Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Monday, July 15, 2013

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Martin Luther King Jr.

We held hands tonight and started - in unison - like we always do when we have the presence of mind to pray before dinner.  "Thank you, God, for this beautiful day."  When it was my turn, I felt full, and I had a difficult time letting the words out.  I looked at my kids, their skin lightly tanned by July.  "Thank you, God... for a mind that thinks critically, and a heart that loves so openly and deeply."

Moments earlier, while I was getting the last bits of dinner ready, Jim asked what was wrong. 

I am sad, and angry, and feeling hopeless and confused.  The state of Florida let a man walk out of a courthouse free, after killing a teenager.

That state, any other state... the union of them all has so, so many broken bones to patch, but it seems no one knows where to start.  Instead of discussing healing and repair, we argue.  We blame victims.  We become afraid to share opinions and ideas because we don't want to own up to our own skeletons,  or ignorance, or fear.  People who make rules don't often want to change them because the rules are working well enough for them.

My friends with skin darker than mine share feelings that their children will perceive their own lives to be less important as people with lighter skin because of the verdict.  I want to discredit those feelings and tell them that they're overgeneralizing.  But they're not.  I know that I have better access to a better life because my genes were programmed to give me light skin.  I know that many of the children in my neighborhood will struggle for things that my children will take for granted.

Earlier today, a friend posted this article on Facebook.  He promptly took a lot of heat from people who didn't realize that the Onion writes satire and that they were not literally suggesting our only recourse to be that the"Nation Throws Hands Up, Tells Black Teenagers To Do Their Best Out There" as the headline reads.  I read it and finished with tears in my eyes.  There is more we can all do, we HAVE to do better.  But... today, yesterday, since the day that the story broke and they didn't arrest Zimmerman immediately... my head and my heart are at a loss. 

Because of my skin color, it would be easier to let this fade to history.  But then I've got that thinking brain and feeling heart that I thanked God for tonight and they won't allow me to let this injustice fade.  Many of my friends and family and peers have similarly natured and nurtured brains and hearts.  We'll keep talking about this story and other like it, even after the headlines are stolen by the next real or media-hyped tragedy.  We'll continue to love and shine light and struggle through the layers of hurt and hard work. 

Because, even though it's hard, it's a hell of a lot better than powerless apathy.  In small corners, in small ways, keep going, friends.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day 2013, Sometimes it ain't pretty

It was not the best Mother's Day in the brief archives of my 7 years as a mom. 

I've been sick with a respiratory thing that knocked me out for 2 days previous.  Moving hurt.  I coughed so much that I was reminded that kegels are still an important exercise (a little reference for the other moms out there).  I was in a fog.  My body told me that I needed to sleep, so I did.  I'm not complaining about being sick, just giving a little baseline so y'all know where I was at coming into today.  Please, as you read this, remember baseline for today = still sick, worn out, restless, and missing my kids and husband.

The second time I woke up today, I had a little more energy.  The first time I woke up, I don't think the sun was up yet, but sweet Willa was.  She stood over me with a love offering of oatmeal for my breakfast in bed.  I had taken "so you can rest" cold medicine the night before, and wasn't ready for anything.  I (ungratefully) mumbled something about coming back in a while, and rolled over.  A while later, both kids and Jim came into the room with pancakes, scrambled eggs (Jim - and Hazel and Alice - makes the best scrambled eggs) and coffee.  And the oatmeal.  I was touched by the breakfast in bed gesture, and grateful to enjoy it in relative silence while I pried my eyes open.

We went to church.  The minister had a difficult time with a Mother's Day sermon.  He admitted that he has a difficult time with that one every year.  While I wasn't expecting or hoping for a sermon that would align with sappy Hallmark sentiment, I wasn't captivated by his suggestion that Mother's Day be used politically as an effort to stop all violence for the day.  I am in favor of ending violence in our city and afar.  But... dude.  Being a parent is really, really challenging.  I struggle every day with shaping the two small people who live with us.  Ensuring their safety, their health, their education, their character.. that's no small deal.  Can we just have a pep talk for that, please?  Just a genuine, "it's hard work, and we're here to support that."  This minister often speaks words that leave his mouth and travel into folds in my heart that I've forgotten; he stirs me, but today he didn't reach me.

We left church and came home for a small stop.  I called my mom who mentioned that I should go to the doctor.  I smiled at her concern and the familiarity of the conversation.  I felt guilty for not having a visit with her planned.  Then went to visit Jim's mom, and we came home for some rest time.  The kids had been bickering.  It wasn't a big deal, it was like the elevator muzak form of their fighting.  It was kind of in the background, and maybe you could recognize it as tension if you really listened.  I wasn't listening very well.  I was sleeping.

The kids have a lot of pent up energy.  It's been really cold this week, and I've been too sick to help them use up that energy.  Jim's been using his time taking care of me, the kids, and the house.  He's been awesome in a zillion ways while his mind's been on a possible job change.  I am so lucky and glad to have him as a parenting partner (and scrambled eggs maker).

It was too cold to do anything as a family outside; I had no energy to do it anyway.  It was too cold to make our annual trip to the greenhouse - the frost that's due to come tonight would kill everything anyhow.  And the minister got it all wrong, and I had cabin fever from being in too much, AND I have PMS, and I'm a little freaked about finishing my internship and the next steps in counseling and GEEZ!  I didn't even mention that I saw snow today!!!

Which cartoon was it that had black scribbles in thought bubbles above cranky characters heads?  That was me for a while today.  Black scribbles above my head, and spitty sheets,   I had had it with the crappy day.  I was trying mighty hard to take it all in stride and just enjoy the freaking day for what it was and then... then Henry turned in el Diablo.

He has had a difficult two weeks.  He's testing boundaries and patience and unconditional love.  Tonight while he was in his room during dinner for general bad choices and pushing buttons, I heard him spit.  As in, he summoned saliva and released it, forcefully, somewhere in his room.  He does not have a spittoon in his room.  I went in, and asked where he spit.  He denied spitting.  I asked again.  He was sitting in his loft bed, at eye level with my face.  I noticed him look at his sheet while denying spitting.  I asked again, he looked in the same place.  Sweet friends... my brain shut down.  I yelled like the opposite of muzak in an elevator about lying to me.  He's lied twice in the last two weeks, and we've been having big talks about being trustworthy.  I am clearly not getting through.  He yelled back (in an equally not muzak kind of tone) that he didn't spit, and I put my hand on his sheet.  Squarely in the spit.  I calmly told him that I didn't want to see him anymore that night, and left the room.

I sat on the steps outside.  I felt guilty/disappointed/exhausted/like a failure/alone/and overcrowded all at the same time.  I sighed.  I went in and talked to Jim for a minute, and then took a deep breath.

I went to Henry's room, and opened the door.  He was waiting on the other side.  Without saying anything he hugged me, and I hugged him.  We climbed into his bed and talked.  I told him I was sorry about screaming, and he said he was sorry for spitting in his bed.  I wasn't mad.  I wasn't grouchy.  I was being a good listener, and asking him directed questions, and answering his questions.  I was a good mom.

We finished dinner.  I put on the Curious George movie soundtrack.  It's the music I associate with my motherhood.  I danced with 1 day old Willa in the hospital to that music.  I sat on the floor with my children, and we were joined by Jim.  We made a Lego spaceship.  And spaceship garage.  And ladder.  We played for 90 minutes.  They missed their bed time.  Not by much.

This is an honest look at my day rough day as a mother, and this is my Mother's Day.  I know some people who read these words are actively mothering young children, too.  And maybe you didn't get a sermon that nourished you?  Pals, it's really hard work.  I hope you're feeling supported and loved for it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Tonight, Willa had her Spring vocal concert for school.  Her school has 400+ kids in it, but these are the ones who came for the concert.  Below is a video of the finale.  It is shaky and blurry, but it's not the visual that matters.  It's the strength and joy in their voices.

92% of the kids in her school qualify for free or reduced lunch.  In order to make sure that they get food outside of school, a nonprofit organization brings them sack suppers for students to take home at the end of the day.  Some of Willa's friends don't have winter boots, or books at home, or an adult who doesn't have to work 3 jobs to pay for rent.  These are not faceless statistics.  They're the kid next to my daughter in class, the ones she plays with at recess.  The ones she talks about at home and talks to at school.  They are her friends and classmates, and they are the kids in my neighborhood.

So, when these kids all took the stage, kindergartners in front, 5th graders on the risers, and they started singing this song, I cried.  This song is so empowering and so hopeful.  My wish for all of the kids on stage (and those who didn't make it tonight) is that they do, indeed, let it shine.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fuzzy and grey grief package

Tomorrow it will be 2 weeks since my father in law died.  I was there when he died, and was the last one in the hospital room with his still body.  We had a well attended visitation.  Jim stood up at the funeral mass and delivered a eulogy from his heart.  We've eaten the casseroles, opened sympathy cards, watered plants delivered to the funeral home, addressed thank you cards, and have visited his grave on the way to the nature center.

But still, it's almost impossible to me that he's gone.

We are adjusting to a new normal.  Jim doesn't have daily hospital visits now.  We don't hope for him to get better anymore.  Henry and Willa are learning to talk about just "grandma's house" now.  I have taken over the care of the 5 potted geraniums that he brought in and hung up in the enclosed porch.  Every winter he did this, and I was always so grateful to pass the giant fuzzy green leaves and inhale the scent before going out in the cold and snow.

I am finding that I have no idea how to support my husband through this.  Grief comes in so many different packages.  His looks and feels very different than my own.  I am sure we're all doing the best we can.

The kids are doing... okay.  Where my grief package is fuzzy and grey, Henry's is several very small colorful dots of grief that get delivered at curious times.  One of his fish died this week.  He suggested to Jim that Grandpa T. might have a pet dead fish now.  Willa's grief package is hard.  Hard and hidden, but behind her eyes, and available... sometimes.  I feel aches when I think about how little they will remember about him.  We're making memory books.

It's an adjustment, and it takes time.  We're less stunned now, and more sad that we won't have more time with him.  The support we've had from our friends and family has been wonderful.  I never really understood the phrase "lifting you up" until we really needed to be lifted.  It feels like our bones have been compressed from the weight of losing him, from figuring out the logistics of making  good on promises to him as he left.  It's strange to have Jim's mom and siblings thank me for doing things that help us at this time.  As though he weren't part of my family, or I part of his. 

She will have her needs met, she will not shrink from the loneliness.  We will do our best.

We are doing out best.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

He always made sure to have veggie burgers for me in the summer

Jim and I met May of 2004 when I was with a mutual friend and we ran into him at a concert.  After that, he had been somewhat absorbed into friend group outings.  After only a few times, we knew we wanted to spend time together without all of the other friends around.  We decided to go to Festival together.  I went to his house first, bringing the nerves of a first date with me.  I walked up the front steps, and someone else opened the door.

I met Jim's parents on our first date.  They had dropped by because they were in the area.  We talked for a few minutes, and they cleared out.  I soon met the rest of his family in his parents' backyard.  They have a pool, and since meeting the whole tribe, we've spent many Saturday afternoons together - swimming in the warm weather, talking in the living room while the 4, and then 5, and then 6... and now 9 grandkids churned around us in a cloud of laughter, cookie crumbs and toys.

I had a hard time calling Jim's parents mom and dad.  I have my own set, and those titles don't  describe the relationship I have with Jim's parents.  I came to them as a fully formed adult with capabilities and opinions and a lot of love for their son.  Frankly they were thrilled that at their son (then in his late 30s) had found someone.

Over the years since first meeting them, Jim's dad and I have shared a lot of secret winks or half smiles over the quirks of family members.  He shared with me his pride in his son who had become a husband, a dad, and a successful professional.  We talked about his concern for his wife who has had health challenges of her own.  He would remember historical Grand Rapids, often forgetting that I am not native.  So he would patiently tell me the lineage of a particular building or family.  When I would express frustration with our small house, he would chuckle and tell me stories about growing up in this house.  Those stories of 9 kids in this house put my space and single bathroom frustrations in perspective.

Yesterday, I had to call Jim (who was in Traverse City for work) to tell him to pack up and come home.  Telling him that his dad took a sudden bad turn, and was now dying was one of the hardest things I've had to do.  The other was telling Willa and Henry that their beloved Grandpa T. died.

Grandpa who remembered which grandkid liked which lunch meat or candy or cookie, and would ensure those things would be stocked in his house.  Grandpa who loved few things more than Saturdays in the pool with the grandkids.  Grandpa who was always ready with hugs and "see you later alligator... " when we would pack into the car at the end of a visit...

Willa and Henry are processing this news the way a 4 and 6 year old should.  They seem to think it's their job to keep Jim and I happy and distracted by doing choreographed dances and telling jokes.  They will miss their grandpa very much, but they don't understand fully right now.

I was there yesterday, as was Jim, the rest of his kids, another daughter in law, his wife, and most of his 8 brothers and sisters.  We were there around him when he drifted off peacefully, thanks to the morphine. 

In the end, he had been in the hospital for 66 days.  In the end, he had beaten leukemia, as proved by the biopsy results that came back yesterday.  But the chemo wiped out his immune system, and a fungus took hold, eventually spreading to his spleen (which was removed after rupturing), his liver, and then his brain.  It has been a very long 66 days for all of us.  Now he doesn't have to fight anymore, and his faith sustained him until the end.

It was strange be be in a room at the funeral room giving information for the obituary, deciding which days, which rituals... Having children is a milestone in the generational cycle.  Now, suddenly, we are all older.  The next few days will be a blur.  Henry needs a haircut.  Willa needs funeral clothes, because sparkles and bright pink doesn't feel right.  We will meet his friends and family and remember great stories and help each other to say goodbye.  We will be exhausted from the marathon grieving and celebrating.  He leaves behind a legacy of kindness, and patience, and love.  He leaves behind a family that will support each other in the next days, and beyond.  He leaves behind memories that we will treasure always.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ornaments 2012

Every year I hunt for ornaments for collections that we will eventually turn over to Henry and Willa when they have their own trees.  Henry gets a bear every year, and Willa gets a bird.  Does this sound familiar?  You can see past ornaments here and here and here.

This year, Henry's bear has an H on it because it was the year he started writing his name on everything. 
Willa has a chicken because... well, you know.