With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Friday, March 25, 2011

Follow Up

Some amazing efforts on behalf of Japan require me to follow-up on my post of March 18 (Madness of All Kinds). First, my remarkable sister, a fourth-grade teacher in California, saw my blog post and took the idea of paper-crane-making to her school. Her principal and fellow teachers immediately got behind the idea, and merged it with a fundraiser that they had already planned. When my sister emailed the news to me, I was excited and eager to follow in her footsteps, so I emailed one of my daughter's fourth grade teachers to discuss a similar fundraiser, based on the article that she had brought to school.

Lo and behold, the effort took off - as if on crane's wings. The PTO, principal, and teachers at our school immediately embraced the idea of the fundraiser using paper cranes, which will either be sold or donated back to be sent to the children of Japan. Several parents have come forward to volunteer their services and research possible outlets for our donations. After spring break, the art teacher plans to do a unit on origami for the fourth and fifth grades, allowing my daughter's class to participate in teaching the background information. Amazing. Our home has turned into origami - central as my daughter is so excited to teach us all the fine art of crane-making. We already have 13 birds ready to go. Needless to say, my heart is warmed to the point of boiling over.

On another follow-up note, my youngest son decided not to make a picture for Japan, but to color one for the greeter at CostCo instead. He knew we were headed for CostCo that morning (had to get individually wrapped treats for preschool) and anticipated seeing our favorite greeter, who always says hi and draws smiley faces on our receipts. So D colored in a fabulous picture and when we entered the store I flashed my AmEx photo card and he handed over his artwork. The gentleman was quite surprised. "For me?" he asked. Daniel nodded and explained the coloring scheme before we headed off to do our shopping. On our way out, we encountered the same man, who congratulated D again on being a fine artist and pulled me aside to say, "I've been here for ten years and nobody has ever done anything like that for me before. I am really touched." I nodded a general affirmative, too choked-up to make a reasonable response, and left the store with my artist. He may be a whirlwind but he has a heart of gold, and I am so grateful.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

More News

On Saturday my oldest had a Destination Imagination tournament. For those who don't know, DI is a cross between Jeopardy and Improv, with some planning and orchestration thrown in by long-suffering and enduring team managers (read: volunteer parents). I sat with her team and with the team parents as we killed time between the Instant Challenge and their main performance. We watched other teams go through their routines, chatted idly, and juggled costumes, water bottles, younger siblings. In the confusion I had two simultaneous conversations with fourth-graders: first, "Did you hear that the UN established a no-fly zone over Libya today?" and second, "I'm getting a new puppy this afternoon!" The disconnect still lingers, though I am used to a certain amount of crossed wiring and mixed messages.

Next to the computer where I write we have an electronic picture frame that my husband ingeniously programmed to alternate between family photos, weather, and news. I often sit distracted as diverse images such as my daughter's baby face and family reunions from years ago flash by only to be replaced by headlines such as, "Arab Nations' Dislike for Qaddafi Gives Arabs a Point of Unity," and "Bickering Starts Among NATO Allies over Libya Intervention." Today it's hard to hold this juxtaposition. The news about Libya bruises my heart. I honestly don't know what to think: 'here we go again,' or 'thank goodness we saved those rebels from sure death' or 'how are we going to get out'?

I feel that our country, like many of its citizens, is torn by too many pulled threads of obligation and need. The need is infinite, but our resources are not. Like a mother juggling school routines, Spanish classes, sports practices, volunteer obligations, work, and relationship demands, our country juggles Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Japan, and North Korea - all in addition to the domestic agenda of health care, education, environmental protection, food production, etc. Sometimes the dramatic need outside of our normal lives pulls all attention and resources, and we react jerkily, responding to one crisis after another without constructing a long-term vision for our people at home.

My sister pointed this out as we walked on the beach last month - that every entity needs a vision for its efforts to cohere. She felt that our country might be lacking in a 21st century vision, particularly for its own people. We know we want democracy spread around the world, and that we want to prevent genocide, but what do we want for our people at home? I have no answers, only questions, and hope that if many people have similar questions, we might progress on this vision together. I worry about fourth graders who worry about no-fly zones, and about fourth graders living in no-fly zones. I could only wish that the greatest concern of any child was when to pick up, and what to name, her puppy.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Madness of All Kinds

My seven-year-old was briefly leading all thirteen teams in our family basketball bracket challenge after the first round of NCAA games. He somehow picked the Louisville loss to Morehead St. - sheer luck, perhaps, but after seeing his wall-to-wall grin I had to offer my congratulations. He's fallen in the standings today, but we cheered him up by saying that at least he's ahead of a few teams. No one likes to be down and out.

The madness on the other side of the world - the horrendous earthquake, tsunami, and related nuclear meltdowns in Japan - remind us even more poignantly of this fact. The magnitude of the disaster is so great, the suffering and anxieties grow at such a rate every day, that I want to look away. Much easier to focus on basketball wins and losses than on radation exposure, tent cities, and food scarcity in Japan.

Jim Wallis wrote about this in an excellent blog post for Sojourners:

"There is no satisfying theological explanation of why such things happen; the earth shifts and the oceans rage. Why here? Why now? Nobody really knows. In a very sad way, these catastrophes bring people together. Around the globe, people have been moved to help. It’s often somebody else’s pain and loss that reminds us of what is important and what is not — and even what it means to be human.

Of course, there is a very human temptation to just turn off the TV, to shut off your heart and your mind, and say that it is all just too much to take in. Yet, the images that are hard to see and the stories that are hard to hear are often the ones that change us most, and indeed they should. As a Christian, I don’t have easy answers to this kind of human suffering, but I believe it breaks the heart of God — and that means it should break our hearts too. We should feel pain when we see others in pain." (http://blog.sojo.net/2011/03/17/we-must-pray-and-act-for-japan/)

So I'll keep watching, donating to the Red Cross, and discussing the news with my children. My daughter is doing a reading unit on Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes for school, and she cut out an article from our paper this morning which described the efforts of Denver school students to make origami paper cranes to send to students in Japan after the tsunami. Hopefully she can get a similar effort started at our local elementary school. My little guy walked the big kids to their school this morning, through a lovely inch of spring snow, and when I commented that it was also snowing in Japan, where many people were homeless, his brow furrowed. "That's not good," he said. "I am going to make a picture for Japan." I told him I thought it was an excellent idea.

Long after the NCAA tourney is over, the world will continue to offer random crazy and shocking events. It's hard to look at the madness, but I do agree that it's important. Hopefully we can strengthen each other as we look together, and act together in support of those who really need it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Turning 40

I rounded the corner of the sushi restaurant last Friday and ran into that mingled best-case / worst-case scenario; a table full of smiling faces, each one accompanied by a drink and balloon (a special "Forty! Forty!Forty!" balloon over one conspicuously empty chair) and a surprise rendition of Happy Birthday in front of the completely full restaurant. Actually, I can't remember if they sang or just said "surprise" because at that moment I was a little lost in the fog of anxiety that hits whenever I am the center of attention. Later someone asked if I had truly been surprised, because my reaction was a bit "demure." I assured her that I was completely shocked and the correct description of my response would probably be "deer in the headlights."

I had thought I was going to dinner with one amazing friend, a happy occasion in itself, but ended up dining with ten additional thoughtful, joyful and sneaky pals, all of whom were happy to usher me into a new and slightly scary decade. After a rousing dinner conversation, several shots, and a delicious gluten - free cupcake, a subset of our group headed out dancing. I was thankful for my short-sleeved shirt and for the long jeans which hid my cotton tie-dye socks. I admit to only a faint knowledge of 21st-century dance music, but we were the lucky beneficiaries of a DJ who played Bon Jovi, Journey and AC/DC along with Rihanna, Usher, and Gaga.


Grateful for the ankle strength to bend and twist (a little) on the dance floor, and for the amazing friends and family in my life, I think I have finally finished mourning my spent early decades. One high school friend called the big 4 - 0 "the end of the beginning," and in fact, it feels a bit like that. In reading Ron Rolheiser's book The Holy Longing ( http://www.amazon.com/Holy-Longing-Search-Christian-Spirituality/dp/0385494181)I came across a statement by Alice Miller from her essay "The Drama of the Gifted Child." She says that we are all gifted children, and that it's only at mid-life that we realize, "What we have dreamed for our lives can never be. Thus we have a choice: We can spend the rest of our lives angry, trying to protect ourselves against something that has already happened to us, death and unfairness, or we can grieve our losses, abuses and deaths and, through that, eventually attain the joy and delights that are in fact possible for us."

I don't have too many losses, abuses or deaths to grieve at this point in my life, more the knowledge that the second half of life is sure to include more of these. I do have some dreams to let go of and mourn. I'm not published, I didn't/don't have the patience and wherewithal to raise the fourth child that I always imagined for our family, and I'm a far-from-perfect mother to the three amazing kids that I have. But I did feel validated by Miller's statement, and I have taken some time to recognize these losses - real or perceived - and mourn them for a while. Then, when an amazing evening like Friday's surprise party came along, I had plenty of space to fill with love, gratitude, and recognition of my blessings. Many thanks to my friends, husband, children, parents, brothers and sisters for helping me achieve the dreams that I have achieved and for supporting me with joy and hope in the coming new decade. I'll be ready for that big FIFTY balloon in about ten years. . . .

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Consecration

"Baptism consecrates us and consecration is a conscriptive rope that takes us to where we would rather not go, namely, into that suffering that produces maturity." - Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality

I read that passage during my lunch hour at the Museum of Nature and Science yesterday and went into an underlining frenzy, no doubt startling the guests dining nearby. Rolheiser (www.ronrolheiser.com) explains his concept in detail, noting that consecration "means to set aside, to displace from ordinary usage, to derail from normalcy" . He offers the example of a pedestrian witnessing a mugging right in front of him, or a family on the way to dinner slamming on the brakes as a catastrophic car accident occurs right in their path. These folks are now consecrated and conscripted to act by their awareness, their proximity, and their values; as Rolheiser puts it, "your perfectly legitimate agenda has to be suspended, not because it is wrong, but because something higher has literally usurped your freedom".

We all want to think we would act quickly and heroically in those instances, that we would instantly respond to the need of the victim, and yet history shows us that the majority of bystanders refrain from getting involved. Like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan, we have our own agendas, our own well-thought-out reasons for absenting ourselves from a crime scene, an accident, an argument. I realize that I have been consecrated a few times in the past, for smaller incidents, and I have evaded my conscription. I would like to try to build up my consecration muscles, so that I will not fail in the future.

I saw inspiring examples of women and mothers who were consecrated to action in the film "9500 Liberty", which I viewed this past Sunday. (Visit http://www.9500liberty.com/). After Prince William County,VA, passed a law that required police to check a person's documents if they showed "probable cause" of being undocumented, many persons of color left, others retreated from public life, and the local economy and housing market pitched into the doldrums. Stunned by the hatred on one person's blog, and by the terrible results for families who left and families who stayed, several brave mothers joined a coalition to fight back against the resolution, which was eventually defeated. They risked their reputation and personal safety to testify in board meetings, and to start their own blog countering the hateful messages already online, but they decided to do what was right.

I hope I would act like these mothers and others who stood up for love and acceptance in the face of hatred, fear, and anger. Fortunately I am in training for consecration; I am a mother. Rolheiser points out - and I agree with him - that the family home is a training ground for parents, who must learn how to give up their own agendas, goals, and comfort for the sake of their children. He notes that by the time the children have all grown up, the parents will hopefully - and finally - be mature. I believe that is true in general, and hope that it is true for me. I know it has been difficult for me to give up my personal 'legitimate' agendas for those of my children and family. I know that I am sometimes resentful and self-absorbed, but I believe I am making some progress. I would love to know if readers had any examples of being consecrated by certain events in their lives, either through religious ties or through proximity or family relationships. Blessings, Laura.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Visiting

"Mom, I missed you. Nobody told the boys when to go to bed and I couldn't clear off the kitchen table." My daughter welcomed me home from a three-day trip to Los Angeles with these words, heartfelt and practical. I welcomed her sentiments but felt a bit reduced to my housekeeping and 'strict parent' functionality, especially after three days of eating out, sleeping in, adult-only conversation and movie-watching.

My sister lives only two blocks from the beach in Redondo Beach, about twenty minutes' drive from where we attended High School, in Palos Verdes. It is a gorgeous segment of Southern California, bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Pacific Coast Highway on the East (yes, that is quite a narrow strip!) When I ran on the Esplanade or walked on the beach the air was redolent with ghosts of old friends: playing volleyball, bodysurfing, suntanning, and jogging. My brother, who joined us from his home in Boston, recalled his first hand-in-hand walk on the beach, which happened just at our location.

The beach crowd was a bit sparse in the last weekend of February as low temps hit the 40's and rain poured two nights out of three. But this clearing out gave way to sparkling azure skies, views of snowcapped peaks and rippling ocean skin like millions of green migrating geckos, as viewed from the air. Even better than the scenery and the moisture in the air was the company. I had the chance to compare book notes with my sister and take in two Oscar-nominated films, just before the actual Oscars. The airport actually had miniature model Oscars on display in the giftshop.

My brother caught us up on the antics of his baby, who walked fluidly for the first time over the weekend. We relished gluten-free soup as only three genetically affected siblings can, caught up on family chatter and planned for our summer rendezvous on Cape Cod. Blessings abounded, and though I love life in perpetually snowcapped Colorado it was a bit hard to bring my mind back to childrearing and cleaning the kitchen table. As long as open arms await me on both legs of my journey, I'm a happy women.