Family Photo

Family Photo
Growing Up

Monday, September 16, 2019

For What Will Be, Yes.

"For what has been, we thank you. For what will be, Yes."
-prayer of unknown origin

My brother John resurrected this childhood prayer when we were in Montana last weekend. We gathered around a festive table to celebrate my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary and John began this simple grace. After the sign of the cross, this statement used to precede an individual thanks from each family member, proceeding from youngest to oldest. Unprepared, Michael and I hesitated a minute before we spoke, though Mom didn't falter. She thanked God for us, for those family members who couldn't be with us, and for her husband. My father cannot speak but he gave the sign for "I love you," after which we turned our food with constricted throats.

In this difficult time of transition, as we try to free Dad from worry and let him go - most assuredly to whatever heaven might exist - I cannot think of a more perfect prayer. For fifty good years of marriage, a pure example of selfless love for five children and thirteen grandchildren, God, we thank you. For what will be, we must try to say "yes."

The deep emotions were balanced by some quiet time outside in my father's beloved Montana. While Dad napped in the late mornings, my brothers and I took the stand-up paddleboards out on Flathead Lake. The scorching summer sun muted by autumn's haze, we glided over glassy shallows and peered at the fish and plants below. In one area, a pine tree had recently fallen and its boughs waved under gentle swells. In another small cove, an old dock had collapsed and we maneuvered between pointy remnants of its supporting beams.

The hidden landscapes made me think of the struggles and joys that lie beneath the tapestry of my parents' marriage. The struggles they shared, all the moves we made across country with their resulting changes, losses they suffered and joys celebrated together.  So much richness, so much vibrant life. So much to be thankful for, even as we struggle to say yes to things to come.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

A Good Job

I still miss my daughter with a slowly subsiding ache; the cats and I peer at each other in the shaded house and wonder if someone will come to rescue us from this unfamiliar situation. I tend not to follow little Blackjack when he hides in Aden's room, but I can at least step through the doorway without tears. It felt heroic to support Aden in her decision to stay at school through the long Labor Day weekend, I told her it was good to "put down roots" while inside a voice was shrieking, "come home!"

My neighbor and I exchanged notes on the subject of departing children. Bonnie said "Everyone tells you that you did a good job, and that's why they can leave successfully, but what if you didn't mean to do such a good job? Maybe I should have screwed up more along the way!"  The mix of emotions is wilder than a unicorn frappuccino. Aden is rocking her first two weeks, happy and engaged and meeting all the people. She's doing so much better than I did in my first two weeks that I am proud, amazed, and a teensy bit jealous.  I eagerly await her snapchats and stay up much later than I planned to take her calls.

My wheels are still spinning as I try to work out a job that I can do from home that will swell my pocketbook while not adding stress or fatigue to my life. I have to drive Daniel to activities most evenings when Rob's out of town, so early morning work is not ideal, work during school hours only is hard to come by, and my introverted tendencies make me reluctant to do anything with phones, customer service, marketing, or pitching myself. You can see the difficulty.  But I keep praying and hoping that the right thing will drop into my lap(top) at the right time. Have to keep the mental wheels turning productively so they don't stop or go off the rails worrying about things that are out of my control - like a college-age daughter.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

College Dropoff

Wednesday was what my college roommate would call a "mad, sad, glad day."  Tara always could hit the nail on the head, and a text stream with her and my other roommates was a highlight on a day that otherwise broke my heart into pieces. Leaving Aden (and a piece of the aforementioned broken heart) in Boulder brought back memories of my own painful freshman drop-off, and my brain kept going in circles in disbelief that I was leaving my child to live someplace without me. Though we had been preparing for months, the actual move out / move in struck with the shock of a cold shower.

The excitement of a bustling, welcoming campus buoyed us through the unloading of the car, the decoration of the room, the introductions to her roommate and her roommate's family. The day was clear, the mountains loomed over all, the dorm room was unexpectedly large and clean. We walked the route between a few of Aden's classes and admired the untrodden lawns, the welcome tents, and the well-stocked bookstore (where we bought more swag).

Then lunch, then abrupt departure, with Aden reassuring me. "You got this, Mom," she said as I hid my streaming eyes behind oversized sunglasses and struggled to get words out of my clogged throat. Rob reassured me all the way home about her readiness, her happiness and the exciting new worlds at her fingertips. My agreement still didn't prepare me to pass her empty room or to stop in shock at the newly clean corner where her college supplies lived all summer.

It's a physical hurt for me, a pain somewhere in the gut that bursts out at inappropriate moments (like my son's back to school night) and induces tears and absent-mindedness. Part of me is focused on Boulder, on what Aden's doing now, and the other parts can't seem to get in gear...yet.  I have to figure this out and move forward. Snapchat and texts help, as does proximity. Stay tuned for Aden's rapid forward movement and exciting trajectory....and for my slower progress and brave face.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

First Day of School

The boys started school this week - eighth and eleventh grades. I noticed the day's approach on my calendar with a slight but growing trepidation and a dawning realization that I want my kids with me so I can keep them safe. A fear-based mindset is unfamiliar to me, and yet the events of the past year have crept into my subconscious.

What makes me inhale deeply, fortify myself, and send my kids off with a cheerful farewell is the determination not to succumb to our current administration's doctrine of fear. The president and some of his supporters have deepened divides in our country, encouraged hatred and promoted fear. We must defeat negativity within ourselves, our families, and our neighborhoods, and we must vote the propaganda machine out of office next year.

I choose to believe in the good in people. When I got a text from a friend last night, asking if my older son could meet her student for lunch on her first day of school, William immediately agreed. Another of his friends immediately did the same. Our young people are good, full of potential, and blessed with visions and possibilities that we can't see. I have to send them forth into the world because they are the ones who will help us change for the better.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

More In-Betweens

Camping gear has filled the living room, or what's left of it after Aden's college shopping has spilled out from the opposite wall. The air mattress sits adjacent to her wall mirror and sleeping pads roll up nicely next to her new gray-and-white-checked storage baskets. We appear to be readying ourselves either to host several new family members long-term, or to send them out into the world with an outline of the necessities.

My work space mirrors the craziness of our upside-down living room. The boys' back-to-school paperwork sits (mostly completed) next to permission trips for Daniel's third and final mission trip, Aden's move-in checklist partially obscures a list of part-time jobs that I'm considering in a desperate bid to keep busy and stop depression from descending after we move her up to Boulder. 

The part-time job search has been a dizzying process of determining what on earth I want to do, or can do, for four hours each day for an hourly several steps above minimum wage. Translating, teaching, typing, editing, etc.... how many times do I need to ask the question of what I want to do when I grow up? Plus, as every stay-at-home parent knows, I have a nearly full-time job coordinating the house, kids, and spouse. Even summer has presented itself with a dance card full of doctor's appointments, wisdom teeth removal, swim lessons, swim meets and grocery shopping. 

So we inhabit this crazy space between summer and school, Aden being here and Aden leaving, me stable, and me ????. Another liminal phase, another chance to breathe through it and try to enjoy the now. Practice makes perfect, or so I hear.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Tear-ing It Up

I'm a regular font of salt water these days, despite the fact that I swim in chlorine. Tears threaten at odd times and in public places, like at the airport when Rob and I picked William up after his mission trip to Nogales, Mexico. Parents around me were grinning jovially and waving hello to their teens while I nearly burst into tears and had to refrain from running through baggage claim to embrace my son. Like a bad movie, it played in my head as I fought to restrain myself and wait for him to saunter over before delivering my stranglehold hug. The tears did not so much glisten as pool over my lower lids, to such an extent that William noticed. "Are you almost crying, Mom?" he asked with a grin.

My family seems partially horrified and partly resigned to the fact that I weep frequently and without regard to the status of teenagers. I try to hide it, casually looking to the side of the room after a So You Think You Can Dance audition that is particularly moving, yawning and raising one hand to stretch while the other discreetly wipes away unwanted moisture.  It reminds me of the move that our high school dates used to pull in movie theaters, yawning and stretching before cautiously draping one arm over the back of our seats and shoulders (this was particularly fraught for female swimmers, whose shoulders were often broader than their dates.')  My move, like the movie date sidearm, doesn't fool anyone, but it helps me to move on into the commercial break with some dignity.

Meanwhile, I'm grasping at straws to solve the problem. Unsure if it's hormones, perimenopause, emotional strain, fatigue, or just a character flaw, I keep waiting for the tide to turn (literally and metaphorically). After the last few months, I'm beginning to doubt that change will come, and trying to resign myself to presenting a wet face to the public. The kids (and husband) will just have to adjust - and bring Kleenex.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Liminal Space

"liminal space is the time between the 'what was' and the 'next.' It is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing. Liminal space is where all transformation takes place, if we learn to wait and let it form us." (Google)

My father has perfect pitch. When I was learning the guitar a few years back, Dad listened to my new pieces and could identify a chord or a note instantly, in-person or over the phone. Dad's talents and complexities are legion - he learned how to drive early and stole his parents' car out of the driveway when he was thirteen, only to take it straight to church to confess because he felt guilty.  Dad hiked his five kids up mountainous ravines, somehow willing us to crawl up through narrow cracks despite our fear of heights. He drove an RV alongside steep drop-offs (with Mom leaning inward from the passenger seat, yelling "Jules!") from Montana to California.  We all know him as a proud, intelligent, loving and daring man.

My throat swells and my glasses fog as I type now, reflecting on my recent visit to Montana. Daniel and I went to see Nana and Papa, as well as my brothers Michael and James and their families, for a few days last week. The house was full of laughter (and crying - we had seven children aged nine or younger)  and Mom's smiles blossomed throughout the day as delightful tableaus formed and dissipated on the back deck or the front lawn. Dad sat in his special recliner chair when he wasn't resting in the bedroom, and just took it all in.

The parasupranuclear palsy (PSP) that has Dad in its grip has now taken his ability to speak, and largely, to swallow. Since I last saw him, in December, his weight loss and his difficulty with communication have advanced, and I struggled to find words to greet him that wouldn't betray my shock.  After the first long day, he beckoned me toward his wheelchair as he and Mom were headed to bed.  "Thank you for coming," he whispered with difficulty, and then he made the sign for "I  love you." Tears fell on his head as I returned his hug.

I don't know if it's reassuring or heartbreaking beyond belief that the man I love as my father is still there, holding fast out of sheer strength of will and my mother's amazing care. My brothers and I went out on the golf course  on my last evening, and Michael asked "Why? How can a proud person be content in this situation?"

I have no answer - I only know that Dad doesn't want any extreme measures taken to save his life and that he wishes to die in his sleep in his home in Montana. None of us know what lies between the present moment and that wish but it's torment to navigate through this liminal space.

Dad has always had a healthy dose of humble as well as a hefty sense of gratitude for five healthy children and a wife beyond compare. I wonder if - in his growing wisdom, patience, and humility as he gets closer to a God that he believes in - that he is content to adapt. Dad watched the grandchildren play in the living room, helped me find my shoes on the table when I couldn't see them, and generally proved that he was present and alert. When James tried to pop a wheelie from Dad's wheelchair, my father laughed soundlessly, and when one of the 18 - month - old twins looked his way, Papa could still wave. 

Though this version of my Dad is new and different, I find so much to admire even now. The grace with which he has met the disease astounds me and my mom's diligent care provides a daily example of love and sacrifice which seem rare in this world.  So we smile and even laugh through our tears, and we pray to be transformed, along with Dad, in this liminal space.