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.
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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…

Why You Shouldn’t Listen to Puccini Early in the Morning

mimiWhen I was growing up, my mother often listened to opera music on the record player.  She had loved the opera since she was a girl, and often took the train into Boston to see a matinée performance. My siblings and I heard stories of how she always missed the final act of La boheme, never seeing Mimi fall into her final repose, because she had to catch the final train back to Andover.  She explained the story lines, encouraging us to read the librettos that were neatly folded in the record jackets.  I would scan the page, listen for a few polite minutes, and run off to play hop scotch or kick ball.

My father disliked opera music, and openly complained if my mother played it, but when he was not home, my mother had free reign over the hi fi.  On days when she planned to sew, she carefully removed a vinyl disc from its cover, blew off any dust, and gingerly placed the needle at the beginning.  Soon, echoes of Carmen, Rigoletto and La Traviata would fill the house.   We children often made fun of it, mimicking the mezzo-soprano arias, but my mother blissfully hummed along, pins in her mouth, sewing machine at full tilt.

As I matured, so did my taste for music.  One Sunday evening, Aida was on PBS and having never seen an entire opera, I sat down to watch – just for a few moments.  By the end, two hours later, I was sobbing.  However, my family did not enjoy opera so for the next ten or fifteen years, I never listened to it, save part of an aria bastardized for a television commercial.

Over the years, Mom replaced her scratchy records with DVDs and even put some of her favorite performances on her Ipod.  When she died, I inherited much of her collection, and about a year ago, I began listening to the opera music she loved so much.  I find it enchanting.  Enrapturing.  I forget what I’m doing and find myself in the midst of the scene, surrounded by the players

This morning as I readied for work, I listened to Maria Callas sing “Un bel di” from Puccini’s Madam Butterfly.  The aria is sung by Butterfly – a young Japanese woman who had married an American at fifteen years old.  She married out of love and reverence. He, out of convenience.  As she awaits his return after a three-year absence, she sings, not knowing that he brings his American wife with him, intending to divorce the naïve Japanese teenager.

…He will call, he will callbutterfly
“Little one, dear wife
Blossom of orange”
The names he called me at his last coming.
All this will happen,
I promise you this
Hold back your fears –
I with secure faith wait for him.

It is a heartbreaking piece of music- filled with emotion that wrenches the hardest heart, pulling tears from the driest eyes.

And therein lies the rub.  For a few short rapt moments, I was sitting by Butterfly and she poured out her heart, forgetting that I had just finished applying my morning makeup.  I remembered my first love, the excitement and intensity of it all, and the crushing blow at the realization that it was not to be. My heart swelled with the music, and spilled over, leaving streams of black mascara in its wake.  I had to wipe it off and start all over. Mom would have been proud.

Okay, I admit I am a bit overly emotional.  But here’s the thing.  Opera speaks to the soul as much as it does the eyes and ears.  If you’ve not ever sampled it, try a small sip- just a small bit.  It may be like a fine wine, where you have to acquire a taste for it, rather than say, a margarita that you have to keep yourself from chugging.  But it is truly worth sampling, again and again.

So try it. Just not in the morning when you are putting on your makeup.

Letting the Eagle Fly

Last August, at a freshman orientation, a bald eagle was released in the chapel at Oral Roberts University.  The plan was for the eagle to circle the audience and come to rest on the stage. Instead, mistaking a pane of glass for the great outdoors, it slammed into the window, and fell to the ground.

I was reminded of this earlier this week when I almost lost my youngest daughter.

Elizabeth has my spirit for adventure, and her father’s penchant for solitude.  She had the day off from work and decided to go for a solo hike around a nearby lake.  The day was sunny but cold- less than 20 degrees- so she pulled on a hooded sweatshirt, a Columbia shell, leggings and a pair of Doc Marten boots.  She grabbed her cell phone and drove to the lake.

eliz sunLeaving her car in a parking lot near the woods, she took off through the snowy trails. This year New Hampshire has seen consistently cold temperatures, so she wasn’t surprised to see snowmobile tracks in the snow that covered the frozen lake.  She considered walking across the lake to visit a small island, and then changed her mind, and headed down a trail toward a less familiar wooded area.

As she walked she snapped photographs with her cell phone. The stark New England landscape was blanketed in granulated snow that glittered like diamonds in the brilliant sunshine.  She spied a large uprooted tree and trudged toward it to get a closer look.  Suddenly, she heard the cracking of ice beneath her feet and realizing that she was not on firm ground, sprinted back in the direction from which she had come.  About six feet from shore, she fell through the ice into the frigid water below.  Soaked to the waist, she struggled to find her footing.  Ice and water scraped her legs like daggers and for a split second she panicked.  Remembering a lesson Bear Grylls taught on a television show about survival, she forced herself to calm down, and waded to shore, breaking the ice in front as she went.  It took her several attempts to get out of the water and then, hoping to keep hypothermia at bay, she jogged the half mile to her car.  Miraculously, her cell phone still worked and she called her brother, who sped to the lake to help her.  She then called me, so out of breath and cold sheeliz legs was barely able to talk.  I kept her on the phone until Gabe arrived to bring her home, and then met them at home to help her out of her wet clothes and into a warm tub.  Although cut up and bruised, she is none the worse for wear, and perhaps a little wiser about embarking on solo winter journeys.

When things like this happen, I find myself torn.  The mother part of me wants to lecture and admonish, telling her she should never go off by herself, that hiking in unfamiliar areas, especially in the snow can lead to disaster, and that she should count her lucky stars that she is still alive.

eliz snowman croppedBut then there is the part of me that understands.  Elizabeth has always been a free spirit.  She has always craved solo adventures.  As a little girl, she played in the snow for hours, trudging home only when the street lights came on.  I would help her take her snow-filled boots and mittens off, warm her red little hands under my arms and “tsk, tsk” at her for staying out long after she was cold. Her eyes would sparkle with delight as she told me how she explored in the wooded area by our home, and how she imagined herself to be a lone soldier struggling to survive against the elements.

As a teenager, Elizabeth thought nothing of taking long runs by herself.  Running cleared her head and helped her sort the myriad responsibilities that mounted as she grew.  In college she explored underground tunnels and drove to secluded areas to think and unwind.  And last summer, when the pressures of life began to close in on her, she hiked and ran the trails by the lake, because putting one foot in front of the other with nothing but trees, grass and rocks nearby sorted chaos into small manageable bites.  All of this she did alone.

So it came as no surprise to me that she had been at the lake alone.  It also came as no surprise to see her Twitter post a little later that afternoon :

“ Top 3 life experience thus far: fell through ice into deep water, remembered s***  from Bear Grylls and eventually pulled out on shore, stumbled half a mile to my car and adrenaline… realized survivor instinct is innate, incredible and **** glorious to experience.#humans #strongerthanwethink #thrill #moved #universe #conspires# ALIVE  ****I love nature.”

And now you see my dilemma.  For I know that trying to hold Elizabeth down is like tethering an eagle, trying to keep it safe.  It can be done, but wild creatures will always soar to the sky.  We cannot deny them their nature, and if we do, the consequences are far worse than we can imagine.  They lose their fire.  Their essence.  That which makes them what they are.  And if we do that, they may be alive, but they are not really living.

Am I grateful that Elizabeth survived her ordeal?  Of course.  Do I hope she learnedlizza mom to be a little more cautious?  Indeed.  Will I tell her to never go hiking alone again?  Probably not.

Fly, my little eagle.  Fly.

The Secret’s Out

When I was in sixth grade, my sister Martha-Jean and I agreed that we would reveal what we had gotten each other for Christmas before the big day.  We stole to our bedroom and she showed me a gold bracelet with an iridescent heart charm that dangled from one of the links.  I thought it was beautiful but some of the thrill was gone.  I realized that part of the fun of giving and receiving gifts is the anticipation and surprise and I vowed never to peek again.

baby cubSo when my daughter Abigail and her husband John announced that they were to find out the gender of their unborn child (AKA “the cub”) I had mixed feelings.  To me it seemed that the most exciting part of birth is when all eight months culminate in the gender announcement from the attending doctor or midwife.  The memory of those choruses from the doctors and nurses in the delivery room, followed by the cries of my newborns are among the sweetest songs I know.

Still, this is John’s and Abby’s pregnancy, and I’m glad to stand at the sidelines and let them call the shots.  They wanted to know, and because they wanted to know, I wanted to know.  So Monday morning, they had an ultrasound.  Abby called me on her way to work and told me the news.

“It’s a boy!”

Now, the truth is, I would have been equally thrilled if she had told me the baby is a girl.  I adored having children of both genders and I welcome any grandchild, no matter what sex, color, size or shape.  But hearing the announcement and subsequently seeing the ultrasound pictures, made it real. 

The cub is a boy.

sailor suitI told everyone in sight, and immediately started imagining my little grand-cub dressed in one piece sailor outfits and saddle shoes.  (Yes, I know it’s cliché clothing, but baby boys dressed like that are so darned cute!)

A short time later, Abby emailed me from her office:

“WHAT THE HECK AM I GOING TO DO WITH A BOY?????!!!!!!!!!!”

abby2Abby is my firstborn.  From the moment her little blond head and blue eyes appeared, she liked everything glittery and girly.  She loved sparkly jewelry, My Little Pony and ballet shoes.  She never drooled or made a mess, or got into trouble.  She waved like the queen and grinned at strangers who crossed the grocery store to shake her dimpled hand and tickle her blushing cheeks. 

And then I had Gabe.  From the beginning, he was different.  Abby had squeaked and murmured when she was hungry, and gently sipped at my breast, taking a break to gaze at my eyes and utter a ladylike little burp.  Gabegabe2 was like an industrial strength vacuum cleaner.  He roared with hunger, latched on like his life depended on it, and drained me in minutes, belching his grand finale to the feeding frenzy.  He constantly drooled, soaking his bibs, t-shirts and overalls.  He threw his rattles and screamed if he couldn’t find his pacifier.

So when I read Abby’s email, I chuckled, but I understood.  I remember that feeling of uncertainty, that first step into unfamiliar territory.  I remember bringing home my son from the hospital, how I wondered if he, his father, his sister and I would be able to become a family.  How I feared that I would not be able to relate to him.  And then I remembered the years that followed, and typed my reply:

“You will LOVE having a son.  Sons create balance our lives.  They keep us grounded and from buying too much pink.  He will be his daddy’s mini-me, and he’ll think you are beautiful when you cry because you don’t have the right clothes to wear or your belly sticks out more than you want.  He’ll make you jewelry from macaroni for Mother’s Day and boast that you are the best cook in the world.  He’ll want you to watch him flex his muscles and count while he stays underwater in the tub, and when he hugs your neck and kisses you on the cheeks, you will feel like the world could explode around you and you won’t care.”

Abby needn’t worry.  I know what she doesn’t yet known- that the moment the little cub arrives they will bond with a love stronger than she ever knew possible.  I know that she and Johnny will figure out what soothes him, what excites him, what makes him giggle with glee and what drives him to their arms for protection.  I know that the cub will grow up to be a companion who brings them a world filled with excitement, joy, and pride.  He will pull them to their fullest height and drive them to their knees. 

And as for me?  I will try to restrain myself from buying too many cute little hats, toosaddle shoes 2 many cuddly teddy bears and too many books about pirates and knights in shining armor.  I’ll bake him cookies and read him stories and snuggle him close, whispering secrets in his ear about the antics of his momma, aunt and uncle.

So the secret’s out.  The cub’s a boy, and I couldn’t be happier.

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.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

tempNew England, like much of the country, is deep in the clutches of winter.

I woke at four Friday morning to find the furnace had stopped working sometime during the night. The thermostat in the living room- the warmest room in my apartment- read a frosty 45 degrees (Fahrenheit.) The temperature outside was a mere 1. After several attempts, I was able to get the furnace started and when I left for work it was still chugging away. Crisis averted.

Later, I told my daughter Abby about the furnace. She said it reminded her of times we lost power when she was a child.

I remembered one of those times. We had a power failure one snowy February evening. While the children huddled under blankets in the living room, I braved the snow to heat canned soup over a propane burner on the front stoop. We supped by candle light and then Abby and Elizabeth entertained us by reading “Hamlet” aloud, each creating a different voice for each character. We snuggled together laughed until the lights came on. It is one of my favorite memories.

Another year, when the children were much younger, we lost power early in the first day of a huge ice storm. Abby and Gabriel had fevers, so I bundled them into bed and told them to stay there. With Elizabeth in tow, I emptied the refrigerator and buried the food in the snow on our deck, then turned the faucets to a slow trickle to keep the pipes from freezing. But as the hours passed, the house became dark and cold as a tomb. When my friend Sue called to see how we were faring, I told her we were without electricity. She quickly arranged for us to stay with her parents, who hadn’t been affected by the power failure. I joyfully herded the kids into the car, and skidded to their nearby home, where they greeted us with warm smiles and warmer hugs. Our communication was limited- they spoke mostly French. We spoke only English. But hospitality crosses all cultural barriers. We were given the whole lower level of their home- living room with two fold-out couches, TV, kitchenette, bath and bedroom. We remained there for five days, until the power to our townhouse was restored. It took several hours before the townhouse was warm enough to bring the kids home, and the ice coating the power lines and trees didn’t thaw for a week. But the warmth of the Lacroix family burns in my heart still and I will never forget their generosity.

During our most recent snow storm,  I reluctantly bundled up to take the trash to the dumpster across my apartment house parking lot. It was 6 degrees and the wind swirled snow in every direction- certainly not a night for a winter stroll. The storm raged like a banshee as I trudged through the snow, and I hunched my shoulders and bowed my head against the wind.

As I walked, I noticed how dry and granular the snow was. Under the streetlights it sparkled and shone and the earth seemed suddenly covered in diamonds. I stood enchanted by the dumpster forgetting about the wind and the cold.  “How often we miss out on beauty like this because we are blinded by our discomfort,” I thought, and I took a longer and slower route back to the warmth of my apartment.

jan 2014It’s funny how the worst of circumstances can provoke the best responses. After last night’s storm, there is brilliant sunshine that sparkles against alabaster roof tops. In much the same way, many cold nights filled with icy winds and frigid darkness, have brought memories that melt my heart and fill me with the warm embers of yesterday.
Tonight promises temperatures well below zero, and while I hope my furnace holds up under the strain, if it dies again, I’m sure we will find a way to stay warm. And who knows- maybe a whole new set of memories will be born.

The Quest for the Perfect Night’s Sleep

princessOkay, I will admit it.  I am ridiculously particular when it comes to my bed.  In an earlier post I talked about making my bed  https://gstoutimore.wordpress.com/2012/12/, and I can tell you that nothing has changed about my obsession with an unwrinkled surface on which to lay my head at the end of a hard day. 

Except I think the obsession is worse than ever.

It started a little over a year ago after I received a tax refund.  I don’t easily spend large sums of money.  I prefer to let it slip through my fingers in small insignificant sums that are hard to track and end up in the age-old question, “Jeeze…Where did all that money go, anyway?”

At any rate, when my refund check arrived, I decided to break tradition and spend the entire wad on a new mattress.  My old one was over fifteen years old, and had a trench several inches deep in the center.  In the morning, I would wake stiff and sore, and spend the next hour stretching and cussing out the matted stuffing that had obviously seen better days.

The weekend after making THE DECISION, my search began.  I surfed the internet, reading reviews, making price comparisons and otherwise schooling myself in the ways of the mattress.  Memory foam sounded the most comfortable, but the reviews said it gets hot. 

“Hot” and “menopausal woman” should never exist in the same room, unless it is a description of the woman and not her temperature, which at my age is more fantasy than reality.

I decided to speak to some real-life sales people someone who knew mattresses like a Ford salesman knows cars, and headed for one of the several mattress stores in town.

 “I’m looking for a new mattress,” I said, after entering the display room.

“Um…sure… try out anything in the store and let me know what you want,” responded the salesman, who was busy sending a text on his smartphone.

I scanned the room, trying to compare the mattresses. They all looked pretty much the same. 

“Thank you for your time,” I called out as I exited. The salesman never looked up from his smartphone.

A few days later, my son and I were in a large department store and I wandered to the mattress department.  Before I had time to read the sale signs, I heard a voice from behind me, “Zat one eeze on sale.”

The speaker was a slender woman with faded blond hair and a strong German accent.  She swayed a bit and leaned against the bed frame.  “Lie down on eet and try eet out,” she coaxed.

I couldn’t tell if she was slurring, or if it was just her accent, but I carefully perched on the edge of the mattress she was pointing to.

Eet is a special combination of memory foam injected with gel that keeps you cool,” she cooed.

She was definitely slurring.

 “Try lying down on eet.”

A bed that keeps you cool.  I thought I heard angels singing the “Halleluia”chorus from Theicomfort mattress Messiah.

I gingerly stretched out on the bed. 

Heaven on steroids.

The slurring woman knew her stuff.  She explained how the mattress was made. She told me about its warranty.  She knew the regular price and the sale price.  She explained that if something were to go wrong with the mattress, I did not need to call the manufacturer because the big department store would make good on the warranty.  She staggered to her desk and I followed, and in a few moments the deal was done.

A few weeks later my bed was delivered by two men who carefully put booties over their shoes before entering my apartment, and every night  since then, I sink into my bed and sigh, “God, I love this bed!  Bless the slurring staggering German lady!” before falling asleep.

But with everything in life, there is a catch.  My favorite sheets are wearing thin.  I thought it would be easy to find new ones.  Little did I know that my specifications were so difficult to meet.

They cannot have deep pockets.  Most new contour sheets are for mattresses that are at least fifteen inches thick.  The slurring lady didn’t mention this when she sold me a mattress that is nine inches thick.  When I put deep pocket sheets on my mattress they do not stay smooth, and to me, sleeping in a wrinkled bed is like sleeping on rocks.  I would never claim to be a princess, but I do suspect that I would feel a pea if one was put under my mattress.

They have to be all cotton percale, 280 thread count.  When I was a child, all my mother’s sheets met these specifications. They lasted forever.  They smelled like fresh air. They felt cool and smooth against my skin.  Apparently, more people have taken to sateen, or Egyptian cotton, or (ugh!) microfiber (what kind of mini fibers is microfiber made of, anyway?)

bedThey have to be white.  When I was a kid we always had white sheets, and I longed for printed sheets like those my friends had on their beds.  But now I know that my mother knew.  White sheets are like fresh snow- cool, serene, smooth.  For me there is nothing that smells better than white sheets dried outside in the cold winter wind.

Alas, such sheets are evasive, and as my search for the perfect sleep continues, and I’m open to suggestions.  In the meantime, I still bless the slurring German lady, because God, I love my bed.

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