With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

In a Tizzy

The wind bangs unknown objects against the upstairs window and our blossoming trees sadly watch as they are denuded of their pale pink and red petals. I don't know what it is about this time of year, but the whirl inside my brain matches the maelstrom outside. Today I juggled a practice GRE exam, a response to today's Denver Post editorial, and countless scheduling emails. I've already dropped the ball on the student store and a doctor's appointment and nearly missed carpool duty for this afternoon. So far I haven't dropped any of the fragile, "glass" balls of friends, family or health, but a good gust might blow them right out of my hands. I'm not alone in pushing through the storm of springtime; we're all in a transition phase when multiple seasons and activities overlap, mixing old routine tasks with wild new challenges.

Which brings me back to the GRE practice test. That sucker is LOOONG, let me tell you, and it took me over 24 distracted and interrupted hours to finish. I wonder if I can pull together enough focus and mental energy to complete an actual test in just four hours? With questions like "if y = 2g-4(-8) and g=8y+4, what is y-g?"  I doubt it (I just made that question up, by the way, I dare you to solve it). A question more relevant to my life looks like this: "If all three kids have swim practice and Daniel has a doctor appointment and Aden has a sax lesson and Rob and Laura have Meet Manager training then  . . . A. no one will eat dinner B. Aden won't have a ride home from her lesson C. all three kids will freeze to death since it's only 48 degrees or D. all of the above.

But I must conclude, as William needs to get to an ortho appointment and clothes need to move from laundry baskets to drawers before they are covered up by their dirty brothers and sisters. I wonder if baseball will be cancelled given the hurricane-force winds? The precarious throw - and - catch of the second-grade team cannot afford to be even more unbalanced. Only repeated email checks will tell . . .

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Rainy Days

It's cool and rainy-ish outside today, and the baseball games are still, surprisingly, a "go." We brought out the parkas and winter blankets for preventing spectator frostbite, and I may need to take a brisk walk or two during the four hours of game-watching. Every year I stare at the calendar in amazement, wondering how swim team can possibly start in two weeks while we still have the winter gear out.

Last night we had nine girls over for a youth group sleepover, and they were the best group imaginable: self-sufficient, easily pleased, polite and light-hearted. Their laughter rang up the basement stairs to where Rob worked on the computer and I watched Michael Phelps' comeback on TV, and even up to the second floor where the boys resisted bedtime and wondered when they could have their own sleepovers. We got the second basement bedroom fixed up just in time for the girls and for my parents' visit this weekend, and once again I feel blessed to have space for  visitors and for the visitors themselves.

I cracked open my GRE study guide this morning and ran into the assertion that most people do well after studying "for three months" for the test. I only have three weeks, so I'm hoping that my extra years of experience (and helping Aden and William with Algebra) can count as a positive instead of a negative / lost brain cells due to years of parenting stress. I thought about taking the book to the ball park, but realistically I will be dividing my time between chanting, cheering, and fighting the chill, so I suppose the studying can wait until tomorrow. Three weeks minus one day and counting . . .


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Crazy Days

It's almost May, so every parent, child, and teacher knows that the crazy days cometh. For our family, they have absolutely arrived in the form of four baseball practices and six games per week between the two boys, as well as water polo and regular orthodontist appointments. Aden and William are both in braces, which seem to require constant maintenance. I gave up running but I'm still constantly on the run!

In one of our many carpool legs last week Daniel took a picture of himself and gave it the caption, "What? Don't you take me seriously?"  His grinning face above the words just cracks me up, especially since he took the photo and emailed it to me from the carseat right behind me! The kids' cracker-jack energy lights a bonfire under us each morning and afternoon, though strangely, it does not lend itself to completing homework assignments. Spring fever, indeed, and a case of "senioritis" for my fifth grader. How is it even possible to contract senioritis when you are only ten years old?

Just one of many questions I have for the universe as I race around from place to place. The other baseball moms and I constantly remind ourselves that this is fun, this is the schedule we signed up for and that we should enjoy it while it lasts. At least I have the radio pre-sets organized in the minivan so that the musical preferences of all the kids and adults have been addressed. We spend so much time in the car that its conveniences are paramount. Now I just have to get the snow tires taken off and replaced before swim season starts, and we'll really be on the ball . . .

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Resurrection Eyes

"The Bible is not a script for a funeral service, but it is the record of God always bringing life where we expected to find death. Everywhere it is the story of resurrection."
-Eugene Peterson

The aftershocks of Easter continue, registering an "8" on my internal theology scale and a "10" on the actual scale, mostly due to the number of MnM ' s consumed. It seems that the coordination of the holy day, the weather, and Sunday's sermon have piqued my curiosity and desire to grow. Our interim Pastor, Rev. Phil Amerson, told us on Easter that "we spend too much time wandering from the cross to the tomb" in life and not enough time beholding events through "Resurrection eyes." That made me think about a conversation I had with friends on a long walk last Saturday, when one commented that there is plenty of light in the world if we only had eyes to see it.

This train of thought barrels through my consciousness at least four times a day now. When I went to Vitamin Cottage and spent twenty minutes in front of the shampoos and conditioners looking for one that was gluten free, I felt irritated before remembering to be thankful for the store, the GF options, and the resources to buy them. When the kids painted their Easter gift bird houses and got paint on the table, then planted the strawberry seeds and got dirt all over the floor, I focused on their enthusiasm and their unusual and prized teamwork in both endeavors.

It helps that spring is in full flower, and "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower/ Drives my green age" (Dylan Thomas, "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.") I feel younger and life feels full of promise. There were many days in the past few years when I could not see the promise, could not have Resurrection eyes, but fortunately I had friends and family who shared their superior vision with me. They provided their faith and optimism to light my fuse when I had no fuel left. I think that is our job as people of faith and joy, to keep our Resurrection eyes open and share our vision with those in need of sight.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Move the Mountain of Death

Last night I corrected homework from my class at the detention center, which had a manageable twenty-one in attendance yesterday. Aden was intrigued and  came over to help with corrections, but she was forestalled by the attendance list: two pages full of names. As I wrote capitals and periods over hesitant sentences she thought and thought, finally asking me if I had all of her papers. At first I thought she was referring to homework, and I was confused, but then I realized she was referring to the documentation of her U.S. citizenship. My heart hurt for a long minute as I looked into her sweet, concerned face, as we both held the knowledge that those papers - her birth certificate, her passport, her social security card - are things we take for granted until we realize that they can make all the difference in someone's life. In the lives of fifty-one men in my class, the lack of these documents means separation from their families, imprisonment, loneliness and loss.

I went back to the detention center today to drop off the corrected work and to attend an Easter service put on by volunteers of Confluence Ministries. I had just missed the service for the women, and evidence of their emotion was on display through the well-used toilet paper rolls of tissue. Easter is a significant holiday in the Hispanic culture and a difficult time to be away from loved ones. The men who attended my service were emotional enough, standing and clapping when urged on by the musicians, and reverently bowing their heads during the pastor's emotional homily. A gentleman seated near me in the back sobbed quietly, bent over his hands, clutching the white paper to shreds.

The prayer was beautiful in both Spanish and English, reminding us that Jesus knew what it was like to be alone, betrayed and scared. The disciples also were terrified on this day so long ago, isolated and in darkness, and I thank God for Jesus and for them. I thank God that Jesus fully understands the pain and darkness of death and that his closest followers knew terror and betrayal and hopelessness. Whatever depths we plumb, Jesus  has been there - and he returned in triumph. The men in detention were reminded today that Jesus has walked in their frightened, lonely footsteps and he understands. He has not abandoned them, or any of us, and despite this frightening day, and all the frightening days in our life, he delivers us into peace and joy and glory. He moved the mountain of death not only for himself, but for all.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rilke on The Last Supper

A poem by one of my favorite writers, upon seeing the painting "The Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci in Milan (1904). We have also had the good fortune of seeing that painting in Milan, and though awed by the viewing I did not produce anything like the following poem in response. Have a blessed Holy Thursday.

The Last Supper

They are assembled, astonished and disturbed
round him, who like a sage resolved his fate,
and now leaves those to whom he most belonged,
leaving and passing by them like a stranger.
The loneliness of old comes over him
which helped mature him for his deepest acts;
now will he once again walk through the olive grove,
and those who love him still will flee before his sight.

To this last supper he has summoned them,
and (like a shot that scatters birds from trees)
their hands draw back from reaching for the loaves
upon his word: they fly across to him;
they flutter, frightened, round the supper table
searching for an escape. But he is present
everywhere like an all-pervading twilight-hour.

- Rainer Maria Rilke

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Anti - Heroes

Our book club read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which was also an Oprah Book Club selection that was purchased by thousands of other women in our demographic. In an interview Strayed said that most were strongly affected by her book, either loving it or hating it, and we found that to be true in our own female microcosm. Several women said they wanted to cheer for her, wanted her to be the resilient heroine that was promised on the book jacket, but were let down by her pain and all-too-human foibles. Others were completely disenchanted by the drugs and men and drama, not empathetic to her pain at the time of her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail or to her struggle to climb out.

I could understand these frustrations, but was ultimately impressed by Strayed's journey through pain and suffering into wholeness (or what we understand to be wholeness by her later body of work, lovely family, and responsible-seeming life). The author's mistakes were only visible because of her honesty, her rawness and her use of writing as catharsis. I doubt that Strayed wrote the book intending to make Oprah's list or the NY Times Bestseller column; she wrote it out of necessity for her own healing.

In my own life healing has not been pretty. The way I broke down wasn't pretty, either, and both paths were littered by evidence of my own imperfections. Struggle is rarely pretty, and though we hate to see the ugly, it exists right in front of us as well as inside. Maybe that is why it's hard to face it in movies or books or real life, but if we ignore the true nature of the struggle we fail to fully appreciate the triumph and joy that lies on the other side. Which brings me back to this Easter week and the the paradox that takes us from triumph to pain and suffering back to a joy that can only be realized after the tragedy has played out.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week Begins

This morning we woke to 19 degree temps and three inches of snow on the ground: a sharp reminder that spring is partly composed of winter's tail end. I am betwixt and between seasons: to get at my shovel I fought with the rakes we used on Saturday's warm afternoon, and to get at the winter coats I had to push my way through the swim bags. Snow covers the first flowers and ice holds them shut. It seems fitting on the first day of Holy Week, which itself contains contradictions of death and triumph, mourning and rejoicing. Our interim pastor, the Rev. Phil Amerson, spoke to these contradictions in his sermon yesterday, and I am including here a Wendell Berry poem that he referenced, which helps me hold the paradox.

“What hard travail God does in death!
He strives in sleep, in our despair,
And all flesh shudders underneath
The nightmare of His sepulcher.
“The earth shakes, grinding its deep stone;
All night the cold wind heaves and pries;
Creation strains sinew and bone
Against the dark door where He lies.
“The stem bent, pent in seed, grows straight
And stands. Pain breaks in song. Surprising
The merely dead, graves fill with light
Like opened eyes. He rests in rising.” – p. 25
Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir, The Sabbath Poems 1979 - 1997

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Take That, Urban Dictionary

Yesterday I was a bumbling fool, stabbing my thumb with a pineapple while testing for ripeness (only a flesh wound), repeatedly opening every window and the sunroof of Rob's car while trying to unlock it with the remote, and forgetting half the items on my to-do list in the excitement of finishing Lois Lowry's The Giver (brilliant). To raise my morale and flagging spirits I recalled the triumphs of Thursday and coined a new term to describe mom-lobbyists - "Mommyist."  I'm going to send that to Urban Dictionary along with my favorite made-up word from Words with Friends: "Woad."  It means a "really wide road." It may also mean something else, but that's my working definition.

I particularly feel the need to shore up my mental defenses after running into the Fulbright scholar who works in Senator Mike Johnston's office. I had to look up the spelling of "Fulbright," while she could rattle off education policy decisions from various states and refer to books and authors that I've never heard of. As I walked away, shaking my head, I thought: "I used to be like that girl - she could be me, 20 years ago." What a downer to ponder this as I rooted around in my cavernous purse for a pen so I could jot down some of the references she threw out. (I never found a pen and had to borrow one from a friend.)  It seems that over a decade of child-rearing has melted my brain cells and they must run out of orifices while I sleep - or even during the day. Each time I wipe my nose I probably say good bye to hundreds of the little buggers! No wonder I can't remember what's for dinner. At least there's space now for a little creativity, and repeated emails to Urban Dictionary.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Problem with Systems

Today was a flurry of activity. I had an early bout of ninja cleaning and then showered and put on my 'presentable face' for two hours of lobbying at the State Capitol. I thought I was just going to be a warm body for Speak for Cherry Creek, sitting in the Senate chamber as the Senators discussed HB 1202, but instead we got the chance to split up into small groups and pay a visit to key senators and their aides. (Actually, just their aides.) We thanked those who supported HB 1202, which includes authorization and funding for a study on the upcoming PARCC tests, and emphasized our support for the State Board of Education decision (4-3, yesterday) to request that Colorado de-couple from PARCC.  

We were polite and thoughtful and were treated that way in return, except for one instance when an aide for Senator Baumgartner refused to let us in to speak with her or drop information off at Senator Balmer's desk. She told us that we were "lobbyists" (one woman asked later, "so can I add this to my resume?") and that we were going about it the wrong way. Since it was only my second visit to the Capitol and I certainly don't get paid, I don't see how her characterization was valid or helpful. We also met a brilliant and well-spoken young woman, an aide for Senator Mike Johnston, who talked with us about the potential flaws of computer testing and the need for a good plan for alternative tests if we do get rid of PARCC down the road.

Then I drove off down Colfax to the GEO / ICE Detention Center to spend an hour with the residents of A Pod. I had a new assistant today, and she was incredibly prepared, helpful and enthusiastic. So enthusiastic, in fact, that we had fifty men attend class. Pinky swear, there were actually fifty names and A numbers on the sign-in sheet and fifty men in various stages of life, education, and linguistic ability filling the room. Fortunately they were all there to learn, and despite my need to shout and a lack of handouts, class went well. 

A strange day, I thought on my way home. So many good people everywhere, from the parents of SPEAK to the politicians and their aides, from the detainees to the GEO employees. It seems that the only broken things are the systems, the corporations, and all entities large enough to swallow individual consciences and kindness whole. Systems make it difficult to fund education and to properly reward teachers, and systems make money from imprisoning people who lack documentation.Human beings aren't perfect, but at least we can connect and share, and maybe find some common ground to move things forward.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Serial Madness

Driving back from lunch I passed a minivan with a stick - figure family in the back window; a mom, a dad, and three kids holding hands. Above them, this phrase: "Hi from the Ass family." I mean no disrespect here, but seriously? I have never met anyone with the last name of Ass, let alone someone who would put it on the rear of their car.  Shortly after that, the DJ on Sirius XM Radio announced that I should check the "Classical Rewind" Facebook page to get all the news on who was having surgery and who was getting divorced. They don't have to rub it in my face how old my favorite rockers (and I) are getting. Did I fall on my head too many times doing Crow pose this morning or has the world completely gone around the bend?

At least lunch was sanity - inducing. I met my youngest brother, James, and his delightful co-worker Tommy for a quick bite as journeyed from the airport to a conference in the mountains. James and I tried not to dominate the conversation with reminiscences and family gossip, and we all had a good laugh about the perils of home ownership, work travel, and living in earthquake-prone areas. They also tried to convince me that there was a secret underground city at DIA, but I didn't fall for that (though I may google it later). I read once that siblings born more than seven years apart are more like aunts or uncles than older brothers or sisters, but I don't feel like James' aunt. My nine nieces and nephews would tell you that I am way, way older than them, but James doesn't feel that way - or at least he doesn't let on. He's smart that way, even if he believes in secret underground cities.

Monday, April 7, 2014

High Times in Albuquerque

We returned from our road trip last night with sore tushies (from the eight-hour drive and many hours of spectating on concrete bleachers), piles of dirty laundry and happy new memories. Some highlights: Aden and Adam playing "up" as subs on the 12 & Under "A" team against the 15 and Under "B" team; William's goal in his 12 & Under game, the kids' bus ride down with the team, and the party in the girls 12 & Under hotel room. The party featured chips, soda, ice cream bars and cheese puffs and was attended by both coaches - a safe first hotel fiesta.  Rob and I shared our highlight of watching Aden and William play together, with Aden passing the ball back to her brother on offense.

A lowlight of our trip was Saturday night's adventure in sleeping with the pungent fumes of marijuana drifting through our hotel room. The reek was so bad that we called the front desk at 9:45 pm. The attendant came up and walked around the hall, called us back to tell us we were corrrect - the fumes were strong - and then did nothing about it. When Daniel woke up at 1am with a cough and streaming eyes, the bathroom area was so toxic that we could barely stand to use it despite holding our breath. Even Red Rocks during a Willie Nelson concert had nothing on us!
The next morning saw us bleary-eyed and stumbling to open windows by any means necessary, and no one was surprised when Daniel ate three plates of breakfast at the hotel buffet. Muchies, anyone?

Yet we survived, the kids grew in experience and daring, and hopefully they were all scarred enough by our evening with MJ that they hesitate to try it. Go figure that we had to travel out of state (where it's legal) to be overwhelmed by the potency of pot - the guests  must have been from Colorado.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Albuquerque Again!

I put Aden and William on the team bus to Albuquerque (ABQ) this morning at 5:45. They saw their buddies and jumped out of the car, flashing me a wave as I hauled extra bananas to the luggage space, and then disappearing into the dimly lit interior. They are nervous, but they have each other and at least one good friend to sit with on the eight - hour trip, so they'll be able to compare notes on the antics of the 18 and Unders and coaches. We leave in an hour to follow them down in time for the first game this afternoon.

I read recently that kids in sports need to hear only three things from parents: Have fun, Play hard, and I love you. So that's what I told them last night at dinner, at bedtime, this morning on the bus, and via text message. I don't know how they'll play - it's a complicated sport and they are new to it - but if they have fun, the mission will be accomplished. What a great opportunity for them to be a  part of a team, feel like an athlete, and be on their own for a safe and short time. As for me, I'm off down I 25 for the third time in six months; at least it's all "downhill"!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Braces Times Two

Both Aden and William got their top braces on this week so ibuprofen and soft foods are our best friends. As I watch the appointments, equipment, and dollars mount, I've been thinking on how we do our best to make sure that our kids have a better life than we did. I never had braces, because my teeth are good enough, but as an aging parent of tweens I know now that my bite doesn't line up and my front teeth go way too deep on my lower teeth. No wonder I break crowns and overuse some teeth while others remain pristine - they're not even in the field of play! So the bite correction is worth the price of installment, even if the cosmetic alteration is the kids' main focus.

A and W have been warned about gum decay and incentivized with raffles and toys to brush and floss religiously. As if that weren't enough, I told them about all the gum surgeries that my siblings and friends have undergone due to gum decay during braces. Never underestimate the fear factor! William asked me, "so they did it wrong back in the old days?" I had to say yes - there is so much we didn't know, so many things that should have been done or done better. I didn't get braces but I got years of antibiotics for acne - a procedure that seems dubious in the extreme now that I suffer from many gut-related problems.

So we learn, and we do better. As with braces and acne and teen angst in general, and hopefully with the larger issues as well.