Monday, November 30, 2009

Please Don't Worry

"Grammy, if anything happens to Mommy and Daddy will you take care of us," Syd asked. We were watching ' Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events’.

"You never need to worry about being alone. You will always have a home with me or Uncle, but nothing will happen. Please don't worry."

"Are there really children out there like that who don't know where they will live?"

Ouch, how do you explain war, poverty, abandonment, death? I remember crying worried about similar things when I was small asking, "Will you die some day? Who will take care of me?" Every child wonders and silently worries.

We often drove past the children's home on our way to Aunt Alma's house. I remember wondering why no one would want the children. I didn't realize then that my great grandmother and great grandfather had been superintendents of the home. What a difficult task trying to give children hope in a parentless life. I wish I could ask Grandmother Angelina how she did it? How did she tuck the children into bed and dry tears without losing her heart? Did the children keep in touch when they were grown? What happened to the children who were angry and would not accept help? So many questions, so many.

My two granddaughters will never hurt for lack of loving arms to embrace them. A divorce has been difficult for them. Fears are a little closer to the surface, insecurity hides in the shadows. I do what I can to keep them strong and to empower them. Is it enough?

"Bless the beast and the children for in this world they have no voice, they have no choice." The song echoes in my mind so many times. We are the voice for the children. Perhaps we are the hope for the future in the hope we give them.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Out of the Box

"How many ornaments do you have?! Do you think you have enough?" My son lifted one more box from the attic. Yes, I do have a few boxes and bags of Christmas decorations. I've had 62 years to accumulate the treasures in these boxes.

My children long ago retrieved their ornaments. Now my tree is adorned only with my own. I have a couple of clothespin Rudolph’s and a couple of babies in walnut shells. Photos of my children adorn several with one still bearing my ex's face. Dough ornaments are lopsided and primitive but then so were the little hands that created them. My oldest sister painted many for me when I was first married. My artsy sis yearly creates wonderful, personally designed ornaments. I have ornaments Grandma Margaret, our neighbor on the farm, made by cross stitch.

There are those needlepoint ornaments I toiled over when my hands did not hurt. And those precious few I have from Mom and Dad. More ornaments were added when my kids began buying for me, each ornament a precious memory.

Yes, I have boxes of ornaments and decorations. Just as I did as a child, my granddaughters will unpack them then ‘ooooh and aaaaaah’. I will tell them the story behind each decoration, or they will tell me what they remember from past years. Each ornament will be hung with loving care. Unlike years ago when the girls were smaller, these ornaments will actually spread around and up the tree instead of one small section near the bottom where little hands could reach.

Once in awhile a precious ornament breaks just like we do. Some are lost but never forgotten. I look at my tree and see my parents, my siblings, my neighbors, my children. I cherish the memories, old and new.

Dad no longer lifts me up to place the angel or star at the top of the tree. I no longer place the cast metal figures on the mirror pretending to be a frozen pond. Still in my mind, I see skaters dancing across a pond with fake snow in drifts around the side. I am home once more.

One by one, the memories come out of the box. One by one they live again.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Christmas Carol

"God bless us every one." Dickens had a way with words.

With a mother's pride, I sat in row E seat 24 watching my son perform once more on stage. Before I saw him, I could hear his voice in the chorus singing the intro carol. Smiling like a Cheshire cat, my heart warmed. Ah, yes. I was very proud.

The clock chimed. The ghosts came to visit Scrooge, the old crumudgeon. As his life was revealed before him, he felt remorse and loss. Visions of the small boy abandoned of his father's love, then the young man in love and finally the man falling out of love with his beautiful Belle and into love with the sound of money all took Scrooge back in time.

I felt Scrooge's loss of time. Dickens understood that we cannot go back. We can only strive to understand what was before in order to change what happens now. He knew that unless you understood where you had come from, you could not clearly see where you needed to go.

The clock chimes once more and the ghost of Christmas Present arrives. Again, Scrooge stands outside of life watching a life he is missing. He sees for the first time the joy of loving and the fear of losing. For once he realizes that he has done nothing to add to the lives of others. He is but a shadow passing through life.

The theatre resonates with the thunderous roar of the third apparition. A dark shadow foretells Scrooge of his future. A dead child, a family in mourning, a cold hole in the ground hold a body that was cold even in life. "Can I change these things," Scrooge asks. I feel for this old Scrooge. I feel for all of us. What can we do to change the shadows of the future? What have I done?

I was touched by this Christmas Carol that has accompanied me these many years. My thoughts went to Dickens impressed by the tremendous depth of understanding this man committed to paper. I felt the pain of those I know who are ill. I felt the sadness of those who have lost loved ones. I felt the need to change myself, and perhaps a little bit of the world.

Last year was the first that my son had performed in this yearly Christmas production. To be invited to perform is an honor as this is one of the outstanding theatres on the west coast. The show was different this year. Changes had been made including roles that were cut. James was fortunate to return once more the PCS stage.

I noticed a change in his performance. A new depth. Maybe it was the new love that has entered his life. Maybe the changes in our family in this last year have changed him as well. I was a proud mother, but more than that, I was pleased for this awareness that had captured my son.

I was changed last night. I was changed by the face of grouchy old man discovering his heart, by the message that Dickens tells so well, but most of all, by baritone voice that touched an audience and found new depth.

In the wake of a wonderful performance, I say: "God bless us every one."

Friday, November 27, 2009

I Hope You Dance

As a child I spent my days dancing. I loved to feel the music, the emotion it evoked and to let my body mindlessly drift and float. The playroom became my dance studio.

Last week I started playing Christmas music. The girls love hearing the music feeding that holiday excitement already building. "Do you girls dance at home." Both looked at me as if I'd spoken in a foreign language. "Don't you ever just put on your music and dance?" Again, blank looks. "We're going to dance today."

With straight arms and legs, the girls lacked grace and feeling as we began this lesson in dancing. The girls decided that we would each sit in a separate corner of the living room moving to the middle each time a new carol began. Gabby started first then was joined by Syd and me. A pattern developed, and soon we were practicing a dance program for Christmas Day.

"Let's try something different," I said. "Each will take a turn dancing alone. I want you to feel the music when you dance. Don't think about it. Feel it."

Gabby's blank face told me that her dancing full of energy and wild motion was not going to change. She was already uninhibited. I danced across the room feeling the same passion I felt when my young limbs melded with the music. Syd began her dancing with stiff limbs conscious of her movement. With encouragement and direction, she began dancing with music in her limbs flowing into a new awareness of herself.

I am willing humiliated myself on Christmas Day, because it is what I should do for my granddaughter. There is bond I have with these girls. It comes from them learning from me, me learning from them. We discover new dialogue, new experiences together.

"Grammy, I wish we didn't have TV and technology," Syd said. "I like it when we talk and do things together." She wows me with her understanding. “Me, too, Honey.”

As my granddaughters go through their lives, I hope they dance. I hope you do, too.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Blessings

Thank you for sharing the journey of my blog. I am grateful to have you join me. May your day be full of wonderful memories, loved ones and new beginnings.

Many blessings be yours today,

Pam

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Tribe of Small People

With my identity tag around my neck, I made my way to the cafeteria. Gabby came running down the hall, "I lost my lunch bag." We walked to the office. No lunch bag. We went to the lost and found. No lunch bag. We looked in the gym. No lunch bag. We were off to a great start.

"Don't worry. I'll buy your lunch today," I said as she took my hand determined to keep me on track. Trays were taken. Pizza, peas, peaches and salad were our choices. Gabby explained all of it as we moved along the line despite the fact that I'd been to lunch with her many times before. We sat with the other kids. Those who knew me stopped by for a hug. She proudly introduced me to new friends. A few of the boys I'd seen before shyly looked at me and said 'hi'. As usually happened in the elementary school cafeteria, one annoying child takes over conversation. I'm thrilled when quiet time is called.

While she goes to recess, I peek in on my eldest grandchild. Her teacher asks if I would like to listen to them read a play. Syd smiles when she sees me and delights that I have stopped in. It is good thing.

Gabby and I stand in line waiting to go back to the classroom for her special program. I am by far the biggest kid in line. The children are excited seeing all of the parents waiting. They stand wiggling and nervous reading their scripts while parents snap pictures and gather memories.

I had a Thanksgiving feast yesterday. I didn't sit with pilgrims, but I was with a tribe of delightful children ready to create a new world.

I am thankful for family, for good friends, for a world given to me in which I have an opportunity to make changes for the better. I have come to a new world at each age that has greeted me. I will learn from the natives, even if it means sitting at a small table surrounded by those who smell like children, who ask if I'm Gabby's grandma and who run and play just as I did once long ago.

I am blessed. Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Little Diplomat

"Grammy, I have to tell you something." Gabby's words couldn't escape lips fast enough. "Mommy said that you can't come to my play, but I asked the teacher, and she said you could come. Mommy won't believe me, but I will tell her to call my teacher. So you come, Grammy." Whew, kids talk fast.

Evidently I had been uninvited to the play that the 2nd graders were performing since Mommy and Daddy are now both able to make the performance.

"Mommy thought three people would be too many if everyone in the class brought three. But our room is big. You can come."

What a thrill for a grandparent to know that a grandchild wants you to be there even if it means asking the teacher. I understand my daughter's thinking. I would like her to think a bit more about my feelings, but that is the way of it. I was no different back when my children were young? What blinders kept me from looking beyond my tunnel vision?

I remember being a single mother strapped for money and time. My children seemed to get only what was leftover of a working mother. I can hardly remember their days in school and wonder how much I missed. After so many years of unhappy, I wanted happy. It was not an easy life.

After a deep dip into depression, I picked myself up and decided that I needed to change. I wanted a change for my children, a change in a small family. If one of them wanted to play, we played. If there was an event, we picked and went. I found energy and a new life in my children. My ex said to me after my metamorphous, "You've changed. I don't like you this way." I promptly informed him that he didn't like me the other way either, but I liked the new, improved me.

We rush through life grabbing what we can of career, wealth, possessions. We look for someone who will like us better than we like ourselves. We want that classic castle and Prince Charming. Well, folks, there are no Prince Charmings only men searching for happiness just like us. We hope they can accept us with our many flaws and believe we can eradicate theirs. (Just kidding.)

Today I will sit in a classroom watching Gabby do her part in "Stone Soup" and "Stellaluna". She will look at me and smile knowing she managed to get me into her performance. She will smile knowing the special relationship we share and the pride I have in her.

Gabby managed to smuggle her grammy into her show, but more than that, she learned to be a diplomat.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Its Puzzling

Out comes the table, a place for the children to sit. Once the meal was over, the eating table was transformed into a puzzle table. Not everyone in the family puzzled. Dad would once in awhile would place a few pieces, Mom puttered in the kitchen or crocheted most of the day conversing with the puzzlers. Cousin Betty, my sisters and I would be glued to our seats puzzling.

Puzzles are addictive, especially if you are the addictee. (I wonder if that's a word?) Working together to complete a picture was only part of this puzzle ritual. We spent time together. I was much younger than the rest yet was treated as an equal. I joined in adult conversations or just listened learning what it was to be an adult. I grew up on puzzles.

Now we learn that our memory improves with puzzling. Not puzzling considering the fact that you sit for hours determined to locate a piece of puzzle either by shape or by color. We aren't easily deterred refusing to relinquish power to 1000 pieces of challenge a puzzle presents. I have no idea if my memory is better, since I don't have any idea what it would be like if I didn't do puzzles. Hm. Are you still with me?

A few weeks ago my granddaughter brought with her a puzzle that she had received from her grandpa last Christmas. 1000 pieces of Labrador retrievers standing in a grassy marsh. 1000 pieces of grass and black dogs. My thought was that she should have taken it to her grandpa to complete since he bought a puzzle that was entirely too difficult for this child. Each time Sydney walked through the door, "How are you doing on the puzzle, Grammy?" Argh! Determined not to back down from this broken up picture, not to allow my granddaughter to think her grandma is a failure, I finished the puzzle marveling at what I had accomplished alone.

Last night my future daughter-in-law and I sat before a new puzzle. Her family lays the puzzle pieces out differently than my family. They stack the pieces around the side instead of laying them out so each piece if visible. Not one to rock the boat, I pretend to look for pieces and spread out the pieces on her side as I look. Ah, sneaky and kind at the same time.

This is a puzzling blog. Most people look to skiing and winter fun when fall comes on. I look forward to staying inside with a puzzle on the table and justifying the time I sit at that table as memory building exercising.

Tomorrow the girls will walk through the door, maybe look at the finished puzzle and once more the pieces will go back into the box. My memory may not be better, but my determination is impressive.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

MOG

MOG. Mother of the Groom. I'm late writing today because I was shopping for a dress for my son's wedding. Mother of the Groom. One would think a woman could walk into a store, walk up to the rack and find the dress that calls out her name. I looked. I listened. Nothing called. Not even a whisper.

It was easier finding mushrooms in the spring compared to finding a frock for the wedding. Evidently, fewer women are wearing long dresses or MOBs and MOGs are supposed to be weighted down by beads and fabric. I try to find excitement in the adventure. I love to shop. I love wearing pretty dresses. Still looking for the excitement.

Maybe it has something to do with this woman recognizing that she is indeed aging. When my daughter was married in 1996, I was skinny and bright eyed. Life has been more difficult since, and for some silly reason, I got older. Maybe I need to change the way I look at dressing. Maybe I should hit the 'old' women clothing section. Maybe I'm ready for polyester and frump.

In my head, I'm still the same young woman I have been my entire life. Yes, my body type is different. My face has changed. My feet are even longer while my body is shorter. Yet, I am the same inside.

My son found a dress for me online, and it has been ordered. The fit is a questionable and compatibility with my face is still open to opinion, and I haven't even received it yet.

I'm not unhappy with my looks. Or am I? Am I accepting this aging thing that is happening to me? Do I see myself in real time or in 'once upon a time'? I don't think I can change my taste in clothing. For me, the most important thing is that: #1 My body is covered. #2 I feel comfortable in the dress.

I now have two dresses. Well, not really. Next week I will receive the ordered dress, and yesterday I picked up another dress (not liking it so much). A style show will follow for the bride's approval once gown #1 has landed. A decision will be made.

Ah, this marrying off a son is complicated. Had I been smart, I would have stayed the same size that I was for Stacey's wedding and already have a dress.

I plan to enjoy this wedding even if I am in my jammies. After all, it's not about me. Just feels that way right now.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

25 Days of Christmas

"Merry Christmas." Stacey handed the handmade ornament to the cashier behind the cash register at McDonalds. The woman tentatively took the ornament then began to cry. "For me?"

The idea had hatched in my busy brain. I could make small cross stitch ornaments with the kids' help. We could then take turns handing them out the first 25 days of December. So I sewed; they glued. Day by day, the pile grew. Anticipation grew as well.

One by one, the ornaments were given to a wide variety of people who were part of our daily lives. I gave one to the lady at the drive thru window at the bank. It hung in that window for years. Teachers, family, friends, a variety of people received these precious ornaments. But the best experiences were those we received giving ornaments to strangers. A passerby on the street, a clerk in the store, the list went on and on for 25 days. As the giving continued, new experiences were gained. It is a gift to the giver to experience the smiles, the recognition, the sometimes tears that accompanied the receiving.

"I work two jobs trying to feed my children and go to school so I can improve our lives. No one ever gives anything to me." As the woman's tears fell, the three of us truly realized the meaning of Christmas. For a few seconds in time, we made a difference.

"So, do you want to do what your mommy and uncle did when they were little? We can give out ornaments the 25 days of December leading up to Christmas?" Gabby wanted to hand them out immediately. Sydney wanted to make them. My hands no longer sew, and we don't have time to make them this year. Syd asked if we could do it every year. Ah, a good sign. They were hooked. A new generation is all set to make their small contribution to change a world.

We will go to the store and pick out our 25 ornaments. Hopefully, we can find a box of sweet, durable tokens representing a memory from strangers. Perhaps next years, the girls can take up the sewing where their grandma left off.

The look on a strangers face, a child, an adult, a shut in, a policeman, it doesn't matter. All are touched by this idea of giving to strangers. The children are changed by unforeseen feelings they discover when handing a small gift to someone new. Their eyes meet and for a second they connect. Hearts are warmed, and you can never go back to the person you were before.

No names exchanged. No expectations of gratitude. Only the giving.....and receiving.

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Squirrel"

Weeks ago I ordered the DVDs. Waiting, waiting. "Are they here, yet?" My friend, Paulette was as anxious as my granddaughters. Then one day as my son-in-law pulled out of the driveway, I opened the mailbox to find them. Sydney looked out the window as I smiled and raised them in victory.

I grew up watching "Wizard of Oz" and over the years had probably watched a dozen times. One of my favorites was evidently a favorite of my oldest granddaughter. She wanted to watch it. No longer was the DVD carried in the stores. So finally I went to Amazon ordering the "new and improved" 70th anniversary version of the movie. And, for a few dollars more, I could get the movie "Up". We were in for good times.

Paulette and I had seen "Up" when it came out and loved it. The movie was so beautiful. A story for all ages. My granddaughters and I had gone to the theatre to watch it together. Tears were in our eyes and new dialogue on our lips. Now Paulette and I were taking the video to share with our friend, Tari, who is bedridden with MS. Pizza and a movie. For about 90 minutes we are not in a nursing home surrounded by the smells and the sounds. For a brief moment in time, we shared the tenderness, delight and recognition this movie brings. Friends drawn closer by an old man and a boy. "Squirrel". (You can only understand this if you see the movie. And please do.)

She ran into the house, "Can we watch it!" Sydney had seen the movie, but this was a first time for Gabby. Once before when she was younger, she had been frightened of the characters that came to life. So now we snuggled up leaning on one another, watching Dorothy travel through the land of Oz. "Over the Rainbow" brought memories flooding back to me. For 70 years this movie continued to entertain and teach us that there is no place like home and those we love.

Those two videos I ordered weeks ago brought new memories and opportunities for sweeter relationships. The laughter of friends, the tangled arms and feet of grandchildren, an old man finding life still full of new adventure and a scarecrow with a new brain, a tin man with a new heart and a lion with a medal of courage, all parts of real life.

My adventures with my grandchildren take me to new discoveries about myself and with each experience, I gain courage, wisdom and a love deeper than I ever imagined.

Again and again I will go "….off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Life Lines

"On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to....." Gabby's soft hand reached up and touched my cheek. It was my turn to read. The three of us decided we would read in 'rounds' adding interpretation and helping Gabby with her reading skills. Just when you think everyone is focused on the ongoing task. A small hand reaches out. I looked at her smiling and said, "laugh lines."

My face is not yet lined with many creases or wrinkles, at least not until I smile. Thin rows of lines find their way across my cheek and evidently into the eyes of my granddaughter. Laugh lines don't bother me. I'm proud of them. What better way to get lines than by smiling. As a child hiding behind my mother's skirts, no one would have believed that someday my lines would come from smiling and not frowning. I would like to be remembered for my smile, my sense of humor and delight in life. I could never think of having them botoxed or sanded from my cheeks. They are the banner I wear representing the joy I have had in my life.

My eyes are another story. The spark that once resided there has dimmed with the loss of those I love. It happens. Our faces become the map of our histories. I've decided that I will take good care of myself so loss of twinkle does not happen to my family too soon.

Getting the girls ready for bed last night brought on, as usual, conversations that always lead to unforeseen dialogue. It was bath time. Bathroom time when I went home to visit the farm always consisted of a bathroom full of sisters. I decided that as the granddaughters grew up I would not hide behind closed doors. We visit with one another as we bathe, put on our 'make up' together and spend quality time being ourselves with no closed doors. The conversation about an aging body came on long ago. Sydney is changing at about the same rate as me. Fighting back embarrassment takes some bravery, but I want the girls to know that all ages are beautiful, are wonderful.

This old body of mine is lesson in life. Not just my life. The hand on my cheek lovingly touching the lines that are creeping up to my eyes holds a simple touch yet tells a story. We have an adventure ahead of us, these girls and me. It will not always be an easy one, but one I will share with them that they might find their journey ahead easier.

Mother had laugh lines. Wonderful, beautiful lines. She smiles at me each day from the picture on my kitchen counter. She winks, and I once more I am home.

Bring on the lines. I plan to laugh for all eternity.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

We Thee Wed

Driving through the rain did not dampen our spirits as we headed toward Seattle for my future daughter-in-law's last fitting and to look for this mother-of-the-groom's (MOG) dress. After exhausting the dress search in Portland, Seattle seemed the next best bet. What in the world ever happened to pretty dresses! Now all I can find are dresses loaded down with beads and fabric so stiff that I will be able to turn side to side without it moving. Racks and racks of dresses for mannequins not real people. I am not one to wear a tailored dress. I like a dress that is feminine and flows with movement. Flattering colors, comfort, a dress that reflects me. Maybe there is no such beast.

Looking back through my memory file, I find that we have been a family of a variety of gowns. Grandmother wore a simple gown that reflected the times, the country, her family. My mother wore blue velvet. She was a stylish woman carrying her favorite yellow roses. I wore a gown with bishop sleeves, seed pearls and lace.

My daughter wore a beautiful gown with a wide scalloped train that flowed out from the back. When she walked down the aisle, the scallops caught on the tall stanchions holding candles flickering behind glass covers. The sound of crashing stanchions and breaking glass lead to the next sound of people gasping, hands franticly reaching to grab the remaining candles. The bride did not catch on fire and the walk down the aisle continued.

Weddings. I think that over time we have wandered away from the simple beauty and meaning of the ritual. I remember Dad talking about the old tradition of 'belling the bride' or shivari. Sometimes the bride might be kidnapped by the groomsmen leaving the search to find her to the groom. Sometimes they sang noisily to the newlyweds or rang old cow bells and beat on pans.

Maybe weddings aren't just about the couple. Maybe they are about the blending of people. Perhaps the bride and groom are the tools to bring about a larger community of people reaching out to one another because of this of the relationships they have this pair. Guests shower gifts to show support and caring. They travel miles to be there. They sit on two sides of the church. Bride's 'people' on left; grooms on right. Then they blend in celebration at the reception.

In January I gain one more member to my family. Our family will have new experiences added to our lives by this lovely woman. Our world will be just a bit larger because of this blending of families. Maybe it doesn't matter what I wear to wedding. After all, who will look at the MOG?

Monday, November 16, 2009

What's in Your Genes?

Yesterday I got sidetracked with family pictures and old news clips. In looking through the pieces of family history, I found and old story I'd written when I was about seven. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. It's a book of pictures. And, not a bad book in its own primitive way.

Grandmother Loxley was a writer. Her poetry was as beautiful as the woman herself. In reading her words now, I wonder what she would write in this time of free expression. Through her words I learn more about this grandmother I never knew. I learn more about myself.

She was in the second grade. On her own, she wrote a book. The story tells of a little girl walking through a forest looking for her home. Her journey ends at a little house surrounded by flowers. Inside of the house lives Gabby. Her sister embraces her and takes her in. Miss Koga, Sydney’s teacher, liked the little book so much that she placed it on the bookshelf in their classroom so other students could check out the book. By the end of the year, the book was tattered and worn. It had spent little time on the shelf.

Sydney and I are now working on a book together. I am the sounding board for ideas and direction. She is the writer. Once again, she would like to see her book on the shelves of elementary schools. Perhaps one day her first book will also find its way.

Genes. How do we find what hides in our genes? What if lack of opportunity and encouragement fail to allow us to discover the gifts we hide inside? Genes. I encourage my grandchildren to have a variety of experiences. We paint, we read, we write, we draw. I teach them piano. They play sports and go to plays. We have acting classes and play school. We dress up and cook meals. We talk in the car observing all we see outside passing by and walk in the woods.

What's in your genes? Do you know? I believe that we are all part a wonderful energy each contributing to the whole. I believe that we all are part of God. Discovering the voice inside of each of us is necessary for a unified, peaceful universe. We are a doorway for our families. We can open the door.

What's in your genes? It is never too late to find out.

A Note

Susan, thank you for your comment. I posted info on your blog and hope that my readers will go to About.com and check out the wonderful information you have posted. Susan Adcox

Also, I ask my readers to forgive my brainless editing yesterday (well, not just yesterday). The writing started in the morning and ended final posting late in the day. Sometimes when I write, the blogs take on their own voice. When the words fall into place, I sometimes write so quickly that what resides in my head fails land the paper the way I see it in my brain. Even in editing, the brain fails to see that was written does not match what is supposed to be there. I apologize.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Foreign Soil

Police officers walked by in groups carrying machine guns, wearing protective gear. Amidst a sea of colors and languages, I sat waiting, staring at a world that had never touched me.

Phil and I had tried to work on a long distance relationship for over a year. He was a magazine editor in Washington, DC, and I handling public relations for a company in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Phil's mother had passed away in England. He asked if I would go help him settle his mother's home. So now here I sat in Heathrow Airport waiting for 'the tardy as usual' Phil to show up.

Flying to another country alone was a stretch for me. Customs, security checks, the true English language that I could only understand half of the time, came at me quickly, and, quickly, I tried to adapt. Heathrow was still reeling from a bomb scare a few days prior to my arrival so wall-to-wall security was in place. Guns. I hated guns yet they were there to protect me. Where the heck was Phil?

My intro into world travel started on rocky ground much like my relationship with Phil and his country of origin. But the true fact was that this was the country of my origin as well. This Loxley was at last returning to Nottingham and Sherwood Forest. I knew there would be no parades to welcome a Loxley back to the village, and I hoped no arrest warrants for distant relatives of the outlaw Robin. Surely in another time, I would have been part of the merry band of followers.

We drove on the wrong side of the road. Or maybe we in the US drove on the wrong side of the road. Street signs gave me a chuckle. The pubs were friendly and warm, the food fantastic. Nottingham was a long way from the machine guns that greeted me in London. We walked with a friend in the dingle (which at home was the creek bottom). Pictures of castles, villages, cathedrals and homes centuries old filled my camera.

I was 58-years-old before I managed to travel beyond the United States borders. My grandchildren live in a smaller world than I grew up in due to television, computers, modern technology. I needed to expand my world. How can I teach them how to fly beyond what they know if I don't do it myself? I saw machine guns for the first time. I sat in a pub where once knights drank a draft before heading off to the crusades. I discovered a culture that I thought was my own but was so different. I want the girls to expand their mind, to discover the world, to change the world for the better and not be afraid to meet the challenges and new adventures.

Phil and I never worked out, but for a short time I walked in Sherwood Forest and the streets of the once village where my ancestors walked. I walked through a door to the past and came back wiser for the present.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Books

Books, books, book. Yesterday I cleaned the house and moved my piles of books. Books from my childhood, books I've collected, books on nature, table top books, books I have yet to read, books I have read and cherish. Books.

When I as a child, no one sat and read with me yet the books that were my sisters and those given to me by my Aunt Alma were worn by the small hands that turned the pages over and over again. I loved the books.

There was a time when a book was read to my oldest granddaughter every night before bedtime. Then the second baby came. Book reading was more infrequent. Now the girls are older and reading on their own. Sydney loves to read like her grams and Gabby struggles. I do my best to encourage the girls to read. Reading with Gabby involves hugs and patience. I try to instill in them the excitement and wonder of the page.

Perhaps I was turned on to book on my own because I love the written word. My head is already full of words as you might have noticed. Perhaps the words are leftovers from past family writers embedded in my head. So many words. Sydney has a gift to write; Gabby has the imagination and humor I hope she learns to express. As their grandma, I am but a tool to guide.

Maybe some day I will write a book that someone else will move around their room when they clean or pass on to another reader or the bookstore. Who knows what appeals to someone else. I can only write from the mass of words and observations that in their own quirky way fall onto the paper.

When a teenager full of the anxieties that all teens face and a faith that a God watched over me, I wrote a long piece about my future. My mother gave it to my Aunt Alma, yes, the one who gave me books. She was impressed sending it on to the Gospel Messenger. They never printed the story yet her recognition of my 'talent', my perchance for writing, gave me inspiration and courage.

Books. Opening books opens minds. What better gift to give a child.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I Am Wallpaper

As the little girls sat in the hallway chatting about classmates, I stood at the door waiting for other drama students to arrive pretending not to hear the conversation behind me.

"They went back to his house and made out," said one of the girls. Well, that caught my attention. "When," asked another. By now a student could have walked in over the top of me, and I would not have noticed. "At lunch. His dad is a teacher at the high school."

Oh, I knew this wasn't a conversation I wanted to get into, but I could not pretend I had not heard these nine-year-olds. I sat down against the wall and asked where the parents of this boy lived. They lived one street over from the elementary school. Yes, this was in the 80's when restricted comings and goings were not in place. All I could think of was these two young children going off to make love in an empty house. At nine, I had maybe decided that dancing with a boy might be nice instead of yucky. This could be teenagers talking, but, no, these girls were fourth graders.

"Has anyone talked to her about birth control?" Jaws dropped open, and most definitely, I had their attention. "Wwwwhhhhat?" I was not an expert, but I was a mother a responsible adult. Now theatre kids talk about anything and everything. We learn to work together through communication and understanding of characters. Serious talks were not a surprise. I explained to the girls that this behavior was unacceptable, that little girls of a certain age and body development can get pregnant. Questions were asked. I listened. They listened in return. Class time was eaten up by curiosity and need for knowledge.

After class, I talked to their parents who were as shocked. These responsible people were grateful and given new dialogue to pursue with their girls. I knew one of them would contact the school.

Over the years, I learned a great deal just listening to my parents. No one paid attention to me, but I listened. We didn't talk about what I heard, because at the time no one thought I was thinking, I guess. Some things scared me, many things worried me and, once in a while, I got some pretty good info. As my children grew and in working with kids, I learned to be the wallpaper. Conversations happened and again as before, my presence wasn't acknowledged. But over time I learned that these kids wanted to be heard. I needed non-active in order for them to ask for help in their own way.

We need to be wallpaper. Opportunities surface and doors of communication open from the silence we offer.

I learned a lot that day sitting on the floor with these girls. I hope they learned something, too.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sit on the Floor

"She followed me through the store yelling at top of her lungs saying 'I hate you. You are the worse mother I've ever had'. The mother of Gabby's best friend shared her unpleasant experience. She had no idea how to handle her raging eight-year-old.

"Next time sit down in the aisle and take her into your arms," I said.

"In the store!? I couldn't just sit in the aisle in a store."

Sometimes we just need to be humble and show our children that we can drop everything for them. Maybe I'm just past the point of embarrassment. Maybe I just watch and listen more than I did with my own children.

"Grammy, can we hug the tree?" Sydney asked as we walked down the path at Sun River. She was four. On our walk down the path, we discovered all sorts of plants and bugs. She was closer to the ground so found more to look at and more reasons for our walk to get longer and longer. Conversation revolved around whatever popped into view. I was telling her that we need to take care of nature and love it. So, at her request, we hugged a tree. People passed by and stared. I informed them that we were hugging a tree. I'm sure her parents would have been embarrassed, but we were having a moment.

I will not hesitate to drop to the floor to hug a child out of control. I will not hesitate to dance in the street with my lovely granddaughters. I do not go to their level but to their understanding.

When I worked at the high school with kids at risk, many of them had been disappointed by parents who were too busy to attend their events. One boy I interviewed did drugs because his parents were never home. I dried tears and sat on the floor holding these children who didn't have parents...parents who were aware.

There are no rules for loving children. Sometimes holding a child on the floor gives you new insight into the towering world above them. Sometimes it opens doors to communication.

"Yep, sit on the floor and hug her. It's what she would do for you."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Addiction

My addiction started in 1972. For years I hid this compulsion from other parents. Every morning it called to me. I loved him for what he offered. My addiction: Jim Henson and the Muppets.

As I rocked my newborn baby daughter, the song "Sunny Day" filled the room with light and lightened the cloud of depression stemming from a move away from Ohio to Wisconsin and the homesickness that greeted me daily. "Sunny Day keeping the clouds away". The birth of my daughter gave me the awareness of this man, Jim Henson, and his funny looking cast of characters. I had grown up with Kukla, Fran and Ollie and, of course, Howdy Doody', but this was different. Muppets weren't just for kids.

My day time addition turned into a once-a-week evening compulsion. I could not wait for The Muppets to appear on my TV screen. Kermit was backstage preparing for the show. Fozzy Bear showed up, rats danced across the side wings, Miss Piggy yelled from her dressing room. I was thrilled like a little kid. Another weekly addiction my husband and I never missed.

As the years rolled on, I found myself sitting with my daughter continuing this morning ritual of Sesame Street. She learned new lessons, and I learned communication. Not a bad thing for a new parent. Later, she would sit by me as I rocked her baby brother again repeating a ritual that was very important to us.

40 years. Jim Henson started a ball rolling 40 years ago that continues to gain new admirers and to teach new lessons. We learned that we are not alone, that 'it isn't easy being green'. We learned to be blind to the differences between us and others. We had adventures in spelling with Big Bird. Miss Piggy taught us that selfishness didn't always pay off. The Count taught us to count. Jim Henson taught us that learning is fun, that we belong to a world of many, that adventure is right outside of our door, that friendship like that of Bert and Ernie is precious. Most of all he taught me that moments with my children away from my worries and duties was the most precious time of the day.

I now sit with my granddaughters sharing the same as I did with their mother. We watch the Muppet movies and build a bond through laughter and song. It may not be easy being green, but it helps to know that others share our struggle.

Thank you, Jim Henson. You left us much too early but left behind a legacy for a better world.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sisters

She reached over her little sister, tucked the blankets around her and kissed her good-night. Her actions were full of love and tenderness. I felt like one looking at a lovely portrait being painted. Sisters.

Is it the same with brothers? Can't really say that I know since I never had a brother. No, I am blessed with two wonderful sisters.

Over the years our relationships have changed. Many years passed by before I really knew my sisters. Yet with the birth of children, the loss of parents and other relatives, with divorces, we have grown to love each other more in spite of the distance between us. My sisters are my friends, my best friends.

When Mother died, the three of us decided that we would go through the house dividing up our memories. We drew numbers then went into each room starting with #1 in room one, #2 in room two, etc. I was #1. We started in the living room. I felt this would be the most difficult room since it held Stickley-styled chairs that were given to Mom and Dad when they married. Two chairs, three sisters.

"I would like one of the chairs," I said hesitantly. Oh, I felt guilty. We all wanted the chairs. "We have already talked about it and want you to take both chairs," said my oldest sister. In that moment, I realized how loving and giving these women were to their little sis. Now when I look at the chairs, I am reminded not only of my parents but even more of the love my sisters and I share. Still it brings tears to my eyes.

I would not be the woman I am today without my sisters. I am a reflection of their love, the same as when Sydney tucked her little sister into bed with love and gentleness.

The tenderness of a moment is a reflection of a time to come. Even the smallest action can be a gift of for life time.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Do You Want to Hear It

Bad news. Do you want to hear it as it happens or learn about it after more information is available?

My sister and I had this discussion this morning. She prefers to tell bad news until more is known. I want to know immediately. She wants to protect. I want to make my own choices.

Bad things happen to good people. The wave ripples across friends and family. When there were family concerns, I didn't always receive information right away. Everyone protected me. Being far away, it gave me ill-at-ease feelings knowing that something might happen and my choice of staying home or hopping onto a plane back to Ohio might be taken away from me. No, I didn't have a lot of money to hop on that plane, but I wanted the choice to be mine.

Even though I feel this way, I know that my family has always done what they could to protect me. Maybe part of it is the age difference with my sisters being like second mothers to me. Maybe it is that part of us that wants things to be better before we pass on the news. We protect our families.

For me, nature says, "protect". Yet in my heart, I know that maybe this isn't protection just postponement. I have always had a strong need for facts. I did not grow up being allowed to have many choices. Thus the teen rebel.

I do not want this for my family and children. Many times I've had to impart difficult information. Divorce, death, moves all made for awkward conversations. The preparation, the zinger, the loving care. Immediately questions could be answered, sharing could take place and together we moved forward.

Hopefully, by being open and honest with my family, they will be the same with me. We are family learning to be strong together.

Yes, I want to hear the news, be informed and make my choices.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Rag and Bucket

Susan, thank you for your comment yesterday. I was touched by the memories you shared, many which are mine as well. In fact, all of our histories create a quilt of the lives that make up our time, our reach into the future. I appreciate hearing from you who read the blogs. Please feel free to comment.

'Up on the House Top' came through clean and clear even with a few mishaps along the way. Set on getting it right so she could surprise me, she continued to work at it. "Are you listening, Grammy?" Yes, I was listening, "You aren't counting." I meet with a bit of resistance as I count it with her. One more time the conversation repeats. I go to the piano and repeat what I hear her play with an eighth note where a quarter note should be. Her melody plays back to her as she counts the beats. "Oh." We made headway.

Sometimes I think my parents taught the older daughters things that they forgot to teach youngest. When handed a task, I prayed that I could figure out how to do it the correct way with no instruction.

Once I was told to mop my granddad's kitchen. Never in my life had I held a mop or a rag against and unsuspecting floor. I got down on my hands and knees with water and cloth. Every inch of floor was wiped with the same rag and using the same bucket of water. When finished, I walked home. Later in the day Granddad came through the door raging about the evidently brainless child who could not even mop a floor. He was angry, Mom was angry and I was terribly embarrassed. Recipe for discouragement.

Sydney is picking up piano on her own with little instruction. I try to guide and not lead. I want her to be prepared but to find her own successes. Gabby, two years younger, is courageously stretching her small fingers and her mind as she sits before the keys. She lights up when I show her something new and thrills when she conquers a tune.

Perhaps the mop and bucket gave me determination that I might not have had otherwise. I am self-trained on the computer. I started off terrified of this contraption, but by overcoming my fears, I figured out how to design newsletters, create a presentation on Power Point, construct a spreadsheet on Excel and with Publisher, I could create flyers, marketing material and just about anything I set my mind to. Once a file clerk, I worked my way up the ladder to a public relations position. I learned not to fear challenge and to say, "I can do it. Bring it on."

Sydney asked if I would help her write a book. I shot ideas at her. She took notes. I made suggestions and she expands them with her own ideas.

We are 'door openers'. Knowledge is ours to impart, not to control. Courage comes from success. Failures turned into lessons instead of discouragement.

I filled my bucket over the years with determination, creativity and observation. I do not want to give my grandchildren the answers. I want to create the atmosphere that will make them ask the questions.

We sit at the piano, these girls and I. Small fingers capture new notes and sweet melodies ring out at the count of each measure. A bench holds two playing a duet. The old and the young. For them, we build a new place for a new song.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

When I Was A Kid

When I was a kid, we listened records. When I was a kid, we washed dishes by hand. When I was a kid, we didn't have gears on bikes. When I was a kid, we had black and white TV sets. When I was a kid, we typed on a manual typewriter. When I was a kid, we made carbon copies. When I was a kid, penicillin saved my life. When I was a kid, we moved all over the car when it was moving. When I was a kid, the iron lung was used for polio patients. When I was a kid, we had an outhouse. When I was a kid, we made our own soap. When I was a kid, we bathed in a wash tub. When I was a kid, we hung clothes to dry on a line. When I was a kid, we ate food from our garden. When I was a kid.....

When I was a kid, my cousin was stationed in the Philippines. When I was a kid, we lived with the cold war. When I was a kid, the Bay of Pigs happened. When I was a kid, JFK was murdered. When I was a kid, my classmates went to Viet Nam. When I was a kid, Khrushchev banged his shoe on a table. When I was a kid, there was an Iron Curtain. When I was a kid, the Manson's terrorized. When I was a kid, a man walked on the moon. When I was a kid, the first chimp circled the world in a space pod. When I was a kid, jets began to leave white vapor trails across the sky. When I was a kid, the Age of Aquarius dawned. When I was a kid.....

Last night the girls spent the night. I found myself saying, "When I was a kid...". After I crawled in to bed next to my snuggly granddaughter, the words started bouncing around in my brain. I cannot impart the depth of what happened "when I was a kid". I cannot take them through the fears, the tears, the awe, the excitement of a time that is past....my past. I can only remember.

Someday they will say, "When I was a kid, we had 9/11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, economic disaster, phones that do almost anything, electronic books, music from an IPOD and a black first family. Wow! Only 10 years.

I wish Mom and Dad would have told me more about their childhood years. I wish my family had shared more. My sisters and I now try to put the pieces together, but there is a void.

I can hear it now: "When I was a kid, my grammy wrote a couple of blogs. One was about when she was a kid."

Friday, November 6, 2009

More Than Three Letters

PBS (Public Broadcasting Service). Three of my favorite initials. Of course, in Oregon it is called OPB (Oregon Public Broadcasting). Such a great tool for learning yet used waaaay too little by most parents. Oh, wait, it is a great learning tool for all adults.

My stomach turns seeing what children are exposed to on TV. Oh, another wait: I'm upset at what I'm exposed to every day on that screen. I'm not a prude. I was the parent who took her kids to see the musical, "Chorus Line", on stage when they were little. We had fast discussions on gays, boobs and butts and a few other topics that surface in chorus line, a slice of life. I took the children because this piece of art is so well written and produced. The story is beautifully told, blunt and real. I knew my children could handle it as long as we had dialogue. I made a rule that they weren't to play the music or talk about it with other children since other kids wouldn't understand (or parents should they hear the music). All was fine until I heard them playing the sound track with a friend in attendance. Ah, another conversation.

Yet, children not yet of school age and those home on days off from school are exposed to discussion shows covering topics not suitable for children and soap operas with naked people in bed. Oh, we have come a long way, haven't we?

My kids grew up on Sesame Street. (Living with me is about like living on Sesame Street.) Yet, we didn't watch OPB. My single life gave me more TV time. I find that I craved the experiences on OPB. The classic series give me history and beautiful stories giving me a glimpse into the past. Masterpiece Theatre and the mystery shows feed my love of mystery novels. The travel shows take me to new places while the nature programs give me a deeper love and understanding of my world. I learn techniques for painting.
I hate to cook but love the cooking shows. Art Wolfe opens my eyes to photography and what we don't see. So much. So much is given to us to expand our world and to enrich our lives. Why aren't we more excited to share this with the children?

We watch OPB when the girls come to visit. Together we watch, we talk and we build our relationship. We as parents and grandparents we have at our fingertips (or at our remote) the opportunity to open worlds to our children that will not only enrich their lives but encourage them to reach out to savor new experiences as they grow up. Sometimes I think people want to be entertained instead of encouraged, blinded to reality instead of aware.

Food nurtures our bodies. OPB offers nourishment for a better me and a better world.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Lesson in Humility

The three of us began working together when our kids were in shows at the high school. We made hats, dressed kids, applied make up and became friends. Working together for the show turned into pizza and movies. Birthday parties and great times. We became good friends.

At one time she had been a beautiful stewardess then got pregnant and could work no more. Her husband was abusive, so she left with her children. She had no other skills so cleaned houses to support her two daughters. Those daughters went on to college and successful lives because of this woman.

We friends still hang together only now Tari is no longer able to leave her bed. She lives in a care center with multiple sclerosis her constant companion. She can only move her left hand slightly with no control over the rest of her body. Even so, her lighthearted nature is ever present. Every Tuesday we share lunch together and do what we can to make her room cheery and her life better. In return, we get to have time with a dear friend. We learn humility.

There is no time for pity or anger at a disease that will have its way. There is time for making the most of the time we have with those we love in celebration of the life they share with us. We walk away each week realizing how much we have, how blessed we are.

Friendship grew with friends helping each other for the success of a show. Now we help each other for the success of the days we have together.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I'll Do What I Must

Again, please forgive me for all failures in editing. No excuses. Just tired brain.

Yesterday I dropped into the office at the elementary school asking if I could visit Gabby's second grade Autumn Party on Thursday. I can, but I must pass a background check first. No problem. I filled out the form and am waiting for what I know will be an okay.

I can't dispute this action by the schools as a safeguard for my grandchildren. I appreciate that not just anyone can walk through the school or pick up a child.

I shake my head at what has become of us. I grieve at the loss of a time when children ran free and schools were free of fear. Then I wonder, was it a safe time? Were we really safe running around the community? I'm sure that there were predators then. I know that there were things that were wrong in some homes. I knew the kids from those homes. Were children kidnapped then?

Yes, I fear when my grandkids play in the street oblivious to the area surrounding them. The street is looped and everyone knows everyone else, but is any place secure? I worry about kids walking home from school alone. No longer do predators ask a kid to help look for a dog. They just open a van door and toss them in. What has become of us?

I will be inconvenienced to take a little time to get clearance to attend the party. I will abide by what it takes to protect these children.

What am I doing to make it better? What can I do?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Teach Me

"You don't understand me," she sobbed. "Nobody listens." Sydney, age 10 years, 7 months was stretching her preteen independence. Suddenly years slipped away, and I was once more in the same room with Syd's mother, each of us trying to out yell the other.

Again the words, "You don't understand me." Only this time I was transported even farther back fighting with my mom. Back then I wanted her attention, the attention that was never quite there. But it was too late. She didn't understand. She never would. I hated my parents then. They were stuck in another generation, a time where there were no resources for parents in dealing with youth. Scars were made that never quite healed. I went on to be a parent who didn't know how to parent.

When I went to work in the theatre at the high school after we moved to Oregon, I began to learn. The physically abused, the molested, the suicidal, the typical teen all seemed to find their way to my door. I often thought I should have just posted a sign outside of the office that said "Mom". Since I was a volunteer and not a school employee, I think the kids felt safer coming to me. We talked and if needed, I connected them with a counselor and on occasion even called their parents.

I learned my parenting lessons from these children. I learned from the buises of the body and of the heart. I learned from their words about their parents and by listening to their needs. It was a learning curve that has carried to this time.

Sydney sat crying angry at me. Not really knowing why. Angry at me, angry at her parents who divorced this year, angry at feelings she didn't understand. At age 10, she hurt deeper than she had ever before. It was new to her.

I walked over to the sofa and knelt by her. I put my hand on hers, "You're right. I don't understand. I did go through what you are going through at your age, but that doesn't mean I understand the way you feel." She slightly softened her tight frame. "I want to understand, but I need you to teach me how and tell me what you need for me to do." She fell into my arms hugging me and crying. The worst was past, and we had a start over.

Lean not on what you know. Lean on what you can learn.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Beginning

Yesterday my son and his future bride had the first Christmas party of the season. Yes, it is early, but since my son starts rehearsals for his next show this week, this was the only time available for a party.

People flocked to the party. Theatre friends, family, family friends, work associates packed the condo. The groups migrated into their pods sometimes venturing into unknown territory and new friends. Laughter poured out the windows; new friends were made over tables full of great food; glasses were raised to a new season.

In planning the party, the kids assumed that people would just pop in, visit a bit then leave. Some did but most did not. Those who are habitually eager to get away from the fray stayed. Old friends met again catching up on the years. New friends came closer into the fold of our family. All kissed and hugged 'good-bye' as they headed home. Boundaries disappeared. We found we were not just three groups of party goers. We were a group of one.

I know it's early for this kind of reflection, but this morning I awakened realizing that I had been in a mini-cell of what our families, our communities, our world should be. Blending. Reaching out of comfort areas to enter new experiences, new relationships. It is the focus of Christmas to draw us together once more, but this isn't about Christmas. This is about humanity. Maybe not just humanity but of all living things on this planet.

My world grew by the people added to it yesterday. Parties: A mixer, a blender, not a kitchen appliance but a step into a better world.