Will you be mine?

Tomorrow is one of those days that some love, some hate. It is hard to find someone who has no opinion on it. I guess that makes sense.

Forced displays of affection + lots of advertising dollars + media-driven fantacies = impossible expectations/inevitable disappointment.

Love is great….mostly, and not great. Valentine’s Day is not necessarily so great.

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I remember studying love in philosophy class as a college student. Plato went on and on about the different types of love. I was intensely invested in the class, not because of any unique philosophical prowess, because I had a major crush on the professor. I can put myself right back in that desk chair and can feel the cramp in my hand as I wrote down every word that came out of his mouth, praying that he noticed that I cared more about Plato than any of the other students in that class and being convinced that my eyes were the ones that he met the most as his curly hair bounced with every gesture and his voice raised with excitement as he shared…..I digress….Here are the categorizations that he suggests:

  • Eros, or sexual passion
  • Philia, or deep friendship
  • Ludus, or playful love
  • Agape, or love for everyone
  • Pragma, or longstanding love
  • Philautia, or love of the self

I’m no Plato but I have a working list of love-categories too:

  • Dutiful love, or the kind of love that gets you out of bed at the sound of puking, keeps your arm asleep under a heavy head, lets your shirt be used as a kleenex, shows up, stays and swallows deeply.
  • Growing love, or that which comes in waves as you get to know someone more and more and find that they have etched themselves permanently into your heart. This love is open to seeing more, to peeling back the layers, to being caught off guard by the wonder of another.
  • Begrudging love, or the one that you give when you know that you have to but you don’t particularly feel it…but you do it anyway…no matter what…maybe not with a smile but you do it.
  • Tender love, or this stuff that seeps out of your pores, changes you, catches you by surprise, leaves you speechless, takes your breath away and brings you to tears.
  • Loaded love,  or the push and pull that guilts you and twists you and bashes you about inside of your head… sometimes on purpose
  • Belly-laugh love, the reflex that comes when you made it through the hard thing and are at the other side of it so you can look back at it together and give that knowing glance that erupts into laughter in the way that can only happen between folks who deeply know one another and have been through some stuff
  • Naked love,  a lens which makes bodily functions ok, sees parts as connected to function, as well as worthy of objectifying, doesn’t look away, doesn’t stare too long but also hooks a gaze deeply
  • Reflected love, all the ways that you see yourself that you would never have seen if the one who loves you didn’t point them out and remind you again and again of what you look like through their eyes
  • Gracious love, this is the one that forgives. This is the one that is prepared to have another go, to give a second chance, to offer the gift of seeing the big picture and understanding the context. This is the love that you never earn or lose because it just is. This is the one that we get and give glimpses. This is the one that is divine.

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There are probably more. None can stand alone. For you to be mine or me to be yours, we need the spectrum. I have gotten lots of love in my life. I have gotten to give lots of it too. This Valentine’s Day, I want to relish that. I want to honor that. I want to lift it up and wave it in the air for everyone to see.  I want to name that while love is patient, its also impatient. Love is kind but sometimes it can be not so nice. It is all the things that we are.

How could it not be?

It is us. It is us. It is us.

 

The big cry of Christmas Eve 2016

I have a habit of trying to busy my way past stress. If the to-dos are heafty enough, surely there will not be any time for feeling sadness, or so I like to tell myself. A holiday is a perfect situation for engaging this strategy.

This year, our family felt like one of those broken-families for the first time in 14 years since my divorce. We have managed to live in such a way that relative peace surrounds our family and most life-events are shared. That is not the case this year. We have been adjusting to a new rythm with clear division of space and time between my ex and myself. It is not comfortable. It is painful. It is stressful. To complicate an already tender time, the plans, traditions, expectations of a holiday season ramp everything up and invite the worst kind of entitlement. My Christmas should be fantastic, of course. My traditions should be upheld at all cost. My gifts will be the best. My events will be the most fun. My, my, my….

I am primed to engage my strategy to mitigate all of the risks of feeling any negative emotions. Lists are written. Guests are invited. Decorations are hung. Gifts are made/bought. Meals are planned. Good-deeds are scheduled. Every nook and cranny that could house any sadness is filled with something to do or someone to do something for or somewhere to be. It serves me so very well….until it doesn’t.

Our kids met us at Macy’s for our anual tradition of taking a picture with Santa. They came with the feelings that they carried from leaving their father on Christmas Eve. Heavy stuff. All of us tried to move through this event as if it was the same as it had been for the past 14 years. You park, walk through women’s shoes, take the elevator to the 8th floor, walk through the Santaland Display, snag a spot in line to be hearded into the velvet-draped room where we fight about which kid sits on Santa’s knee, then out to select this year’s ornament and home again home again, jiggety jog. Done.

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We get home, have a snack, get back into the car, go to Christmas Eve service, come home, take down all of the Advent decorations, put up the Christmas decor, hang the stockings….that is when it happened…that is when we crashed into the wall of this-year-is-not-like-the-other-years-and-that-really-sucks. If memory serves, 5 of the 7 of us cried (child #1 is overseas so she missed out on being one of the criers). We each had our own take on why we were sad and our own complaints, dissapointments, resentments, and feelings of entitlement that bubbled out of us and at one another in angry tones and through stinging tears. I felt all the sads from what our family was going through on top of the dissapointment that my to-do lists had not innoculated myself, nor my kids, nor my husband from ugly-cries on Christmas Eve when everything is supposed to be perfect!

The funny thing about this sort of moment is how much better we all feel after having it. Our bodies are not being fooled by the distractions that we dangle in front of them. The tears need to happen. The feelings need to be acknowleded. That phrase ‘to have a good cry’ is just so, so true.

Apologies were said for the ugly words that bubbled up during our collective-melt-downs. Dinner was eaten at about 1:30 am and then we began our sweet, lovely, quiet, unplanned, unmanaged, gift-exchange with laughter and that peace that we all longed for. It was perfect.

None of our holidays will ever feel quite the same again…. Part of that is because of the new dynamics. Part of that is because really none of them ever were the same…there is always something that is different. Last year, children 1 and 2 were in Spain and we were in New Orleans…that was different. Every year life provides the grace of change and growth that moves us into newness, deviation from norms, adustments, natural ends and beginnings. That is the norm. That always has been the norm. That will always be the norm.

I am so thankful for the big-cry-of-Christmas-Eve-2016.

 

Gemilut Chasadim -Bestowing Kindness…even to myself

There is a jewish saying “Charity awaits the cry of distress. Benevolence anticipates the cry of distress.” Gemilut Chasadim is a mitzvoth…a commandment… in the Jewish tradition. It is a call to act with benevolence toward any and everyone. A call to kindness.

Here are some great images of folks anticipating cries of distress and doing what they can to be kind:

Giving drink to the thirsty, shelter to weary, comfort to the stranger, companionship to the lonely, safety to the endangered. This is just the sort of phrase that I love. All the great religious traditions call on their communities to something similar. Lots of us work on the call to gemilut chasadim…even thought we don’t use those words.

Parenting pulls out lots and lots of opportunities for bestowing kindness. Anticipating cries of distress and meeting them with benevolance is the name of the game for years and years of guiding little beings safely through their stages of development.

My kids here me say to ‘Err on the side of kindness and then you will never make a mistake’ more often than they would like. This is subjective, of course. From my perspective, enforcing bedtimes, limiting screen-time, requiring chores,  brokering peace, teaching manners, etc are all acts of kindness. I am anticipating the cries of distress which would come from young adults who don’t know how to share, can’t get along with others, who have not been set up for success in life.  My kids’ perspective can easily pin these same acts as acts of unkindness. Usually, the line between kindness and unkindness is pretty clear to me. Today was not one of those days.

Two of my kids are technically adults. They can dip in and out of my world as they please. They are self sufficient, responsible, full-functioning members of society and that affords them the freedom to live out of their own perspective. I have spent 22 years honing my philosophy of parenting and raising my kids in that. My perspective (and my hubby’s even though he doesn’t always think he has as much influence as he might want) dictates rules, privileges, responsibilities…all the in’s and out’s of my kids’ world. My-way is the highway, so to speak. That can’t go on forever.

It is an interesting process that I am going through now, as I unhook from always driving things with these two adult women that I birthed. I have to shift into a passenger-seat. 22 years of habits and reflexes and gut-reactions have to be slowed down and examined. I have to remind myself that I am not the only adult in the room when I am with them. My-way was rooted in kindness (in its best moments) but it really is not so kind any more. I don’t necessarily know if they are thirsty, tired, in danger,  making the right choice, doing the right thing…I can’t anticipate with as much certainty.

It is hard. It is wonderful. It is gratifying. It is challenging. Some days, I really suck at it.

Today, I hit all the marks of a newbie-mom-0f-adult-chilren.

  • Spent money I shouldn’t have to try to please
  • Put aside things I needed to be doing which would bite me in the butt later
  • Tried too hard
  • Stuffed my feelings instead of unhooking from them
  • Felt really sure that I was doing all the wrong things
  • Felt really sure that I was doing all the right things
  • Got resentful
  • Fell apart in the end because of all the straining and stuffing and trying and resenting…

Poor child #2 did not know what hit her. She apologized…and yeah, she was a little snappy and less-than-effusive and a little self-focused…but my meltdown was definitely not her fault.

Someone needs to have mommy-and-me classes for the 20-somethings and us middle-aged mamas. I remember learning about startle-responses, tongue-thrusts, swaddling, burping….all the quirky things that infants bring as a part of their being that young-mamas and dads don’t always expect.

Where is the class that will clue me into the doings of a typical well-launched-kid? How can I balance wanting to help and support them without telling them what to do and prying more than I really should into their choices? How can I name that I miss seeing them in the every-day without making them feel guilty for having their own life?  Where is the line between respect for me as an elder and squashing their rights to their own opinions? How do I keep them safe and give them room to make their own mistakes?

I guess that this is a spot in life where I need to offer some benevolence to myself. I need to anticipate my own distress as I have some growing pains and treat myself kindly. I want to do this at the same time as anticipating where they (the new adults in my life) may encounter some distress and offering them kindnesses along the way. Erring on the side of kindness needs to go both ways.

Whew! This growing up thing is hard at 45….its a different kind of hard than it was when I was 20…still, it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks…not that I am old…just sort of set in some of my ways.  I need buckets of grace!

Here is a shot of those amazing women that are helping me to grow up. They are pretty fabulous. Maybe I am biased….no…they just are….

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Bedtime story

I have not laid out the story of meeting our houseguest. It’s a good one..it all starts with some really fantastic crawfish hushpuppies from the Handsome Hogmg_1621-e1461532094189. Well…I guess those came after…

Once upon a time, a friend and I planned to meet for a lunch at one of my favorite spots. I got there early and found myself staring at the lunch-seekers  who came in and out as I waited.  A tiny woman and child came through the door. They looked very out of place. She was holding her phone up and he was clutching her other hand.

I smiled at her. She did not smile back.

I asked if she needed any help. She held up her phone and said ‘you will help me’ with a heavy accent. It was a strange sort of question/order that came from her. There was a screenshot of an address that would have been right around the corner from where we were. I tried to explain where she should go to get to that spot but she insisted again ‘you will help me’. Well, ok… I walked them out of the building and texted my friend to say that I would be delayed a little and we moved around the corner to the address. It was one of those strange buildings with cars parked on the main floor  as if they were on display but really, they are stored or something. I thought it seemed like a weird destination. She started to cry. She said ‘I need apartment. One day vacation to find. This no apartment. I need place live with my son.’ I could feel her desperation. I tried to tell her that someone must have given her a wrong address but she just did not understand.

I felt so helpless. It is awkward to be in the middle of someone’s pain when you don’t really know what it is about or how to help to alleviate it. I tried to talk to the boy and he spoke english. He told me that she was speaking Russian. I asked him to tell her that I would give her my number and she could call me later when I would have someone with me to help translate…because…amazingly, we know people who speak russian. She nodded and I just was not sure if she totally got what I was trying to say to her. I asked if I could take her phone and then I typed in my phone number and my address. I said that she could call or come to me that evening and that I would have someone there to interpret. She walked away.

That could easily be the end of the story. My friend patiently waited for me and we ordered the yummy hushpuppies. He laughed when I told him the story and said that he couldn’t wait to know what was going to happen next. He wasn’t surprised. He knows me.

That evening, we were changing our phone service. It took forever to get new numbers, new service, transfer data…all the steps that I really do not understand. I get a call on the almost-traded-in-phone from an unknown number and I answer. It is her. She says, painstakingly, that she will come to my house that night. Quickly I call a friend and she agrees to have her son come flex his russian-language skills for us. I arrange for child #3 to go to fetch him with not much time to spare. This is the moment when I start to try to lay out the story for my husband. Poor guy…I am a hard one to keep up with.

Now, if you know me, you will know that talking to strangers is  par-for-the-course in my world. Learning about their lives digging deep with them is also pretty common. My sweet husband is used to odd stories from my day and random folks showing up like old friends at the most unusual spots. My inviting a total stranger whom I could not even talk to over to our house was a new level. He, as any normal person would, had a couple of concerns. I, being fairly untypical, had not considered any of them…..not really surprising.

I call a friend and ask him to come to our house so that he would be there with our kids when the stranger was set to arrive. We would walk home as quickly as we could. In steps Verizon-Guy! He has been diligently working on our account and has heard much of the phone dealings and plans for this encounter. This guy was also a stranger to us…Graciously, he offered to give us a lift home. I know…sounds weird. Most people don’t find themselves in the back of their cell-phone dealer’s car racing home to try to get there. Wanna hear something else…he had a book from the library on Putin on the backseat! Right??!!!  Surreal!

He pulls into our driveway at the same moment that child #2 is heading out of the house with her friend, child #3 pulls up with translating-friend, friend-called-to-come-over as reinforcements opens our front door since he has just arrived as well, on the street…a tiny blue car is parked. She is in there watching this crazy scene. She has a man with her. They both get out of the car and walk toward the house. I really wish we could have filmed this moment. No one could have dreamt up a more bizarre cast of characters and scene.

We all sit in the living room.

She needs somewhere to live. She needs something right away. We don’t hear her story at this point but it is becoming clearer and clearer that she is not sitting in our living room because she has the same habit of striking up friendships with strangers. She is desperate and that makes people do things that go against their nature. All of us could feel it: me, husband, child#3, translator, friend-of-ours, verizon-guy…it seems random but I start showing her around the house and telling her she can stay here as long as she needs. It went so smoothly, you would think that we do this all the time. She follows. She nods as if she understands the blather I am saying. I smile as if I know that I am understood.

We come back to sit in the living room.

She tells the translator that she can pay. We say no, no, we don’t want any rent from her. We just want her to feel comfortable here. We have lots of extra space and it really is not any trouble. He translates that to her and she frowns. She asks him something and he replies. ‘What did you say to her?’ ‘I told her that you are a very strange family…but a good one’. Yep. That is pretty much the nicest thing that anyone has ever said about us. I was touched. She speaks up again and he translates for us ‘No one in America does anything for free.’ Bam! Nailed to the wall….she didn’t mean to say anything unkind or even evocative but it rang so loudly to me of a truth that she had come to learn here in a very hard way. I wondered what prices she had been paying since she came here. My mind filled in all sorts of blanks and I pictured my daughters at the sort of edge of life that would have them in a total stranger’s house deciding if they could trust them enough to stay with them for a while. I wanted to scoop her up and tell her that her story was about to change. We did not want anything from her. Life crossed our paths and we were going to honor that. I’m a God person and for me… this was a grace-filled moment. A miracle.

Two weeks later, she moved in… in the dark…after she worked all day…after she left her son with us for three days with a leap-of-faith that I can’t imagine making. Her friend helped her. Our kids helped her. That’s how it happened. That’s the end of that story and the beginning of a new one that is still being written. We now get to have a life with a few new friends all because of that chance meeting. We have her, her son, her friend, and verizon-guy and we are all living happily ever after.

The end.

Crawfish hushpuppies are good but they don’t top that. Not even close.

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We drove across town in the fresh snow and I distracted him with chatting about airplanes and farm animals and bridges and tunnels and anything else that popped into either of our minds.It felt like a race to keep one step ahead of his questions about where he was going and why. She did not want him to know. She was so afraid. She thought that he would worry the way that she was worrying and she wanted to spare him that distress. A whole team of people knew that he was coming and they had been making a path for him for months.

Connections… The family support worker at his kindergarten is connected to 360 Communities and they are connected to folks who care enough to make sure that a little boy who has rotting teeth and dangerously infected gums can be connected to a dental surgeon who donates his time and is connected to a clinic with nurses, anesthesiologists, doctors and a lovely woman who brings a therapy dog to visit patients who have trouble connecting.

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That’s where we met Getty. She was a perfect distraction from what was ahead. He smiled from ear to ear as he patted her with his blackened teeth showing for the last time.  He was guided through changing into hospital clothes and selecting his favorite chapstick flavor for his mask and touring the room with the stars in the ceiling while the interpreter quietly spoke all the details of the procedure into his mother’s ear. He was the picture of naiveté. His innocence and trust kept him in the dark even as he was squarely in the middle of all that was about to happen to him. All of the connections has been seamless.

He took the mask to his mouth and breathed hard in and out until he fell into a deep sleep. That’s when she crumbled. I held her as she cried and cried and cried. She had not been shielded from any of the worry. She knew that her boy was going to have almost all of his teeth extracted and those which were left would need to be emptied of infection and crowned. She now knew that he had been in so much pain for years and it had been so constant that he did not even know that he could feel different.

She cried for him.

She cried for herself.

She cried for the life that he had been born into and the ways that she had failed him because she was poor and had not been adequately connected.

Two hours passed.

A new boy was presented to her with new teeth, no more infections and a needle in his arm that he kept trying to rip out. He knew why he was there now. He was so scared and confused and angry. He kicked and cried and blood dripped out of his nose where the tube had been placed for him to breathe during the procedure. I took him and helped him to settle. She passed out. Now the two of them laid in tiny beds across the room from one another each worn out, each wanting this long day to be over, each sipping juice boxes and slowly gaining color in their cheeks.

When I checked on them, they were snuggled up into his twin bed in our basement. I thought of the fragility of each connection that brought her to our home. They could so easily be back on the street, be back in the hands of people who were not out for their good, be back to being alone….unconnected.

 

 

 

Just another manic Monday

Busy times of day feel a little bit like a symphony to me. Crescendos and decrescendos of voices moving both independently and in concert with one another. Solos fight for attention by beating back the competing sounds. There is harmony that binds it all together as if a conductor were guiding the players.

Today we have dad on the phone doing a consultation in his deep, calm, clear ‘therapist voice’, Scout meowing piercingly at the door to be let outside, child#4 singing a refrain over and over in his newly-aquired bass tone, children 5 and 6 providing percussion as they knock insistently on the bathroom door, child#3 drives the soprano line over all with an aria of complaints and miseries. Opening and closing of silverware drawers, blowdryers driving background line, bowls meeting tables, sliding of chair legs, tumbling of ice cubes, faucets on and off, tap tap of Stella’s paws moving stealthily along the kitchen floor to scoop up any discarded crumbs….then…it all freezes….the alto line from child#5 takes over the piece with a cry of anger

“Stop pretending there is hair in the food. You know that really makes me want to puke!”

The room is quiet.

Giggles bubble up and grow to fill the room for a rousing finish and resolve the dissonance like the chorus of happy strings at the end of a concert.

The bus arrives. They are out of the door. The house is silent. The piece is over.

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This is not everything…

Discouragement must not be given more power than hope today. The fear, isolation, ignorance and anger that fueled this election season must not win the day. We must get up. We must go out. We must love our neighbors well. We must do our best to lift this dark cloud in the way that we carry ourselves today and tomorrow and on and on. Consider the places where we have power. We can smile at the stranger. We can give to the needy. We can learn about the other. We can lead by example. We can. We can. We can.

I owe my friends of color, my daughters,  my neighbors an apology. I did not do all that I could to fight for you. I did not stand up and say what I knew to be true. I did not do all that my faith calls me to. I am so sorry. I will do better. The sun did come up today. It will come up again tomorrow. The news of today is not everything….

6812618-sunrise-wallpaperThis is the prayer that I am leaning into today.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

Dear, Walnut Grove….can we be friends? neighbors?

Child  #4 (number coding has been my posting practice for my offspring on Facebook..i’ll continue it here) unearthed a long-lost and forgotten copy of  Little House on the Prairie. i have a warm spot in my heart for this show and wanted to share it with the kids. Children #s 2, 3 and 4 were not enthusiastic about starting the series (#s 5 and 6 are still pretty malleable and #1 would have hated it but she’s away at college) so i reached deeply into the-trusty-mom-bag-o-tricks and bribed them with Ajiaco soup (if you have not had this soup, here is a recipe. If you are a parent and have never bribed…i don’t believe you).

The far-from-insignificant other, who happens to be a licensed psychotherapist, told me once that bribery can be re-framed as positive reinforcement…i LOVE a re-frame that works in my favor. As they sat and slurped their soup, i entered into the show with an adult lens for the first time. think that i wanted to share this because there was something that felt so good about watching this family highlight what is best about our human nature. i probably want the not-so-subtle messaging to rub off onto our offspring or to at least echo some of the better things we have tried to teach them. The show is sort of corny and has lots of historical holes, but it served its purpose this evening, and i like it…so stop rolling your eyes….

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i forgot how Laura shared a gem of wisdom at the end of the show…this one was perfect… “That day, Pa harvested a crop he didn’t know he had planted…a harvest of friends.”

i can see where the seeds of relationships have been planted throughout my life. Most have been tested by all sorts of conditions, varied levels of attention, and have been transplanted over and over again as i have moved and grown. Some friendships have withered and died…The ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ messaging has been loud and clear ever since i was very little and that was often tied to lessons about being a good friend.

i am graced with an abundance of true-rooted-strong-healthy friendships and a long list of fantastic neighbors from the many places i have lived. This is not because i have been a perfect friend or neighbor. Truthfully, there have been many times when i was a terrible friend, two-faced, gossipy, manipulative, dishonest, selfish, fake, weak, unreliable, insensitive, and on and on… most of my friendships have been afforded to me because of the luxury of a naturally outgoing personality, a privileged position in society, and many more circumstances that were beyond my control.

i want to remind my kids to think of the un-friended or the under-friended as well as the ways to nurture friendships and to think of everyone as a neighbor. In this episode, Pa is a stranger in his community with no money, no position, no references. He struggles. He barely escapes ruin. His salvation is, as Scarlett O’Hara would say, the kindness of strangers. The men-folk of Walnut Grove live in a nice little packaged town where they see into the windows of each other’s lives and can see each other’s virtues closely enough to want to jump in and involve themselves during times of struggle. Planting friendships and being neighborly is far easier in this make-believe world.

Back here,

     in real-life,

          we are kept at a distance from each other by our cars, our culture, our garages, our houses, our affiliations, our fences, our fears, our prejudices, our insecurities…Mostly, our personal struggles go unnoticed and we are encouraged to keep them to ourselves so that we don’t appear weak or vulnerable.

i can promise you that the deepest friendships and greatest neighborly-relations were grown the most when i was brave enough to share my weakness. They grew when i left my door open, set aside my preconceived notions, took risks.

My capacity to be friend and neighbor has also swelled up in the grace-filled moments when i stopped for a stranger who seemed to be struggling, reminded myself that we all have far more in common than not, and tried to love my neighbor well. Since i will never really live in Walnut Grove with the Ingalls clan, i need to be intentional about planting seeds of friendship-neighborship right here, right now. i hope my kids will too…

Let’s do it together!