Friday, July 31, 2009
They were outside the Subway-slash-fancy gas station near the highway on ramp, Jamba sitting politely at the end of his rope leash while Josh and Madison checked the trash cans for what overfed Americans consider garbage.
I know a lot of people think it's gross, Madison told us later, but you can get really good food in there. Especially outside fancy restaurants. Sometimes they throw away perfectly good steak and stuff like that. Last night we had steak and lobster. Steak and lobster!
They looked more like siblings than friends of a few months, both reddish-brown with daily sun, their teeth flashing white in their faces. Their hair was the same tone as their skin, curly, matted a bit with dust and sweat. They were comfortable in their skins, their patched and dusty clothes, unconcerned about appearance. They both carried large backpacks, the type that only hitchhikers or serious campers ever carry. He had a battered ukulele strapped to his, and she carried a violin case. In her other hand was a small woven basket containing little odds and ends: an empty water bottle, a necklace, some Nello wafers.
I don't know who in our group noticed them first, but pretty soon Josh and Madison had fresh sandwiches from the counter and Steve was making friends with Jamba. They were headed up toward Grand Rapids, they told us. We debated among ourselves and agreed that they seemed like decent kids, and besides, we outnumbered them seven to one. We could go a tiny bit out of our way to get them as far as Kalamazoo.
They packed up quickly (We're used to that, Madison said wryly) and squeezed into the full-size van, the one with the wooden cross dangling from the rear-view mirror and the right-wing bumper sticker on the back. Those of our group in the back with them asked curious questions, not quite prying into their stories. They told us the bare bones: first names, states without towns, vague philosophies about owing nothing, owning nothing. Jamba was part of the team, not a pet. We learned more about him than his human companions.
He was nine months old, and Josh had gotten him from a farm in Tampa. They met Madison in Florida a little after that. He had been on the road for two years; she, six months. They had been travelling together for several months. She told us it was her eighteenth birthday, and our congratulations and applause elicited a delighted laugh. Josh was a few years older, but not by much.
We talk a lot, Josh said.
We've talked about everything and anything. We've run out of stories, really, Madison chimed in, laughing as she seemed to do most of the time. Her brilliant white smile told of a childhood that had included dentistry, as it had also included her mother's two divorces and subsequent boyfriends.
It's more intense than being married, really, explained Josh. We're literally around each other 24-7.
Madison looked down at Jamba, lying on the seat between them. We talk through the dog a lot, actually.
They were buskers, musicians who sat on streetcorners (Wherever it's legal, she amended) and played their music for the pleasure of passers-by, who would hopefully reward them with coin. This was all so that they could travel, which was what they really desired. They were homeless by choice, transients because they wanted to see other places, off the grid.
They had done well in Ann Arbor, a place where those left-of-center are more normal than otherwise. But they had heard Grand Rapids was friendly to buskers, and they wanted to eventually get to the Great Lakes. That was their current dream, to camp by the Great Lakes and let Jamba run on the shore.
I'm afraid to swear in front of you all, Josh confessed, laughing a bit.
Why? someone asked. He shrugged. I thought of the bumper sticker, the one that had made my stomach a little sour when I saw it. I had been relieved to find the van was on loan from someone not in the group.
We discussed the difference between religion and faith, institution and belief.
I don't like genres and categories, Josh said. Deep down we're all the same, really. It's all about being good to each other. Take care of each other. That's what it's should be about.
It's about love, Madison added.
We left them at a BP station near the on ramp to north 131, which would take them up through Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids. They were sitting on the hill eating their sandwiches as we left, two reddish-brown children with a black-and-white dog sitting between them, all they owned lying on the grass. We pulled away, having given them little more than a few sandwiches, a few miles' ride, a rolled-up twenty hidden in the little basket. We would never know what, if anything, they were running away from, what they were really running toward.
I hope you find what you're looking for, said one of the guys.
Thank you. I do too, said Madison.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Well, I'm in Chicago. Just a few days late for BlogHer. I am at a conference, though, the b2G "Live Inspired" conference to which some good friends (who are Navigators staff) invited me.
The trip up, in a monster van with crappy steering and worse brakes, was actually quite fun. I didn't know anyone in my van (we had two) other than one man I'd met last fall on a cider mill trip, but it was a cozy group of six to eight people. We kept up a sort of musical vans game all day, though I stayed put in my shotgun position (sometimes being carsick-prone has its advantages). We talked the whole way, sometimes about silly stuff, quite often about deep stuff. You know how there are certain people and groups who cut past the surface crap and get to the Real very quickly? That was this group. Since I was the stranger in their midst, so to speak, I got to share my life story, which was great since one of my favorite topics is Me.
Hey, that's why I'm a blogger, right? Have navel, will gaze.
I was a total noob/rubbernecker/tourist as we drove through the city to Loyola University. Chicago, at least the lakeside part, is GORGEOUS. I was half-tempted to just up and move here. At least, until I saw the sign advertising cosy apartment-style condos starting at the low, low price of $1.325 MILLION.
Somehow I don't think I'd be living in lakeside Chicago on a teacher's salary.
And then...we got to the conference.
All my extroversion, my confidence, my joi de vivre drained away and left me not-so-high but very dry. Suddenly I was surrounded by people I didn't know and the people I DID know knew these other people and were saying hi and getting hugs and catching up and I was shuffling quietly in a corner, trying not to look like I was about to throw up.
At dinner I made the mistake of getting in line without making For Sure that my companions of the road were getting in line at the same time, so I had my plate of Chicago-style deep dish pizza (urgh) and Caesar salad and returned the table to sit by my lonesome while they chatted away. And then most of them sat at other tables anyway, with people from all over the country they had met before.
I felt like I was right back in high school, the new kid, the odd one out, sitting by myself at the losers' table in the cafeteria. All that social anxiety flooded over me and I shoveled down my food, wondering if anyone would notice if I sneaked upstairs to my dorm room and spent the evening on Twitter instead.
Cuz I can interact with 100 strangers online a whole lot easier than 100 strangers in a real live room.
I ended up getting tablemates and being led into conversation and such before I could disappear, so I stuck around long enough to endure the "Speed Relating" getting-to-know-you activity (think speed dating, but without the searching-for-a-date component, and all ages and genders are involved) before finally coming up to my room to get online and try to ease the kinks out of my shoulders.
Give me a room full of students. Give me a small group of strangers. Give me anything like that, and I can survive. Even thrive.
But tonight...tonight made me think twice about going to BlogHer next year.
Because I might not even make it to the corner to do that awkward should-I-shouldn't-I dance. I might just end up in my room, huddled over my laptop on the bed.
Though at least at BlogHer I could get HBO.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
i had it figured out
plans in my head
how it would be
ready to move on
let's get going, buddy
defenses were up
wasn't going to get hurt again
because that's all dead and gone
ready to move on
time's a tickin'
i even allowed myself the luxury
of being a little angry
just a touch
to let a little hardness creep in
we could be friendly
but not really friends
someone has to think of the children
and then you apologized
and then you asked me to stay a while
and all those defenses proved as tough
as cotton candy
or brittle ice
looking solid until there's a little warmth
that the hope i thought was lying dead
sparked and glowed
just waiting for a little fanning
a little kindling
to spring into flame again
don't even know what to do with it
stomp it out?
give it air to breathe?
allow it to grow?
the fundamentals haven't changed
the obstacles are still there
even if you asked
i wouldn't hand over my heart
have to be practical
still moving forward
i'm standing here with the ember of hope
cupped in my palm
not to get burned
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Ah, the foolish confidence of the disorganized mom.
I had forgotten another key piece of information that their grandma passed on to me--to wit, the Widget had consumed a small cup of milk and had milk with his cereal that morning. Non-lactose-free milk. Regular milk. Doom-in-the-diaper milk.
We ate our Sbarro's pizza with a minimum of fuss, and then the kidlets charmed/weaseled/coerced me into spending some moolah on the outrageously expensive mechanized rides placed in the food court, just in case we parents hadn't already spent enough money. As the Widget crawled out of a little jeep, I caught a whiff.
That deadly stench.
The one that means this is more than just a nugget of excrement nestled in the diaper.
Sure enough, the slightest movement of his diaper top revealed the swamp stored within. And then I spotted it--the slowly spreading spot on his shorts.
With no diaper, no wipes, no change of clothes. Even if I DID snatch an overpriced pair of shorts from Baby Gap, where was I going to get what goes underneath?
So in desperation, we marched out the doors into the sweltering heat of the parking lot to the car, where I threatened the Widget with dire consequences if he even thought about moving and jostling anything, and I crawled through the landfill that is my Saturn Vue in search of hidden treasure.
And lo! there was a pair of denim shorts lying on the rear seat--no idea why, but they had no visible signs of gunkiness, so onwards! And lo! there was a forgotten container of wipes wedged under the driver's seat. And lo! there was one unused diaper buried under the detritus and boxes of used books in the cargo area. I only had to brush off a couple pieces of dust and it was practically clean.
I'm just not sure how this works out in the score books. Points lost for forgetting the diaper bag (which wouldn't have held a change of shorts anyhow, since I forgot to replace the last emergency pair we used). Points won--sort of--for being disorganized and sloppy enough to actually have all the pieces needed scattered about the car. If I'd cleaned it out like I planned about, oh, five weeks ago, I wouldn't have had the shorts or the diaper. (The wipes would have stayed, just in a better spot.)
What's your verdict, bookie?
Monday, July 27, 2009
**Why yes, I have been reading a great deal of P.G. Wodehouse lately, why do you ask?
The Widget has been carrying on une passion dangereuse with my cellphones since the womb. He is, as far as I'm concerned, responsible for the demise or near-demise of my last four cell phones. He Who Was and a friend Who Shall Not Be Named dared suggest that perhaps I should keep my cell phone out of his reach, but I sneer at their practical parenting tips.
Number One was a simple, outdated, but perfectly serviceable cell phone I'd had ever since switching to T-Mobile back in The Day. I was heavily pregnant with The Widget and absentmindedly forgot to remove the phone from my jeans before they went in the wash. The SIM card was, amazingly enough, still operational, but the phone was a loss. I got a shiny new one by taking my long-overdue free phone upgrade. I forgave my small unborn son, since I didn't have to re-enter any phone numbers.
(Why is he at fault? Why, because I was pregnant with him and therefore suffering from Pregnancy Brain! I've heard that a woman's brain physically shrinks in size during pregnancy. No word on whether it recovers. My theory is that this is why men would like to keep us pregnant. We just might take over the world otherwise.)
Number Two, my free upgrade, was a constant obsession for The Widget once he got old enough to grab it. It apparently looked like a highly desirable snack. When he was about six months old, he managed to obtain it through highly illegal infant maneuverings. By the time I discovered his sneakiness, he had slobbered it so thoroughly that the keyboard had shorted out. This time I was not due for a free upgrade: however, He Who Was WAS, and so they let me use his upgrade. I got a shiny new purple phone, again with an operational SIM card making the transfer simple, and this time I had a CAMERA. The Widget was forgiven, but resentment raised its ugly head some time later when He Who Was desperately needed a new phone and had to wait an additional two months before what was originally MY upgrade date came to pass.
Number Three, that lovely dusky purple being with the fuzzy camera shots, mysteriously whisked itself into the Widget Zone about four months ago. One night it was on my bedside table; the next morning, it was gone. The Widget came under high suspicion due to his obsession with taking things and disappearing them, sometimes down the nearest floor vent, sometimes to mysterious places We Know Not Of. (There's still a missing grandpa glove somewhere. It's a good thing the cold of winter was over.) After almost two weeks of increasingly frantic searching and a sense of disappearing from the connected world, I dragged my sorry, twitching self into the T-Mobile store again. I was, fortunately, again due for an upgrade, and I was able to get Wanda for a decent price with the rebate.
Wanda is my lovely little red Sony Ericsson phone that makes me happy. Not as happy as He Who Was's G2 thingymabob that he waited those additional two months for, but happy.
So when Wanda went missing on Saturday morning while I was in the shower, much like the Purple Wonder did four months ago, I knew who to ask.
There may have been some yelling.
For once The Widget didn't try to blame DramaBoy for his transgressions, but neither was he helpful in locating Wanda. Finally, I found her on the floor in the boys' sleeping area, nestled by a chair. When I opened her up...
I found water all over the screen.
And when I opened up the back and removed the battery, there was water there too.
DramaBoy was only too happy to inform me that The Widget had decided to wash the phone with his bottle of water. Upon which the rising shrieks of wrath spread to cover DramaBoy's head as well, for knowingly watching this debacle and never trying to remove the phone from The Widget's grasp or coming in to alert me so I could take care of the situation myself.
It wasn't a pretty scene. It was a good thing I was taking them to their grandfather's house and would be child-free for most of the day. They wouldn't have enjoyed Mama's company.
It was very very quiet in the car on the drive over there.
The good news is that after drying her out in pieces and taking her to the T-Mobile store today (children in tow--a story for another day when I can have a sense of humor about that too) to be cleaned up so she would charge, WANDA WORKS!
Finally, a cell phone that can survive my Widget.
I just might be in love.
I would love to give you the amusing post I composed in my head on Saturday night about eating at a certain very large and well-known pizza restaurant, but I'm not up to writing it today. I'm feeling heavy, weighted down with various sorrows and the sense that tears are not far off. This weekend, while the opposite of angry and stressful in terms of conflict (in other words, He Who Was and I actually got along wonderfully well), took its toll on my heartstrings. And accessing the Internet and email and blogs and Twitter came with a price today.
I opened my email to find an update on my teen cousin, the one whose mother (my mother's only sister) died a couple of years ago from leukemia, the one who was diagnosed this year with cancer of the jaw. He is going through radiation therapy right now as the follow-up to having the tumor excised, and he is struggling. His father wrote that Matthew has all the fatigue, internal and external ulcers, sore throat, and various other side effects that can result from radiation therapy, and he got them more quickly than expected. He has lost weight and will be put on a feeding tube tomorrow. In addition, he came down with H1Ni flu (swine flu, by its official name) shortly after starting treatment and has never fully recovered from that virus's debilitating effect--thankfully it was the lower-level strain or he might have been much more drastically affected.
Matthew is sixteen years old.
Then via my Blogroll and Twitter I found out that Stellan, MckMama's precious baby, is going downhill fast as the doctors struggle to determine how to stop his SVT, which is not responding to any of the previous treatments. MckMama's anguish is apparent, especially on Twitter. She is holding her son while friends and family rush to get to the hospital. I am trying to pray, and all that can escape are the words Please help them! and tears and wordless gouts of agony that this happens at all.
Stellan is eight months old.
In comparison to these families' agony, mine seems so minor in comparison. And yet I know that God cares about each of us and our pain, that He is big enough to encompass it all.
I am torn between wanting so badly to say to He Who Was Please, let's just try this again; let's just start over! and knowing that certain key issues have not changed, still loom there as great obstacles to reconciliation, and that we must continue to move forward in our efforts to create a Best Case Scenario for how we will live and care for our children while we work through the process of divorce. We are doing very well in terms of working together, negotiating instead of fighting, being friendly and even almost (dare I say it?) loving, agreeing wholeheartedly that we will do whatever is in our power to make things right for our children. This weekend, however, made it increasingly clear that our power is insufficient to make it truly All Right.
DramaBoy is showing increasing signs of anxiety and distress over our situation. Saturday as we drove back to the house from his grandparents' place (they stayed with them for most of the day so that we could work through the house deciding what to do with various belongings), DB started asking questions about where we were going and for how long. When he heard we would all be at the Blue House for a couple of days before coming back down with me to the Yellow House, he looked at me and asked Are you and Daddy going to be together?
He has asked me this before when we were spending time together as a whole family, particularly if I would be staying the night at the Blue House. It was the first time He Who Was had heard this, however, and the look on his face...I know it mirrored the way I feel every time I hear that question. And we both looked at DramaBoy and asked him if he was okay after I said that while we would all be at the house, Daddy and I would not be together. He sat with downcast face while he said, Yes, I'm okay.
He's learning how to put a brave face on it, and that breaks my heart.
His anxiety gets higher almost every day. I think The Widget's is too; he just isn't able to verbalize it very clearly. They stayed with their grandma last night, and they both wept bitterly about leaving her this morning when I picked them up. I think she is a piece of stability in their lives. They see her often (she lives only 10-15 minutes from He Who Was). She is always in the same house. She may be strict, but she's fun, and they know they can rely on her.
I think perhaps they are starting to feel they can't rely on us, their parents, quite the same way. We aren't always there. They can't have both of us. Life keeps getting disrupted. Nothing is like it was, back before their worlds fell apart.
DramaBoy is three-and-a-half years old. The Widget is two.
They're too young.
Please, God, they're all too young.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Psalm 39 is not a cheerful one. It may be one of my favorites purely for its poetic language, however...and the lesson that is couched within its phrases. (I'm bolding the sections that struck me particularly and underlining the language that sparks the poet in me.)
1 I said to myself, “I will watch what I do
and not sin in what I say.
I will hold my tongue
when the ungodly are around me.”
2 But as I stood there in silence—
not even speaking of good things—
the turmoil within me grew worse.
3 The more I thought about it,
the hotter I got,
igniting a fire of words:
4 “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered—
how fleeting my life is.
5 You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
at best, each of us is but a breath.” Interlude
6 We are merely moving shadows,
and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
not knowing who will spend it.
7 And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
My only hope is in you.
8 Rescue me from my rebellion.
Do not let fools mock me.
9 I am silent before you; I won’t say a word,
for my punishment is from you.
10 But please stop striking me!
I am exhausted by the blows from your hand.
11 When you discipline us for our sins,
you consume like a moth what is precious to us.
Each of us is but a breath. Interlude
12 Hear my prayer, O Lord!
Listen to my cries for help!
Don’t ignore my tears.
For I am your guest—
a traveler passing through,
as my ancestors were before me.
13 Leave me alone so I can smile again
before I am gone and exist no more. (Psalm 39, NLT)
At first glance it would be easy to despair over the idea that we are less than a blip on the timeline of eternity, that the agonies we experience and which seem so enormous in significance are infinitesimal in the infinitely larger view of God. And yet...isn't that the truth? And isn't there a certain measure of comfort in the idea that God is that much larger than our turmoil, that much more powerful than our despair? Pair that with Jesus's words in Matthew:
29 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. 30 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. (Matthew 10: 29-31, NLT)
Suddenly there's a different understanding of it all. Yes, we are infinitely smaller in scope than God's existence. But this is the power of an omniscient and omnipresent and omnipotent God--He is present in all Time and all Space and sees it all as one, rather than being limited by our linear perception.
Instead, the lesson I need to pull from Psalm 39 is that all my "busy rushing ends in nothing," that so much of what I think I need and which is precious to me is actually that which God must "consume like a moth" so that I can see and experience the truth. Many times in the last few months I have said, "I can't do this any more." I'm right--I can't. There is no strength of my own that could ever stand up to what I face.
But God has more than enough strength. I haven't been turning to Him enough, haven't been placing my faith in Him and His purpose for me, because deep down I'm terrified that the path He intends for me is far more difficult than the one I would like to take. I was reminded that my path--the one I think is right--may not be so at all. I certainly haven't done that well for the last quarter century when I've followed my own path. For, as David says,
...the Lord watches over the path of the godly,but the path of the wicked leads to destruction. (Psalm 1:6, NLT)
Some time ago a friend asked me if I thought my husband's attitude towards God and faith could be an obstacle to my own faith, should it continue for years and perhaps the remainder of our lives. The answer that came out of my mouth left me startled and wondering. "No," I said, "if anything it would make me have to depend on God even more."
And suddenly it occurred to me that what seems so obvious to me--that God needs to change my husband's heart, and change it NOW--may not be obvious to God. Not that I think God does not want my husband to turn to Him, but perhaps there are crucial lessons that He wants me to learn in the barren desert where I find myself. For too long I depended on my husband to fill the emptiness within me, something he never had any chance of accomplishing. Only a relationship with God could alter that particular desolation. So if my husband were to suddenly become all that I (in my selfishness) would like him to be--how easy would it be for me to fall into old habits of turning to him to fulfill what only God can?
God's time is not my time. I am but a guest in this life, "a traveler passing through" on my way to eternity. Rather than wandering about fruitlessly on my own, I need God to be my travel guide, and I need to trust Him to know what is best for me. For ultimately His plans for me will be infinitely better, in the scope of infinity, than anything I could come up with on my own.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I've made it gradually clearer over time on this blog that my heart and faith have been changed in recent months, turning towards God and a decision to follow Jesus. This was not a simple choice. It was not, as some may think, a retreat into an "easier" way to go, a way that would make my parents happy and allow me to have some emotional crutch.
It's not easy to say I've been wrong for twenty years. I've been proud and arrogant and so, so desperate to deny that there is, in fact, One Way and it is not the way I have chosen for so long.
It's not easy to stand and confess this faith when the vast majority of my friends do not share it and may even ridicule it (though not, bless them, to my face), when my husband almost violently disagrees with my decision and sees it as a major obstacle to any reconciliation. It's not easy to make that an open part of my life when it may very well be received with contempt and even rejection by both strangers and loved ones.
So far, I've been fairly subtle (at least I think so) about it on this blog. Yesterday, I took a risk and spoke more openly about God and my relationship with Him. The response I received was so warm, so welcoming, that I finally made a decision about this blog that has been coming for a while.
Several months ago I began another blog, a more private blog, one that only a few select people knew about, where I wrote directly on my ideas about and struggles with faith. I haven't posted there for almost two months. For a while this was because I was struggling so much that I couldn't even put anything down in words. Recently I've been feeling more and more that I need greater integration in my life. I need to stop separating the different parts of my life, especially when it comes to faith. That includes this blog.
I'm not changing my approach to Diapers and Dragons. It will continue to reflect my thoughts and experiences, funny and serious, as they happen. But from now on, I'll be including my thoughts on faith in a much more straightforward manner. I don't intend to be all preachy or shove my faith in your face, but I don't intend to hide it either.
If it's too hard or uninteresting for you, dear reader, to read those more faith-oriented posts, don't worry--this won't turn into a blog of daily sermons. Perhaps you can handle one or two upon occasion? And the occasional reference in my "regular" posts? This may lose me some readers. If that's the case, I'll be sad, but I'll understand. And perhaps it will gain me others.
I hope that you'll read it all. And let me know what you think--even when you don't agree. After all, I'm still learning. It's a journey, and I won't arrive at the end until my time in this world is complete. I don't pretend to know all the answers. In fact, I'll be asking a lot of questions...
So I'm taking a step. Tomorrow I'll be posting a new draft of the last piece I wrote on that other blog, because it very much applies to where I am standing now. I hope you appreciate it.
And maybe, just maybe, it will touch something in your own heart.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Maybe it's confusion over those two concepts: punishment vs. consequence. Punishment, I think, is like when I'm just fed up to the gills with the boys getting out of bed a million times after promising they won't, so I give them a swat on the diapered behind to drive home my point. Consequence is more logical, less about my own frustration and anger and more about the outcome of choices: it's when DramaBoy refuses to eat his dinner, so there is no dessert. It's when he takes too long getting ready for bed and there's no longer time for a story. It's when he's been whiny and uncooperative and mean to his brother so he gets a nap instead of going to the park.
That's the confusion we have about all the crap that happens to us, too. So much of the horror we go through is the logical consequence of someone's choice. What's harder to understand is when the innocent suffer the consequences of other people's choices: war, famine, disease, poverty. So much of that can be traced back to choices someone somewhere made--sometimes simple shortsightedness, like poor crop rotation; sometimes complex evil, like power-mad dictatorships. And sometimes, we just suffer the less lethal but still horrific consequences that are direct results of our own choices.
It would be simple for God to fix it all. He's omnipotent, right? That means there's literally nothing He can't do. So we cry out Why? Why did you let this happen? Why couldn't You just heal this child? Why couldn't You cast down that politician? Why couldn't You keep my wife/husband/friend/child from making that horrible choice? Why do we have to suffer? What did I/he/she/they do to make You inflict this punishment? And we are angry, so very angry that He doesn't take that cup from us.
Let's cut to the chase. That's the way it feels like for me, right now. I'm editing this post from the original because I kept it at a distance, all "we" and "us" and very little "I". There have been so many nights I've lain in bed, angry and screaming silently, Why? I know I messed up, but I've done everything I could to try to repair it! I've apologized, I've confessed, I've tried so damn hard! Why is this still happening to me? Why haven't You fixed this for me?
It comes down to Choice and Consequence. We make choices. There are consequences for them. And even when we are truly repentant, when we try to make the wrong we've done right, sometimes those consequences will happen anyway.
So even when I know I am forgiven and redeemed of my many, many horrific choices, I will still suffer the consequences set in motion by those choices. I may avoid worse consequences by making better choices now, but there are some that will happen regardless of what I want.
It's not punishment. It's not God sitting up there saying Well, before I forgive you, I'm going to make you really SUFFER for what you've done. I believe He's mourning the pain I'm facing as much or more than I am. But if he were to just take it all away--well, that would not only mean I'd have less opportunity to grow as a person and in my faith, but it would also mean He would have to take away Choice.
And if He did that, we would become puppets. There would be no free will. There would be no growth, development, learning...There could be no true Joy because there would be no Sorrow. We would be mindless, lower than the animals in our inability to do anything outside the boundaries we were given.
As DramaBoy learns, apparently the hard way, that certain choices have certain consequences, he will also learn and grow as a human being. And as his parent, I will suffer his anger for my seeming cruelty, until the day he can look back and understand that it was all a part of learning wisdom. It's all a part of Life.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
The one I'm NOT going to.
The one that apparently 3/4 of my blogger friends and acquaintances and mommy-blogger-goddesses-who-don't-know-I-exist ARE going to.
Even the tweets have been invaded.
There I sit, minding my own business, obsessing mildly over blog and Twitter updates, searching for something entertaining to read and comment on or tweet a reply to (oh lordy, the preposition abuse in this post must end!) and there rolls in blog post after blog post and tweet after tweet about BlogHer.
Whatever shall I wear?
Look what I found to wear!
I need a roommate!
I lost my room and need someone who needs a roommate!
Should I fly or drive? I am terrified of flying but oy! the drama of trying to drive all the way there and is there anyone who would drive with me so that we can talk about BlogHer all the way there?
The cries for sponsors, the advice, the moaning, the laughing, the countdown.
Oh, and the angst. The mother guilt about leaving children behind for a few days and is this selfish of me?!? Don't get me started: chances are if it was a father leaving for a conference in Chicago lasting a handful of days, no one would think twice. Stupid society double standard.
Wow, do I sound bitter. I thought this post might be mildly amusing, and lo! It smacks of quinine instead.
Self-analysis time. Do I wish I was going to BlogHer? Well, kind of. It sounds very exciting and I would get to meet lots of bloggers I admire and read on a daily basis. The panels and seminars would be entertaining and educational, and I could come away with contacts and friends and tips on how to improve my blog.
I'm not exactly the social butterfly when it comes to rooms full of people I don't know. And BlogHer would be that on a ridiculous scale. So I would most likely be hovering in a corner, making a few false starts and retreats that would leave me looking like some pitiful wannabe trying out for So You Think You Can Dance. That is, when I wasn't following Melissa from Rock & Drool around like a scared puppy. Cuz she's going. And I know her in real life, so she could be my front, my tugboat, my icebreaker. (Happy Anniversary, hon! You give me hope...)
Also? There's the matter of money. A LOT of money. Money I don't have, no how, no way, and wouldn't even have a chance of saving up if I started now for next year.
So I'm going to take my bitter little self, shake it off, remind myself I'm happy for all those girls (and a few boys--hey there Neilochka, if you ever come over to read me!) who get to head off and have a grand old time. I'll even read all the Twitters and posts and whatnot that will no doubt be flooding in during and after the week, and perhaps I'll even leave comments that are low on the snarkiness scale.
Besides, it's been too long since I've seen my babies, and tomorrow I get to pick them up and hug them and hear all their chatter and get sloppy kisses.
So have fun, all you BlogHerites, and maybe if I can get a sponsor I'll join you there next year!
I'll be the one in the corner doing a weird little dance.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
On the other side are a slew of women who have suffered from PPD, as well as a slew of highly respected organizations such as The American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the March of Dimes, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Nurse Midwives, the National Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition, and the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, to name a few.
You might have guessed where I stand on this subject. If you want an excellently written post specifically responding to Time's article and the issue as a whole, check out Catherine Connors' post, which is brilliant as usual and more accurate than most of the fearful anti-Mothers Act sites I examined. For example, the act would NOT, as many opponents would have you believe, mandate PPD screenings for all pregnant women. Nor would it mandate any specific treatment, anti-depressent or otherwise. What it WOULD do is make screenings, treatment (of varying kinds), and support more widely and readily available to all women. Which, to my thinking, is all to the good.
But that's not really why I'm writing.
Reading the various posts and articles and websites stirred up some mixed feelings in me. The subject of PPD and depression as a whole is very real and rather raw. So I'm struggling to even write this post. Odd how what I can talk about with my friends and family becomes difficult here.
I am, in fact, shaking a little while I type.
It's about image, you see, that stupid obsession with seeming. Seeming strong, seeming capable, seeming confident and happy and together and Super Mom who can Do It All. The seeming that led me into a life of masks and deception and manipulation and secrets for over two decades until the maelstrom spun me right down into a pit from which I could not climb.
(I sometimes feel like there should be an anonymous organization for people suffering from depression like there is for alcoholics and other addicts. A place where one could go without fear of judgment and say "Hello, my name is _______, and I am Depressed." Where one could get sponsors and support, and perhaps be pointed in the right direction, enough so that one could finally get over the shame enough to admit the truth to a doctor or a friend or a family member.)
I was, comparatively speaking at least, a high-functioning depression-sufferer (Or whatever you call us. Nutcase seems harsh.). People who knew me better than most knew I had depressive tendencies, that I'd struggled with it from time to time; they even knew the last three years that something wasn't quite right. But no one knew just how bad it was. Not even me.
I was just as good at lying to myself as I was to anyone else. Because if I really admitted the truth to myself, I wasn't going to be able to keep it together.
And I was in trouble.
I won't go into all the details of twenty-plus years of depression, which varied in degree quite a bit over time. Instead, I want to share a little--just a touch--of my experience with PPD. If I can ever get through typing this post and actually hit "Publish."
I had what I thought were the baby blues after DramaBoy was born. I wasn't plunged into despair; I didn't imagine harming my child any more than I figured any parent would when surviving on occasional catnaps and walking around a room for hours with a screaming infant. I didn't feel like I was fully up to the task, but then what new mother really does?
As time went on, however, things started going subtly wrong. Where once I had rushed from work to pick up my precious baby and take him home, I started delaying my arrival. I'd find excuses for staying at work longer. I'd come up with errands that just had to be done and would be easier without an infant. Finally, I stopped finding excuses and just started heading home after work to sit for a few hours, staring at the TV screen, before getting back to daycare shortly before they closed.
Work people thought I was still heading over to pick up my baby.
Daycare people thought I had numerous meetings and obligations filling up my afternoons.
My husband only knew that when he arrived home around 6:30 or 7, I was there with our child and I seemed tired, worn out, a bit dulled around the edges. Only what one would expect from a working mother, right?
And then, when DramaBoy was barely eight months old, I became pregnant again. Completely, totally, absolutely by surprise. The idea of terminating the pregnancy never crossed our minds, but neither of us reacted well. My husband became convinced we would be ruining young DramaBoy's life by bringing in a competitor for attention. I became convinced that I simply would not survive being the mother of two babies.
I was, on the surface, mothering well. I took care of my baby, fed him well, nursed his frequent illnesses, cuddled and loved him. I knew, deep down, that I wasn't doing well. I found reasons to get away any time I could. I fantasized about clearing out the bank accounts and flying off to live the life of a Mystery Woman in the Caribbean. I lived for the hours at work, for his naps and bedtime. I loved him, I missed him when we were apart, but I could hardly stand being with him for more than half an hour.
And now I was going to feel it with two. My incompetence, my failure, my brokenness would be doubled, and I was more frightened than I'd ever been in my life.
My mother flew back to the States and essentially lived with us for a month after The Widget was born. I was able to survive with her there to keep DramaBoy happy and to provide me with companionship and love. Then she had to return to the Ivory Coast. Facing the first day I would be On My Own with both boys...well, that was facing a Dragon that filled me with despair and an overwhelming fear.
I survived. I got by. No one really knew how dark things were for me. My husband saw the most of it as he returned to a wife who was obviously stressed, angry, and full of nothing but negativity. But he couldn't fix it, couldn't save me, so he also became full of anger and despair. And he turned away--or at least, that's how it felt to me.
Meanwhile, I was still working, mothering, dealing with DramaBoy's enormous list of food sensitivities, his ongoing respiratory illnesses, The Widget's chronic eye infections; and people were praising me, calling me amazing, so strong, SuperMom, and I smiled deprecatingly and inside a voice was whispering If they only knew...
I won't go into all the sordid details. My denial over what was going on spread and grew and I started making choices that were incredibly destructive, all the while lying to myself about what I was doing and the immediate as well as potential consequences. My marriage, already troubled, began crumbling.
Finally, the lies fell apart. My marriage fell apart. I fell apart. And I couldn't hide from the truth about myself any longer.
Being more honest with my doctor and my therapist led to a diagnosis of PPD, layered on top of chronic depression. Yes, I was put on Zoloft. No, it wasn't the magic pill that "fixed" me. In fact, things got worse before they got better. A lot worse.
So what was the answer? Well, you see, there's no simple one. Zoloft, eventually, did help bring me out of the pit. Therapy was and is important. Friends and family--an incredible support system--was and is crucial. God was and is essential.
Perhaps I'm wrong. There IS a "simple" answer.
Simply? I couldn't do it alone.
I consider myself "cured" of PPD now, though not of depression. I still struggle. I still have dark times, sad times, hard times. But I no longer have that massive void inside. I no longer descend into despair. I faced that dragon, and I won. But the key was truly facing it, naming it, fighting it--and doing so with support.
I'm still learning how to mother my children the way I would like to. I have some catching up to do. What's different is that I believe I can do it, even though it's going to be damn hard along the way.
This isn't the whole story. Especially, it isn't truly the story of Why: Why, when I was at the forefront of decrying the idiocy of Tom Cruise and declaring my support of all women struggling with the darkness of PPD, I could not admit that I was struggling with it myself.
I've had a hard enough time just telling you the What. I'll have to save the Why for another day.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Fifteen minutes later, as I hummed in the shower, the sudden din of what sounded like two small boys attempting to throw each other bodily down multiple flights of stairs gave me a dire hint of What Was To Come.
I don't know which side of the bed causes the level of whining I suffered through first thing this morning (most of it not even mine), but I'm planning on placing a brick wall there once I find out. The wailing and gnashing of teeth increased through the torment of packing a picnic lunch, as The Widget witnessed all matter of food disappearing into the picnic tote, obviously not destined for immediate consumption. DramaBoy sat, momentarily cooperative, in a chair and made smug comments to the tune of I'M not whining, Mama! You don't have to yell at ME! Charming.
We had to get out of the house earlier than usual, since the Detroit DPW was planning on "cleaning" the streets (better known as "smearing the dirt into interesting streaks") and all cars had to disappear between 8 ay-em and 4 pee-em. So before we descended upon our accommodating friends, I took the boys to Tim Horton's for donuts. Not to mention a caffeine fix for me. All was going surprisingly well until The Widget decided to tip his apple juice all down his front and DramaBoy began to play hide and seek around the counters.
(I also found out that I've been paying mocha prices at TH for about eight years when I should have just been charged for coffee, since I don't get the whipped cream on top. The whipped cream, apparently, is what makes it a mocha vs. a "half coffee, half hot chocolate" concoction. You think corporate headquarters would give me my money back?)
Once my friend's youngest son had woken from his nap, we piled in our cars and headed over to a nearby splashpark. We were delayed somewhat when I was pulled over by the police. Surprisingly, it wasn't for my duct-taped side mirror or the massive crack across my windshield. No, it was because my license plates have been expired for six-and-a-half-months.
You see, my birthday is on Christmas Day, which makes the whole thing a headache anyway, and then this last year my world/marriage fell apart two weeks before Christmas, and so with one thing and another, I kind of forgot.
For half a year.
Oh, and I didn't have my current proof of insurance with me because: guess where that was mailed? And guess where I wasn't these last few months?
I shared my sob story with the very nice and rather cute policeman, who asked me where I was living and why I was so far over on the West Side and glanced at my goggling children in the back seat (Mama, is that a policeman? Why won't he let us go? I can't see the line leader anymore! What KIND of mistake did you make, Mama? Is he going to let us go? Why aren't we moving?), and then he went back to his car to do sinister policeman stuff and I sat there answering my son's questions while mentally whacking myself on the back of the head and waving bye-bye to my bank balance.
Then lo and behold, the nice (and cute) policeman took pity upon me, wrote me a fix-it ticket for "not having my registration card in the car," told me to go get my license renewed, and saved me about $170 in fines.
And I didn't even actually sob or heave my bosom ONCE. Though my hands and voice may have been a little shaky.
At the splashpark, the kidlets became suddenly fearful of becoming wet, since the water was cold even if the day wasn't, and mostly splashed about in warm puddles instead of all the fancy sprinklers. I am willing myself to believe that the puddles were warm because of the sun.
(Note to self: stick to free splashparks until the kids stop being wimps. Cuz otherwise they'll be getting wet whether they like it or not, and then there might be some annoying fallout with Protective Services.)
My afternoon tutoring session was postponed, which left me with plenty of time to drag the kids from one suddenly necessary errand to another, namely tracking down my insurance agent (they'd moved) and getting a new copy of my POI, nipping into my school district's central office to pick up the new laptop that is replacing the PC at work, then backtracking to the Secretary of State's office to get my license plates renewed. With two young boys who had all of twenty minutes of naptime in the car, cruelly interrupted when we arrived at our first destination.
And in case you weren't sure yet whether I am certifiable, I then took them with me to Meijer to pick up a few necessaries because I didn't know when else I would be able to get there before the weekend.
By the time I wheeled the stupid car cart (with TV, conveniently placed on one side opposite to the faux steering wheel to offer maximum opportunity for arguing, hair pulling, biting, head knocking, and other brotherly pursuits) into the checkout lane, I apparently looked like I'd been the sole survivor of a natural disaster. At least that got a little sympathy from the cashier, who summoned a bag-girl to fetch me a regular cart for the required transfer of groceries and then later chased me down to give me the milk I'd forgotten on her bag stand. The two young men standing behind me in line looked on with mingled amusement, pity, and horror, never realizing how often I prevented my monsters from mowing them down with the cart, thanks to sheer muscle and mommy reflexes.
Perhaps I imagined it, but I think one of them may have added a box of condoms to their small pile.
Then I drove us all home (Let's just have quiet time, okay? Let's pretend we don't even know how to make any sounds at all!), threatened my way through the drama of dinnertime (If you don't eat it, you go to bed hungry! *** One more "no" out of you and there's no story before bed! *** That's it, go in time out!) , and wrangled the boys into bed (Don't you DARE get out of that bed, young man!).
And how am I now, as I sit here at my computer between bouts of continued boy-wrangling? Well, let's just say that the reason I haven't broken out the Smirnoff pomegranate martini is because if I open the bottle, I can't take it on my Girls' Weekend out at the island. I've about used up my luck with the police, and I don't want to have to start popping my top.*
Besides, I'm not so sure my saggy mommy boobies would keep me out of jail.
*Don't panic, Grandma. Never done it. Don't plan on ever doing it. Just said it for laughs.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Imagine trying to help a young fourteen-year-old girl to puzzle through this contradictory concept, as I did on Tuesday. It took her some time to grasp it; I understood the sentence's meaning as soon as I first read it.
I get it, you see. How one can simultaneously regret a decision because of the hardship and pain that resulted, yet not change that decision should one have a do-over. On the face of it, such an attitude is ludicrous. And yet...
I regret much about my relationship with He Who Was, not least of which were certain key choices I made at various times. A part of me regrets that we reunited after a one-week breakup ten years ago. Certainly this present pain would not exist had I made a different decision. And yet...How am I to know that what would have happened to me would have been any better?
Even more importantly, here is perhaps the greatest reason not to go back and change my decision should I ever invent a time machine:
Our beautiful, precious boys will always bind us together. That will be hard sometimes. I'm not naive enough to think otherwise.
I wouldn't change it.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
This is what I've decided, at least for now, to call the man who is still my husband, whether or not for very much longer.
Do I get angry with him? Yes, I do.
I also get so angry with myself that if I were capable of having a throwdown cage match with myself it would so be on.
Did he make poor choices in our marriage? Yes, he did.
And then I look at the choices I made and feel like vomiting.
Did he make the decision that he wants a divorce? Well, mostly.
But regardless of how I've denied wanting a divorce, the reality seems to be that there doesn't seem to be any way around it, not now, and perhaps he was just the first to face it head on.
He's not the bad guy. In fact, if you knew all the nitty gritty nasty details, a lot of people would probably label me as the greater of the two villains in our tale.
The sad, sordid truth is that we had a relationship that had certain flaws from the very beginning that we did not spot until it was too late. When we did spot them along the way, we did not do a good job--if we even tried at all--to tackle them. We developed destructive habits, destructive interactions, destructive behaviors. And we destroyed our marriage.
There was beauty along the way, too. It's very difficult for me right now to even think about them, all those wonderful memories, but they're there. Hopefully one day I'll be able to dig through the attic of my mind, pull them out from dusty trunks, page through the sepia photographs, run the flickering films. Someday.
I don't hate him, even if sometimes I wish I did. He doesn't hate me, even if sometimes he feels like he does. I still care about him. He still cares about me. But sometimes...Sometimes that isn't enough.
So we're both in incredible pain. Because we are, we keep hurting each other. We're trying to figure out how to stop.
So yes, the name "He Who Was" is a wistful name. That's how I feel about it, how I feel about him. Wistful.
And I'll leave it at that.
Monday, July 13, 2009
This last week...Well, let's just say that there are quite a few parts of it that I would rather not have experienced. As you could tell from my last post, I'm not exactly sunshine and daisies right now. I'm sure my friends and family have been having the times of their lives talking to and hanging out with me.
It's a measure of their love for me that they haven't given me a sharp, bracing kick to the rear so far.
Yesterday it became clear to me that even though I was saying to myself and everyone else (dang it, that sounds familiar--pattern of behavior, much?) that I wasn't getting my hopes up about my husband changing his mind about divorce, that I wasn't placing too much expectation in God performing a miracle the way I wanted it, that I was being all practical and stuff about the future...well, let's just say that yesterday highlighted the lie.
So my reality? Yes, I'm getting divorced. And since I won't be contesting, it apparently could happen in as little as four months or so. As my husband said, there's a booming industry designed to help people get through divorces in a minimum of time, money, and fuss.
God bless America.
(And I really do have to figure out a new blog name for him. "ComputerDaddy" is too intimate and redolent of the old days; "my husband" will no longer be accurate and is too painful to use; "the boys' father" is just too distant and almost bitchy. Any suggestions?)
Anywho, I spent the rest of the day in bed after he picked up the kids and we had The Talk that made things quite clear. I watched movie after movie on Netflix online. I finally watched the third Matrix movie, which was so much better than that horrendous second one that now I wish I hadn't put it off so long. Kind of took the bad taste out of my mouth as regards that trilogy. (Though I still just cannot see Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss as some wonderfully romantic couple. I mean, ick.) I also ate an entire (smallish) Red Baron pizza. I was tempted to go get a case of Cherry Coke and blow my summer "no pop" resolution in one big blaze of bubbly glory, but I didn't have the energy to drive to the store.
My sister called at one point, all bouncy and talkative as she drove home from her ten-year reunion in one of the Carolinas. I really didn't feel like talking, cuz I was in full-blown pity party mode, but she offered to just talk while I listened (which, realistically, is often what happens anyway--love you, SoccerSister!). Before I knew it, she was drawing me out with a discussion of Margaret Atwood's books (she's brilliant, we agree, but otherwise I hate her endings and am not a fan, while SoccerSister adores her stuff) and social commentary in literature and then how SoccerSister should really read more of Ursula le Guin beyond the Wizard of Earthsea trilogy...And I forgot, for a little while, to feel sorry for myself.
There are times when God knows what we need even when we think it's not what we want.
Don't get me wrong: I still indulged in self-pity the rest of the night, but that conversation was a reminder that it doesn't have to be this way all the time.
I slept in this morning, a glorious snooze that carried me all the way to eleven ay-em. I can't recall the last time I did that. When I woke, I felt renewed. I'm still sad, I still wish this wasn't the path we are taking, but...
It's time to get out of bed and start moving. Perhaps, in some tiny way, even moving on.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
And when I get home, I sit at the computer, obsessively, clicking refresh over and over on email and Twitter and my blog dashboard, and I reach for those ideas and they skip away, tantalizing, just out of reach.
I'm still caught in limbo, that in-between-time when nothing is quite certain and a pall of sadness drifts overhead like clouds covering the stars. Or perhaps, more like dust from my life's volcanic eruption that drifts into every nook and cranny. Will he file? Will he suddenly change his mind? Will I? Will a miracle happen? Will nothing happen? How long will this limbo stay, grey and grim, dimming my sight?
I say the same words time and time again, to my friends, to my family, to the Interwebs. My story grows stale. My mind does too. I fear that my faith dulls along with them.
My faith, when I listen, tells me, Wait. Wait, and in His time all will be made clear. And I know this is true, and yet that impatient child in me whines, When? How long? Give me a deadline and I can hold on!
It's the waiting that's hardest to bear, especially when I simply don't seem to be able to say or do or think anything that matters. I'm shouting into a vacuum, the sound swallowed up by nothingness. I don't even have tears any more.
Just that in-between time. Limbo. I understand now what Dante meant.
Friday, July 10, 2009
I'm special like that.
So, for those of you who've read a lot (or all) of my stuff--what do you think are the top posts? I have until next Thursday to figure it out...
I'm counting on you--don't let me down!
(The pressure is on. Thank God I can lump it onto your shoulders instead.)
small boys and great-aunt
shout with glee in summer sun
racing cars downhill
no winner needed
instead: the thrill of letting go
the watching, waiting
a breathless moment
muted slam as wood meets wood
victory to both
they become my joy
faces aglow in dappled light
and innocence wins
Thursday, July 9, 2009
This doesn't really reflect how cool it was, once we got past the initial kinda sorta awkwardness, but for some reason I'm finding it a bit tough to write today. Speaking of which, I should check on the kids. They're WAY too quiet.
Good thing I checked. The Widget managed to close himself in the downstairs bathroom (didn't lock it, thank goodness--so glad I've trained them to leave the locks alone) and I couldn't hear his despairing sobs. I'm now typing with him snuggling on my lap, gently patting my back. He likes to comfort me when he's been through trauma. DramaBoy is contentedly watching Phineas and Ferb.
It'll be nap time soon. Maybe for me as well. Then I'll see if they want to go to the park or just hang out on the porch or what. A little sunshine and fresh air would be good.
It's a lazy post to go with a lazy day. And I'm okay with that.
Are you a new reader here? Or been here before but haven't delurked lately? Please go here and leave a comment for me! I promise to love you forever! (I know. I'm shameless.)
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Most of my childhood was spent in the Far Off and Away of West Africa, where I was surrounded by family of both the immediate and extended variety: parents, siblings, uncles and aunts both regular and great-, cousins both first and removed, and Grandma and Grandpa. But every single one of this plethora of extended family was on my maternal side, this great Clan of missionaries and their children-turned-missionaries and the children's children along for the ride. I was the oldest grandchild, the oldest child of the oldest child (of six), and I was queen of my domain. At least in my mind.
Back in the corn fields of Saginaw lived my father's family, just as plentiful and extended, but so far away from my reality. Every four years we would return to the strange land of Michigan for a year, and I would be thrust into the strange world of my paternal relations, where I was lost in the middle of a muddle of granddaughters all born within a few years of each other. My father was in many ways the exotic bird of the family, perhaps more a duck than a peacock, but one that had flown to far off lands and lived among dark-skinned people of a different tongue and told tales that stood out harshly against the flat green Americana farmland.
My great-grandparents were German Mennonite immigrants, part of a group of Mennonites that revolved around three large families, all shoved from place to place in Europe for their unacceptable pacifism. They finally shoved off the European continent for the farmland of South Dakota, where they settled and intermarried and farmed and practiced their strong, quiet religion in peace. My grandfather can understand some German but did not grow up speaking it much. I wouldn't think, knowing him, that there was much in the way of conversation to begin with. Silent types, these broad Germans who believed in hard work and strong religion and beating swords into ploughshares.
The Great Depression fractured their peaceful lives and sent Grandpa's family rattling across the states into Michigan, where the farmland was not failing and factories offered a chance at other employment as well. He met my grandmother there, a small woman of mostly French descent, quick and bright as a bird. She may have had more words to say than he did, but they shared their faith and work ethic, and they built a family. They had six surviving children, all born within less than a decade, with a couple of miscarriages along the way. They lived in the same house where they live today, a long narrow wooden house with three bedrooms and one bathroom. My grandparents had their room; the three girls shared another small room; the three boys crammed into the third.
My grandfather worked the land when he could and worked in factories when he could and brought home slim paychecks that squeaked them through. My grandmother worked at some point as well as what we would today call a Special Education teacher, specializing in speech therapy and development. Their children were brought up to value both hard work and school, with all six going on to earn college degrees, three in medical technology and three in various areas of education. One, the baby of the family, grew up to meet a beautiful young woman also of German Mennonite descent way back in her ancestral tree, a woman who had grown up in the wilds of Africa and who sparked in him a passion for ministry in that land.
Even though I didn't know them very well at first, my grandparents always drew us in to the circle of their love. Grandpa rarely said the words, but he crafted beautiful works of art in his wood shop, these heirloom pieces that could fetch a fantastic price at boutiques and artsy stores if he cared about that sort of thing. He made toy cars for the little ones and model cars for the older boys and jewelry chests for the older girls and clocks for the adults and framed pictures better than any professional store ever could.
Grandma could sew anything. She made amazing dolls with full and detailed outfits for every granddaughter, dolls that if they had not been so well loved and played with, could have fetched their own amazing prices at those boutiques and stores. She told stories too, both the story book kind and the family news kind. We always knew what everyone was up to when we sat down with Grandma, even our dad's second cousin's wife's brother's child, or that elderly woman we saw once at church when we were two. Grandma knew everyone and made sure we all knew about them as well.
When I was in fourth grade, they came out to stay with us in the Cote d'Ivoire for six whole months. My grandfather helped out at the mission hospital with all sorts of repairs and projects. My grandmother befriended everyone, including old women in the village where we went on Sundays, old women with whom she could not communicate in words but with whom she spoke in the language of love. Over two decades later, people out there still ask about them and send their greetings, for their memory has stayed strong.
For Christmas that year, my grandfather and father built a huge eight-room dollhouse for me and my sister, and my grandmother and mother wallpapered and carpeted the rooms and sewed tiny curtains. They had brought out a houseful of tiny furniture from the United States, including a little piano that played music when you pressed the keyboard and lamps that really lit up, and a tiny doll family to live in their new mansion. We had lived on tenterhooks for months leading up to the holidays, because we knew those adults were up to something big in the office across from the house, and we weren't allowed to see. We weren't disappointed. That dollhouse has long since been lost to time and dust and civil war, but I can still picture each room and remember the hours and days and years we spent setting up the house and the family and imagining their lives.
My grandparents have shrunk over the years, turning inwards in body as time has ravaged their health. Their minds remain strong, however, and their hearts have only turned outward with time. To this day they still make toy cars and clothing and rugs and all sorts of things for people in need. They used to be a central part of their church's amazing gifting effort for the poor in Latvia, until their health made it too difficult. They carry on as they can. My grandmother just made some two dozen aprons and handtowels for Camp Barakal in upper Michigan. And the family benefits as well. My grandfather made amazing, unbelievably gorgeous rocking horses for each family of great-grandchildren, great graceful works of wooden art that are meant to be ridden and loved by small children even though they look like they belong in a museum.
My grandfather in particular has mellowed over time, from the stolid man who silently devoured his meal and left the table before his wife could even sit down, to a man who puts away the groceries and dishes and cleans up after dinner. He is gentler, softer as he gruffly grasps us for a hug and kiss before sitting down to visit, perhaps even joining in the conversation without being prompted. There's a look in his eye when he glances at his wife, this tiny woman made tinier by the scoliosis that twists her back and the Paget's disease that has softened her bones and bowed her legs. There's a look there that says he realizes the miracle of this woman in his life, this help-meet who raised his children and kept his house and held the family together when times were so hard that they didn't know if they would be able to put enough food on the table, this companion who loved him even when his shoulders were burdened with hardship and he couldn't open his mouth to tell her that he loved her too.
I have a new appreciation for the legacy of this family of which I am part. And when I take my small sons to see them, these two precious grandchildren whom they love as they love their every child, every grandchild, every great-grandchild; their eyes brighten and they catch them up. My children know who they are, and my children will remember them, and my heart is full with the love of four generations.
Monday, July 6, 2009
I'm totally copying Schmutzie, who in turn copied Notquiteawake before that, and asking you to for real and in person leave a real live COMMENT on this post! I know, that's asking a lot from some of you. Pretty please?
Here's what you do:
1) If you are actually and for real on this website, AWESOME, and if you are reading this is in a feedreader or via email, click on this entry's title and come on over. I'm a patient girl. Sometimes. For you, anything.
2) Answer the following three questions in the comments section:
A. What is your website url (if you have one)?
2. Where are you from in real life?
III. What strange belief/idea did you have as a child?
I'll be really nice and do the first one, because I'm a teacher and know all about modeling for my students, and besides I've already done it over at Schmutzie's and so it's easy. You're welcome.
Thank you so much in advance! You'll make me such a happy TeacherMommy!