Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Thursday, December 24, 2015

May the Merry Force Be Christmas With You

Six Star Wars movies in the past four days, enough John Williams music and light saber battles that I responded “May the Force be with you” to the cashier who wished me a “Merry Christmas.”

Of course we had to watch the three original films prior to viewing The Force Awakens in the theater on Sunday afternoon.  Loved the new episode (VII), even dragged the kids to the theater an hour early to “stand in line.” Very little line materialized (blame it on the Broncos game) but Rob and I enjoyed telling stories of our childhood when lines for episode IV stretched around theater buildings.  Remember when Darth Vader was new and very few of us caught on to the vader / father reference (until episode V, at least)?

We’re trying hard to keep a lid on spoilers for the new movie now that we’re reunited with the Clavadetscher cousins - who haven’t seen it yet. Watching the Empire Strikes Back with their crew last night inspired many witty zingers about brother-sister crushes and uncle most likely to be voted Chewbacca.  (John does a mean Chewie howl).

The light side of the Force is dominating our Christmas at the moment despite ice and snow and William’s winter cough.  The boys went sledding and came home frost-bit and crusty, ears full of our tales of the childhood sledding hill. Aunt Karen crafted the baked sweet potatoes and Nana put soup on while Carol and I walked our prospective turkeys off, and Papa held down the fort in his easy chair. The kids are playing “Star Wars” in the basement now, and I’m signing off to put my computer in cold storage for a while.  May the merry force be Christmas with you.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Family Photos

Pinning Christmas - photo - cards to our 6' long, quilted pine tree brings me satisfaction. You don't see folks folding up and mailing out their resumes (though some Christmas letters resemble one); they carefully choose and print the best or most humorous pictures of their loved ones to provide a snapshot of their lives. A quick update in a glance at how the children or grandchildren grew, how the parents aged (or got mysteriously younger), where families vacationed over the past year - magic. I save them all, and refer to them if we get a rare visit from old friends whose children's names escape us.

We bought a gift certificate to a photography studio at our church auction last spring, looking to update the dated black-and-white photo of several years ago that predated both my illness and the kids' growth spurts. We paid well for the 8 x 10s and 5x7s that we bought from the studio and had to pass on their Christmas card offer due to holiday budget restrictions. The Christmas card photo ended up a hastily snapped arrangement on the altar at church, with Aden muttering "Can we get off now?!"

In the new photo, our teeth are too white, wrinkles have disappeared from mine and Rob's faces, all are acne free, and yet - I'll take the magical realism. It's not representative of 99.9 % of our daily life, but it's a moment that was true, however briefly. After several years when scheduling and arranging a family photo were as out of reach to me as a visit to the moon, I appreciate this one.

I also appreciate the photos of friends who show the lead-up to the "good" picture - the shots where one child screams or one vanishes entirely one while Mom frowns a mass of wrinkles and lectures. Those are real, too, and more representative of family life. There's a time to 'make it work' and there's a time to cherish the high points. To my mind, all are good.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Mary Did You Know?

Watching Jordan Smith sing "Mary Did You Know?" on The Voice. (Amazing kid). I was struck by these lyrics:

"Did you know,
that your Baby (Boy) has walked where angels trod?When you kiss your little Baby, you kiss the face of God?"

And I thought, that's true for all of us. Did I know?
Do I still?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Most Powerful Woman

Parenting has been on my mind. If you followed the two previous blog entries you'll know that I am still digesting the November issue of The Sun ( The articles, poems, and stories focus on parenting and offer thought-provoking insights. Lots of tidbits on mothering, like this gem from Jennifer Senior in her interview with Mark Leviton: "A woman who stays home used to be called a 'housewife' or 'homemaker.' Now she is a 'stay-at-home mom'. The emphasis has changed from the place to the person. Keeping the home is no longer the focus of an American mother's life. Kids are." (in Great Expectations: Jennifer Senior on Modern Parenthood and its Discontents),

Moms know this, of course, but to have the linguistic proof set me back a step. Our focus on our kids - their well-being, success, and happiness - has become the standard of our lives. No wonder most of us are slightly crazy; you can't ensure the path of another person's life.  I grasped at Natalia Ginzburg's advice to 'step away' from the kids and 'provide space' for their life to develop as if the phrases were life preservers and I was a floater in the Black Sea. Both Ginzburg and Senior argue that the best way to show a child how to develop a passion and find a vocation is to have one ourselves. Blessed be.

While making these mental adjustments, I opened the new issue of National Geographic, which has the Virgin Mary on the cover with this caption: "The Most Powerful Woman in the World". (  No pressure, ladies. If this is the standard we have to live up to, no wonder we find motherhood stressful. Dads are lucky that Jesus didn't develop a similar studly reputation for fatherhood. Joseph is great, but not quite cover photo material.

I found this quote from poet Adrienne Rich to be more analogous to my experience as a parent: "The worker can unionize, go out on strike; mothers are divided from each other in homes, tied to their children by compassionate bonds; our wildcat strikes have most often taken the form of physical or mental breakdown."  In this crazy month of to-do lists on steroids, let's remember to reach out to one another, to give ourselves and our kids some space, and to put down the exaggerated role models. We're just doing the best we can, and that has to be enough.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

More on the "Little Virtues"

In the wake of yet another horrifying tragedy, glimpses of yet more parents' deep pain, I can only think to gather the ones I love around me and hold them close. I keep returning to Natalia Ginzburg's words in The Little Virtues: "We must remember above all in the education of our children is that their love of life should never weaken."  Above all, a strong love of life. What if all children grew up into adults who loved life?

Ginzburg also talks about the parent and teacher habit of teaching "little virtues," which she lists as thrift, caution, shrewdness, and a desire for success. She writes, "We do not bother to teach the great virtues, though we love them and want our children to have them, But we nourish the hope that they will spontaneously appear in their consciousness someday in the future."  Great virtues: generosity, courage, love of truth, self-denial.

How does anyone teach the great virtues? I can only think it's by example. My father taught generosity by giving deeply to the church, courage by volunteering to fight in Vietnam. My mother taught self-denial by placing us first her entire life. I wonder, what am I teaching my children?

In the same issue of The Sun (The Sun) where I found Ginzburg's essay, I found another excellent piece entitled "Great Expectations: Jennifer Senior on Modern Parenthood and its Discontents." I'll have more from this amazing interview in future posts, but wanted to leave with this quote that relates to the great and small virtues:

"You might feel nachas when your kid gets into Harvard, but you'd feel it even more so, I think, if your kid stood up to a bully, or for a principle, or did a good deed. Personally, I'd be prouder of that behavior. If your kid gets into Harvard, sure, it's worth celebrating, - but if your kid is the one who tells the asshole to stop picking on the gay kid, you've done something even more right." (issue 479, p. 6).

Love of life, great virtues. And we carry on.