So, I Was Thinking…

Of dirty, musky-smelling potatoes

and greasy, hot, salty french fries.

Of magical carrots pulled out of the dirt

and carrot-colored Cheetos.

Of oat-bread french toast with real butter churned a few miles away at Homeland Creamery

and Yo’ Drops from Plum Organics (click here).

Of bits of scrambled eggs from chickens raised by Milton and Bill

and pediatrician-sanctioned Goldfish crackers for an almost one-year-old still reluctant to eat solid food.

Of a trip to a Farmer’s Market

and a neighborhood a few miles away labeled a “food desert.”

Of Wheat Belly (click here)

and my 91-year-old Aunt Nadine from Iowa who has always eaten “meat and potatoes” meals and makes her own yogurt and can out-walk me.

Of the joy in watching a 3-year-old playing and running in the backyard with a new dog

and the impotent stupor induced by Brian Williams describing whatever new disaster or threat NBC has pictures of.

Of sturdy yellow daffodils poking up while I wear my red wool coat

and the shriveling blooms on the magnolia tree outside my office window because it’s not supposed to be below freezing in NC at the beginning of April.

Of the total unpredictability of weather

and our need to know what to expect about something.

Of triple-pane energy-efficient windows

and the smell of fresh spring air bringing tree pollen to my sinuses through the open window.

Of the fun of shopping with Kristin (with no kids) for Atticus’s 1-year-birthday-party outfit

and the helplessness of not knowing how my spinning head of vertigo ended up lying on the floor of Gymboree at Friendly Shopping Center.

Of how each moment of each day is precious

and how much that is worthy of wonder we choose not to notice.

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Best Birthday Ever!

Follow your bliss!

Pursue that which gives you joy!

I struggled with the bliss thing for years after I heard Oprah’s advice.  “Look back at your childhood–what did you most enjoy?”  I liked reading a book up in a tree, alone.  I can’t climb a tree anymore, but I still love to read and be alone.  I think I’m supposed to give more to the world than that.

I found a new joy several years ago at my first writing workshop.  (Thank you Resource Center for Women in Ministry in the South–rcwms.com.)  I started this blog after a couple of workshops and I journal whenever the urge hits.  Maybe one day all the bits and pieces will evolve into a memoir.  I just know it’s fun.

A few weeks go my older daughter found a Groupon Getaway deal for 3 nights in a 2-bedroom condo at Atlantic Beach, NC.  I suggested that she, her sister, their 3 kids and I go for a couple of days in March for my birthday.  Both girls loved the idea and soon we had a reservation.

We had a plan. My younger daughter, her daughter Adaline (who is 3 now) and her son Atticus (who is almost 1), and I would drive in one car.  Maggie (14 months) and her mom would take their car and we would caravan.

The closer the time came for the trip, the more ways I imagined that it could go bad.  I started with the 4.5 hour drive (at best!) from Greensboro.  What if one of the babies wouldn’t stop crying?  And the bed situation in the condo would require cooperation and compromise from two moms who often debate who gets less sleep.  I wondered if either of them would back out.  I wondered if I’d be sane afterward.  Would we still like each other?

We were not able to caravan.  Work demands and leaving from two different cities, one closer to the beach than the other, killed that plan.  Each car could stop as needed.  “Never wake a sleeping baby.”  Even if you really, really need to go to the bathroom.

Adaline and Atticus both slept the first 2 hours of our drive!  I thanked God and our travel angels and just kept driving.  We stopped at a Hardees, used the facilities, sat inside and ate and pacified the kids with french fries.  We did what we had to do.  Forgive me, nutrtion-conscious friends.

On we drove.  We figured out we could put a pillowcase in the window to block the sun so Adaline rode content in her car seat, playing with an electronic kid-size computer-like thing and listening to our music.  Atticus sucked on french fries (forgive me, again) and played with toys and his electronic baby-size computer-like thing. Thank you whoever bought them these electronic toys!  We made it in 5 hours with some fussing from Atticus for the last 30 minutes or so.

Maggie and her mom had a 3-hour drive.  Maggie fussed and cried for the first half of the trip and then fell asleep.  Her mom did not have fun.  Maybe Maggie needed french fries and a baby-size computer-like thing.

The moms worked out the bed situation, we got everyone fed as needed, including lunch in a restaurant where they took our order at our table and brought us our food–no counters or paper wrapped sandwiches!.

After we played on the beach Saturday afternoon, all 3 kids (naked) and both daughters (in swimming suits) go into the big jacuzzi bathtub.  I sat on the toilet lid and took pictures.  We laughed and laughed and soaked up the joy amid the bubbles.

The trip home was easier for Maggie and her mom and the group in my car rode well, too.  The kids were all exhausted so, once again, “Never wake a sleeping baby” was our motto.

Now I know what “bliss’ means.  And where I can find joy.

I am so grateful.

Published in: on March 13, 2013 at 8:16 pm  Comments (14)  
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Movin’ On

I don’t do resolutions anymore.  They’re always the same anyway.  Eat better.  Move my body more.  Take time for myself.  Stand up straight and do right.  Don’t lie.  Don’t cheat.  Don’t be afraid.

I do reflect on the year just past, though.

January 11, 2012:  Our 2nd grandchild (Margaret Jane–Maggie) was born.

February 25, 2012 (and all year long!):  Our first grandchild (Adaline) was 2.

April 2, 2012:  Our 3rd grandchild (Atticus), Adaline’s little brother, was born.

March and September, 2012:  Maggie had 2 heart surgeries and is all fixed and just like any other delightful almost-one-year-old.  (Thank you, Dr. Mill, at UNC Children’s Hospital!)

April-December 31, 2012 (and forever):  Adaline and Atticus pushed their parents to new levels of love, patience, and sleep deprivation.

January 1-December 31, 2012 (and as long as we live):  We loved them all.

2012 stretched and challenged me physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

So what were the gifts in this full year?

I have 3 healthy, happy, amazing grandchildren!  Christmas 2011 we had one.  Now we have 3.  Mind boggling and tiring and such fun, all at the same time.

I finally forgave myself for not being a “good enough” mother.  My daughters showed me that I WAS a good enough mom and that each day with two  little ones was hard.  A wound I carried in my heart for a long time starting healing.

I have 2 amazing, strong, loving daughters who are much better mothers than I was.  Luckily, we all mostly agree on how to parent.  My younger daughter, mother of 2, coaches her older sister and tells her, “It will get better.”

My husband and I learned to be more gentle with each other.  He is a good father and the best grandfather.  We are aware of time passing and our bodies changing and a drive to miss nothing!  We take care of each other.

I watch how we help our girls (both are close by) and I am painfully aware that my parents were never able to give me the same support and presence.  Now I know how much they missed and I am sad for all of us.

I value friends (and a therapist) who let me be honest and vulnerable.  I cannot do the hard stuff alone.  I tried that this year…again…and it didn’t work…again.

In 2012, I lost a sense of balance between my needs and my family’s needs.  In 2013, I want to do better.  I want to take care of myself, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I want to be alive for a long time!

I want to keep learning and growing and stretching and trying new things.  I want to play with my grandchildren.  Their laughs make everything else in the world go away and I am in the moment.  That’s the best gift of all.

I am very grateful.  Many times I had the sense that all of us were held in God’s (roomy) lap.  We were surrounded by prayers and we felt the strength and support and love of our community.

I’m not the same person I was on January 1, 2012.  Are you?  Is anyone?

UNSHAKEABLE LOVE, BROKEN HEARTS AND PRAYER

(for Sarah, Nadine, Betty, Judy, Kay and too many others)

Yesterday, a young man killed his mother and then drove to the school where she taught kindergarten and killed 20 kids ages 5-10.

Why?

How could anyone do that?

I’m kind of glad I don’t understand.  I don’t want his actions to make sense to me.  I don’t want my brain to work that way.

I have more than one friend whose adult sons and daughters live with mental illness.  Sometimes medications help, sometimes they don’t and sometimes they just make people feel weird and they don’t take them.  Sometimes nothing helps.

My friends, their moms, are left with unshakeable love, a broken heart and prayer.

My cousin spent 20 years wandering the country in the grips of schizophrenia.  His illness began in his mid-twenties.  My aunt and uncle knew of no way to help and were afraid to tell their friends.  For most of his years of wandering, my aunt and uncle didn’t know if he was alive or dead. *

They were left with unshakeable love, broken hearts, and prayer.

My friend has spent thousands of dollars trying to find help for her daughter’s bi-polar illness.  No combination of medications works well or for long.  Her daughter, now in her 30’s, lived on the streets at times and now lives with her mom and her teenage daughter in a big house in a beautiful neighborhood near the university.  My friend has legal custody of her granddaughter.

She is left with unshakeable love, a broken heart and prayer.

Last winter, as I sat in front of my gas log fireplace and listened to freezing rain, I wondered about a man I know who had no home.  He was unable to manage an apartment, bills, and grocery shopping, although he wanted to.  He hated going to the shelter.  It’s hard to sleep in a room full of not-so-clean, snoring, farting, crying men who at any moment might start yelling or take your shoes or go through your stuff.  Many of their brains don’t work right.  They are ill.

I learned not to blame.  Schizophrenia and bi-polar illness are diseases of the brain, as surely as my rheumatoid arthritis is a disease of my joints.  I’m lucky.  My medications work.  I have medical insurance to help me pay for non-generic prescriptions and doctor visits and surgeries.  I know people who have no money and no insurance.  They don’t get better.

Mental illness is a powerful force.  It is real.  Medication may or may not help.  Crack and heroin are easier to get and seem to help.  Then they create another set of problems.

Even doctors and physician’s assistants and nurses who really care run out of things to try.

I guess they, too, are left with broken hearts and prayer.

We need to do better.  The mentally ill man (boy, really), begging on the corner of Madison Drive and Market Street is someone’s son or brother.  Yes, maybe he’ll take your $2.00 and buy beer or cheap school wine instead of food.  Why not?  It lessens the pain and stops the questions, for a moment.

Why would anyone walk into an elementary school and kill 20 little boys and girls?  I don’t know.

I do know he was once a baby boy, just like my cousin, just like my grandson.  A child of God, just like all of us.

Jesus said we are to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  Some of us need more and we are failing them and their parents and brothers and cousins and daughters.

Surely we can offer more than unshakeable love, broken hearts and prayer.

*My cousin, in his 50’s, is okay today, living in an assisted living apartment and helped by an exceptional support agency in Minneapolis, where his brother lives.  My aunt knows that today he is safe and warm.  She is one of the lucky moms.

Published in: on December 15, 2012 at 9:26 am  Comments (8)  
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Bah (Halloween) Humbug!

I trick-or-treated alone the year I was 11.  I knew it would be my last year.  I was supposed meet up with some other girls, but I never found them.

Did they ditch me on purpose?  Did I misunderstand the plan?  Or did they not even think of me at all?

I tried to go to people’s doors with other kids so I didn’t look like some weird kid who was too old to be trick-or-treating.  I don’t remember what costume I wore–something homemade, I’m sure.  I remember holding back tears.  I don’t remember if I told my parents what happened.

I’ve never liked Halloween.  My kids’ elementary school let students come in costume on October 31.  I painted one girl’s face green for a witch outfit and made a punk-rocker (pink hair, lots of eye makeup, and lots of necklaces) out of the other girl.  All by 7:30 am.  How did the teachers put up with that all day??

My kids call me the “Sugar Nazi.”  I rarely let them have sugar.  They got wired and I don’t like noise and commotion.  I’m ashamed to admit that we got rid of all the candy they didn’t eat the night of Halloween.  (We told them we would.)  We ate some after they went to bed.  The rest went in the trash.  Sugar Nazi, indeed

Every October, they remind me how mean I was.  (They are now in their 30’s.)

I still don’t like Halloween.  I don’t understand all the decorations–orange lights on trees?  And I don’t want to dress up in a costume.  The last time we went to a party (and that was only because it was at my daughter’s new in-laws’ house) we went as Black-Eyed Peas.  We wore white t-shirts with a big black “P” pinned to the front and lots of dark gray and purple eye-shadow all around our eyes.  Get it?  We thought it was hilarious.  Other guests wore rented elaborate costumes.  They were stunning.  I was humbled.

I’d be fine leaving the porch light off and hiding out in the back of the house.  The doorbell always makes the dog bark and before she died we shut our black cat in the basement so no one could mess with her.  The retired man I live with delights in all the cuteness of the little trick-or-treaters.  He goes to the door while I sit in the den and eat enough miniature candy bars to make myself sick.

I want to be silly.  I want to play well with others.  I don’t want to be a Halloween Scrooge.

I regret my meanness.  I hope my daughters let their kids have candy in November.

Maybe I’ll take a turn answering the door this year.  There might be an 11-year-old girl standing on the porch alone trying not to cry.

Published in: on October 26, 2012 at 11:51 am  Comments (5)  
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In and Out of the Car Was the Hard Part!

The retired man I live with suggested with great enthusiasm, “Let’s go to the Zoo!” to our daughter, her kids and me.

The NC Zoo, 30 minutes down the highway from us, houses animals from Africa and North America on over 600 acres of “natural habitat.”

I was the only one who hesitated.  The website  says to plan on 2-3 hours to see the Africa section.  That’s a whole lot of walking for me.  There’s a tram, but you can’t see the animals while riding it.

“What the hell,” I thought.  “I am not missing Adaline’s first visit to the big zoo.”   If I couldn’t walk the whole way, I’d figure out what to do next, even if I had to say “I can’t” and ask for help.

The retired man I live with drove the Camry.  I rode shotgun.  The other three got in the back–on one side the forward-facing car seat for the 2-3/4-year-old granddaughter, on the other side the backward-facing car seat and its base for the 6-month-old grandson.  Their mom, who was a zookeeper before children and very excited, perched in the middle after she climbed over the baby car seat base.

We had snacks for Adaline and water for all of us.  The high-end double stroller I found in a consignment store (best deal ever!) fit in the trunk, barely.  And we were off.

We parked far away from other cars.  We needed a lot of space to unload.  First out of the back was the baby, in his car seat, then his mom had to climb past the car seat base and almost planted her face in the asphalt beside the car.  Grandpa got Adaline out of her car-seat and her mother grabbed her hand before she could dart away.  My hands don’t work well enough to help so I stood guard by the baby car seat in an empty parking space.  A bee got caught between two of my finger and stung me while Grandpa wrestled the double stroller out of the trunk.  (Nothing was stopping us by then.)

Her mother put Adaline in the front seat of the stroller and lifted Atticus from his car seat to the back seat of the stroller.  Grandpa put Atticus’s empty car seat in the car.  We gathered purses, diaper bag, and camera bag, stuffed the diaper bag and a purse in the pullout basket under the stroller seats and hung the camera case and another purse over the stroller handle.  We headed to the entrance.

We saw giraffes with a baby, lions, chimpanzees, 2 mama gorillas with babies (!!) and ate pizza for lunch.  Adaline and her mom rode a carousel, we saw rhinos and ended at the elephant habitat where a big, dusty elephant with saggy wrinkled skin slowly strolled past the spectators as if on a red carpet in front of paparazzi.

I walked the whole way, with stops on benches by the animals.  I think maybe it took us more than 3 hours.  Then it was time to reload.

The retired man I live with got the car while the rest of us waited by the entrance.  Reloading began.  At one point, Adaline and her mom were in the car, Atticus was in his car seat on the ground beside the car and I was helping Grandpa remember how to collapse the stroller and wedge it into the trunk.  He headed for the driver’s seat and our daughter and I yelled “Get Atticus in!”  He did.

It was a beautiful day in every possible way.  Except for leaving the camera behind.  We might need more practice.

Published in: on October 18, 2012 at 6:16 pm  Comments (11)  
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Baby Bad Ass

I started calling her that shortly after she was born.  It still fits.

Last week I wrote about my granddaughter having heart surgery on September 27.  She did and after a rough first 24 hours, she improves each day.  Today, Sunday, she moved out of ICU, her parents could finally hold her and she is able to nurse on demand.  Last I heard, she was sleeping in her mama’s arms.

Once again, I am amazed at the toll emotional stress takes on my body.  So I rested and napped and read the paper today.  Tomorrow I hope to hold my brave and strong granddaughter.  And her mom and dad.

We are so very grateful for family, friends, medical professionals and medical insurance.  We feel surrounded by all that is good.  Thank God.

Right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe.

(Here is why I haven’t written much lately for this blog.  And why it may be a while before I post again.)

My younger daughter (with her husband, 2 1/2-year-old daughter and 5 month old son) has been moving from our town to the next town over, 30 minutes away, for the last 2 weeks.  Their leases overlap so everything didn’t go at once.  Maybe not a good thing for a couple who are organization-challenged and procrastination-inclined.  (She didn’t get those traits from her daddy.)

The retired man I live with has helped A LOT.  My job has been to watch and care for and amuse the children.  The toddler still takes a good nap.  That helps.  The 5-month-old is still totally nursing, will take a bottle of pumped milk and can go about an hour or 2 before Mommy-withdrawal sets in.  One day we drove to the new house to get his mom–we couldn’t settle him down.  After that, my child care and his mom stayed together.

My older daughter’s 8-month-old baby is having heart surgery on Thursday, 9/27.  Her abnormality was diagnosed the day after she was born and she has grown and developed well since then.  The surgery is necessary to guarantee a normal life as she grows into adolescence and adulthood.

We know a couple of grown women who had the surgery 30-40 years ago.  Each has lived with no restrictions ever since.  We have confidence that all will go well for the baby.  Our concern is mostly for our daughter and son-in-law.  When one of our children hurts, we hurt.

Our mantra these days is right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe. (Thank you Anne Lamott.)  We know that love and prayer and support always help.  We are surrounded by many friends who are praying.  We feel it.  And we are all grateful.

Computer Down!

My laptop got sick.  I took it to the computer-fixers.  It lived with them for almost a week.  I missed my friend, my buddy.

I know now how much I look at Facebook (embarrassing) and how often I go to Google to look something up.  It’s kind of like forgetting your watch if you always wear a watch–you learn how many times you look at your wrist.

What a marvelous excuse for not writing anything for my blog or my writing group.  I couldn’t write on Mike’s laptop or iPad.  It felt wrong to my hands.  I needed my own computer.

I did read a lot.  The Greensboro News and Record, O Magazine, Time magazine, and a parenting book called Love and Logic.

I always read at least part of any childcare book I might give my daughters.  If I don’t like what it has to say why would I give it to them?

A young friend recommended Love and Logic along with The Happiest Toddler on the Block.  Love and Logic passed my tests.  I’ll let you know about the one with the dopey title.

The retired man I live with bought this laptop for me a few years ago.  Rheumatoid arthritis chewed up the joints in my hands and wrists enough that I can’t lift or hold much weight at all.  I love it.  It’s very thin and light, I can carry it around and it fits in the Vera Bradley backpack purse.  My hands and it know how to work together.

When it started to run slooowly, I took it to IT Worx. On Friday the 13th.

It needed a new hard drive.  We had an Apple Care warranty good until July 17.  The little dent on the side negated the warranty.  No kidding.  (I dropped it.  More than once.)

Now you know why I don’t pick up babies after about 10 pounds.  They dent. They have no warranty.

I’m sure I’d lose my Amma privileges if I dropped one of them.

Can Girls Get Dirty Anymore?

When my first grandchild was announced, I started paying more attention to the world of children.  I noticed how adults  presented the world to children.

I shopped for baby clothes as soon as we knew it was a girl.  Carter’s is at Friendly Shopping Center, right down the road from us, so I started there.  The layout of the store jerked me to a stop in the doorway.

GIRLS   on one side:                                

PINK!!!!!!                                                                      

LAVENDER!!!                                                            

So many shades of

PINK!!!!!!!!!                                                                  

Embroidered jeans                                                     

Denim skirts                                                            

BOYS on the other side:

BLUE

TAN

ARMY GREEN

BROWN

Overalls

Jeans

Adaline and Atticus have two sets of grandparents.  We all get along well on special occasions like births and birthdays.  But we are very different.

I buy jeans and overalls, t-shirts and sweatshirts for Adaline to wear outside and get dirty.  Grandma Jude buys exquisite dresses for each holiday and takes pictures that I love to look at.  Adaline likes both.  She is a lucky girl.  (Atticus is only 3 months old and it’s hot so he mostly sticks to soft cotton onesies.)

What happened to primary colors like red and green and yellow?  Toy stores have separate girl and boy sections—pink princess stuff and tutus (which are really cute) for girls or blocks and trucks and trains for boys.  Adaline likes the train display at Toys and Company.  Lego now markets sets for girls in pretty colors (click here to see them).  Adaline plays at our house with primary-color blocks and toddler-size Lego’s.

I don’t dislike pink.  I think the headbands with flowers for girl babies without hair are adorable.  And I am sure I will eventually paint Adaline’s toenails pink.

I want girls to have choices.

Her mother never really played with dolls.  She only wanted to wear dresses for a few months when she was 4—I think her knees are still scarred.  She didn’t walk then, she ran.  And fell.

She liked to dig in the dirt all by herself.  (Whoever lives there now probably still finds my spoons in their backyard.)  She had a stable-full of Pretty Ponies and stuffed animals.

She grew up to be a zookeeper.  Now she and her husband are terrific parents.  Adaline can look at animal pictures and name macaw and hippopotamus.  One of her first words was dog.  She cheers for West Virginia University when they’re on tv.

You can see why I’m perturbed by the following quote from Entertainment Weekly about Brave,  the latest Disney movie with a girl named Merida in the lead part:

“But could Merida be gay? Absolutely. She bristles at the traditional gender roles that she’s expected to play: the demure daughter, the obedient fiancée. Her love of unprincess-like hobbies, including archery and rock-climbing, is sure to strike a chord with gay viewers who felt similarly “not like the other kids” growing up. And she hates the prospect of marriage — at least, to any of the three oafish clansmen that compete for her hand — enough to run away from home and put her own mother’s life at risk. She’s certainly not a swooning, boy-crazy Disney princess like The Little Mermaid’s Ariel or Snow White. In fact, Merida may be the first in that group to be completely romantically disinclined (even cross-dressing Mulan had a soft spot for Li Shang).”

Are you kidding me??

(Click here for a link to a good commentary on the Entertainment Weekly article.)

Published in: on July 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm  Comments (12)  
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