With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Viva Water Polo

Hola from Albuquerque, where mariachi music filters through the chlorinated air and the cement bleachers make chiropractors smile.  Aden and William have a break between water polo games and so rested in our hotel room to watch “Rush Hour” with Jackie Chan.  Just a normal family vacation, complete with putt – putting and in-fighting. The older kids each have their own hotel room with teammates, but Mom and Dad are still home away from home.

This tournament fascinates the kids because there are nine Masters’ teams here from all over the west, as well as a team from southern California and a full complement of teams from Juarez, Mexico. The Juarez head coach looks like he played water polo for an Eastern bloc country (if that were not so outdated) and his players are super tough, and not above a dirty trick or two in the water. The kids have been angry and frustrated by turns but they have learned a great deal.


It’s fun to experience the Spanish flavor with the language floating around the pool deck, music playing on cell phones and laptops, and the cheers of “Afuera!” and “Juarez” penetrating the close air. In the hotel I was greeted more with “Buenos dias” than “hello.” Just chalk it up to another learning experience for all of us, more miles on the road and in the pool, another Monday looming ahead with all of us back on our heels, but with good new memories.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Laser Pointers and Politics

In previous blogs I have indicated the joys of using a laser pointer with a cat. Not ON the cat, as we remind our youngest, but on the floor in front of Rex, inviting him to scrabble his paws and wrinkle his face in perpetual confusion. He never actually catches the red dot, and eventually we feel guilty and give up the laser for a tennis ball in a sock.  It's fun while it lasts, though.

Last week Daniel forgot to keep the laser on the floor and it flashed on the glass TV cupboard and rebounded onto the cat's flank. For a moment it looked like a sharpshooter had Rex in his sights, and one of the kids pointed this out. "Someone's after Rex!" they called, which panicked Daniel. We finally reassured him that no snipers were hiding in the kitchen. 

His concern about guns lingered into dinner that night. After his nightly rehearsal of Schoolhouse Rock's "Great American Melting Pot," which the third grade is prepping for a performance, he put a hand on his heart and said, "If I was running for president, I would abolish guns and have everyone build homes for the poor people." The speech was doubly impressive because Rob had actually worked on a Habitat for Humanity site that day and Daniel was wearing a white hard hat with "Dravenstott" written across the front. 

The moment was not to be left on such a sweet and conclusive note. Aden pointed out that the right to bear arms is safeguarded by the constitution and Daniel's presidential platform would generate a great deal of flak from the NRA and other parties. Since he didn't understand the word "flak" and I served dessert in a timely fashion, we avoided a congressional-style shouting match, and preserved the familial peace for at least one more night. It's amazing where things can go from a laser pointer!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cat Sagas, continued

The cat has ringworm. Rather, the vet suspects he has ringworm but has to culture the hair follicles for 7 – 14 days before she can tell us definitively. In the meantime we have to wash his face twice daily with antibacterial / antifungal wipes and repeatedly wash our hands, although “if we haven’t caught it by now it’s likely we won’t .”  Cue repeated checking for itchy red circles on the children’s skin.

Aden and I were more traumatized by the scolding we received for the cat’s behavior than by his diagnosis. The cat had quite an attitude at the vet, baring his teeth, hissing and trying to bite when his face was inspected and his nails cut. Dr. Y raised her eyebrows at the length of Rex’s nails and lectured us on the need to trim them every two weeks. I decided to be an attentive, studious pet owner rather than stomping my foot and responding defensively that we weren’t told about the nail-trimming routine. While the vet showed us how to ease into the four-paw process, Aden edged closer to me and looked up at me for reassurance. I couldn’t tell if she were worried about the vet or the thought that I would go Rambo on being lectured and storm out with pet and daughter in tow.


On the drive home, while Rex miaowed piteously from his carrier until his voice went hoarse, Aden confessed her relief that at least we didn’t do “everything” wrong. My confidence returned as I reflected on the fact that I’ve kept three kids alive and well for thirteen years so surely I can master a cat. After he was sprung from his cage in the safety of the living room, he sat staring at us with his mouth open, an amazement so profound that all we could do was laugh. The laughter alone makes him worth it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

You Are About Life

"Before a unitive encounter with God or creation, almost all people will substitute the part for the whole and take their little part far too seriously—both in its greatness and in its badness. But after any true God experience, you know that you are a part of a much bigger whole. Life is not about you; you are about life. You are an instance of a universal and even eternal pattern. Life is living itself in you. It is an earthquake in the brain, a hurricane in the heart, a Copernican revolution of the mind, and a monumental shift in consciousness. "
- Richard Rohr, Adapted from Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation, pp. 60-61;

Providence dropped this email in my box yesterday morning, and it lifted a weight off my shoulders. As Rohr says, I tend to 'take my little part far too seriously,' and in most cases this leads to guilt and feelings of unworthiness. I feel a 'lightness of being' when I stop and feel life move through me rather than dive inside my head to think about all the ways in which I measure up or fail to do so. Life moves through me when the kids and I fall down laughing over the cat chasing a laser pointer, or when one of my new swimmers comes up to me at church to introduce me to her father ("this is my swim coach, dad"). The same spirit flows when a detainee hands me a poem for his homework assignment, describing a lone wolf howling in the time of the full moon. It's joyous to participate in the intricate dance of all things, to feel a part of life and to reach out for the whole instead of circling around and focusing on, my one small piece.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Poop on the Floor

Regarding the exodus and re-entry of dorm B-1 which disrupted my class at the detention center; I discovered after class that the team was pulled out and reprimanded for the high incidence of pooping on the shower floors. The news was delivered sotto voce despite the fact that we were the only two people in the cavernous locked room, as if volume would lend momentum to the scatological crisis. The agent of the news took my silence for shock, and assured me that "it happened more than you would think."

I was not shocked at the news. I had a number of things run through my mind in rapid succession: the story of an 11-year-old boy who pooped in his pants every day when a difficult transition happened. The boy had never been potty-trained due to a difficult first four years in which he was shuttled between his birth mother (who relinquished her rights) and adoptive family. The adoptive family was naturally at their wit's end, but the boy's response came from fear and trauma, not from manipulation (from the book From Fear to Love by B. Bryan Post).

I thought of children who withhold bowel movements and became chronically constipated. It's one of the few aspects of their lives where they have power. And I thought of pets who get angry at their owners- for vacations, long work hours, etc. My college roommate recently told us about her former cat, who got so angry at the long working hours of the family that she peed all over the house, even on the car keys!

So what came to my mind when I heard the news was control, as in, the detainees don't have any. These are grown men who largely came to the US for work to support their families, and they are stuck in a situation where they have no voice, and no affect on their future. Our immigration system has made it so they're reduced to the act of small children to make their anger known. Their humiliation has to take a backseat to their natural anger and fear at being completely out of control. I hate nothing more than being out of control; it scares me and the fear makes me angry. If I had no other outlet I might poop on the shower floor, too.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Threads in the Chaos

Exhausted, exhilarated, full of sugar. I'm not at a post-race celebration, but experiencing the aftermath of my trip to CostCo. The trip through the frozen foods section was particularly hazardous today as young mommies in workout tights shouldered against retirees making sudden leaps toward the kale. When people ask me what I'm training for these days my reply, "for CostCo" is deadly serious. Loading, unloading and putting away outrageous amounts of food is not a task for the fainthearted.

I do enjoy making some sense of the chaos and I'm basking now in the flow of a semi-cleared kitchen. Shining threads of order and meaning are hard to find in the chaos of this early week. For example, I returned to volunteer teaching of ESL at the Aurora Detention Center yesterday, and 60 men attended my first lesson. My eyes widened as I watched them file in, looking at the floor, the ceiling, and the tables - anywhere but my face. They are usually more nervous than I, though yesterday was a close contest.

Our class was interrupted by a town hall meeting in one of the dorms. B - 1 had to file out shortly after I distributed the stories, "The Thief and the Dog" or "El ladron y el perro." Discussion was stalled while twenty men left and our reading disturbed as they returned. A boisterous game of handball in the courtyard outside made it difficult for anyone to hear and the large number of students made personal instruction nearly impossible. At the end, as I shrugged my shoulders at the recreation specialist, she smiled and told me about a young man in B - 1. He had left to attend the meeting with his story in hand, and had studiously underlined all the unknown English words. He then made a list on his note paper and when he returned to class, he cornered her and asked to know the definition of each word.  A shining thread in the chaos.

It happened again last night after a hectic two-hour coaching stint with my new team. Many of the kids were new - like me - and we splashed, kicked, bubbled and silly-dove our way through the hours of introduction. I hardly knew which end was up on the drive home, and relied on Aden to keep me awake. When I said good-night shortly thereafter, she whispered in the dark, "you're the best Mom ever."  Confused, I asked why. "Because you're my swim coach."

A shining thread in the chaos. Sometimes it's all we need.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sedaris on Family

I tore myself away from the kitten and the laser pointer to come do my homework, but find myself here in the blogosphere - via the kitchen table - instead. Despite the chocolate in my hand and cat on my lap, I'm not procrastinating, but planning to delve further into my assignment. For our unit on creative non-fiction I was tasked with reading David Sedaris' essay, "Repeat After Me," and not only does his writing turn my head but particular passages on family dynamics resonate in my post-lunch gut.

The essay is set at the home of Sedaris' oldest sister, Lisa, who has enjoyed a series of careers after surprisingly dropping out of college. He writes:

"As children, we'd been assigned certain roles - leader, bum, troublemaker, slut - titles that effectively told us who we were. Since Lisa was the oldest, smartest and bossiest, it was assumed that she would shoot to the top of her field, earning a master's degree in manipulation and eventually taking over a medium-sized country. We'd always known her as an authority figure, and while we took a certain joy in watching her fall, it was disorienting to see her with so little confidence."  ("Repeat After Me," David Sedaris, reprinted in Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction)

Ouch. As the oldest, not - so - smartest but definitely bossiest member of my family, and one who recently had a huge crash in the health / status / prestige department, this passage rang my bell.  I'm pretty sure that the roles in my family don't include bum or slut, and I don't know if my four siblings took any joy in my downfall, but I did see their dis-orientation when I was around, and Sedaris' insight helps explain a certain level of discomfort (both on my part and theirs) that extends to the present day. Here's another sentence that echoes our subconscious worry on the subject, "If the oldest wasn't who she was supposed to be, then what did it mean for the rest of us?"

I don't think I am who I was "supposed to be," and I haven't taken a poll but I doubt that either my high school classmates or my siblings projected my current position as stay-at-home mom of three and swim instructor / writing student. It doesn't matter as long as each of us feels content with our situation, but any attempt to rework the powerful settings of childhood creates discomfort for all concerned. As Sedaris said "having him (me) around forces her to think about things she'd rather not, which is essentially what family members do, at least the family members my sister and I know." Genius. He ends with a poignant tribute to his sister and how much he loves her, so I'll do the same. I love all of you bums, trouble-makers and smart-alecs, and even if we're uneasily wrestling with identity for the rest of our lives I'm glad we're on the same squad.