Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Man on the Corner

"See the lonely man there on the corner,
What he's waiting for, I don't know,
But he waits everyday now.
He's just waiting for something to show."
- Genesis, Man on the Corner, Phil Collins, songwriter

"The blind man sleeps in the doorway, his home
If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy I could have won."
- Mumford & Sons, I Gave You All, Marcus Mumford, songwriter

He held a sign that read "Vietnam Vet needs a miracle." My kids saw him as we approached the turn to I 25 and yelled excitedly, "Mom, there's a signwaver! Stop, Mom, stop!" I checked my rearview mirror as I slowed, then checked to make sure the turn signal stayed on red. Window rolled down, I beckoned to the man, and held out the paper bag with socks, tuna fish and crackers, as well as a bottle of water. He hustled over to the car and said, "Thank you, ma'am. God bless." Then he surveyed the colorful drawings on the paper bag and chuckled, "I like the artwork, too."

After returning his "God bless" we moved ahead with the rest of the traffic, flowing smoothly on to whatever comfortable destination awaited that day. I was amazed at the delight of my children in giving out our "Just Care" bag, and full of my own pleasure and relief at being able to do something to help the people who wait on the freeway ramps and offramps. Before our church started preparing these Just Care bags for congregants to keep in their cars I had nothing to offer the people on the corner, and would just roll by in my hermetically sealed vehicle fielding questions from the kids as to why anyone would stand there all day. My good friend came up with the idea to coordinate the assembly and donation of these bags at our church, and it has revolutionized our approach to I 25, the freeway which runs fairly close to our house.

There is a light rail station at our exit from I25, and I remember how people complained and worried about the light rail because they feared the visitation of homeless folk from "the city" (Denver, in our case) to our restful and removed suburb. I don't know how the men on the corners get down here, they could be from our suburb for all I know, but in this economy their incidence has certainly increased. Their presence did make me feel uncomfortable when I had nothing to offer, but I feel prepared now, and being able to offer something, no matter how small, and interact with the toothless, dirty, and charming man on the corner has made him feel more like a neighbor and less like an intruder.

Call me naive, call me simplistic. I know I am not solving any big problems by handing out the bags, but I am solving two problems: his and mine. And we are teaching the children something valuable: that if we have a purpose bigger than our apathy we can triumph over small evils and injustices. We can turn invaders into neighbors, we can nurture our own compassion and understanding, and we can make someone's life just a little bit easier. We can show up - and that is not a small thing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Live Strong

"Where did you get those?" piped my five-year-old to a Cub Scout mama waiting with us to pick up her boys. She looked down at the two Live Strong bracelets on her left wrist, where his little index finger was directed. "I got them at the Children's Hospital," she replied, "when my little boy had cancer. That was six years ago and I have never taken them off. I never will, until maybe he gets his cure card in two years."

I immediately caught my breath, though Daniel was unfazed. "Oh," he said. "I been to that hospital," and he turned away to dance back and forth between the hot sun and the shade under the registration awning. I turned to the woman and mentioned that we knew Children's Hospital a little bit from Daniel's surgeries, agreeing with her that it was a wonderful place. As the sun set behind the mountains, we continued to wait for a Scout leader to retrieve our boys from their stations, and she told me her story.

Six years ago her little boy was exactly two years old (his birthday was the day we met), and he had a brain tumor. He was very sick, and the small town where they lived at the time had no resources to deal with the cancer. On his birthday, doctors estimated he had eight hours to live, and they prepared a life flight to get him to The Children's Hospital in Denver. Unfortunately, she was nine months pregnant with their second child, and the pilot would not take off with someone in her advanced stages of pregnancy. The woman said to me, "She took one look at me and said no."

So they took an ambulance all the way to the Hospital, a five-hour drive when they thought he had only eight hours to live. She said, "we thought he was going to die." But they made it to their destination, where doctors recognized the situation and acted immediately to save the boy. On that warm Friday evening he and his little brother were playing at camp with my son; it was a miracle, she said. I was so grateful that my sunglasses hid my weepy eyes; I could only nod in agreement.

I can't imagine living through that ambulance ride, or the time immediately thereafter. Can't imagine waiting eight years for a cure card, with the slim possibility of recurrence in the back of my mind the entire time. I can imagine - and am so grateful for - miracles. I am so grateful for health, for the kids, and for people who share their stories of love and triumph.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


A mentally challenged robin built its nest in the open window of my bedroom several weeks ago. Needless to say, we cannot bear to shut the window and consign the nest to bitter ruin, so the window has remained open - day and night - for the duration of the eggs' incubation and hatching. Last night the temperature dropped to 45 degrees and our room was a bit blustery, yet the nest stayed intact. My husband reassured me that the incubation-to-flight period would last only 14 or so days, and then we could have our window (and our room temperature) back. Amused that he had gone to the trouble to research the robin's nesting habits, I started to ponder the different emotions and reasons that motivate our behavior.

The robin, who may be a few eggs short of a carton (both figuratively and literally) was motivated by biology, as well as our window's height, apparent steadiness, and shelter under the roof. My husband and I are motivated by our concern for the baby robins and for the regard of our children, who would undoubtedly be shocked and dismayed if we let the nest come to any harm. The children themselves are motivated by a sense of caring for small, helpless animals like the birds and the tiny bunnies that overrun our lawn, cutely devouring every item in our garden. This sense of caring does not extend, of course, to a sibling who might happen to be smaller or helpless at any given moment.

Other motivations are harder to pin down. What motivates my daughter to sign up for Ninja Camp and to agree to carpool with kind people that she does not really know in order to get to the final Ninja session in the mountains? Her desire to go up one belt in karate is pulling her two brothers and several friends into Sensei's orbit this summer. I don't quite understand her motivation, but I do know that it is intrinsic, completely unrelated to anything that I would have picked for her. And that makes it good, because it is her choice and her passion. I don't need to understand it, only support it.

My boys' passions change and swirl like the Icee machine at Target, everchanging, uncertain, out of order from time to time. I hope that their passions begin to gel as they grow, as their sister's interests seem to be solidifying. Just as I (sometimes impatiently) stand guard over the nest in my window, so I feel protective and cautious of my kids' motivations and passions. Summer is a great time to branch out, try new things, and practice uncertain skills. Rob and I may have a lot longer than two weeks before our babies fly away, but someday, somehow they will.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Never Say Never

"Never Say Never" by Justin Bieber plays on a never-ending loop at our house. Our five-year-old adores the song and the singer (whom he never fails to call Justin 'Biever') and knows that Jaden Smith sings with JB as well as the fact that Bieber's girlfriend is Selena Gomez. He asks for my finished copies of People Magazine so he can look for photos of the Bieb. (I have not given into this latest request yet, as it seems over the top even for our house). Daniel even taught our babysitter all of the words to the song, and watched scenes from the movie on his computer. So it comes as no surprise that the summer craze at my house is for karate - since a love for all things Bieber led us to view "The Karate Kid II" on netflix.

My daughter takes karate at her school, and this week she's attending a Ninja Camp run by the Sensei who teaches her class. She loves karate and Ninja camp and it's been great for her confidence. When I asked why she wanted to start taking karate she told me it was to "fight the ghosts in her closet." Now that the ghosts have been vanquished she seems to sleep better - and she has an undying drive to attain the next level and the next color belt. Currently she has an orange belt with one stripe, and she wants to move up to green before the end of summer.

Her enthusiasm, in combination with unending repetitions of Never Say Never, have inspired both my sons to want to try karate. It looks like all three of my kiddos will be in the gym this summer, learning some moves and hopefully some discipline. One of the things I (and the other karate moms) like best about the class is the respect Sensei demands from his students, the quiet and the focus that the children can demonstrate when necessary, and the attention that is required. Having been a mom for ten years, I don't automatically assume that these traits will translate to home behavior, but a girl can hope. After all, Jaden Smith certainly learned how to hang up his jacket in KK II! I need every edge I can get to carry us safely through the crazy long summer days. Never say never, people.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Inspiration and Mettle

I opened the note, which had a picture of three kittens on the cover, and read the following, "My mother lost her fight with breast cancer on January 8, 2011 - these (medals) were hers." Instantly blinded and choked by tears I just handed the note to my son, who was helping me unwrap medals from countless boxes. We sat on the porch for an hour yesterday, awash in admiration and gratitude for the countless donors across western states - New Mexico, Portland, Washington, Idaho, Colorado - who donated their marathon, half-marathon, and triathlon medals to the organization Medals 4 Mettle ( I have the privilege of being a volunteer coordinator for M4M in Denver, and I am amazed at the opportunities I have to both receive and to give medals.

Motivated to fill the time now that we are on summer vacation, I tackled my bedroom corner where all the medals are stored. I needed to open and polish the medals, take off the old ribbons, put on the new M4M ribbon (which costs $4.00, and requires donations, see and package the ribbon with a card in order to take it to The Children's Hospital next week. The medals are re-gifted to anyone who is struggling with illness, or who has recently completed a milestone like finishing chemotherapy.

The process usually inspires me, but yesterday was overwhelming. I received a note from a gentleman suffering from Addison's disease. He writes, "I have Addison's disease and was told not to expect to accomplish much and that my life would not get much better. I have proved the 'experts' wrong and accomplished so many things in my life. I am thankful for all that I have been able to do. I hope these medals will transfer hope, smiles and laughs to those that receive them!" With the note he enclosed multiple marathon and 50-mile race medals. I had to hand the note to my son and daughter to read because once again I was too choked up to read it out loud.

I have been struggling with knee pain recently in my own marathon training and wondering how on earth I am going to get past the 13-mile barrier which has always stopped me before. In one of the boxes yesterday I received a medal from the Chicago Marathon of 2007. I take it as a sign, as this is the marathon I intend to complete. I hope the owner does not mind if I borrow it just through October, before passing it on to a much more deserving candidate. Inspired by the efforts and generosity of countless runners I know I will find a way to win my own Chicago marathon medal - and then feel great pleasure in passing it along.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Last Day of School

"I'm a little sad about school ending," said my daughter yesterday. "It's been such a good year, and I love my teachers. I am excited for summer, too, so I guess I am just a little mixed up. I realize that it's just going to happen, though, whether I like it or not. It's just going to happen." Wise words from a graduating fourth-grader who tends toward emotion and drama when facing life changes - not unlike her mama. I did not have much to add to her comments, other than to assure her that summer would be lots of fun and would undoubtedly go fast.

I am grateful that the children have mixed feelings about the end of school, because I know they have learned so much from their teachers and friends this year. They have felt safe and encouraged and had fun - even has they struggled with normal ups and downs of social intrigue, difficult tests, focus (that would be my son), and the constant pace of life.

I feel much the same; grateful that old tasks and lessons are over to make way for swim team and baseball / Tball, karate camp and playdates at the park. Also slightly panicked at the loss of my workout routines, free time, and tendency of the children to fight like javelinas over the breakfast table, which always gets the day off to a rousing start. But it's coming, regardless of my emotions. In fact, the last day is upon us.

I thank my children's teachers for a great year, and I thank all teachers everywhere for the hard work and emotional energy they put into their calling. I'll say a prayer of gratitude for the completion of this year and a prayer for help in the transitional weeks ahead. Welcome to summer!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Exercise - selfish obsession or healthy habit?

“ I also don’t understand the attitude that who you are on the inside is all that matters. Obviously our interior landscape is profoundly important, but we are integrated beings; we don’t have to make a choice between interior and exterior. One has a lot to do with the other.” Patti Davis in More Magazine, May 30, 2011.

Matthew 6:25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?"

My life has been always a bit defined by physical achievement but recently even more so as the pendulum swings from habit to obsession with training for our October marathon. My conscience was pricked when I randomly heard Matthew 6:25 twice in two days and the line 'do not worry about your body' leapt out at me. I had not heard the word 'body' emphasized that way before. I think the author means that we should not worry about our clothing, but the literal warning made me ponder a bit. Do I concern myself with conditioning and fitness beyond what is necessary for good health, thereby robbing my children or my other pursuits of attention and energy?

Oddly, also, there was an article in the Denver Post that same morning about an ultramarathoner who had been crazily pursuing goals and records across the country. He still trains and runs but says he has calmed down a bit, and that he would warn folks to watch their exercising if they feel that they HAVE TO work out, or are obsessing. Balance in everything, of couse. Which led me to think again about my pursuit of athletic fitness and achievement – is it too much?

Have I gone too far? With the running, swimming, triathlon (only one this summer, but still) and strength training? I actually think it is possible, yes. I think I need to relax about it – stay away from the gym this summer – and enjoy myself more while prioritizing the absence of injury. On the other hand, bringing some intensity and risk to my workouts reminds me how much I can achieve – should achieve – in other areas of my life. Prayer, meditation, Spanish, volunteering, WRITING. If I could pursue these things with the dedication with which I pursue running, stretching, swimming, then I could get much farther than I have done.

I was telling my friend during our long run on Saturday (lots of time to talk on a ten-mile run) that I finally feel it would be possible to keep the athletics AND bring intensity to other areas of my life . . .something I have not been able to do in ten years, since Aden was born. I have worked out (with or without intensity, depending on the stage, number of children, health, etc.) but I have never had enough energy to do childrearing / parenting, training, AND . . . I am REALLY looking forward to continuing this training, but to maintaining / bringing about greater balance in my life by focusing that same intensity in other areas. Athletics are now, as they have always been, more a metaphor for real life than actual real life . . . they have teaching power as metaphor and value for shaping our exterior landscape. As long as I maintain the interior with equal dedication, I can face my training routine without too much guilt.