Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Knocking

If good, why do I yield to that suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs, against the use of nature? Present fears are less than horrible imaginings.   (Shakespeare’s Macbeth I-iii)

There’s been a knocking at my ribs. I could easily point to the amount of cleaning, shopping, wrapping, baking, entertaining I’ve done, but that would not be an honest explanation of why I haven’t been writing. The truth is, I’ve been afraid to. I have struggled with the honesty of writing.

Eleven days before Christmas a troubled youth killed 26 people at an elementary school in Connecticut, mostly children. I saw the news blurb pop up on my Yahoo page at the end of the school day and later as I sat sharing some pre-shopping appetizers with Eric at a restaurant, I heard more on television. The pictures of the little angels and their protective teachers which hit the airwaves over the next couple of days were mixed with debates on gun control, mental illness, and school security. I returned to work at my own high school just two and a half days later barraged with school notices, meetings, and discussions so sadly troubling to be faced with at this holy time of the year.

Through it all, I’ve felt myself putting on armor, shielding myself with insistence that the evil found in this world does not compare to the goodness of humanity. The stories of conflict, pain, and suffering are those the world focuses more upon. People are drawn to the horrors in life and are much too complacent and unappreciative of the beauties and joys to be found in our world. This I tell myself, all the while grieving for the loss of innocence...all the while, demanding that I hang onto hope and faith that I am not as naive as I sound.

Writing gives me a choice, to wallow or to find whatever sliver of goodness I can find. And maybe that’s why I haven’t taken time to write. I’ve been afraid I’ll only wallow. Because, truth be told, I could do that quite easily. I feel deeply and I’m a strange mix of confidence and insecurity. Perhaps you’ve noticed.

My Mom-in-law died a month ago. I’ve thought of her every day, each time I pass the pool float in the garage or open a drawer and see my bathing suit. I won’t sit next to her at her backyard pool next summer. I thought of her when I was out shopping for Christmas. I saw things I thought she might like and then realized I couldn’t buy them for her any longer. I made crabmeat rollups for our Christmas Eve buffet and thought of how she’d enjoyed those, and prepared our favorite needham candies knowing there’d be no playful fighting over how many she would go home with at the end of the evening.  In watching my own parents age, half way through their 80s, I never really thought I’d be saying goodbye to Barbara at the age of 67.

My Dad’s sister, my Aunt Vera also died a few weeks ago. She was 80. She always reminded me of my Gram who died when I was 17. I gave a lot of thought to how she’d been the only girl with several brothers in her family and I smiled with tears remembering how much I had enjoyed my aunt over the years. I may only have had four visits with her--at ages 8, 17, 18, and 29 but she’d touched my life in an honest way. Seeing this matriarch die so soon after another prompted me to realize my own role with my daughters and nieces, son and nephews, teen students at school, and former students I am blessed to have in my life now, months or years after they’ve left my classroom. It’s a daunting thought to think I’m being placed in that role now, that I’m quickly becoming one of the oldest women in the family, but I suppose it’s true.

I know that I’ll forever have help as I make my way through this uncertain world. I am lovingly supported by my family and friends. But I’m talking about another. God was with me when my Mom answered the phone the other day, when I closed my eyes and embraced her voice and her happy laugh. God was with me when Dad called to share with me their happiness and appreciation for the little box of cookies I sent to them after they could not make it down for Christmas. God was with me that evening when Sharon, my dear friend from college, a friend I’d regrettably lost touch with a few years ago, called me to reconnect. God is with me now as I clumsily return to the blank page, filling it with sputtered words of emotion seeking rationale, insight, and wisdom. He is one who set up these three very important, unexpected phone calls for me this month. Three calls, each of which strengthened me and returned to me the energy and the needed reminders of who I am and how I will make my way through this life.

The words are on the page. The writing may need reorganization and revision, but the honesty has fought its way to the surface. The knocking at my ribs has quieted.

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.  Rev 3:20





Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lights of Beauty and Peace

In the past 14 days I’ve grabbed tightly to minutes, if not hours, when everything seems to be perfect, or as perfect as I would want it all to be. It did not take loss to open my eyes to life’s precious moments, as I have always taken a step back to see the world in its most extraordinary being, instances when beauty and peace intertwine and make me catch my breath, however since the death of my mother-in-law two weeks ago, my sensitivity has been greatly heightened.

This happened Saturday when we did nothing that took us from the house. Having gone out to dinner as a family the night before, we took time to sleep in and watched television together in the morning. In the afternoon I cooked some soup and my husband built Emma and I a fire in the living room so we could reach cuddled up together on the couch. It was a simple and peaceful day. Perfection. And yesterday afternoon, as my husband and I got home from work together, it happened again. All in the midst of hanging our outdoor Christmas lights.

I’d bought a new strand of pretty white lights a day or two before. I thought of how they might look pretty tracing the two little trees near my adirondack chairs in the back yard. I started stringing the lights while Eric worked to clear the back deck of its summer furniture. The dog happily ran in and out of the woods chasing a soccer ball. The sun set and, in the near darkness, it began to snow. I can’t possibly recreate every little piece of the scene that unfolded next, but it included laughing with Eric as I convinced him to stand in a certain spot under a tree branch so I could throw a spindle of lights to him after catching some on a tree. It included that puppy being most excited to have her masters outside throwing the deflated soccer ball for her, over and over again. It included untangling several strings of lights and not minding at all when I anticipated my husband’s words, “I’m glad we’re doing this together”.

The air grew chilly and I pulled my hat down over my ears. I heard the rustling of the leaves as they began to dance in whirlwinds. I saw the glow of those big old-fashioned bulbs adorning the garage and front shrubs, and after we headed back inside, I smelled the roast chicken I had popped in the oven before our decorating work had begun.

Fifteen minutes after we had gone inside ourselves, our children returned home together after a basketball game.  Each had seen our afternoon’s work of course and had noticed the new set of lights I had placed in the backyard. In his teasing way, Paul came into the kitchen and pointing at the backyard said, “Hey! What’s this?! That’s new!” My daughter added, “We stopped on the driveway and looked at everything before we drove all the way up”.

I imagined the two of them pausing, sitting in the car together in the driveway, taking in the glow of the lights side by side, and I smiled. For they too take time to step back to see instances of beauty and peace, especially when it is in their own own backyard.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Weight of Grief

I have had a full morning with my teenage students. In our five hours together, one block of teens and I discussed the concept of “economy” when writing a story, and they practiced crafting a two-voice poem with a partner. The exercise was enjoyed by most in the Creative Writing class, evidenced by the laughing as pairs brainstormed topics and gently ribbed one another’s use of language. “A dog wouldn’t say THAT!”, one young man said, teasing his friend. In the second block of my morning, my International Baccalaureate English students happily arranged their seats in a circle, anticipating our return to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The close-knit group of ten have taken parts in the drama, and my enthusiasm for the characters and the storyline, not to mention my insistence that they “talk like witches” when the Weird Sisters appear, has eliminated any worries they might have had with when first reciting iambic pentameter. The hot topic of the day was Lady Macbeth’s manipulation of her husband and her coercion to have him kill King Duncan in his sleep. Several boys in the class began calling Macbeth “whipped”, while others, girls and guys, simply dropped their jaws at his wife’s evil nature. “She said she would do WHAT to a baby she was breast-feeding?!”

And finally, in my final morning class, my twelve Horrific Tales students reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, jumped online to take Jung’s Typology Test, a 72 forced-answer personality quiz which when submitted, instantly placed students in one of sixteen different personality types. Students eagerly read articles listing qualities of their dispositions and providing the names of celebrities or historians or fictional characters who share their typology. Remarkably, the entire class tested as introverts, and we all discussed what it is like to be introverted. Everyone nodded and smiled at the discussion of how we introverts tire easily when placed in social situations, and then we took time to discuss how our “duality” of positive and negative characteristics can be compared to the psychology within the characters of Dr. Jekyll and the abominable Mr. Hyde. The students will draw self-portraits this week in an attempt to capture their own understood duality as we continue exploring the novel’s themes.

I went to lunch after these three blocks. I sat down at the teacher’s room lunch table. I had survived my day and would have only my prep period after lunch, a time when I would attempt to update grades online and plan for the lessons of the next day. But as one of my colleagues sat down to join me, I found myself apologizing for being poor company. “I could take a nap right now”, I said. And that’s when I realized how exhausted I really am. I am surviving, perhaps even thriving in my day-to-day teaching...I love it so, but I am weary. I had a decent weekend, spent time with my husband and the children, had a little fun and managed to get in some exercise, reading, baking, and holiday decorating. I even took a short nap! But hanging over me is this oppressive cloud, this feeling that I could easily hit the pillow and sleep for several days’ straight. It is the exhaustion of grief. My body is telling me what my head and my heart are trying to keep in check.

I think I am doing fine, moving on, accepting the losses, looking ahead, but my body knows differently. It knows that this is nothing so easily or quickly overcome. And so I give in. I rest my head on my hand at my teacher desk and I close my eyes for a few minutes. Breathe in...Breathe out. I plan to exercise some of the stress away after school when I take to the gym. I vow to get to bed earlier tonight. And I tell myself it is okay not to be super-teacher for the rest of the day...or even tomorrow. The heaviness will lift in time. But that day isn’t today, and that’s alright. I’m in the game. I’m putting one foot in front of the other. I am with people, beautiful, honest teenagers, and I am laughing and smiling with them every hour. I still love life, even if it tires me. That’s enough for now.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

One of Those Worst Case Scenario People

This past July 3rd, I was sitting in Bailey Hall, finishing up a graduate course with six other fellow writers. I shared that I was dreading our family’s road trip which we were embarking on that evening. My classmates tried to get me to focus upon the excitement of the adventure my husband, children, and I were about to have--there would be new sights, chances to talk and bond together, after all. Although I acknowledged this, I anticipated the cost of the trip, the squabbles my husband and I would have on the road, the nerves I’d deal with when our car would be on busy highways, my fear of an accident. Hearing me, our class leader asked, “Oh, are you one of those worst-case-scenario people?”

I could not help but to answer, “Yes”.

In the four months since that day I have given that question a lot of thought. I’ve returned to my childhood remembering how my Mom and I would gang up on my Dad when he’d say, “You know, I’m not going to be around forever”. Mom, knowing this was not a statement appropriately comforting to say in front of a child, would remark in a teasing way, “Why?! Where are you going?!” and laughing together she and I would lighten the mood by suggesting vacation spots for Dad or asking if he knew something we did not about the end of the world and God’s plans. It was odd conversation for sure, but given that my parents were 40 years old at the time of my birth, I realize now that Dad was very much aware of our age difference. I think he was only trying to prepare me in case something happened to him. Nothing did. He's now approaching his 85th birthday. Dad has always been a worrier. I am my father’s daughter.

Before my marriage, Eric and I went on an Engaged Encounter Weekend. At the sessions couples were encouraged to write and then talk with their partners about a variety of subjects--money, children, sex, employment, religion, etc. At one point in the weekend we were encouraged to discuss our fears. I was hit with one that felt incredibly ruthless, the fear of death (either his or mine) before our wedding day. It was an irrational fear, but I could not shake the feeling that everything I wanted in life--marriage, decades of love, our own family--might be taken from me before it all even started. I’m only grateful now, 24 years after my wedding day, three children later, that Eric stood by his obviously neurotic fiance that day when I broke into tears, needing to be reassured that I had no reason to fear losing what was good in my life. (I am thankful also that on my wedding day I was worry-free. Completely at peace and without any nerves at all, I enjoyed a beautiful ceremony, reception, and honeymoon. Thank God).

When my children were infants, I worried about SIDS when they went to bed at night. When they were toddlers I worried over them falling down the cellar stairs. I feared myself dying before a time when they would remember their mother. I went to sleep during thunderstorms planning how I could get everyone out of the house if lightning ignited a house fire. And now that they are 13, 17, and 20, I hold my breath when they are in a car without me. I hate driving in anything other than perfect road conditions, and although we did have a fun time on our family’s road trip in July, I saw every potential car crash when we navigated our way on the highways from here to North Carolina and back.

Although I wish it were not the case, and although I think I am a pretty positive and optimistic person in most areas of my life, I AM a worst case scenario kind of person when it comes to my fear of losing my husband and children. It isn’t a fun way to be, that is for sure, but it is as though I need to worry as a necessary precaution. Maybe if I worry over them, they’ll be safe. If I don’t worry, maybe they’ll be taken. I know this is ridiculous, but I seem to need to be aware and prepare myself for the worst case scenario every time. My husband doesn't appreciate the way I grab onto the passenger door handle each time he drives the car and therefore he prefers that I take the wheel, but he also has long known I think too much. "You have to think things through every possible angle", he has been saying to me since we were first dating. Again, I'm grateful for his patience with me.

The words “Let Go, Let God” are on my bathroom mirror. The mantra, “No Fear. No Expectations. Let’s just see what happens”, is one I adopted on New Year’s Day in 2011. “Don’t worry. I’ve got this....signed God” is a new one. And having my world change with my Mom’s illness and my Mother-in-Law’s battle with cancer and her death last Tuesday evening, reminds me that I am not in control here. I never was. I never am. And that’s more than okay. I cannot even control my own worries perhaps. They are what they are. If that paints me as neurotic, so be it. I have yet to meet a person who isn't.

No one will ever be around forever, but in the meantime, there’s a whole lot of living to be done. I may not ever be able to shake all of the worries, but I will continue to do my best to live with open arms and with as much love as I can muster, savoring the time and the people around me, just as I have always done. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Our Love Story

I met Eric at a junior high/senior high Pilgrim Fellowship outing at the Abol Slide. He was cute. Great smile. Easy laugh. He was older than I. He was going to be a senior in high school that fall. I was going to enter my freshman year. I watched him the entire day. He flirted with all the girls, including me. My then-boyfriend didn’t like that much. But I knew that it was attention without intention. That summer, in the weeks following our meeting at Abol, I would drive my mother crazy with requests that she drive around the block of the Congregational Church where Eric was mowing the lawn. I’d comment on his great looking legs which those 1982 short shorts could not help but show off. Mom would refuse to go around the block but she’d shake her head and laugh with me.

In the fall I got to know Eric better. We were together in band, chorus, and stage band. I still had my boyfriend however I would often bum rides home from Eric after practices. I started trying to fix him up with one of my girlfriends and they went on a date together. Luckily, it didn’t take. In the month before Christmas Eric told me he knew someone who wanted to ask me to the Christmas Dance. “Is it YOU?” I boldly asked him. When he said it was my boyfriend who wanted to ask me, my heart sank. I think Eric noticed that.

Over the holidays I finally realized that I was not being fair to my boyfriend. We broke up. I did not know what might happen in the future but I needed to give myself a chance to be asked out by Eric. On February 18th, 1983 Eric and I went on our first date. We played in the band at a basketball game and then went to McDonald’s to split a small fry and a soda. We continued dating throughout the spring. I remember the day he said, “I think I love you”. There was no denying the powerful feeling in my gut. My heart raced at those words. I know the day I knew I had fallen in love. It was when I realized I was making him laugh. Having grown up in a house where my father, brothers and sister were comedians grabbing the spotlight, I had watched the entertainment from the sidelines. But with Eric, I loosened up and he was now appreciating my own wit. I fell hard.

That summer a bad case of mono robbed me of several weeks with Eric. He was going off to college in the fall and when I recovered from my illness he joined my parents and I on a trip to New Hampshire. I remained behind to visit with my sister. Eric would return to Maine with my Mom and Dad. Eric and I had talked about what we would do when the summer ended. We decided we’d break up, after all he was going to meet other girls at college and I was only 15. I wanted to date others, to explore other relationships. Eric had been the first boy I’d ever kissed. Surely, I had more adventures in my future. In New Hampshire we said our goodbyes. I cried. What I did not expect was that Eric was crying too.

We did break up. I dated others. Eric did not. He was patient with me. He knew I was young. He gave us an amazing gift with his patience. We wrote to one another. We talked on the phone, and every time Eric returned home we met up, talked, kissed, and fell deeper in love. After three years of being “On again, off again”, in the spring of my senior year I knew I had to make a final decision on our relationship. Luckily, I made the right call.

I went off to college, at Eric’s college. We had more adventures. He must have asked me to marry him a hundred times, but I kept saying no. Then on one trip home I talked to my Mom. I told her of Eric’s proposals and she smiled. At the age of 20 I thought for sure she would tell me I was much too young to get married. When she showed me her approval, I felt at peace. The next time Eric asked me to marry him, I said yes. Eric and I were married on November 26, 1988 the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Eric was a school teacher. I was three semesters away from graduating from college. We postponed our honeymoon trip until Christmas vacation. We moved into an apartment between our schools. I graduated from college, went to graduate school, and got a teaching job at the same school where Eric worked. Turns out, we would always be high school sweethearts. We built a home and moved in seven days after the birth of our first child, Sydney, in 1992. Three years later we welcomed a second daughter, Emma, in 1995. In 1998 we lost a baby to a miscarriage but a year later our son, Paul, was born.

Today is our 24th wedding anniversary. In a few months we’ll celebrate the 30 years since our first date. We have been richly blessed in those years. We have had many years of fun, many years of laughter, many years of true love. It hasn’t always been easy. We’ve worked for this life together. There have been times of great challenge. There have been times of frustration, hurt, confusion, and doubt. But we believe in us. We believe in the family we have created. We believe in our life together. And we are excited about our future together.

He is still cute. Great smile. Easy laugh. Sexy legs. Dependable shoulders. Bright blue eyes. We’ve had years of powerful emotions and he still gives me that powerful feeling in my gut and makes my heart race. I'm still crazy about him. And we still make one another laugh nearly every day.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Surrender in the Night's Air

Tonight I felt the night air calling for me again. I quietly left the house under the pretense of bringing the dog outside and walked in my slippers onto the driveway. It was barely a month ago when I did the same, but that evening I had dropped to my knees before lying down on my back to look up at the stars. Thankfully my home is set off from the road, far away from any curious neighbor’s eyes because I began making these regular excursions late at night over the summer months. As autumn approached, I needed them to continue. Seeing the tar and the grass all damp from the day’s fog, tonight I made my way over to the front steps instead. I took some deep breaths and gave myself permission to cry. I did not sob however, as I thought I might, but a few full tears did eventually fall to my cheeks.

The past month has been so tiring. I am exhausted. My husband and I took our family to see his ailing Mom a few weekends ago. It was a nice day and we took many family pictures. Barbara was most patient as everyone asked to have a picture taken with her. We knew, I think, that this was our last chance to do that. The following weekend I made a solo four hour trip north to visit my own parents and to take in my daughter’s college concert. Then, after preparing my classes for their week off over Thanksgiving break, I turned my attention to my daughter’s play, my husband’s own musical production, my son’s basketball games, and my other daughter’s weekend visit home with her friend Erin. I cleaned the house, baked sweets, cooked meals, brought supplies over to a fundraising event. I, next, got ready for a couple of days of teacher workshops before the Thanksgiving holiday. However, on the first teacher workshop day, something did not feel right. At first I blamed it on the chill of the building. And then I got my father-in-law’s email. My Mom-in-law, who had been battling cancer for quite some time, was having trouble breathing. Within minutes I was meeting with my boss to tell him of the situation and I secured the next day off for my husband and I.

Everyone, it seems, has a “birth story” to tell. It’s less common to hear a tale of someone’s death. But those stories can be most beautiful and worth sharing too. Barbara died Tuesday evening surrounded by her husband and three children. Earlier in the day I had gone to her side, stopping to hold her daughter, son, and husband in my arms, quietly promising Barb’s spirit that I would forever be there for them all. I kissed her forehead, once to say thank you for everything she had ever done for us, and once again to say goodbye. Although I want to preserve my memory of so much more, I am not sure I have the strength tonight to talk of everything that has transpired in the past 96 hours, but I will say now that, as sad as they have been, there have been many moments of magnificent wonder. God watched over us all this week, of this I have little doubt.

Taking myself outside tonight, I gave myself permission to cry, but then I realized that what I was doing in the night’s air had more to do with asking for help. I told God that I am scared. I am trying so hard to be strong, to be the good girl I have always tried to be,  to be helpful and selfless and generous....and I just don’t know if I can do it. I am scared to fall apart. To do so would mean I would need to get back up again. And what if I can’t do that? Winter is coming. I’m going to need to pull on a jacket, grab a hat and some gloves when the night air calls me. To the outside I will go--to let a few tears fall at a time, to continue praying for strength and the courage to continue on in the faith that He will be there to pull me back up off the ground, each time I bravely surrender my burdens to Him.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dear Barbara

Dear Barbara,

Hi. It’s me, Anne. I am not sure of myself today. I am trying to write, to express what is on my mind and in my heart, but I’m all over the place in terms of getting the words down on paper. I hope you will forgive my lack of composure. I think it’s more important that I just say what I think I need to say instead of worrying over whether or not I am being eloquent. So here goes.

It was always important to me that I come to know you, to know who you are, to earn your approval because I married your Eric. I was very blessed to have my own wonderful mother. We were always very close, and I knew that Eric was close to his mom too and I liked that. In the early years after I first met you, you were most quiet with me, as can be your nature, and I worried at times that I was not proving to you that I was a good choice for your son. I was (and still am) vain, self-centered, loose-lipped, dramatic, and showy at times. I worried, “Am I too loud? Am I ditsy? Did I talk too much? Did I say the wrong thing?” I replayed what had come out of my mouth and I wasn’t sure what you thought of me and I wanted so much for you to like me.

But when I got to meet your Mom and Dad, I began to realize that the challenge I thought I had in getting to know you was indicative of my own immaturity and limited experiences. After getting engaged to Eric, I wanted to know my husband’s mom better so I began to try harder. You were simply someone unlike anyone I’d met before and that was more than okay. I needed to be quiet myself and pay attention to you. I needed to let all that you are wash over me. I had some help along the way. I met your parents. I saw you in the twinkling of Jack Lovell’s eyes and in the love and grace and pride of your mother Ann. And that’s when I got to see what Eric had in you. That’s when I knew all that there is to appreciate in you.

And then we had children. You became “Meme Walker”. Our children love you so much. I particularly enjoy how Paul has always been able to see your wit, to hear the jokes you make quietly under your breath, to find the humor and affection you display with your husband. It was Paul, I think, who secured my love and appreciation for you. And now I have a son of my own, a son who has become most interested in girls, a son I am preparing carefully and most thoughtfully to someday fall in love, marry, and start a family of his own. I want, more than anything, for my son to be just as wonderful a man as your son. And yes, I have every reason to believe that will be the case.

As we prepare to celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary on Monday, I am so happy to be married to Eric. What a good guy he is. I am grateful to you for everything you are and everything you have done to make him the man he is today. I was just 15 years old when I began coming over to your house in Millinocket. I knew back then that Eric adored you. The affectionate teen he was grew to become a good man who continued to love his Mom with his whole heart. When Eric asked me to marry him, I knew I would forever be protected, respected, and honored by him in the way he always displayed protection, respect, and honor for you.

As the years went by I came to know that you did approve of the woman your first born son had married. I loved the way you made me feel special whenever you’d bring over a new serving dish that had been your Mom’s or Mana’s, items that were for entertaining. “I know you like to entertain”, you’d say. I love the way you acknowledged my efforts in putting on Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners each holiday. I smile at the memories of you fighting Joel for my needhams. That made me feel good. I love that we would sometimes gang up on the boys together and make fun of them. I enjoyed our time by the pool together. I am grateful that as the years went by, we did talk, share, laugh, and show affection in the most natural of ways. We talked of books, of family, of the seasons, of the children and pets. And I love your laugh, your chuckle.

I know you are fighting for more special moments with your three children, grandkids, brothers, and your husband, and I am so very sorry that you are going through this. Your fight against cancer has been a noble one. I admire the strength and the grace you have had in this battle. You have taught us all so much throughout the years. Even more perhaps in these last few months, weeks, and days, those which have been your hardest days. Thank you for allowing us to be part of your final days. I can honestly say that despite the pain and the sadness we feel in losing you, it has been beautiful too.

What a fabulous and loving family you have raised. I am so proud to be part of it. Know that I am forever going to respect, protect, honor, and love your son. Know that I will continue to raise our children well. Know that I will watch over your son Joel and your beautiful daughter Lisa and your devoted husband Jerry, and all your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I’ll never let myself forget all that I have learned by knowing you. Thank you for your patience with me through the years, for teaching me patience, grace, humility, and strength through your own being. You are a most remarkable woman. Thank you for being my Mom too.

I love you.

Anne

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I'll Just Be

A little after 7am this morning I woke to the sound of paws on my bedroom door. Our pup Ziva had been kicked out of the bedroom when my husband had gone to bed, an understandable and welcomed gesture since we sleep better when the dog isn’t scratching at the foot of our bed. Ziva had obediently gone downstairs to sleep on the family room couch but the sun had come up and it was now time to remind us that she was part of the family too. I went to the door, was greeted by her excitement, and together we went downstairs. Then Ziva went outside while I prepared her breakfast.

The time I get on these weekend mornings when the dog forces me out of bed is surprisingly welcomed. She and I each crawl onto the sofa and the sun comes around the side of the house and begins to stream in the windows. She settles in and quickly nods off. The house is silent except for the ticking of two wall clocks, one near the coat closets, the other in the downstairs bathroom over the washer and dryer, an odd place for a clock perhaps, but its nautical Captain’s wheel shape fits nicely in the decor of my “ocean bathroom”. Anyhow, the ticking is soothing and is only heard in these hours of solitude.

Today will bring much excitement and a houseful in just a few hours’ time. This morning I’ll clean the house and bake some desserts in preparation of our extra company. Eric and Emma will head in different directions to put on productions of their separate plays. Paul and I will head to the school gym where he’ll play two basketball games before heading to a friend’s birthday party. Sydney will drive with her friend Erin to catch her Dad’s show in the afternoon and join me at her sister’s performance in the evening. It’ll be late when we all meet back here at the house together, but we’ll undoubtedly stay up and talk and laugh together before heading off to bed.

But for now I am still. I am thinking of how full my life has always been, of how I have endlessly been surrounded by love, family, and friends, of how happy and grateful I am for the life I am living. No matter how busy, how many responsibilities I juggle, how often I must zip from one thing to another, I do manage to steal away from the hustle and bustle, to sneak to a place of solitude if only for a brief time. I’ve always needed some time to myself, time to think, to reflect, time to watch carefully, to listen intently, to feel deeply.

And so, as I watch Ziva move from window to window right now, growling softly at something she thinks she has heard or spotted outside, I smile. It’ll take only a small pat on the couch beside me to have her jump into my lap, to lap my face in joy, to remind me I’m loved and appreciated for getting up with her so early, but for now I think I’ll just sit back and take everything in...her soft growl, the ticking of the clocks, the sun streaming in the window...and I’ll just be.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Wilder's Wisdom

In 1996, for all practical purposes, it’d been 10 years since I’d been on stage. I’d done one opera workshop performance in college, performing as a voice minor in a production of The Magic Flute, but I had abandoned my love of theater to focus on being an English major. In the 10 years since I had graduated from high school, I’d studied in my four years of college (getting married half-way through), applied and went to graduate school, started a career as a high school English teacher, built a house, and had two of my three children. But as busy as I was, at the age of 28, I made a decision to audition for a community theater production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.

The story focuses upon an average town and its people, the mothers, the fathers, the children, and other citizens in the community. It carries quiet but poignant messages that are whispered as the play unfolds. Act I shows an ordinary day in Grover’s Corner. Milk is delivered, neighbors take seats next to one another to discuss their gardening and their children. The audience meets the town’s people and all witness the serenity of the lives in the safe little community. Act II occurs three years later as two of the families’ children fall in love and marry.  Act III is philosophical as we’re shown a funeral and as ghosts in the town’s cemetery begin to help one of Grover’s Corner’s recently departed citizens to understand what living is, and how life, every last minute, every precious breath we take, is not to be wasted or scoffed at, even those which come to us on the most seemingly unimportant, most ordinary days. This morning my thoughts returned to Grover’s Corners.

The past few weeks have presented me with a lot to think about. Tough stuff. Questioning stuff. Good, bad, ugly, beautiful stuff. As a friend of mine who is going through similar things said to me yesterday, “This is a really hard time of life”. She’s right. It is really hard. It’s hard to have so many changes hit all at once. My husband and I are losing our Moms, and our Dads are also in need of extra support. They are losing the loves of their lives. And as Wilder said, “People are meant to go through life two by two. ’Tain’t natural to be lonesome.”

We face stress at work and battle as convincingly as possible to keep working at a career with the integrity that made teaching our chosen profession and passion to begin with. And we work to continue raising our children, strengthening our own loving friendship and marriage, and keeping tabs on our own individual needs concerning health and happiness.

So to that end, I took a day for myself on Wednesday. I slept in, woke up and went outside in the glorious October sunshine, and played with my energetic dog. I took pictures to capture the color of the trees and the sky and the joy in my pup’s face as she chased after a soccer ball. I came inside and took out my Mom’s recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and I had them waiting on the kitchen table when my son came in the door after school. I sat down and corrected papers with my big black cat sitting on one of the piles, and I prepared a chicken dinner with my daughter’s favorite mashed potatoes, peas and carrots. I chatted with people from various strands of my life online, catching up with both old and newer friends, and I cuddled up on the sofa in the evening and watched tv with my husband and our kids. It was a spectacular, most “ordinary” of days. The day off helped me pull myself together, to bring me to a place of peace again.

Life is beautiful. Even when it’s really really hard. I say this in no disrespect or denial that cancer sucks and that dementia can be a cruel way of taking away a loved one. I say this without any intention to suggest that it doesn’t get bad and ugly to such a degree that we question life itself. We, at times, get so challenged in our lives that we don’t, can’t, won’t step back to see the big picture.  “Wherever you come near the human race there’s layers and layers of nonsense”, said Wilder. This is all part of it. And the nonsense can be truly heartbreaking and painful, this I know. But it’s also amazing. Life is beautiful and I vow I am going to do whatever I can to step back more often to see the bigger picture, or to at least say a prayer asking for help to hold onto the faith that there is one I am not seeing at the moment.

“EMILY: "Does anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute?"

STAGE MANAGER: "No. Saints and poets maybe...they do some.”

                                                                                            

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Smirking with a Secret

At school I continue to juggle my five different classes, making lessons plans, getting grades updated, checking in with parents, meeting with students who need extra guidance. At home I play taxi, make dinner, sign permission slips, dole out lunch money, and keep the kitchen clean. As my Mom always said, “There just are not enough hours in a day”.

This week I didn’t get to the gym and I fell seriously behind in my correcting. And to top that off, we had a bit of a family crisis. I say “a bit” because we’re okay. But something serious (to us at least) came up that needed our attention and for two and a half days we had to react, step back, think, brainstorm, select, and talk out a solution. It’s nothing I will talk about here and now. Contrary to belief, I don’t share everything on my blog. I’m pretty transparent when it comes to my own troubles, my own feelings, but when others are at the center, I won’t advertise those. So let me simply say that I was understandably distracted this week and my personal and professional goals were not met. That has caused me stress but I’ve understood why so I’ve tried not to beat myself up over any of it.

And now it’s Sunday. I’ll head off to church soon and then we’ll go grocery shopping. That’s our usual Sunday routine. Eric will come home and watch football, Emma will work on homework and catch up on her recorded television shows perhaps. Paul might watch a movie or take time to play with Ziva. And I’ll head to the dining room table with my correcting folders. I wish I could say I am feeling excited for the day, or for the week ahead. But I’m not. It’s dreary out. There’s a lot to do. The family and I have our own agendas for today and I’m not looking forward to my day or to what will be a busy workweek.

But since an unexpected phone call came in for me yesterday, I have a secret. And it has me smiling. There’s a little skip in my step now. There’s a small blossom of pride, of hope, of satisfaction. It’s something else I can’t write about in my blog, at least just yet, but it’s given me something to work for, to be motivated by, to keep me smiling. I’m a little frightened of it too, but mostly I’m feeling pretty determined...and confident. I’ve never liked secrets but every once in awhile I am asked to keep the lid on something and I have understood the reason. So in that respect, I have one and it’s making me giddy.

And no, no one is pregnant. Stop thinking that. But maybe, if things work out, if this is meant to work out, in six to nine months’ time, you’ll see me writing about this again. The secret won’t be a secret for too long. But in the meantime, I’m going to keep grinning...or at least smirking...and you won’t know why. Well...unless you’re the one that called me yesterday.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Gorgeously Human

I know I’m in trouble when I wake up at 6:00am on a Saturday morning and I am so stressed out that I’m crying by the time it’s 7:00am. And the kicker is? I haven’t even gotten out of bed yet.

There is so much going on right now in this life of mine. Oh I know. Whine whine whine. We all have troubles. We all have stress. And I should be grateful and not be hurting like this because compared to many others, I’ve got it easy. I know others fight harder battles. Well, that’s another stressor of mine right there, that guilt of feeling I should be handling all of this better than I am. But the truth is, I can’t be anyone other than who I am. I can do my best to keep everything in perspective, to remind myself of my blessings, and to praise God, but I’m still living with these hauntings. I’m still trying to find my way.

I’ll make a list of stressors for myself later and take a close look at each one. This is how I work to heal my troubles. This is what I do. I hit that wall, I get stressed, I usually cry, I talk it out with one or more loved ones, I write, and then I regroup. I make a list, I make a timeline, I make a plan. And I repeat as necessary.

A friend who noticed my stress the other day wrote me a brief note that said, “Pay attention to you”. The reminder touched me, made me stop and think,  but I also quickly dismissed it. “Maybe later”, I thought to myself. It’s more than procrastination. It’s fear.

But by the grace of God I was reminded this morning that there is no expectation set for me or anyone else that I was put on this earth to be perfect. I am here to learn, to “live through the grace of stumbling". To “demonstrate..through the beauty of...messing up. Often”. I am “gorgeously human. Flawed and fabulous”. 

Well, that takes the pressure off a bit. As I work to raise my flawed and fabulous children, who, like their mother, are stumbling along in their lives, who are messing up (perhaps one of them is messing up more consistently than the other two at this current time), I’ll do my best. Forever an “all-too-honest” parent, wife, daughter, sister, teacher, cousin, aunt, individual, I’ll continue to put my cards on the table with my loved ones and I’ll say and do what I think is best. That's all I know to do. I’ll play the best hand I can each and every time and we’ll go from there.

Oh sure, I’ll continue to be hurt. I’ll be disappointed and expect too much from us all.  I’ll continue to get bruises or more serious injuries each time I hit that wall, and maybe someday I’ll run out of tears, or maybe I’ll lose the words to talk or to write, but make no mistake, I’ll regroup, each gorgeously human time.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Stuff of Dreams

She visited my home last night. We stood in the kitchen, preparing food together and laughing. We wore our matching aprons, those I had bought us at a church fair many years back. At one point, I caught her eyes. She looked at me and smiled, and I searched to see if she was really there. And then... I woke up. I’d broken the spell by looking too intently, by trying too hard, by wanting too much.

It was dark and I fought the urge to look at the alarm clock beside my bed. I rolled over, adjusting my pillow, willing myself to return to sleep, to return to the dream, to return to my kitchen, to return to her. I fell back into a dream but it wasn’t the same. This place was unfamiliar. I looked for her and although I found her again, she didn’t seem to see me. I looked around and I felt a chill. I didn’t like this new dream. I willed myself to wake.

I miss her terribly today. Each day I wake and move about my day, tending to my responsibilities, teaching my teens, caring for my children. But oh, I miss her so much. And so, fully awake, I go to my kitchen and pull out the pots and pans. I turn to her recipes. I look for her handwriting on those little 3x5 cards, and I am grateful it’s there. I make her soups, her cookies. But I wish she could be there with me.

It’s a powerful emotion. Here I am, 44 years old with a warm cookie-scented house and a beautiful family of my own...and I am homesick. I miss my Mom.

I call home and talk with my Dad. It’s always good to talk with him. He’s getting ready to watch his football game. Mom is upstairs, he says. I could ask him to put her on the line, but I know the phone is tough. We do better face to face. These dreams tell me that it’s time to go home, to go see them both. It’s only been two months since I saw them last, but it feels more like two years.

I’ll bring along some cookies perhaps, or maybe I’ll make some when I get there. If I’m lucky, she’ll join me in the kitchen, even if just to keep me company. I'll bring my apron and maybe she'll have hers. She’s always there with me when I fall into slumber, but being able to be there to hear her voice, to be able to look at her and to see her smile back at me...THAT’S the stuff of dreams.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Unclipped Green Beans

Did you forget me? 

I was clipping fresh green beans when the text came. My daughter was waiting for me to pick her up after volleyball practice. It was ten minutes after my expected arrival.

No, I hadn’t forgotten her. I was trying to get the beans finished so, upon my return home, I could pop them into a pot of water along with the chicken casserole I’d just finished making. It’s true that I had secretly hoped she’d arrive home in those ten minutes, having caught a ride with a friend perhaps, but I knew that wasn’t likely. Most of the girls on her team were younger and without licenses. No, I hadn’t forgotten her. I had realized I was late. But the text from Emma jarred me back to the reality that I had to stop, turn off the stove, and head out the door.

It was no big deal. I don’t often miss a pick up time. But even though I’d thought of stopping my dinner preparation in time to get to her by 5:00pm, I’d pushed on. I’d spent the previous six hours balancing work with idle television viewing. I had worked for nearly four hours doing research and making lesson plans. And when 4:00pm had rolled around, I’d ventured out to the kitchen. I had peeled my body off the sofa and had said “Enough” out loud to myself. I’ve had to do that more and more lately, scold myself for pushing too hard, for trying to power through correcting, for giving up lunches and prep periods to squeeze in extra help for students. Oh my efforts are noble enough but I have begun experiencing those whirlwinds of stress, those hours when the weight of all that is on my plate does overwhelm me. I talk myself down and say, “Pace yourself”. Rome was not built in a day. Breathe.

I zipped over to the high school and smirked as my daughter gave me that look of hers as she walked to the car...that look of careful admonishment. I took my lumps as she sat down next to me. But within a couple of minutes, we’d both moved on. She told me about her plans for the next day. Our black lab talked to us in her yawning vocals as she often does to get attention, and we laughed together as the too large-to-be-a-lap-dog-pup made its way onto Emma’s lap in the front seat.

It’s okay to leave half a bag of unclipped green beans on the counter, to turn off the stove and the oven, to leave the dishwasher half emptied. It’s not a race to have it all completed by a certain time. What matters is not the clock, is not the pace, the attempted perfection of it all. All that matters, truly, is being there for the people you meet in the hours of your day...especially the ones who are waiting for you to come get them after volleyball practice.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This is My Normal

This is my normal.

In the past 21 months that I have kept a blog and have been sharing my writing with the world, I have created a book of sorts, or a series of essays in the making. These essays have explored different aspects of my life and the various roles I play. I began the blog during a tumultuous time. A tornado of sorts had been unknowingly invited into our home and it took me several months to reach the point where I could open a window and let it out to stir itself to another location. The damage it did to my home was repaired quickly and I vowed to be more careful in the future. But as with most of my decisions, I am not hasty in saying I can’t completely regret the experience. For enduring the storm taught me a great deal and when the clear skies returned, I believe I never saw a brighter blue.

The year 2011 was not my favorite, but it ended and there were some moments that I will hope to never ever forget. There were days of pure joy and days of humble acceptance of life’s changes. Although I was most ready for the ball to drop at Times Square and to usher in 2012, I know that 2011 shook me to my core and knocked me down with a stinging slap, but that the fear and the pain of that year made me stronger and wiser. That’s a bunch of cliches I realize, but there is simply no plainer way to express it.

The thing is, in the months of 2012 I have been hit with more challenges. I have been open, honest, and transparent in expressing my emotions and that has brought me some interesting attention. Some people have expressed concern for me which is lovely on one hand and disconcerting on the other. It has made me stop and ask myself whether or not writing of my feelings has changed any. Perhaps there is worry that I need help in returning to “normal”. But then I realize what is true. Circumstances may have changed, challenges may have increased, the stress in my life has been amped up to what a friend recently called a “shit ton” of degrees. But I am, at heart, the same woman I have always been. I know this is true. This is my normal. 

I am honest. I am expressive. I am happy. I get sad. I am intelligent and thoughtful, intuitive and wise. But I am silly, impulsive, weird. I am dramatic. I am fierce. I am protective. I am your best friend. I am your worst enemy. I am a force to be reckoned with. I hate arrogance. I hate dishonesty. I can tolerate almost anything except intolerance. I am strong but I do cry. I am one you can count on but I want to count on you. I am organized but my bedroom is a mess. I am a lover of all things creative, of all things that are colorful but I need order and structure and security. I’ll get that closet of mine organized again...and the bureau, and the chest where my clothes have spilled over to. We creative types get kinda messy with our work stations but I’ll dig myself out of the mess. I just need a little more time.

I love to laugh and I love to smile. I am appreciative and grateful. I am given to moments of despair but you can count on me to pick myself up in an hour, a day, a week. I get knocked down because I think too much, I care too deeply, I imagine, I worry, I fret. But I know who I am and I am always going to be okay. I just need a little more time right now to sort out all these stressful circumstances.

This is my normal.

This morning I told my Creative Writing class that we were going to do a prompt writing together. Although I’ve had them writing for nearly three weeks now, today’s prompt came with a slight twist. I told them I was going to collect this one from them, so I realized that they might have to figure out what to say or how to say what they wanted or needed to say knowing I’d be reading it. I told them there was no right or wrong way to respond to the prompt. They were to take it any way they were inclined to. Then I wrote these words on the board:

This is my normal.

I gave them ten minutes to respond. At the end of the time, as is my habit, I alerted them that we were nearing the time for a transition to another task. “Okay. Find a spot to stop and in the next minute or so, look over what you’ve read and at the bottom, again write the words, “This is my normal”.

And that’s when I saw the head shake. It was Dawson.

“No? You can’t write that?” I asked. I wondered if he’d written something completely off track or if he’d perhaps realized what he’d written was NOT his normal. Dawson simply responded, “Not yet”.

He wasn’t done. He had more to say. That’s when others in the room began to nod in agreement. “I’m not there yet”, said Nate.

It was decision time. “When do you think you’ll get there?” I asked. Jake raised his palm. “Five minutes?”

Allie answered, “Ten minutes”.

“Ten more minutes?” I asked the class. They all nodded. Knowing what it’s like, how cruel it can seem to have a teacher stop you just when you’re getting to the good stuff, I knew I had to give them that time.

“Okay. Ten more minutes”, I smiled. And they went at it again.

You see, it sometimes takes a little more time than you’d think to adequately express, to another human being, what your normal is. So I’m going to ask YOU for a little more time as you try to get your head around how to make sense of what you see in my writing and as you try to figure me out. I know all you need is a little more time to see that...

This is my normal.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dear God

Dear God,

It’s me, Anne. I am overwhelmed. I am trying so hard to keep it together, day by day. People are depending on me. I am needed by many and I cannot disappoint them. I cannot abandon them. So these feelings of despair, these heightened emotions of anger, frustration, fear, and irritation? They all need to go away. NOW. Okay?

I tell myself to be patient. I know this is MY will and that it is YOUR will that will be done. I remind myself that tomorrow things may look different. I push myself to go to bed, to rest, to ease up on my own expectations. I turn to books, to films, to anything which might distract me or calm me.

I make good choices. I work out. I eat right. I try to get more sleep. I tell my loved ones I love them. I hug my husband and my kids every day. I let myself laugh and to feel joy. I’m not a crying mess all the time. I appreciate the little things. I let myself cry although I try to push aside the temptation to wallow in sadness or to not look at my blessings. I admonish myself for not keeping my word to “let go, let God”.  You don’t make mistakes. There’s a reason for all this, even if I don’t understand. You’ve got this, right? Right.

I do believe that. And I know I need to let go and to let you take the wheel as that country song suggests. But then I realize why I am so afraid to fall on my knees and to ask for help. If I fall to my knees, I might never get back up. And You’re counting on me too, right? I’ve got a lot of work to do to help others. I know that.

One of my favorite quotes was spoken by your dear little nun from Calcutta. Mother Theresa said, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”  I turn to this and plead with you God to lighten my own load. I know I shouldn’t put myself in the same sentence with Mother Theresa but I swear, I’m reaching my limit God. I don’t feel like I can keep going like this. I’m so afraid of those spinning plates crashing to the floor. They are so precious. I need help to keep them safely moving.

There’s so much to juggle right now and I think I’m going to do a lousy job with everything. I don’t know how to move on, God. I know others have it much worse than I and I should not complain. But even the guilt of knowing that, the acknowledgement that I have no right to feel anything but gratitude for all that I have been given, is weighing me down. I get it, God. You’re pushing me down to my knees. I can feel your hand on my shoulder. You’re saying, “Stay there. Don’t be so quick to rise. Be humble and wait for me to give you a hand up”.

I want to be carried, I really do. I need more than the rest. I need to know which direction to take.  What do I do first? What is most important? I’m stumbling God. I need to feel enveloped in Your loving protection and care. I’m having a hard time with trust, God. It’s really tough for me to be as vulnerable as I need to be to give in and to give up.

So, I’m going to ask you to do me a favor, God. I know I don’t have any right to ask and I will accept it if you should know better than me and not deliver in the way I want you to. But here goes... Would you please visit me in my dreams tonight and show me the way? Because I think when I am sleeping I will be more receptive to You. I'll pay better attention. I won't allow myself to be distracted. And if you could just help me wake up tomorrow remembering whatever lesson, whatever it is I have been shown, that would be great. I worry a lot lately that I won’t remember what is most important. I have that fear that the one person I thought I’d always be able to count on, won’t always be there for me. And that’s ME. So, thank you in advance for doing whatever it is that is necessary to bring me to where I need to be, where I am meant to be. Thank you for seeing past all this foolishness--the stubbornness, the pride, the train-wreck that is ME and for loving me anyway.

I love You. Goodnight.

Anne

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Within the Fog

As much as I love a bright sunny day, waking up to rain or seeing fog hovering over the road as I drive in to work in the morning never upsets me. It might take a little more effort for me to grab an umbrella or to watch that yellow line in the middle of the two lanes so I can get to school safe and dry, but it’s worth the extra challenge to have a day that isn’t traditionally beautiful. I love the sound of the pouring rain. I love getting caught in the rain, and let’s face it, being kissed in the rain is near perfection. But it’s a foggy day that holds even more mystique for me. The fog lingers and hangs. And when it’s ready, it dissipates.

This morning as I drove to work in the fog, anticipating the business of the day before me, I thought about the mystery of time and of my many responsibilities and then I found myself reflecting on the job of being a mom. I thought of how I used to be careless with time. I miss those days when I ran outside to play after school or on a Saturday morning, completely unaware of when it’d be time for our next meal or whether or not I had to go to the dentist’s in a few hours. That’s what Mom was for, to keep track of the time, and to go to the door to call my name into the air when it was time for me to come inside. Now I’m the mom at the door, or rather, on the cell phone, awkwardly texting the kids to say, “It’s time to head home”.

I came across a piece from Anna Quindlen yesterday. She writes, “Sometimes, missing my mother, I lose track of whether I am missing a human being or a way of life. Our mothers only slowly become people to us, as we grow older and they do, too...There is something primitive about this love and this loss. What does it mean, to sleep beneath the heart of another person, safe and warm, for almost a year? No scientist can truly say.”

I have three children, but I’ve been pregnant four times in my life. I’ve had a child sleep beneath my heart four times. For anyone who has never experienced that, let me simply say that it is indeed a primitive feeling of wanting, no NEEDING, to protect that little being at all costs. I got lucky and raised three out of four of the precious hearts that once would beat right next to my own. One heart, my oldest daughter is an exuberant college junior, thriving in her circle of social, academic, and creative pursuits. Another heart, my second daughter, is presently feeling a bit anxious, balancing her senior year expectations with her big dreams for a career on stage. The third heart, my only son, has a heart that beats fast running on the soccer field, texting like there’s no tomorrow, and eating me out of house and home. The fourth heart I lost too soon. I never met her, the daughter I lost in a miscarriage back in 1998, but I will. Someday.

Actually, fog or not, I’ve been thinking often about my feelings towards motherhood and the passing of time. I have been reassuring myself that I did regularly show appreciation of my own mom, and that she always knew how much I loved her. I said it routinely and I said it in grand gestures too. I say it now. And I am recalling one Christmas Eve in particular when I went to bed after a beautiful evening with both Mom and Dad and when I said to myself, “I must never question whether or not I have told my parents I love them. I have said it loudly and clearly. I have said it often, lest they forget. I must remember this”.

Each August my family and I go to camp for an annual family vacation at the lake and we visit with my Mom and Dad for two weeks. Things have changed from how these vacations once were, but this past summer, on the first night of my arrival, I made a mistake which showed me that a mother’s love is immutable. Knowing her work schedule would force her to return home after just a few days, my daughter had gone to camp before us. After unpacking my own suitcase, Sydney and I hopped in our kayaks to catch the sunset. I’d not had a chance to talk with Syd about her first few days with my parents and the two of us lost track of time as we watched the sky and its gorgeous colors. We were not far from camp but an island obstructed our family’s view of where we were. As we paddled in, directly after the sun had sunk below the horizon, my husband and father appeared on the front deck. I quickly realized they had been worried about my daughter and I. I said my apologies, but got the heads up that someone inside the camp was quite upset. My Mom.

“Mom, I’m so sorry. I surely did not intend to frighten you. I am sorry”, I said. I reached down instinctively to give her a hug.

My Mom grabbed my arm to stop me and with her eyes opened wide she made strong eye contact with my own. “Don’t you EVER do that again!” she scolded. I felt ten years old again. I know she said more but I have since forgotten what else she said. I was overtaken with the realization that to her, I was still a child who had acted recklessly and without thought or concern for her feelings. My first instinct was to smile for I was truly touched by her love, “She was worried about me. She still loves me", I thought...but I bit my lip and instead promised her I would be more careful next time.

There may be days when the fog takes much too long to dissipate or when the passing of time and life's changes all become too much for me to accept, but what I must remember on mornings or evenings when I am quiet and missing my Mom like I am today, when I am full of unnecessary regret or remorse or even anger and frustration in thinking of how I wish it were as it once was, is that I know my mother loved me. Correction: She still loves me...with all her heart...with everything she was, is, will be. I know this for sure. Despite the weather, the age, the time on the clock, there is no greater love than the love a mother has for her children.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Never Say Never

Two weeks ago, on August 27th, my husband and I joined a gym. It was the first time either of us had done such a thing, although we had talked about the idea for a few years. “I’m not a gym person”, I had been telling myself for quite some time. Extremely self conscious and worried over investing money into something I might abandon after only a few days, I had tried walking in my neighborhood for exercise and indeed that had been a most successful way for me to lose weight after the birth of my third child almost thirteen years ago. In the last few years we had done some hiking and had purchased a couple of swim passes for the local pool. However, we were not making these jaunts on a regular basis. And after tracking our food and losing some weight last summer, this past year we had both eaten our way through stress and had given in to the comfort of a new sectional couch and multiple cable channels. Much to our disappointment, we had both regained the weight.

Knowing the start of the school year was approaching and knowing that we knew that the months ahead were going to be difficult for a number of reasons, we began thinking about joining a gym. A family health crisis had clearly made us realize that getting fit needed to be a priority for each of us. We wanted to be realistic in our efforts but demand better of ourselves. We heard of a great special to join a gym for a year at a minimum cost. We discussed how we could go there on our way home by taking an alternative route. We decided we were doing this.

Walking into the gym, I tried to mask my nervousness. A trainer at the front desk welcomed us both as I told her we both wanted to join under the special we’d heard about on the radio. I added that I needed help. I had no clue how to begin to work out at a gym, had no idea how to work any of the machines, and had only used a treadmill at home. She quickly reassured me that the gym had trainers who would show us everything we needed to know and that we could design our fitness plan with the help of a trainer at no extra cost. Signatures went down on paper. We received a tour, and the best part of that was seeing people ages 18-80 working out. “This isn’t bad”, I thought to myself. Everyone there seemed to be minding their own business. No one was judging us. Folks were friendly but focused on their own workouts. Eric and I began on two treadmills, side by side, clocking in a half hour. We followed that up with a half hour strength-training circuit and then we headed home.

I made it back to the gym four times that first week, and Eric went five days. Last week, after suffering a bad head cold, I put in only two. But my sneakers and gym clothes are already packed for my return tomorrow afternoon and more importantly, I’m feeling empowered. Each night I check in with the kids, find out when they need me to pick them up after sports practices, and I think of my workout schedule. I walk into the gym, say hello to the trainers behind the desk, and I go right to work. I’m working on building stamina right now so I head to a treadmill where I briskly walk for 35-40 minutes and I follow that up with either cycling or the strength-training circuit. I’ll improve, but for right now, it’s about creating the habit of getting to the gym each day and staying for an hour.

 The act of joining the gym has reminded me the truth of the phrase, “Never say never”. So much for not being a gym person. Who knew I’d be this comfortable and this determined to get there as often as possible?! Oh yes, the best days of my life may indeed be those awaiting me in the future. But more importantly, today, right this moment, with my gym bag packed for tomorrow, I am happy. I am loving the feeling I have after each workout as I get back into my car. I feel the sweat dampening my hair at my neck and I know I’ve done something good. I am making healthy choices. I am doing this for me. I am doing this for my husband. I am doing this for my children and my future grandchildren. I'm doing this to honor the life I have been given and the opportunities that I am blessed to have. I do this to know I am choosing health and wellness. I have a long way to go, but little by little I am building a lasting, physically fit, active lifestyle and don’t you worry, I am going to get there, to those beautiful days in my future, and I’m going to be feeling great.

Monday, September 3, 2012

He's Got This

I’ve started this blog post today several times. I write a sentence or two, or even a paragraph...and then I hit hit delete. I try to hold in the truth of what I want to say, what needs to get out. I try again to focus my eyes on the page. I take deep breaths, look outside, try to offer my worries up to God, work to gain perspective. I make a short mental list of what I’ll do today, this morning, this next half hour. I give myself a pep talk, I give myself permission to do whatever comes my way, to give up plans, expectations, must-dos. I have a head cold. I tell myself this is why I am so shaky, so uncertain, so tired, so weak. I try to see the beauty of the world, to trust in the process of this thing called life, to remember through prayer and the support we receive from friends and family, there is relief from pain and suffering.

But then I feel a tear fall from my eye. There it is. It fell right there on my cheek despite how much I was demanding it not to. Betrayed by my body. Again. Or maybe it was God who pushed it out of my eye. “You’re not in charge here”, He says. “I’ve got this. Remember?”

So let me just say it. We are losing our Moms. Me. Eric. And the other day my friend Veronica lost hers. And I’m so sad about these losses. So freakin’ pissed, in fact. So unbelievably overwhelmed by it all. It hurts and it sucks. Today I don’t want to be mature about this. I don’t care whether or not I am supposed to be strong. I don’t want to be understanding and patient. I just want our Moms back, our completely healthy, happy, loving Moms.

Maybe there’s more for me to say. I should talk of how lucky we have been to have had our Moms for the number of years we did. I should put this all in perspective and accept that none of us will get out of this world alive. I should speak of how through these losses we are learning some of life’s greatest lessons. I know all this and those insights and beautifully packaged emotions will no doubt come from me in all sincerity at a later date. But today, I am going to let myself fall apart for a little while. Let the tears fall and remind myself that I am not in charge here. None of this was my decision or my fault. I’ll trust that God has my back and that He’s got this. He’ll even understand my anger and my frustration at Him. He knows I’ll pull it all together by the time my children come home. Because at the end of the day I know what’s true. We are losing our Moms. But my three children will NOT lose theirs any time soon, right God?! No, not if I have anything to say about it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Grocery Cart Moon

Although I was tempted to relax at home this evening, knowing we were out of milk and that the children had few options for breakfast on what would be their first day of school, I went grocery shopping. I zipped through the aisles pretty quickly and it was a little before 8:00pm when I made it to the check out line. With my groceries paid for, I headed out to the parking lot. The skies were darkening as I got back out to my car but the moon was so beautiful. I packed the trunk of my car but I took my time. I felt the air of the summer evening, listened to the sounds of my surroundings, and stared up at that glowing moon.

I love it when our minds halt moments in life so unexpectedly. Taking a deep breath, I smiled to myself. Being outside at night is one of my favorite ways to hit the pause button. It doesn’t matter what the weather, what the season. When I’m under the dark skies of evening, I stop and take everything in. The world and all its craziness will keep spinning but I have power too. One look at the moon tonight and I was living in the moment.

Knowing I’ll see my kids off and then head into school myself in the morning after what has been an incredibly full but happy summer, I am thinking about how many times I have felt overwhelmed, struggling to balance tomorrow with yesterday. Many times I have caught myself saying, “I just need to get through this week” or “Things will be better when …” but the truth is, my life will always be busy, rich, and full, and time will never slow down unless I make a choice to change my focus in a particular moment. My family is active with various hobbies, commitments, and friends and family time woven together.  Our schedules are jam packed. But music, theater, dance, soccer, volleyball, teaching, writing, directing, singing, cooking...these are all part of what makes my family happy. Giving up those activities might make life slow down a bit but in all honesty, I believe in letting my children dictate the pace of their lives. Like her older sister Sydney, Emma knows she could curtail her academics or her hobbies, but she feels fulfilled as things stand now. The girls enjoy being busy, they've each told me so. Paul has told me he’s probably not going to play a winter season sport but how he is looking forward to soccer in the fall and lacrosse in the spring. He’s making decisions on his schedule now that he’s in Middle School. Eric will continue to direct and although I will miss him during the work of the productions, I’ll be busy with classroom research, planning, and writing. I’ll balance school with my love of keeping house--cooking, decorating, preparing for holidays, playing with my young dog, and checking in with family and friends.

Yes, we are busy. But we are a grounded family. We take on what we know we can handle and we scale back when we know we're doing too much. We’ll continue to pitch in on weeknights to keep our home orderly and to eat healthy. We’ll take time to talk, to laugh, and to share our days. We’ll cuddle up with one another when we need a hug or just want to snuggle. And when one of us looks up in the sky and sees the moon lighting up the night, or a falling snowflake that trickles down to the ground, we’ll be quick to stop and to take it all in. These are the moments where we remember that we can push the pause button anytime we need to.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Crazies

Okay, I admit it. When there’s only a week or so left of my summer vacation, I get crazy.  No. Let me be clear. I get REALLY crazy. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the crazies take over my body. That’s right. It’s as though I am completely possessed by some external mischievous scamps who crawl in and mess with my emotions. I have come to recognize this in myself. I try to hold onto my sanity, to breathe deeply, to be rational,  and to talk myself away from the ledge, but I just can’t help myself. My eyes see the calendar, my mind does the counting, and my head explodes. The crazies come! There is so much I wanted to do! There is so much I had to get done! I will lose my freedom! I need to clean, to organize! I need to run away to the beach! I need to read another book! I need to have as much fun with my family as I can possibly squeeze into these last few days!

My poor family. This year it was said aloud, “Summer is almost over. Mom’s getting crazy”. There were smirks. There were eyes rolling. There was placating. I even agreed with my husband and kids and made fun of myself. But then yesterday I REALLY lost it. With just three days before I return to work, I wasn’t getting to the beach quickly enough. We got home from Sunday mass and I changed into my bathing suit and threw the sunscreen and my Kindle into a bag. I made sandwiches and found a bag of carrots and some grapes. In went some sodas too. Was I being timed on how efficiently I could pack? No. I tried to be more nonchalant. Emma was a good sport and helped me load the van with a blanket, chairs, cooler bag. But then Eric wasn’t getting up from his chair. He had a headache. Paul acted surprised that we had plans to go to the beach. He got whiny. I reminded everyone that this had been the plan for the day, that it meant a lot to me. I tried to stay calm. But my eyes went to the clock. Tick tock. Tick tock. The sunlight hours are diminishing, the crazies suggested to me. This was the last day we’d be able to go to the beach together. Dentist appointments loomed over the next two days. We had to go. It had to be today. It had to be NOW.

I took a deep breath. I thought about leaving the boys home. It could be just Emma and I who went to the beach. No big deal, right? It might be nicer to go with only my daughter. She was happy to read on the beach for hours. The boys would get restless. Why was I getting so anxious?! But then my imagination went to the day I had envisioned us having. The crazies didn’t want to settle for anything less than being with the entire family.

The boys came through. After hearing my plea, they got in the van and we all headed out to go to the beach. But then, at the end of the driveway, I began having second thoughts. What fun would it be to take a husband with a headache and a son who didn’t want to go in the first place? I drove the van back to the garage. “I’m going”, said Eric. “Mom, I’ll go”, said Paul. But it was too late. My eyes were already watering and God knew, this had nothing to do with going to the beach with everyone. The truth of the matter was, I didn’t want any part of summer coming to an end.

There were words. There were tears. There was even some swearing. Let me be clear. All those words, tears, and inappropriate expletives came out of me. The husband and the children were quiet. They knew what was happening. Mom had been taken over by the end of the summer crazies again. I even went so far as to throw my car keys as I stormed out of the van and into the house. Who was I ? Was I seriously this upset? In short, the calm, mature woman I usually consider myself to be? Yeah, well...she was no where in sight.

It was a short tantrum. I regret it but only because my son now has some ammunition against me should he ever decide to swear, or so he told his sister. But truthfully, I needed to let the crazies out. They were too powerful. It was hard to suppress them. And after a good sob session with my patient husband (the kids hid outside after I stormed into the house), I felt better. I even smirked first. I think. Maybe Eric did. But in any case, within 10 minutes, we were both laughing at my nuttiness of course. It’s true you know. It’s so important to marry someone who makes you laugh. To marry someone who YOU are able to make laugh. I cannot emphasize this enough. Don’t settle for anything less. Life is serious enough. It gets hard, and I’m not simply talking about the ending of vacations. There’s a lot of change going on right now and it’s all hitting me at once.

I meekly asked Eric if we could all go to the beach. And when he said yes, I started to cry, this time only to center myself, or maybe out of pure relief that this guy still loves me, crazies and all.

We returned to the van. I started to apologize to the kids (those poor innocent kids), but then I started laughing. Luckily, they did too. Then I heard their version of what they’d witnessed and we all cracked up again. Thankfully, they’ve inherited our sense of humor. “I’m sorry”, I said again, in all sincerity.

It was a lovely afternoon to be at the beach. The water was warm, the breeze was refreshing. We all went for swims. We read and napped and talked and snacked.  And even though I knew in my heart that I had guilted them all into going and had made the whole trip pretty darn awkward at the start, I was surrounded by three people who love me unconditionally, three people who know every neurotic part of me and who forgive me when I annually have to deal with this back-to-school transition each August. For we all know that I’ll be fine in another week or two. Life doesn’t end when my summer vacation does. There’s beauty and love in every season, in every little adventure we take, whether individually or together as a family. We are blessed all twelve months of the year.

Forever needing to take pictures, to somehow preserve as many memories as I can, maybe in fear that it’ll all be gone before the sun sets one day in the near future, as we prepared to leave the beach at the end of the afternoon I asked my daughter to take a shot of Eric and I. I put my arms around my husband and without skipping a beat Emma said, “Proof that my parents still love each other, despite the keys that were thrown in the garage”. Then she giggled.

That’s right Emma. The crazies may come again next August, if not sooner, but once again, they’ll be run out with a few tears and lots of love.