Monday, August 22, 2016

United in one diversity

United in one diversity we are even stronger. - Thomas Bach, IOC President

Last night I watched the closing of the 2016 Olympic Games. It was one of many days that I sat in front of the TV, watching a cross section of the world population participating together in 'games'. Throughout this Olympics, it seemed to me that the media was catching moments of caring and supporting, of reaching out and embracing.  There was no difference in color. There was no language barrier. There was a unity among the athletes who knew what it is to struggle, to succeed. Who knew what it was to need support. Who knew what it was to win and to fail.

When the refugees came into the stadium that opening night and a universal cry erupted from athlete and the crowd (and those of us at home).  It was cry that said we are in unity. We stand up against hate. We embrace those who are in pain and lost. There was not only a sense of country. There was a sense of world.

There were problems and mistakes in Rio. There was scandal. But that is not the story here. For me, it it a story of the heart. The Today Show took us into the hills and poor community talking about the lives of these people living in extreme poverty. Not a new story. The same is true for many of these places where tourists play and poverty sits on the sidelines looking on. Many of the athletes came from extremely poor areas and many without a home or family. We can celebrate victory but must not forget those who suffer. Everyone needs a nation of support. A nation of people who care.

I thought often of Clayton Murphy coming from the small rural area where I grew up. Immersed in a world he did not know. Standing among seasoned veterans who understood the pull of the excitement of the Games and the lure of this new atmosphere of celebration. I think perhaps that we fail to realize what participating in the games means to those who come from outlying areas. Being caught up in a whirlwind. Being tossed into a sea of humanity....a human sea so different from that they know.

I grew up in a white community. There were no other colors living in our pale community until I was a senior in high school. Part of the reason I left the area where I grew up was to experience the world outside. Having questioned so much in my life, I needed to find my own answers. We moved to Wisconsin where I was an outsider. Not only did you need to be pale, you needed to be a native, born and raised in the frigid state. We moved to Oregon, and I finally found what I had hoped existed. A place where I could truly learn about the world. We came at a time when things were changing here. A state that had been mostly white was changing its colors. I was surrounded by a population of all races, all religious beliefs and a celebration of all people, surrounded by a sea of variety. My granddaughters' friends were black and Hispanic. My son's best college friend was from India. My friends were different shades of lovely. I learned about God from those who knew him differently and by different names. I learned to have a deeper faith and a much clearer understanding of people. I was in that sea of humanity no better, no different.

I thought of Clayton entering that door into that new world. A black hand in white. A language barrier not separating but initiating a new language of kindness. An athlete giving up a chance of a medal not thinking of herself but reaching out to help a fellow runner. A sea of athletes entering an arena not separated by county. They entered in unity. No barriers. No hate. They left with new understanding.The Olympics are over, but new avenues of hope, of acceptance will continue. Hopefully, for us all.

 United in one diversity we are even stronger. - Thomas Bach, IOC President

Sunday, July 10, 2016

I am the light

Today I am posting the same post on both of my blogs. This is for you.

The gulls call overhead as I sit watching the blue Pacific kiss the sandy shores. The immensity of it, the roar, the wind, the smells fill my heart with longing and love. It calls to me from a primitive place that I have yet to discover. It takes me to a place I have no words for and leaves me there with every sense alive.

I was a teenager when I first saw the Atlantic Ocean. I was the only one of the Loxley girls to travel alone with our parents. It was dark by the time were arrived at the ocean's side in Pompano Beach, Florida. Dad took my hand and lead me to the water. I was afraid. The roar sounded like a giant monster coming at us from the unknown. I wanted to leave, but Dad made me stay to listen. I could not comprehend the vastness that I could not see. I could only feel the depths of it in my heart.

We grow and learn. We learn to face fears and to overcome anxiety. We learn to understand monsters in the night. We learn to listen with our hearts. We learn and grow if we are wise.

Dad taught me to love beach combing. Of course, that beach was in Michigan on Lake Hamlin. This is where I discovered what would be my favorite fishing pole washed upon the shore. Driftwood, rocks, a feather or maybe dead fish crossed our path. He taught me to be surprised and awed. He taught me to be curious. In Florida, he showed me a new beach. Shells I had never seen before. Sand that whispered when my feet skimmed the glistening surface. Waves that the giant ocean cast around my feet.

The world is full of rumblings, revenge, guns, hate, most of all fear. A roaring body in the night. A darkness that falls completely. I was taught to look beyond that roar for what is beautiful and am still surprised and awed by what I find. I have learned that looking for good in all allows more good to flow in all directions. Beautiful pearls of hope that wash upon my heart. I would never pick up a weapon or write about hate. It is not my belief and would only feed the darkness that already prevails.

I sit upon the shore. The gulls call to me looking for a scrap of bread. The ocean calls to me asking me to keep it safe and clean. The earth beneath my feet cries for love among all with hate dissipating as each wave retreats. I stand in the night before a roaring ocean and say, "I will not be darkness. I will be a light."

Monday, July 4, 2016

Grandparent baby steps

The little bundle wiggled in my arms. A newborn. Instant Grammyhood. Picking up where I left off when her mother was a baby. Well, not so much. Let's back up here.

I don't know about you, but for me, becoming a caretaker of a new addition to our family was not as easy as falling off a log. It was exactly like falling off a log. Sure I loved holding that new bundle. My heart was overflowing. That immediate overflow that silences the trepidation that waits beneath. (Jaws theme here)

When my first child came into our lives, I was lost. I never babysat. I wasn't even sure I liked little kids! This newcomer was an alien who came to invade our quiet, adult household. Since this little one is impossibly inept at everything, I had to learn the ropes....more times than not, the hard way. She was our test drive. Two rather reasonable adults thrown into chaos and totally oblivious as to this thing called parenting. All of the thrill of having a child dissolved into panic and shock. Random crying, sleeping too soundly, spitting up, poopy diapers! I was sure she was out to get us.

Well, we managed to pull up our bootstraps, courage and survival skills enough to welcome a second child. Both children survived their parents and grew into reasonably normal adults. Adults who foolishly decided to follow in our footsteps.

Since my daughter and husband fell into the childcare oblivion previously experienced by prior generations, everyone looked to the grandma for help. Didn't they know? Didn't they realize that this child brought back those feeling of inadequacy?

Something happens when we become parents and grandparents, its called trial and error. I knew the mistakes I had made with my babies. My children were born to a family who lived away from extended family. We had no one to rely on, to answer our questions, to give us a break. So when this beautiful little girl was born, I understood that I had to suck it up and be a Grammy.

I learned to fake it acting as though I really knew what I was doing. Things had changed since my daughter was born 25 years before. Confidence became the mask I wore. Sitting with a crying mommy, crying baby and frustrated daddy taught me to put on my 'calm' personae. My performance as a seasoned mother and grandmother should have earned me an Oscar. I was fantastic.

Since then, I have gained three more grandchildren. The twins have in themselves brought on another level of experience. It is not easy to be a grandparent. We stand on the outside and watch the drama unfold, trying hard to let the parents make their own mistakes while wanting the best for all. We play until the kids are worn out. We read books with our failing eyesight. We play on the floor with aching knees and backs. We encourage manners to the point that we want to toss Miss Manners out the door. We try to see the world from a child's point of view, always in tune with their needs. We are the shadow in the room. We are the ones depended on to babysit, comfort the sick child, feed the pets, water the plants, the comforting hand and the listening ear. We are the grandparents.

I write with honesty so must make a confession here. Sometimes I don't want to do the things that I am asked to do....or even offer to do. I go home exhausted. Sometimes I agree when I am not so sure that I do agree. Many times I swallow my pride and my words in order to avoid conflict. Sometimes I am hurt and work through it on my own. Often I feel on the outside of my family's lives. I do not believe in self-pity, but I need to allow myself to feel. Sometimes I feel used. Sometimes I feel sad.

Parenting on all levels is a difficult thing. Each phase of our lives presents a new set of rules. Life evolves and changes. If we do not do the same, we lose. In this growing and learning, I have been self taught. I choose positive over negative. I choose to advance rather than retreat. I choose to be active instead of pathetic.

Yes, the journey is hard. And a big YES, the journey is fraught is things like love, hugs, kisses, successes, laughter, sweet moments cherished each and every day of my life.

My days as a Grammy and a MeMe are ever evolving. My days as a parent have changed. The babysteps I took in the beginning have continued with each change in my family dynamic and each change in these people I love. There is no rating of me as either a parent or grandparent. I have done the best I could do. Failures have been followed by successes. Doubts set aside by forgiveness. The loss of older family members has made me view life in a different way. I cannot pass on what I have learned to my children. They must learn for themselves. I cannot make the way easier, but I can be their support.  I know the preciousness of each moment I have with my family and friends.

Life is a lovely journey. A journey of baby steps.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Let there be peace

Let there be peace on earth with every person loving, not judging, not hating.  Let every man, woman and child strive for understanding. Let cruel words dissolve and positive thoughts prevail.  Let there be peace.

Let creativity flow from every person. Let them find joy in the gifts they possess. Let them dwell on ways to build together creating a universal canvas celebrating all humanity. Let us all raise voices full of hope and joy. Let there be beauty.

Let us embrace this earth that provides life. Let us work together to save trees that provide for every living creature. Let us protect and love each creature that wants life as much we do. Let us tend their roots as we must do our own. Let there be action.

Let us embrace our differences, the uniqueness we each possess. For in that embracing we experience the love of God. Let all cruelty, bigotry, bullying, oppression fade into oblivion. Let there be hope.

Let the sun shine on a world where unity and cooperation prevail. Let us all choose love over hate. Acceptance over judgement. Where color, religion, sexual preference, origin and circumstance of birth are accepted by all. Let there be joy.

Dear God, let us be what you created us to be. Let there be love.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Lest we forget

Meet Haruka Weiser. Many of you have already seen this beautiful face in the newspaper or on television. Haruka was brutally murdered on the University of Texas campus on April 3.

Sydney, my granddaughter, called to ask if I would go to her tennis match after school. Well, what's a grandma to do. Of course, I would be there. Little did I know at the time what story would unravel.

"Grammy, we just received a message on our phones from the school that someone from our school died in Texas." Sydney and her friend Emily are students at ACMA but play tennis at one of the larger schools. The girls sat huddled with their phones trying to discover the name of the student. Finally..."Grammy, we think it is Haruka. She graduated last year and went to Texas." We didn't know for sure at that time, but the next morning the news would be confirmed.

ACMA (Arts and Communications Magnet Academy) is part of our public school system along with other magnet schools: Health and Sciences, International School, Rachel Carson Environmental Sciences, School of Science and Technology. Sydney started ACMA in the 6th grade. The schools have small student bodies. The teacher/student ratio is fantastic and the kids know one another. All ages working together in their arts and looking to college. A small student body with a like purpose.

Sydney is a Senior next year. Haruka graduated last year. Syd was one of those kids who dreamed to dance like her. Gone too soon. It is hard to know what to say to her. Having worked with kids for twelve years, you would think I had a handle on it but not so. Her hurt was mine as well. I was hurtled back into the past when I was a freshman, I believe. A cheerleader had died. Three of us had gone to the funeral home. Teens mourning teens. Something I will never forget. I knew what Sydney was feeling.

I know there was crime and violence when I was growing up. Some of it was covered up by families. Some was never reported. For women, there was a terrible shame and more than likely she would be blamed. We had silent children in our classrooms that no one asked or wanted to know how they lived. Now we hear about it almost as soon as it happens. As for Sydney and her friend, there was no time to prepare them. A message on the phone.

We become more protective of our kids when things like this happen. I know this will influence many students' college decisions. It affects the amount of freedom we comfortably give our children. It makes the gut tighten when they walk out the door.

So what can we do? We need to be vigilant. We need to be sure that our children know about safety and what to do in an emergency. Wise parents check the to see if any registered child predators live in the area, because registered or not, they are there. Be sure that your children do not pass on their names or where they live to strangers. Warn our teenagers to never walk alone at night. If they leave a destination, make sure they call home to tell you. Be aware of who your children are talking with online and on their phones. Responsibility comes with those devices. We know what is out there. Our children do not. We must be vigilant.

For me, bringing Haruka's story to light is an important step in helping Sydney heal. A gift to the arts was stolen. A daughter was lost. A young woman torn from the hearts of her friends. I pray that along with you, we can do more to save the children. Thank you for listening.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Coloring outside the lines

The envelope said MeMe on the front. "What's this?" I asked the twins. Nolan informed me that it was my mail. "You can look at it," he said. "I will help."

Being a parent or grandparent is full of surprises. I used to feel sorry for those who never had children. Or those who had grown children who did not have children of their own. I was wrong. I was terribly wrong. Opportunity knocks.

Did you notice? There are children everywhere. They lurk in the neighborhoods. They reside with family members. Churches are full of them. They are everywhere. Opportunity. The world is full of it.

We all, each of us, have a chance to make a difference in a child's life. Young parents need help in getting their children from one place to another. Someone to watch the little ones. Someone who cares. Children need to have people around them who can nurture them, care about them. I grew up in such a place. The homes of my family members always welcomed me. My Aunt Welma and Aunt Kate made a difference in that little girl who loved being with them. The church women and men were familiar faces and people who paid attention to each of the kids at Painter Creek. Most of all, the neighbors loved me and never failed to show that love. None of these people were my parents, yet they made an impact on my life. I them with all my heart. I hope to some degree, I impacted theirs as well.

When I worked with teens throughout the 80's, I didn't want to be their parent. I wanted to be a safe place where they could go to talk. Someone who would not judge. A bit friend. A bit parent. A bit counselor. Contrary to what many think, teenagers are the easiest age. They are intelligent, looking for answers, trying their wings. They love to be treated as an equal. So many of them felt alone. They just wanted to be recognized and heard.

You do not need children of your own to receive the blessings that loving a child can bring. They are a gift to the world. We can look for children who need help. Children around the world are hungry, have no family, have no home. Children are abused. The number of foster children is outrageous. Thousands of young girls are lured or stolen into trafficking and a life of pure hell. You need not be a parent to give a parent's love. To stand up for children who have no voice or hope.

Nolan looked on as I opened the envelope. Tiny pieces of paper peppered the table. A scribble from a three year old hand covered each piece. A big piece of pink paper had scribbles from the same hand. Next came a page from a coloring book. Again, the black and white picture was covered with sweet swirls. It occurred to me that we don't need to live within the lines. We don't need to be a parent to make a picture worth saving.

I placed the envelope back where I found it. "I will make you more mail," Nolan said. Oh, sweet boy, I look forward to it.

I dedicate this column to my sister June who taught me to color outside the lines and who brought pure joy into our lives when she adopted Jobi. Thanks, Sis.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Personal lives of other people

gossip: (first definition listed) per Merriam Webster Dictionary
Simple Definition of gossip: information about the behavior and personal lives of other people

Downton Abbey. Name of a PBS program produced by the BBC. A long running series that has taken viewers through the lives of the Grantham family. The narrator of the special took the audience through the halls of Downton Abbey explaining the culture of the family before the advent of television. When visiting was a way to pass the time and gossip the focus of most conversations. News was most often passed from home to home in the same way.

As I watched the documentary, I was awakened to something I already knew but had never given it much thought. Now that it was planted in my fairly active brain, I had to deal with it. Ï explained the show to June and this awakening that had taken place. "Remember when we played the telephone game?" she said. Of course, I remembered. I also remember how the messages were completely changed by the time they made it around the circle of kids whispering one to another. Aha!

Gossip. My mother had a lively imagination and often a simple story turned into a very different version of itself. It was not something the daughters appreciated and often caused problems. Loved her dearly, but life with Mom was an adventure. Learning to tell things accurately and not to judge others came from living in that territory of storytelling.

Our phone was on a party line. Occasionally, someone would pick up the phone at another house and listen in on the conversation of two other people. It was not just a party line. It was a hot line to the neighborhood. A hot line for gossip.

This whole thing got me to thinking about how gossip often appeals to a dark side that we all possess. A part of us who want to see someone get their just rewards. News that justifies what we think of someone else. That chance to say, "You know what I heard?" Yep, that two minutes of fame.

The problem is that gossip is not only shared with others, but picked up on as a norm for children. In working with the school district for 12 years, I saw first hand what gossip can do. The permanent damage it causes. Prejudices brought to school from home.

What is it that causes someone to feel joy in tearing someone else down or that desire to be the center of attention passing on 'the news'? The trend began so long ago that it seems impossible to think that it can end. TV, computers and cell phones certainly made this all easier. We no longer need to pass on the news. And, I find that I can take all negative messages off of my computer or phone if someone posts something unkind. Yes, gossip continues.

You never know when a new story will niggle in your brain. Mine was niggled in Downton Abbey.