I buttoned Elizabeth’s coat.  I hustled the children to the front door of the apartment building, shivering in the icy wind.  Gabriel stood by his daddy as he buckled Elizabeth into her car seat, and I turned to Abby, still standing on the front stairs.

Her big eyes met mine, and she blanched a deathly white, saying, “I can’t do this!” With that she promptly vomited her breakfast, which immediately froze on the brick steps.

In that  instant, our holiday plans changed.  It was not long before Gabriel joined Abby on the couch, barf bowl by his side.  The cantata took place without us.  We bowed out of the family Christmas celebration.  Fancy dresses and ties were hung in the closet, exchanged for flannel pajamas.  And instead of the turkey dinner I had planned, we ate broth and toast.

Our experience was not unique.   Most families will have some holiday horror stories to report.  Every year I hear blurry-eyed mothers remark that they can’t wait for the holidays to be over.  Parents are so stressed from trying to fit in all the parties, plays and concerts that they spend most of their time wishing for some quiet time.  We listen to our children sing constant choruses of “I want, I want, I want!” so we stretch our budgets too far. We buy and buy, and then we are overwhelmed at all the wrapping to complete before the children rise on Christmas morning.  We chastise our little ones, warning them that Santa may not stop at our house, or the Elf on the Shelf is watching, or “If-you-do-not-stop-teasing-your-sister-this-very-minute-I-will-return-everything-I-bought-to-the-store!”

The Christmas of the stomach flu taught me a few things.  First, it taught me if your child looks pale and doesn’t want to eat, chances are she shouldn’t.  But more importantly, I learned that as much as the Jinglebells of Christmas- the lights and sparkles, noise, parties, commotion and concerts- are fun, a Silent Night is sometimes the better choice.

It’s not by accident the birth of Jesus was in the quiet of a stable.  Yes, there were angel choruses.  And no, I don’t think that all the commotion that we associate with the holidays is bad.  I just think that sometimes we need to take a step back.  Breathe.  Turn off the television specials and say no to some of the activities. Limit our rich foods and our running around and our spending.  Cuddle the ones we love and tell them that we will love them forever, even when they are sick or cranky, or tone deaf, or disobedient. birth

Because really, all this craziness-all the singing and the parties and the gifts, wrapping and decorating- all this celebration is because a small child was born in a desolate location, heralded by a single, noiseless star.

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Back in the Saddle Again- A.K.A. New Tricks for Old Dogs

I’ve been spending the last several weeks recuperating from back surgery.  It was much more invasive than I had anticipated, and although my recovery has been steady, it has been much slower than I expected.  Before surgery, my plan was to spend a few days resting, and then the following weeks reading and writing.  I was disappointed to find that my body needed every ounce of energy just to heal, and I felt exhausted and ill most of the time.  Books didn’t hold my attention.  I couldn’t sit for more than a few minutes at a time.  Even conversation was difficult, and putting words to paper impossible.  So I napped, watched snippets of daytime television, and dabbled on the internet.  The worst part is that I’ve barely been able to string three sentences together. It is as if the part of my brain that translates concepts into words seeped out with the excess spinal fluid.
 
Numerous times I have tried to post on my blog and become frustrated with how clumsy my writing has become.  My WordPress account is riddled with abandoned paragraphs waiting to be expanded upon.  Stories are left untold.  Opinions left unstated.
 
But we all have times to start anew, and now that I have left the confines of my apartment and returned to work,  I know I must post again.  But where to start?
 
This evening I read a blog written by a photographer.  Her post reminded me of one I crafted as a guest blogger on the website of my photographer friends in 2011. (http://www.dachowskiphotography.com/
 
As I read her post and re-read my own, I was reminded of the common truth both posts hold, and how timely a reminder right before the Christmas holiday.   I thought that for me, my new beginning as a writer might be to rework something done once before.  So, dear reader- enjoy, but be gentle.  The saddle is not so easy to climb into once again.
 
Photographs
 
family photoI don’t usually categorize myself as an old dog, but I’m thinking it’s time to learn a new trick.

I’m one of those people who hates to be photographed. In snapshots, I always seem to be caught at the exact moment I look my worst. When I look at them later, I always cringe. I focus on the bags under my eyes, or the way my chin looks like it has doubled, or how much heavier I seem than when I last looked in the mirror. In fact, the photograph to the right is probably the last candid one taken with my family, and it was 1991.  Consequently, at family outings I am the person who is nowhere to be found when the cameras come out. I was okay with this until the winter when my mother died.

After the funeral I sifted through piles of photographs- black and whites from the fifties, colored ones that had yellowed with age, even faded Polaroids from the seventies.

Images of my mother smiled back at me from all stages of her life- Mom swollen with pregnancy. Mom dressed in a black lace party dress and red lipstick. Mom disguised as Elvis for Halloween. Mom digging in her garden.

Some of the pictures are flattering. Some are not. In most of them, she is surrounded by her family. There she is with Dad. Here is one with my siblings. And in this one she is with all of her grandchildren. However, there were no images of my mother and me together. There are no reminders of how close we were, of how we laughed together, and worked together, and loved each other.

I realize that this is because I avoided having my picture taken, and now it is too late. I wonder if I will remember, and if my children will remember. And I wonder how their children will know.

When I look at photographs of my mother, I don’t see the lines on her face or that her chin had doubled. I see the love in her eyes, and the laughter in her heart. For me, looking at her images is comforting, and uplifting, and precious. Her images warm me and make me smile. mom beach

They remind me of how capable she was, and how she enveloped me in her long arms and how she was strong and gentle at the same time. I look at the gray eyes in her photographs- eyes that were stern when I was disrespectful, and steady when I was afraid, and soft when I was sad. I have the same gray eyes. Someday, my children will need to look at my picture and remember my eyes. But just as I cheated myself out of photographs with my mother, I have cheated my children out of the same thing. 

So I’mcamera rethinking this camera-shy thing I’ve had going on. Maybe  this Christmas I’ll consider sitting in front of a camera- especially if the photographer can disguise my double chin and baggy eyes. After all, even Momma G can learn a new trick or two.

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