May 2013 archive

Under Summer’s Spell

It’s Day 1 of summer for 2/3 of my little sidekicks.  These are my favorite people to explore with so its on this day that I awake bright and chipper vowing to keep summer carefree yet productive.

Visions of flashcards and tire swings both claim contradicting space in my head as I quietly make plans to clean out the laundry room and visit the aquarium and the planetarium….again and again! Oh wait, did my membership expire?

We’ll play and run barefoot in the grass, and swim and read….read so many books.  Maybe I should make one of those reading reward charts, or join the library’s junior book club?  
Yes!  Because this summer I’m going teach one to read, potty train another and work on algebra with the oldest. 
But the memories.  Oh, are we going to make memories.  We’ll camp out in the backyard and build a treehouse.  Yes, let’s get the plans and really study them together.  I wonder if there’s an engineering camp I could sign them up for?
Hold on.  Unstructured, no schedules!  We’ll hike as long as discoveries keep presenting themselves.  We’ll throw stones into a creek and invent stories of where those stones go on their float.  We can document their stories in homemade journals.   
If we miss naps or stay up late, it’s no big deal.  Ah-ha…we’ll go to a drive-in movie and watch a meteor shower!
But we won’t be so tired that we eat junk food.  Nope.  It’s all fresh, homemade and fruits and vegetables from a farmers market this summer.  I need to get one of those market baskets, they’re so cute.  Add it to the list, right below water bottles.  We’re drinking lots and lots of water this summer.  Healthy, hydrated skin.  Add a visor and sunscreen to the list too.  Scratch that, there’s no list in summer.

And we’ll picnic!  In fact, I’ll carry a blanket with me so we can stop to picnic anytime we want.  We’ll lay on the ground and make pictures out of the clouds in the sky.  I’ll be due for a rest because I’m going to rise early every morning and jog as the sun comes up.

Or I could take them to the gym childcare center while I exercise.  But we’ll swim together after!  And they’ll jump off the diving board and play Marco Polo in the water.
We’ll invite those friends over for a play date and these friends over for a BBQ.  I’ve been meaning to do so.  But not too much socializing.  We’ll be so connected as a family that their bond as siblings will strengthen and the seeds of family lore will be planted.

We’ll take bike rides.  All of us, as a family!  We’ll shoot basketball hoops and play H-O-R-S-E.  Maybe they should join that basketball league at the park?

We’ll catch up on dentist appointments and ride roller coasters.  Maybe fly a kite, plant a garden, go to a  children’s theatre or learn to play tennis.  Catch lightening bugs and have a lemonade stand.
Poison ivy, humidity, video games and mosquito bites do not exist in my summer visions.  Just glorious, long lazy days!  But then why am I already feeling panicky about how fast its going?  Its only Day 1, and I worry, will we fit it all in?  Will they fall behind their classmates and teammates when the reality of September hits?

But for now, we have June, July and August.  And for the next few months they are mine again.  Together we’ll do it all!  And we’ll do nothing.  I feel both the privilege and responsibility of making these times rich with significance, knowledge and history.  Summer is special…..I must make it so.

But the truth is that summer is special just by being summer.  Special can’t be orchestrated or planned.  Special just is.  I can take the pressure off myself and enjoy it…whatever shape and form summer takes.  Camps, no camps, teams, trips or hikes.  As the thoughts and plans for summer swirl in my head and bump into each other causing indecision and confusion, I make myself another promise: focus on today.  And for today, Day 1, we went to a Children’s Museum, created a fairy garden and cleaned out the car….and tomorrow might be the grocery store and a nap.  Either way, summer is already off to a pretty special start.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the words associated with this one come together to form the following story for me:

This is my mountain.  Sure the nickname is presumptuous.  Its a little inside joke I share with myself.  I love Seattle and I love Mt Rainier.  I love how it changes color and reveals different parts of itself on different days based on the cloud cover.  For as long as I’ve known my husband I’ve described to him this very vantage point as my favorite, Mt Rainier from an airplane window.  It’s like someone took a giant fist and punched it up through the clouds.  Experiencing it while suspended in the sky can shift my mind to a spiritual place and make me feel connected to lost loved ones, the heavens, nature and all of its beauty.
So its fitting, and ironic, that 15 years later, my husband flies into SeaTac at least once a month for work.  In a thoughtful gesture he snaps a photo for me whenever the view of my mountain presents itself.  At home in the flat lands of the Midwest with three young children navigating school schedules and carpools, I’m both envious and not envious of his trips.
But mostly I am glad that he takes this photo on his trips because it makes me feel connected to a place I love and to a person I love.  It provides an important reminder that while I am bogged down with it all, there is more.  Sure, these errands and schedules are the biggest things in my world, but the world is much bigger than this.

My husband was gone this week and it was a long week.   A really long week. The kids were sick and sleepless nights ensued filled with non-stop laundry cycles.  During the days, spring activities were in full swing with sports and end-of-the-school-year events.  Busy, sick, tired. That was our week.
We were all very happy when he got back from his trip.  Within ten minutes of his arrival, I grabbed his phone and flipped through the camera roll desperate to find this shot of my mountain.  As I looked at it, I smiled and my shoulders loosened as I started to not just see it but experience it.  And the reverse, I know my husband was just as eager to be home with us as I was to see my mountain and momentarily escape.  He hugged our two-year-old.  She coughed and vomited all over the front of his shirt. I put the phone down, sighed a goodbye to my mountain, and grabbed some paper towels.

Backseat Questions

Over the farm fields of Indiana, a sun set and colored the sky with shades of pinks and yellows before they were eclipsed with darker hues of purple and navy.  Just a tease of summer’s sky as warm days still gave way to cool nights on this Sunday evening in early May.  The fields awakening after their dormant winter.  Soil newly tilled, seeds freshly planted, crops not yet crisp with growth.  In the air and on the ground I could feel the change of season…it was knocking, beckoning, but still forthcoming.

After a long weekend spent outside readying yards and gardens for summer, my tired little family traveled quietly through the middle of America.   With our wind chapped cheeks and sore muscles, a hum of a Disney DVD sounded from the back of the car, as a hushed conversation between my husband and I filled the front of the car.  Ohio to Illinois, four hours over the familiar route that unites my life as a parent with my life as a child.  Lake to city, it is on this route, and in these lands, that my family roots have been laid and grow deeper and wider with each generation.

As the sky darkened and the road stretched out, an important statement presented itself, made by my 9-year-old son, “Mom, I don’t really know what I was born to do.”

Fueled by having spent Mother’s Day with two women I admire, my mother and mother-in-law, and by being celebrated myself that day, I conjured up the energy to engage.  “What do you mean, Jack?”

I knew it was important to keep the conversation going.  It was as if he had tossed a tiny pebble at my feet, and now it was up to me to pick it up and throw it back.  He wanted to play, to talk more.  In the intimacy of the dark car on a long drive after a tiring day, this was his way of slowly inviting me in.  Relaxation fell upon us and self-consciousness slipped away.

“You know, what I was put me here to do in life.  I don’t know what that is.”

I took a deep breath and my husband turned down the radio, but yielded to my response.  As my son gets older, I know he will turn to his father more often with questions and for advice.  It makes me happy for them both that he has this resource at the ready.  But it makes me very proud that, for now, this is still my territory with my son.  Mother-to-son, rather mother-to-child.  He and I share a bond of curiosity, pensiveness and deep thoughts that can be both productive and distracting.  So for right now, these kind of bigger, more thought-provoking conversations are still my stronghold.

Our best conversations usually come in the car during a drive.  A captive audience for him with me behind the wheel, and a captive audience for me with him strapped in his car seat.  When he was a preschooler he asked me how dinosaurs went to Heaven if their bones were in the ground. When he was very young Jack encountered a child in a wheel-chair and while I drove we talked about what he would say to the child and he replied, “I would tell him that I love him.”

It is in this medium that we have discussed race, adoption and marriage for all people who love one another.  In lighter moments it is from the backseat that he has planned out who will feed his pet goldfish when he goes to college, and more recently asked about where he and his sisters will sleep when they return to our house as adults with their own children during the holidays.

Its no surprise that as he has gotten older, Jack’s questions haven’t been as frequent.  He has grown and our family has grown.  With this growth has come chaos and a middle row of fussing baby sisters to  separate any sort of third row conversation from the front seat.

So on this night in the cornfields of Indiana, as the sun set on Mother’s Day, I was more than happy to address this statement that made its way to the front of the car and questioned what my son was born to do with his life.

I explained to Jack that he didn’t need to know what he was born to do just yet.  That many of us are still trying to figure it out.  We talked about how important it is to try many things so you know what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy. I told him that he can look for some clues.  He asked what I meant and I explained that some things come easier and some things may challenge him and that’s a clue.    I told him that another clue is to think about how he feels when he is doing certain things.

We talked about how he may think he was made to do something at one stage of his life, and something else during another stage of his life.  Interests change and passions change as responsibilities change.

In closing I said that one thing I knew for sure was that throughout every stage, I believe we are made to make the world a better place.  I added emphasis to my tone and said that we should always make a room happier just by entering it.  We should treat others in a way that will make them smile and better their day.  And that we should treat the earth in a way that will make it a better place for animals and humans to live.

As an example, I told him that whenever a new baby is born I always say the same thing in the card or congratulatory message that our family sends.  He asked what that message is and I told him:

“Welcome.  May the World be good to you, and you to It.”

He seemed to ponder this message and silence settled back into the car as my family made its way from the home state of my childhood to the home state of my children’s childhood.  On this mid-spring evening when the blossoms and crops of summer sat ready to bud, I felt another shift in seasons because I know that my son’s boyhood will someday give way to manhood.

When this time comes, I hope that I always let him know that I am open and available for his conversations and questions.  Although I know that as he grows he will work through these thoughts with friends, colleagues, lovers and with his own children.  But for now, he’s a boy and I’m his mother and this is our thing:  back seat questions and front seat responses, working together to formulate our shared answer.  On this Mother’s Day drive, I sat back and felt deeply satisfied with the mothering I had just offered to my oldest child, the boy who made me a mother.

A moment later, another statement made its way from the back of the car to the front of the car as this same 9-year-old boy laughed and said, “I think there are crumbs in my underwear.”  I smiled and turned to my husband, who was already starting to address it.

May’s Mighty Moments

May is my sentimental season.  Turning the page on winter, blooms and color abound. Green and sunshine return to these longer days.  Flowers burst open with hope and renewal.  This is fitting since May is Mary’s month and traditionally considered to represent the beginning of new life.

But with newness, comes nostalgia for me and the beauty of the season engulfs my emotions.  I can get teary-eyed at any moment:  the end-of-the-school-year celebrations, appreciation activities for teachers…even a special day to recognize our neighborhood crossing guard might make me weepy and overwhelmed with both gratitude and the passage of time.

As Mother’s Day approaches I not only indulge in having myself celebrated, but enjoy taking the time to reflect on all of the wonderful women in my life.  Some mothering children, some mothering parents, some mothering each other.  All of us women.  All of us deserving of celebration this month.

My grandma is one of my favorite women.  She turns 91 in May and was given a middle name to match the month that claims the birthdays of both she and her daughter, my mother.  In honor of these special women, one of my daughters has the same middle name as my grandmother, May, while the other shares a middle name with my mother.  These ladies bookend my lifetime and share not only names, but also something else: spirit.  Its this spirit that both of my daughters share with each other, and with my mother, my grandmother, my aunts and me.  This mighty spirit is a wild mixture of kindness and pragmatic optimism.  Its a little bit crazy, very compassionate, relatively funny, a whole lot stubborn and quite determined.  As a mother, witnessing it in my daughters can fill me with both beaming pride and teeth-clenching frustration.  Yet as a daughter and granddaughter, observing it in my mother and grandmother, I am surrounded with a warm familiarity and admiration.  And when I identify it in myself…well, lets just say it can make me blush with recognition and amusement.

The men in our family jokingly pay tribute to my grandmother’s maiden name and call it the “Linn woman spirit”.  More recently, we’ve enjoyed the popularity of Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks and borrowed his nickname to reference the chaos our daughters can leave in their wake.  When our girls are causing trouble or getting into mischief, my husband will look at me and say, “Linsanity! I tell you, Linsanity!”.  We even hung a #17 Linsanity towel in their closet and once in a while my husband drops the reference on me when we’re in a disagreement and my stubbornness is unrelenting.

Like many two and five year-olds, our girls can be pretty unrelenting themselves.  As we sweetly tuck these little she-devils in at night, our oldest will ask what’s for breakfast the following day.  She wakes up swinging.  She’s ready to go.  In fact, she’s ready to go, all of the time!  She came out of the womb screaming and that piss and vinegar has stuck with her ever since.

While I feel the strong challenges of parenting these fiery personalities, I know it will serve them well.  I want to manage it, but I never want to prohibit it or push it down.  My grandma showed me by example, just how important this spirit is.  

The youngest of six children, my grandma was born just eighteen months after women were given the right to vote and on the heels of the first wave of the feminist movement.   I don’t know if she knew what a feminist was back then, or if she would describe herself as leaning in or leaning back.  But I do know that anything she did, she did with a combination of spunky heartiness, and good hearted humor.   She raised four children on a farm.  She gave birth to twins…in late August!  She worked in a factory at night and invented fun games for grand kids out of garage sale finds during the day.  One such garage sale find was the Marlo Thomas album “Free to Be You and Me” and she held my hands as we danced to it around the dining room.  She never wore skirts, carried a pocket book filled with cough drops, was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and worked alongside my grandpa as a church custodian.  Bossy, frugal yet thoughtful, she sent out birthday cards, but never signed them in case the recipient wanted to reuse them.  She collected extra rolls of paper towels and deodorant when they were on sale and kept them neatly organized for future use.  A worrier, a reminder.  To this day I can’t leave the house without double checking that the coffee pot is unplugged.  Calloused hands and a soft heart, she scrubbed basement floors and made babies giggle by blowing raspberries on their tummies.  

These days its hard to get a glimpse of my grandma’s spirit.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen her, the real her, for quite a long time.  She has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years and spends most of her time in a bed in a nursing home, medicated and sedated.  In a somewhat humorous twist, she actually graduated from Hospice Care.  Yes, that’s true.  She was moved to a pain-management Hospice-based approach a few years ago, but gained enough weight to return to her previous form of care.  We laugh that only someone with her spirit would accomplish such a feat. 

Living several hundred miles away I don’t see my grandma all that often.  Sadly, when I do visit, she doesn’t appear to know who I am or be aware if I am there or not.  But I go when I can, and I take my children, because I believe that even if she can no longer string together days or even hours, she is able to feel a small bit of happiness and a sliver of familiarity and love for maybe only a moment at a time.   

A few weeks ago we visited and my grandma was groggy from a nap.  She couldn’t respond as we eagerly made small talk about things like the weather and the wallpaper.  She didn’t seem sad, but she didn’t seem happy either.  She was there, but really not there.  As we spoke in extra loud voices and attempted to reintroduce ourselves, I noted that her eyes always landed in one place:  on my five-year-old daughter.  The heir of my grandmother’s Linn spirit, and my little “Linsanity”, she skips, she doesn’t walk.  With her blond hair and big blue eyes, she’s contagious.  She’s radiant light.  She’s childhood in a stubbornly sweet, perfect little package. 

Making this realization, I felt that the air suddenly seemed to have an almost palpable current flowing through it.  As if sending a subtle charge to my senses and whispering in my ear, “This….this is important.  Right now.  Right here.  This is sacred.”

Instead of scolding their behavior (which really wasn’t behavior at all just children being children), I actually encouraged my daughters to continue skipping down the nursing home hallway.   I bent down and asked my grandma if she wanted to follow the girls.  To my surprise she muttered something that I couldn’t understand and her lips began to move a bit.  My daughters galloped and ran and propelled by instinct, I wheeled my grandma after them.

The girls giggled and the glorious sound of delighted children echoed through the hallway.  My grandma lifted her chin and showed a small smile.  “Lucy,” I called out to my daughter “Lucy, do that again.”  

“Mommy, do what?”  happily immersed in childhood, laughter surrounds her so much so that she isn’t even aware of its magical power. 

“Laugh, Lucy. Laugh”.

She laughed just at the suggestion of making herself laugh.  And she laughed and laughed and laughed.

Slumped in a wheelchair, my grandma began laughing in response.  The universal language of love and laughter rolled across four generations of women.  One would giggle and the other would answer as happiness spread and filled the stale air with warmth.

Unprompted Lucy ran over and leaped into us, giving us a big hug.  I swallowed down my tears.  “We love you, Grandma,” I stated with clarity and emphasis, as I silently willed those words to permeate their way through the medication, disease and age and find a spot to land and claim as home on my grandmother’s heart.  

To my amazement, my grandma looked at Lucy and said in a shaky voice, “Grandma loves you too”.  Astonished, I looked at her as my heart begged her to say it again.  Had I possibly heard that?  This message of love was delivered to her in this current moment.  But where was her mind and was this response of love from the past or the present?  Was she saying it to me?  Did she think Lucy was me as a child?  Did I imagine it?  Oh just please, let me hear it again.

But of course, I did not.  My grandma returned to her directionless stare, my daughters returned to their directionless gallop and with that, the moment had passed.  

So this is May, my sentimental month.  Its the birth month of both my mother and grandmother.  A time when we celebrate the beauty of the world and the beauty of the women of the world.  Its a month that can trouble me when ending school years and growing children seem to make time fly.  Its a season when the cycle of life is ever present and all around us with renewal and growth.

So in May, the month of mothers, I pause to give thanks for the moment.  Because while she has given me many memories and lessons over a lifetime, my grandma has most recently taught me the value of the moment.  Someday a time may come when you are only able to live in the moment.  But that brief and fleeting moment can be filled with laughter, as long as you don’t let it pass you by.