Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Thursday, September 29, 2011


"Who are you?" I froze in the process of completing my homework - what a deceptively simple question. It stared at me from the page and drove a little needle of irritation and angst right between my eyes. This was undoubtedly my punishment for skipping the chapter I was supposed to read for my spiritual formation class and moving directly to the questions at the back. "Who am I?" I briefly asked myself, before writing a standard version of my cocktail-party self-definition: 'I am a wife and mother, daughter and sister. I am a student and an athlete and a writer.' The second sentence has been standard for twenty or so years (though sometimes I have left off the 'writer' tag due to lack of confidence, and added teacher, consultant, PR exec, etc. as appropriate). The first sentence has obviously been expanded over the past twelve or so years, but feels routine now.

Done, I thought, and realized that I actually had time to go back and do the reading. The assignment for last week was Henri Nouwen's Spiritual Direction, and it contains a treasure trove of new thoughts and directions to pursue. As I read I was stopped short by Nouwen's suggested answer to "Who are you?" He writes, "You are the Beloved." If you are a Christian you could add "... of Christ" or anyone could add "of God," or "of the Universe," but the basic message is that you and I are . . .beloved. That is enough, simply and completely. Nouwen suggests taking that on as a new self -definition.

Sister Mary Colleen echoed that line at our retreat last weekend. She suggested that we all had trouble conceiving of ourselves as 'beloveds' of anything. With a twinkle in her eye, she helped us envision a cocktail party setting where - when inevitably asked, "What do you do? What profession are you in?" we answer "Oh, I am the beloved of God, forgiven and embraced." She wondered what would happen next.

I put this situation to two friends last weekend and we had a good laugh over it.We variously envisioned people backing away in terror, whispering to friends that we are narcissistic and in need of psychiatric help, or calling for our keys as they noted that we had had FAR too much wine. One friend said, "If I ever said that at a cocktail party I WOULD have had way too much wine!" I agree, in part, though I really want to own that statement, and I grin everytime I think of using that as a public response to the inevitable labeling questions.

One more sentence for thought: when I discussed the whole "beloved" idea with my spiritual director last week he noted that while the reading had made a large impact on him, too, the biggest zinger was this thought: "You are the beloved, but so too is everyone else."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Family Flu

Bodies were strewn across the upper hallway, sails of sheets caught wind on the clothesline, and the one healthy member of our family cautiously picked her way around prone figures to find the stairway. A scene from "Contagion"? No, only one memory of the great Dravenstott Flu Pandemic of 2011. Four out of the five of us went down with high fever, chills, and stomach upset on Friday night, and all four were still home recovering on Monday.

I would never recommend being sick at the same time as your husband and children, though in some cases it cannot be controlled. I was still the main caregiver, though Rob did help with drug store runs and laundry, and the chip on my shoulder was so large I could hardly stand up. I had all three kids in my room on Friday night (even the healthy one!) and was up every hour on the hour to escort someone to the bathroom. Saturday was a repeat, as Rob slept in the office again, except that my fever was so bad I awoke to dripping clothes which made the bathroom trip a cold and hazy journey each time I was summoned there by my bad-tempered son.

Daniel hated being sick, and his disgust and anger and frustration equaled mine. Five am on Saturday: he was on the toilet, shouting with anger and pain while I sat on the tub facing him. I stage-whispered something extremely unsympathetic and angry in return. Not a Florence Nightengale moment. Sunday morning was an even lower point for me: I announced to my husband that I would never recover on such little sleep and that I would probably "just die." I kept threatening to go live in the basement or find a hotel, too, though I could not summon the energy to actually make my escape.

A few scenes, though, already make me laugh: the Saturday afternoon where Daniel and I fell asleep in the upper hallway, traumatizing my daughter as she attempted to move down the stairs. Sitting on the porch Saturday afternoon, all four of us staring at the birds in the yard and attempting to choke down more Gatorade or flat soda, when the mailman came to the door with an oversized delivery. Normally, one of the kids runs to get the package but as we all sat and stared dully I explained, "we are all really sick." The mailman's eyes widened, he placed the mail on the ground, and retreated as quickly as he could. "Thanks for letting me know!" he hollered on his way out.

On Sunday night we were partially recovered but still went to bed early. My daughter pleaded with my husband and I to stay up just a while so that she could read and not be the last person standing. "I am lonely!" she told us, tired of being the only functioning individual in the household. "I don't want to be the only one awake!" We couldn't help her much as our exhaustion rendered us useless . . .we left the light burning for five more minutes and then hollered down the hallway, "lights out!" It felt like lights out for the Dravenstotts for about forty-eight hours last weekend, but thanks to the miracle of time - and Ibuprofen - we're back among the living again.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Painful to Watch

It’s painful beyond words to witness your child’s pain. My daughter had some playground trauma in the first few weeks of fifth grade, and her nighttime tears and angst were gut-wrenching to witness. I struggled to listen, not to talk over her with advice and my own experiences. I also wrestled with how to help her, whom to tell and where to get good advice. The situation seems resolved, at least temporarily, through the efforts of my child herself, but the pain of those two weeks wrote indelibly on my psyche as well as the psyche of my ten-year-old girl.

I would not rob my children of all difficulties and painful experiences, but I am sorely tempted to sandpaper the rough edges. Standing by and loving them while they suffer, while not leaping in to save the day, may be the hardest thing I have ever done. Give me a problem to solve, a mountain to climb, miles to run, and I will tackle it gladly, but ask me to stand witness to pain, offer mute comfort, live patiently with an unresolved situation, and you ask me to walk through one of Dante’s infamous infernos. As I prayed over my daughter’s issue last week I thought of all that is to come, all that my parents had to witness: broken hearts, unrequited love, cliques and exclusion, rejection, failure. I remember my Dad’s stark words when I agonized over my infant daughter’s four months of bad colic: “it only gets harder from here.”

Despite those harsh (and true) words, I am blessed by the example of love and support that my parents offered to me and my four siblings. They did not solve our problems for us (with five kids there was no time for that!) but they always asked, listened, and cared. They hurt over our troubles even now. Though they have seven grandkids, we are still their babies. Even though I have entered my fifth decade, I continue to feel this love and support. In fact, one of my most vivid memories of Dad’s pain at my pain happened in the last ten years, at the birth of my now fifth-grade daughter.

I was lying in a hospital bed, wrung out and exhausted by the labor of giving birth to my daughter. My parents hovered in the doorway of the hospital room, torn between respecting my privacy and wanting to witness the miracle of the birth of their first grandchild. After my daughter was born, my nurse/midwife had trouble getting my bleeding to stop. Nurse Jan saw the blood and yelled for medication; there was none in the room. My father turned pale as Nurse Jan’s voice rose in repeated demands, and he dashed down the hall looking for someone to help. He did not know what medication to request, or even how to describe the situation. Someone asked him, “Is the baby OK?” and he said “No.” When he told me the story later (I was oblivious to it all at the time) he admitted that when the nurses asked about the baby he thought only of me – his baby. My baby was fine, but his was not.

I heard that story and wept. I wept from the hormones, from exhaustion, from the blessing of his great love for me, and from the new fount of love that erupted in my heart when my daughter was born. I wept also for the new possibilities of pain, the incipient terror at any danger or loss affecting my child. My life became doubly precious because she needed me, and her life was already a treasure beyond measure. We are all tangled up in the glorious mess of loving each other, and learning to accept life’s painful lessons for ourselves and our kiddos seems like a small price to pay.