Missed Opportunity

“My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and there were bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away

And he was talking ‘fore I knew it and as he grew
He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, dad
You know, I’m gonna be like you”

This past weekend, I accompanied my daughter on a shopping trip.  I usually avoid malls, but Elizabeth wanted to check out a specific store only found in a nearby mall, and happy to spend the day together, I agreed to brave the crowds.

We parked the car and headed through the door, dodging a couple who were texting rather than watching where they were walking.  We passed a cosmetic stand where a sales associate awkwardly tried to sweep the latest blush over the cheek of the client seated before her. The customer was loudly talking on her cell phone, completely unaware of how difficult she was making the task for the associate.  As we crossed the mall floor, I almost rear-ended the young man in front of me who had suddenly slowed his pace so he could redial.

Finally, we reached the store Elizabeth wanted to visit.  I browsed through the dresses with her, and when she went into the dressing room to try a few on, I plopped myself on one of two red wooden chairs to rest my aching back.

eliz tat 5.24.16It was not long before Elizabeth summoned me to her door to give my opinion on the dress she was trying.  As usual, she looked beautiful; tall and willowy, with huge gray eyes fringed with thick lashes.  The dress, silky and black, set off the tattoos I have come to embrace.  She is exquisite.  And unique.

I smiled.  “Lovely.  You look beautiful.  Do you like it?”

She nodded, relieved that I approved.

“Try the others, just for fun,” I urged.  A shopping trip is not worth the time and effort if you leave after only trying one item.

I turned to sit down again, when a family of four entered the dressing area.  Mom and the little girl closed themselves in a dressing room.  The little girl appeared to be about seven years old. She skipped as she hugged a green and white dress and excitedly shut the door behind her.  Dad and his son sat in the two chairs and each pulled a cell phone from his pocket.

“Rats! I should have taken my seat sooner. I missed my opportunity,” I thought.

The son looked to be in middle school.  He was handsome and well-dressed, and sported an ace bandage on his left wrist and arm, like the kind that results from a skateboard injury.  I thought of my own son, Gabriel at that age.  All arms and legs, he had reminded me of a colt waiting to burst into a full gallop.  He was in awe of the world, filled with questions and opinions.  He was always in motion; drumming to a song heard only in his head, tapping a toe, jiggling a heel, reaching to see if he could touch the ceiling.  Every moment with that child was an adventure, and although I adore the man he is now, I miss the boy he was.

The father and son never said a word to each other, each engrossed in his cell phone.  Soon the little girl emerged from her dressing room.  She twirled in the green and white dress as her mother said, “Show Daddy.”

She twirled again, obviously pleased with herself.  Dad glanced up from his cell phone and shrugged his shoulders.

“What do you think?” asked Mom.

Dad looked up and shrugged again.

“Raise your arms,” Mom instructed, and the little girl reached toward the ceiling, presumably to see how short the dress would rise.

Dad shrugged again, and went back to his cell phone.

“Okay,” said Mom, and the two went back into the dressing room.

At that moment, Elizabeth emerged, happy with her selection and we headed for the checkout area.  I was happy that she found a dress but I couldn’t forget with the missed opportunities I had just witnessed and they had nothing to do with a red chair or a sore back.

I’m sure those parents love their children.  Most do.  And the children are probably well cared for.  They looked healthy, well fed and clean.  They obviously have stuff.  New clothes.  Cell phones.

But they could have so much more.  It was the perfect time for Dad and son to bond over the boy’s injury or bemoan the trials of waiting outside the dressing room.  Or talk about how they would spend the rest of the day.  Or discuss a book, or a T.V. program, or how the Red Sox are having an abysmal season.

If only Dad had put down his cell phone, he would have seen that his little girl was searching for his opinion- his validation.  All children look to their parents for approval, and it’s so easy to satisfy this need.  All he had to do was tell her how pretty she looked in that dress, or that it didn’t do justice to her freckles and ponytail, or that the dress looked pretty because she was wearing it.  Just a few words.  A few crucial words.

john and judah 11.15.15I love technology and social media.  I check my Facebook wall several times a day, read my WordPress stats as soon as I post and take my cell phone with me whenever I leave the house.  But sometimes I feel as if our love for technology does more to isolate us than to bring us together.  Time with our loved ones is something we take so much for granted.  Every minute we have with each other is a chance to share a slice in time.  A chance to share opinions.  A chance to listen.  To watch.  To affirm.  To cherish.  Let’s not miss our opportunity.

“Well, I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away
Called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time”

“You see, my new job’s a hassle and the kid’s got the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me”

~Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle”

The Quilt

book_When my children were little, one of their favorite books was “The Quilt Story.” Written by Tony Johnson and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, this delightful story tells the tale of a quilt hand-sewn by a mother for her little girl, Abigail.   By wrapping the quilt around her, Abigail is enveloped in the warmth and shelter of her mother’s love, easing the difficult transition of a move across the country in a covered wagon. Generations later, the quilt is resurrected from an attic and repaired-just in time to wrap another little girl when she moves to a new house.  The quilt represents continuity, security, and the enduring love of a mother’s arms.  Wrapped in the warmth of its folds, the child feels this love, and the strange house becomes home.

abby2

Abby at 1 year old. She’s sitting on the little green quilt.

When my Abigail was born, the wife of my closest college friend made her a crib-sized quilt.  She snipped and pinned and matched, and finally she stitched it together.  It was beautiful- light green cotton dotted with tiny flowers on one side, patches of brightly colored hexagons on the other.  I wrapped my little pink bundle in the quilt when I took her to church, and tucked it around her to shield her from the chill when I took her for walks in her stroller.  Later, she used the quilt to wrap her dolls, and spread it on the floor for tea parties with her stuffed animals.

Two years and two weeks later, I brought Gabriel home from the hospital.  Gabriel was quite jaundiced, and his pediatrician suggested that I put him in a sunny window for small frequent intervals.  I spread the quilt in the bottom of a pram, and laid my little son on top, so he might soak up the warm, healing rays.  Later, the quilt became his superhero cape, and a tent for camping in the living room.

Elizabeth joined the family on a frigid December morning, and the quilt shielded her from the wind when I hurried her from the car to our apartment.  Unlike her siblings, Elizabeth never did outgrow the quilt, and dragged it with her wherever she went.  As long as she could snuggle her quilt, she was safe and warm.  She fell asleep in the car, napped at church services, and snoozed in a carriage while her brother and sister played, all wrapped in the little green quilt.

As Elizabeth grew, she became sicker and sicker. She was hospitalized many times- sometimes for routine tests, sometimes for acute illnesses.  Each time she went to the hospital, the quilt, now faded and slightly torn, went with her. We wrapped her pillow in the quilt, and she would immediately feel at ease, much like Abigail in “The Quilt Story.”  Many nights I climbed into my sleeping child’s hospital bed, cuddling her bony little body close to mine, while silent tears slipped down my cheeks and sank into the folds of the little green quilt.  Somehow, I too, would feel comforted.

abby john and judah with tomie dePaola 4.18.15_n

Abby, John and Judah with Tomie dePaola 4.18.15

Perhaps it was the warmth beneath its layers, or the security that every child feels while cuddled under a hand stitched quilt, but Elizabeth grew strong and capable.  To this day, she keeps the quilt nearby; its faded green tatters a reminder that the warmth of love shines a beacon to make even the loneliest places home.

judah with new quilt 10.12.15

Judah at 1 year old wrapped in a quilt from his GiGi.

And now we have Judah- Abigail’s son.  My grandson.  He calls me GiGi, and although he loves me, his favorite place in the world is wrapped in his mother’s arms.  Judah met Tomie dePaola last spring, and although he is too young for “The Quilt Story,” I decided he needed a quilt of his own.

So I snipped and pinned and matched and finally stitched it together.   A quilt of the softest flannel, with robots on one side, and prints in gray, yellow, white and aqua on the other.  It is a quilt to keep him warm when the New Hampshire winds form icicles above his bedroom window.  It will become a superhero’s cape, be used as a magic carpet, and to hide under when things go bump in the night.  The quilt will represent continuity, security, and the enduring love of his mother’s arms.  Wrapped in the warmth of its folds, he will feel loved, and everywhere will be home.

One Decision

casa_v_master_redblueI’ve been home for several weeks this summer following back surgery.  Although the surgery was a success, recovery isn’t easy or fun; I feel like I’ve aged a hundred years.  Taking a shower uses all the energy I can muster.  My left leg and foot are numb. I can’t lie on my back because of my slow-to-heal incision.  Because my left hip hurts from the bone graft, I can only sleep on my right side, and now my right shoulder aches.  My skin is hypersensitive, I walk as if in slow motion, and by early evening, I am cranky and out of sorts.

Tonight was no exception.  I had gone to a home visit for my *CASA volunteer work, and returned home very sore and very tired. I love this work, but most of the situations surrounding abused and neglected children are heartbreaking.  Someone is always sad. A parent may lose his child.  A child may be taken from her mother.  There is often violence.  There is often addiction. There are always tears.  And some nights, especially when I am tired, they are mine.

Exhausted and discouraged, I took a shower, put on my pajamas and settled into my recliner to relax in front of the TV set.  When the phone rang at seven o’clock, I thought the caller would be one of my daughters checking up on me. I was surprised to hear a male voice on the other end.

“This is John calling about the problem with Windows on your computer.” scams_exposed_scammer419

I have received these calls before.  I know they are a scam, meant to glean information, and I usually just disconnect the call.  But tonight was different.  Perhaps it is because I have seen the confusion in my CASA children’s eyes when their mommy doesn’t show up for a planned visit.  Perhaps it is because a four-year-old worries about her sister’s safety instead of thinking about what Disney princess she likes the best.  Perhaps it is the hopelessness I see when a parent faces a judge. Perhaps it is that the line of addiction is invisible and nobody sees it until he’s past it, and then it’s too late.  Perhaps it is knowledge that at one point or another, we are all just one bad decision away from disaster, and that sometimes it is only by the grace of God that we choose well.

Or perhaps it is because no matter how tired, no matter how sore, no matter how discouraged, I have this unceasing drive to make things better. For whatever reason, I was going to take a different approach this time.
“John,” I asked, “Does your mother know what you do for a living?  Does she know that you have a job doing something that is illegal and unethical? ”

“Uh…no ma’am…uh…I mean….”

“How does she feel about that?  Because John, I’m a mother and if my son were doing this kind of work I’d be crying myself to sleep every night.”

I could hear John breathing but he said nothing.

“I’m going to hang up now, but John, you might want to think a little about this.”

Now perhaps John (if that is his real name) doesn’t care a bit about what I said.  Perhaps he just merrily dialed another number in hopes of scamming the next customer.

But maybe…just maybe, he’ll think about the man he is, and the man he wants to be, and the man his mother wanted him to be.  Because sometimes it is just one decision.

*If you want to know more about Court Appointed Special Advocates, message me, or look up your state’s CASA website.  I guarantee, it’ll change your life.

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.

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.

Lessons from Adam

Every morning as I sip my coffee, I peruse the headlines on the internet and scan a few of the articles that interest me. Last week I came upon an article that made me wish I had slept an extra twenty minutes and skipped the internet.  Screen-Shot-2013-08-20-at-1_33_52-PM

On the splash page of AOL there was a headline, “Woman writes outrageously cruel letter to mom of autistic boy.”  The article showed the anonymous letter written about Max, a thirteen year old boy with autism.  I’ll spare you the details, but “outrageously cruel” doesn’t begin to describe how reprehensible this letter was.

As I read the letter, I thought of my nephew Adam.  Adam has Down syndrome and is autistic.  He entered our lives twenty-five years ago, a frail little bundle with huge blueberry eyes that searched mine as I held him for the first time.  His heart was so weak that drinking from his bottle exhausted him, requiring open heart surgery before he was a year old.  Undoubtedly, his special needs were overwhelming to his birth parents, and they released him for adoption shortly after his birth.  It took no time at all for him to claim his spot in the family…and in our hearts.

adam and mjIt’s Saturday, and I visit my sister at her farmhouse.  Adam greets me with a grunt and a hug.  He can only say a few words, but despite severe hearing loss in both ears, he understands almost everything that is spoken.  When he sees me approaching the front door, he usually flings it open and runs away, but today he stays long enough to give me a quick hug and an air kiss.  He hovers in the kitchen, grinding his teeth and shifting his weight from one foot to the other until my brother-in-law tells him it’s time to take the trash to the dump.  He separates the bottles and cans from the paper goods and carries them to the work shop.  And on Saturday, he helps his dad take the family’s refuse to the dump.  It may easily be the only chore he does, but he does it without fail.

After returning from their errand, my brother-in-law resumes working on the outbuilding he is constructing for his tractor.  Adam sits in a chair at the edge of the construction site, swaying to Toby Keith on the CD player and watching the cars and trucks pass by the house. 

You may read this and wonder why God would put such an unfortunate human being on this earth.  While it is true that Adam will not ever support himself, or drive a car, or cook his own meals, he adds to his family in ways that cannot be measured. 

Adam teaches us perseverance. He hates wrinkled socks and whines and fusses if they are not perfectly smooth.  Over and over, he pulls them off his feet and pulls them to his knees again in an attempt to calm his overloaded sensory system. Finally, when they are adjusted to his satisfaction, he can move on.  How often do we slop together a job just to get it done, or give up when a task cannot be completed in a few moments?

Adam teaches us to be non-judgmental.  Adam doesn’t size up people’s appearance.  He doesn’t care how well-educated they are, or if what job they have, or how much money they have.  He teaches us to let go of expectations and take people at face value, with no bias or prejudice.  He doesn’t realize what a powerful lesson that is.  But I do.

Adam teaches us to take time and laugh.  He has a little game which nobody quite understands.  Sitting next to me, he pinches his fingers together, touches his forehead between his eyebrows and then reaches out to touch mine in the same place.  Back and forth, he goes, chuckling as if it is the funniest thing in the world.  His laughter is contagious.  I laugh with him, and my day is immediately better.

Adam teaches us unconditional love.  During most of Adam’s life, my mother lived in the farmhouse with my sister and her husband. She was an integral part of Adam’s life and he adored her.  When I visited my mother in her room, Adam would burst through the door and plop himself on her bed or on the floor in front of her television set.  He did not interrupt.  He did not ask for anything.  He just wanted to be near her. 

My mother loved Adam as much as he loved her.  Night after night, Adam brought his pajamas to her room so she could help him get ready for bed.  Helping him dress, she would evoke from him the only sentence I have ever heard him say.  Signing at the same time, she would start him off, “Adam, I…”

Adam would sign back and yell to complete the sentence, “Love..you!”

During Mom’s last days at the Hospice House, my nephew Jason brought Adam by for a visit.  He ran into the room, and plopped himself down in the recliner next to Mom’s bed.  He was clearly confused by the surroundings, but he knew his Grammie was there.  After a short visit, Jason said it was time to leave.  Mom kissed Adam and started the routine, “Adam, I…”

“Love… you!” belted Adam.  It was the last time he spoke to her.

For days after Mom passed away, Adam would stand at the door of her empty room, pajamas in hand, waiting for his beloved Grammie to help him get ready for bed.  His silence spoke the emptiness that we all felt.

To the person who wrote that nasty letter on the internet, I am sorry.  I am sorry you areadam and horse so biased with your own prejudice that you miss out on the value of those different from you.  I am sorry you are so filled with hate that you miss out on love.  And I am sorry you will never know the wonderful lessons that Adam and those like him can teach.  It is you who suffers most.

Beware Children Who Behave Perfectly in Church

I don’t follow many blogs, but I began followingThe Adventures of Miss Fanny P, several3 cherubs weeks ago, and it rarely fails to make me chuckle.  The writer is a mother of two little boys whose stories remind me that no matter where on the globe we live, mothers are all pretty much the same.  We love our children beyond words.  We cannot restrain ourselves when announcing their latest accomplishments.  And when necessary, we chastise them so others might see them as perfect little angels.

In one of her posts, Miss Fanny P refers to relatives who have perfect children who sit calmly and quietly at church.  I almost choked on my coffee and laughed out loud, for there was once a time when my three perfect angels sat quietly in church.  Or so I thought.

Our children were raised in a Born-again-Bible-thumping-sing-it-till-you’re-hoarse church.  Their father and I had made young adult commitments to a living God and although we didn’t always agree with every teaching from any one church, we decided it was important to be active members of a local congregation.  He is a talented musician, and although my skills were not as well-honed as his, our voices blended in perfect harmony.  For many years he led our church worship team in weekly services, pounding the melody on the piano, while directing a rock and roll drummer, guitarists and several vocalists.   He had them, as they say, dancing in the aisles.

The children spent a great deal of time in our church building. During Saturday morningabby angelic 2jpg worship team practice, Elizabeth napped by my side, while Abigail and Gabriel played hide-and-seek under the pews, crawling around like little GI Joes, trying to see who could travel from the back of the sanctuary to the front without being tagged.  The kids went to Sunday school before services and Vacation Bible School during the summer.  They accompanied me to mothers’ meetings and missions meetings, teachers’ meetings and meetings to plan other meetings.  They were nearly as comfortable at church as they were in their own living room, and therein is the rub.

gabe angelic0001In those days, we rose early on Sunday morning, ate breakfast, and with three freshly  scrubbed cherubs in tow, made our way to church before the first service began.  We seated our angels on the front pew, where we could see them, and they could see us.  I stood to the right of the altar with the other back-up singers, and their dad sat at the piano, at the opposite side.  Usually, a couple from the congregation would “adopt” the children during the song service, feeding them breath mints and whispering answers to their questions until the songs ended and we joined them on a pew.  But every once in a while, the three children would sit by themselves in the front pew, without an adult nearby. I never worried. They were freshly combed and their clothes were carefully ironed. They were polite and respectful.  They did not talk back. They did not whine.  I worked very hard to present three perfect angels to our congregation every Sunday morning.

On one such Sunday, as we began the first song, I looked down at the children.  The pews were full, and although the ceiling fans and air conditioners were running at full tilt, it promised to be a long, hot service.  Elizabeth, who was not yet in school, playfully lifted her dress over her head, and letting it fill with air, billowed it down to the pew like a parachute.  I silently willed her to look at me so she might see my disapproving expression and stop, but it was to no avail. Over and over, she flapped her dress up and down, exposing her little belly and My Little Pony underwear.

Not to be outdone, Gabe grabbed a Bible and began fanning it in Abby’s face.  It hit her nose and she retaliated by pushing him off the pew.  Gabe fell onto Elizabeth, who tumbled to the floor next to him.  And with one fell swoop, war was declared.

The song was reaching its crescendo.  Men and women clapped their hands and sang, stomping their feet in rhythm.  The drummer, sweat running down his face, kept perfect time, as the guitars followed the piano’s lead.  I tried to hold my vocal harmonies while alternating between scowls and head shakes at my three feuding offspring, but it was no good. They knew better than to look my way.

Suddenly, mid-verse, the piano and my husband’s strong tenor voice stopped.  The guitars trailed off, as did the vocalists, and the drummer, in the middle of a roll, crashed once on the high hat and looked around to see why the music had ceased.  The congregation and I watched as my children’s father silently got up from the piano, strode to the front pew, and whispered to his three wide-eyed and now very quiet children.  Then, as if nothing happened, he returned to the piano, and picked up the song exactly where he had left it.

The kids never acted out at church again.  I thought that whatever was said to them putelizabeth angelic0001 the fear of God Himself into them and they, realizing their sin, put away their wicked ways forever. But last week, I found their children’s Bible and leafing through the pages, found crayoned drawings and notes jotted during church- not at all innocent and exemplary of “good” Christian children.  They were sarcastic, and disrespectful and deliciously sinful.

You might think I am disappointed, but you are wrong.  I am delighted, because my three very normal children have grown up to be three exceptional adults.  They love God, but they do not always follow the church’s rules. They often challenge the way things have always been done.  They question.  They disrupt.  They turn my world upside down, just as they did when they were three little misbehaving monkeys in the front pew.  And I, who wanted my children to appear to be little angels, learned that no child is perfect, as no adult is perfect.  Which is why Jesus was born in the first place.  Which is why I chose my faith as a young adult.  I only wish I understood it so well twenty years ago.

So, Miss Fanny P, beware perfect children who behave at church.  Things are not always as they appear.  Thank God!

Tinkerbell, NSYNC and other Magical Moments

A friend of mine returned to the office today after spending a week at Disney with her family.  Jodi has two beautiful daughters who are the perfect ages for a wonderland full of magical creatures.  She told me how they waited in line for an hour to see Tinkerbell and Periwinkle, the two fairies that appear in Disney’s latest movie.  I imagined standing in line with two antsy, excited little girls, surrounded by other antsy, excited children.  Somehow, the mental picture was rather unappealing. Indeed, just yesterday I was at the mall, doing some preliminary scouting for Christmas gifts.   There was a long line of families waiting to see Santa and I heard child after cranky child whining and crying because they were too tired, too impatient, too hungry or too indulged.  Standing in line for an hour for kid’s stuff does not in any way appeal to me.

Jodi broke my train of thought.  “The girls were really well behaved, and besides, seeing the looks on their faces when they finally caught a glimpse of Tinkerbell and Periwinkle made it all worth it,” she explained.

And then I remembered.

It was the late 90’s, and Abby was fifteen. She and her friends were huge fans of the boy band, NSYNC.  She  listened to NSYNC mix tapes.  She watched NSYNC videos.  She was glued to the TV set for NSYNC interviews and had NSYNC posters. There were times when I thought if I had to listen to “Tearin’ Up My Heart” one more time I would tear out my own heart.  But as every teen’s parent knows, if you share your kids’ music, they let you into their lives, so I listened to Justin, Chris, Lance, Joey and JC croon in perfectly choreographed harmony until they sang “Bye, Bye, Bye” and Abby moved on to more mature music.

In the midst of this musical obsession, Abby and her friend Elizabeth saved enough money to go to an NSYNC concert.  Abby asked her father to buy them tickets and after spending an hour on the phone and finding nothing available in New Hampshire or Massachusetts, he purchased two seats in Albany, New York- a three hour drive from our home.

The morning of the concert, snow fell so hard that school was canceled.  I considered canceling the trip to New York, but after taking one look at Abby’s crushed face, her dad insisted that we go.  We navigated the icy highway and arrived in Albany a couple of hours before the concert and found a parking spot directly across the street from the arena, in front of an Italian restaurant.  We ate a quick dinner and after instructions to stay together, with breathless goodbyes the girls sprinted across the street, while we sat in the car.

Our finances were limited and the night was cold, so we ran the car for short periods of time- just long enough to warm our fingers and toes.  Every hour we fed the parking meter a few quarters and once we took a short trip to the Italian restaurant for coffee and a bathroom break. We were cold.  We were tired.  We were bored.

But at eleven o’clock, the arena doors opened and the streets filled with teenage girls searching for their rides.  Amid the crowd were Abby and Elizabeth-faces flushed, feet barely skipping on the pavement, bubbling with excitement.  I had never seen my daughter so happy, and the look on her face warmed my soul and radiated to my frozen toes.

The three hour drive home passed quickly as Abby and Elizabeth chattered about the concert, and when we finally got home, I tucked my sleepy teenager into bed, knowing that sweet choruses of “God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You” would drift through her head and fill her dreams. I climbed into bed, cuddling my icy feet against my already sleeping husband, a feeling of utter satisfaction lulling me to sleep.

That was more than ten years ago, but as I listened to Jodi speak about her little girls and the thrill of meeting Tinkerbell and Periwinkle, it became yesterday.  This is the stuff of perfect memories- the frustrations of standing in line, waiting on hold, or sitting in a frigid car melt with the sparkle of your child’s eye.  They are worth the effort.  Because acts of love are truly magic. 

The First Snow

This morning I woke to find the season’s first blanket of snow on the ground outside my window.  I had anticipated the storm and even prepared for it.  Indeed, just yesterday I climbed the stairs to the attic in search of my snow brush and a shovel, and smiled at the irony of finding them next to my beach chairs and umbrella. 

As I pushed the wet heavy snow from my car windshield, I realized that my heart still quickens when the first  snow of winter falls from the night sky, glistening in the street lights and covering the black pavement like baby powder.  I still think that the first snow has some magical qualities.  And as I do every year, I remembered the day I snuck snow into Elizabeth’s hospital room.

She was eight years old, painfully thin, with sunken cheeks and huge eyes.  For years, her symptoms had baffled her doctors. We knew something was wrong.  We just did not know its name, and without a name, nobody knew how to treat her.  Finally, her symptoms became so invasive that her doctor admitted her to the medical center for a week of testing.

I knew the testing would be difficult. She would have an IV and an A line inserted. She would have blood tests every hour or so.  We would recount her story to multiple medical students, doctors and nurses.  She would be allowed not food or drink for thirty-six hours, or until her blood sugar made a drastic drop.  She would be exhausted and hungry and nauseated.  And she would not understand.

The first several hours after her admission went quickly.  The staff at the medical center gave great pediatric care, and made my daughter as comfortable as possible. But as the hours passed and she was moved into the PICU-Pediatric Intensive Care Unit- she grew hungry and irritable.  Not wanting to leave her, I waited until early evening when she drifted into an uneasy sleep before sneaking off to the hospital cafeteria for a quick bowl of soup.  On the way back to the PICU I heard someone mention that it was supposed to snow.

When I reached Elizabeth, she was awake.  “Where were you?” she asked.  “Why did you leave me?  I’m hungry.  Can’t you get me something to eat?”  Her big eyes filled with tears that rolled down her pale cheeks and splashed on her bed sheets. I gathered her in my arms, wrapped her in her favorite blanket and walked through the PICU, softly singing to her until she fell asleep. I sat by her bed until dawn broke.  As the sky turned from black to gray to white, I realized the snow had fallen, just as predicted.

When Elizabeth woke, she was listless and quiet.  She lay in her bed and stared at the wall, too nauseated to watch television or play.  She didn’t want me to read to her.  She didn’t want to play with “Diarrhea Doggie”- the stuffed puppy named by an intern to make her giggle in naughty glee.  She didn’t want her back rubbed.  And when I told her I was going to leave the PICU for a short time, she didn’t protest.  She just lay in silent resignation. 

I hurried to the cafeteria for breakfast, but found I was only able to swallow half a cup of coffee.  I felt alone, and bewildered and ineffective at making things right for my precious little girl.  Tears burned at my eyes, and I knew it was only a matter of moments before they would spill down my face betraying my silent worry.  Needing a place to collect myself, I made a beeline for the parking lot and sat shivering and sobbing in my freezing car.  I cried and prayed and then cried some more.  Finally, I dried my eyes, and looked at myself in the rear view mirror.  I looked almost as bad as Elizabeth.  My eyes were sunken and red rimmed from tears and lack of sleep.  My hair was messy and my clothes were wrinkled.  I clearly needed something to lift my spirits and more importantly, lift Elizabeth’s.

Getting out of the car, I absently dragged my hand across the window and realized how sticky the snow was.   “Great for snowmen,” I thought, and wondered if Abby and Gabe were playing in the white stuff on their way to the bus.  Snow brings out the fun in all of us- especially the first snow of winter.

And then I had a thought.  I hurriedly packed together a large snowball and placed it in my jacket pocket.  Then I went straight to the PICU.  Elizabeth was still awake, her eyes staring ahead, looking at everything, looking at nothing. 

“I have a present for you!” I exclaimed, and she turned my way.  I carefully drew the snowball from my pocket, not sure how the nearby nurses would react if they noticed. 

Elizabeth’s eyes widened and a smile came to her lips.  “A snowball?  Here?” 

“All for you.   It’s the first snow of winter- magic snow!” 

She took the snowball and held it in her hand for a few moments.  It began to drip on her covers and she placed it in the plastic water cup by her bed.  She grinned at me and laid back, her now sparkling eyes still on the melting snowball. She watched it until it was nothing more than a small puddle in the bottom of the cup.  And although the  following hours were difficult and long, the spark in my daughter’s eye remained.  She managed to endure the rest of the testing, and subsequently received a diagnosis and a treatment plan.  And a few days later, I took her home, where she grew from a spirited skinny little girl to a spirited willowy young woman. 

This morning, I walked into work and heard people muttering about the mess they had to drive in, the slop on their sidewalks, the coating on their cars.  They complain.  They gripe.  And while they grumble, I smile, because I will always welcome the first magical snow of winter.

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