Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Little Extra Help on 9/11

Who isn't thinking about ten years ago today?  My daughter has been watching so many 9/11 documentaries that she's having bad dreams.  I heard the red eye flights come in over our house this morning just like they always do but today, they seemed unbelievable loud and they woke me up. We're just a little uneasy today I suppose, hoping that madness doesn't occur again.

My husband and I had a few experiences when we were living in NY that brought 9/11 to the forefront of our minds even though we weren't living there in 2001.  We were on the Upper East side when the small plane belonging to a Yankee pitcher accidentally flew into an apartment building. Our Blackberries were rendered useless as we looked straight up the Avenue toward 72nd Street but we knew something bad had happened because we saw the billowing smoke.  Everyone was running and we kept hearing that a plane had flown into a building.  I would be lying if I didn't admit that it was frightening.

In July of 2007, Greg was at work and I was heading home after a day of soaking up the city.  I came up out of the subway to make one last stop only to walk into the middle of another chaotic scene - people running, sirens blaring.  There had been an explosion near Grand Central; fear and panic again and this time during the evening rush hour.  The reality was that this explosion was a steam pipe explosion and not an act of terrorism, but this didn't dissuade people from running and panicking until officials had spoken their calming words.

A few days later, I was heading to LaGuardia and as is common for me, I struck up a conversation with my cab driver.  I asked him if he had been anywhere near the explosion.  I had no idea what I was unleashing when I asked him this question.  He had been in the area; he heard the explosion and saw the cloud of steam which was reminiscent of the smoke on 9/11.  His story very quickly started to unfold but he rolled the calendar back to 9/11.  My cab driver had been a stock broker working in the World Trade Center on 9/11. I was being driven to the airport by one of the people whose fate was changed because they were late to work that day.  He told me that he was one of only a few survivors from his company. He was so grief stricken and traumatized, he couldn't go back to Wall Street after 9/11 so he gave up his career and chose to drive a taxi instead.  His marriage had fallen apart and his wife and child had returned to India to live with her parents.  The steam pipe explosion had brought all of the pain and heartache of 9/11 back to him as if it were yesterday and as we neared the airport and my drop off point, I felt guilty for getting out of the cab and leaving him alone.  I encouraged him to see a counselor; he promised he would but we exchanged emails and telephone numbers in case he needed to talk some more.  He looked at my card and said, "You're a counselor.  I knew there was something special about you."  I felt so honored.

We communicated several times over the next year or so and I spent most of those times lending an ear and encouraging him to see his counselor.  He was broken-hearted about so much and his emotional issues were way beyond what a phone call or email here and there could do to help.  He told me several times that he wanted to take my husband and me out for dinner as a thank you but it never worked out.  Somewhere along the way, we lost track of each other.  I tried checking in on him recently but his phone number now belongs to someone else and his email is not valid.  I hope he has found peace and happiness and was able to reconnect with his family in India.  I'm choosing to think this.  Nonetheless, I prayed for him today at mass, where ever he is.  We all need a little extra grace today, even my granddaughter.

Amélie had a little episode with her sidekick monkey, Jorge this week.  When my daughter, Ashli, went to pick her up, another little girl brought Jorge to her.  Ashli was visibly upset when she looked at Jorge and saw that his ear had been cut off and his eye had been ripped out.  When she asked Amélie what had happened to Jorge, Amélie insisted that this monkey was not Jorge.  Regardless, he was the only Jorge around so Ashli took the injured Jorge home, thinking they would sort it out later.  In the meantime, Amélie kept insisting that this ear less, eyeless monkey was NOT Jorge.  The real Jorge finally showed up and the impostor was taken back to school.  Jorge was indeed whole and Amélie proved that she recognized her own monkey.

Today Jorge went to mass with us.  This is not unusual because Jorge usually travels with Amélie almost everyplace she goes.  Generally, Jorge sits in the pew as Amélie and I go up to the front of the church for communion.  However, today, Amélie insisted that Jorge go with her and in spite of my trying to pry him out of her arms, she refused.  She tucked him under her armpit, folded her hands in her angelic prayer position and she walked up toward Father Tim.  She stood in front of Father Tim waiting for her blessing but then after receiving it, she stayed waiting and I watched her as she turned her body slightly, pushing Jorge toward Father Tim.  After I had received the eucharist, I bent down to maneuver Amélie away from Father Tim and toward our pew but it was obvious that she wasn't happy with me.

After church, Amélie ran toward the baptismal font and boosted herself up on the edge as she has been doing lately.  She dips her right hand into the holy water and attempts to cross herself in her own variation of the sign of the cross.  She has been so proud of herself because she "gets her own water."  Today, she climbed up a second time and declared, "Nonna, today I need more Jesus water."  Who can say no to that?  But to my surprise, she dipped both hands into the water and then covered her whole face with the holy water.  "That's better Nonna.  You can have more too."

I didn't really realize until I was driving home that Amélie knew she and Jorge both needed a little more of Jesus today.  Perhaps in this three-year-old's mind, she thinks Jorge has a little extra protection from scissors that might cut off his ear or mean children who might tear out his eyes.  Maybe she sensed some of the sadness in Father Tim's sermon today about the remembrances of 9/11 and understood some of the words and she decided dipping her hands in the holy water would give her a little more of Jesus for this day. I don't know what was going through her mind, but I know that when we walked out of church today, Amélie had been in the house of the Lord and she knew just why she had been there.

After we left the church, she showed Father Tim her sandals, gave him a high five, and we walked over to the Italian bakery to get her treat - two chocolate cookies today.  All I could think of was Jesus' words, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."  We walked down the street to my car and I held her hand just a little tighter than normal.  She's so recently from God.  That feels good on this tenth anniversary of 9/11.  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Swinging on the Memory Catcher

I don't think there's ever been a time in my life when I haven't had a porch swing or not dreamed of having one.  In Wisconsin, they sit empty for much of the year but when it's the season, ours earns its keep.

When I moved to Wisconsin, I had my first real porch.  It was my first home as a single mom with my three darling little bambinos and I wanted a swing in the worst way.  My dad, who has been my hero for my entire life, obliged.  He packed up his tools with all of his supplies and headed north for the weekend with my mom and my Uncle Doyle.  The front yard was soon a construction zone and the kids were right in the middle of it.  Before they left, the swing was hung and tested and the joy began.  I don't think it ever got painted while it lived on that porch but it sure was used.

It was a place where we could watch the world walk by or where I could sit and watch the kids sell lemonade or lettuce or whatever their great entrepreneurial idea was for the weekend. It was my morning coffee shop and my evening hideaway after the kids were finally tucked in to bed.  It was my head clearing place.  The kids and I shared laughter as well as sharing stories of the day while swinging back and forth.  They knew if I said "let's go outside" in a serious tone, it meant the porch swing would be the site of a "come to Jesus" meeting.   Ty used it for escape when he wanted to get away from the girls.  In his imagination, it became transportation to someplace else.  I remember walking out on to the porch one time and he quickly told me to get back inside or I would drown.  At that moment, the swing was his ship and he knew his mom couldn't swim.  Or perhaps he just wanted me to be out of his business, after all, I was a girl too - the poor guy was the odd man out.   I loved the porch swing regardless of how it was being used but my favorite time was when I shared it with someone I loved.  There's something calming about swinging and when you do it together, it creates a quieting rhythm between two people that seems to pull you together.

When we moved from that house, the porch swing was the last thing that needed to be loaded.  I was exhausted at the end of the move and that swing might as well have been an 500 pound gorilla because I just couldn't find the energy to take it down and load it.  I rationalized . . . the new house didn't have a place for it to hang and we had certainly gotten our use out of it.  In very poor judgment, I decided to leave it behind.  Big mistake!  You know how kids never remind you of the wonderful things you've done for them but if you make a mistake, it is never forgotten?  Practically every time we sat together on our new porch, the jabs would start.  "Didn't we used to have a porch swing?  Papaw worked for months on that porch swing.  Wouldn't it be nice if we could swing on our porch swing?  Oh yeah, MOM left it behind."

1986:  My dad building the porch swing while Ashli and Ty look on.  

Years later on one weekend morning during the summer, I got up before everyone else and went to the kitchen to make coffee.  As I was sitting at the kitchen table, counting the seconds until I could pour the coffee into my veins, I looked out the window and saw our porch swing sitting in the back yard.  Really?  As the family started to fill the kitchen one by one, no one seemed to have any idea of how the swing miraculously appeared.  The stories started . . ."Wow, that sure looks like our old porch swing mom.  Maybe the family over on Prospect started feeling guilty and dropped it off for us" or "Must have magically unhooked itself, sprouted swing wings and flown here - it missed us."  The true story didn't come out for some time.  Our daughter was out one night with some friends, complaining about the porch swing episode and no doubt using it as a perfect opportunity to roast her mother.  A light bulb went off in someones brain . . . let's go rescue it!  (Notice how I have very artfully used the word rescue rather than steal!)  I have to admit that I drove by the old house several times, saw it sitting there empty and was tempted to "rescue" it myself but of course I never had the nerve or a truck.  This is one of those moments as a mom when you are bound as a mother to chastise your kids for doing something wrong but you are secretly are thinking, "My kids rock!"  I quickly came to the realization that my kids had some wisdom about the porch swing that I had chosen to ignore.  It was more than a porch swing.  It was a memory catcher that had been handcrafted by my dad and my uncle and there wasn't a porch swing on the market that could have replaced it.  Sometimes kids have wisdom beyond their years.

The porch swing now hangs on the screened in porch of our new house.  It finally got the coat of paint that it deserved and it has comfy pillows that invite you to prop yourself up and relax.  It's still a place to talk, read, reflect and relax.  It's become a favorite place for our grandkids now.  A few summers ago, Logan and Lindsey were in a pirate phase and it became a pirate ship for the entire summer.  I never knew when I would come out and see Captain Jack standing on it, whipping his sword around while he tried to save Elizabeth from the sharks of the nasty waters below.

I'm in awe that such a simple thing has transcended time and three generations.  It's all the things it used to be.  I can swing on it and feel my heart rate drop down to the relax zone. And if I close my eyes and listen to the squeak of the back and forth motion, I can be immediately transported to Prospect Avenue where my kids are laughing and giggling and sometimes arguing.  With every swing back and forth, it's become a place to count the blessings of the years.  I can't sit in it without remembering the hands that made it . . . made with tender loving care by my dad and my precious uncle and rescued by the hands of an impulsive but determined teenage girl.  I guess that's what an heirloom is - something with magical memory catching super powers that can cause your heart to skip a beat.

Logan and BopBop reading this summer

Time for a morning snuggle Nonna.

Life doesn't get much better than a porch swing, pillows, and a summer morning.

The best kind of friend is the kind you can sit on a porch swing with, never say a word, 
then walk away feeling like it was the best conversation that you ever had. ~Unknown

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bittersweet Rain

Summer is almost over. July was so busy that it was gone in a blink so  I'm trying to hang on to every second of it that's left.

It's been a bittersweet summer.

The joys:  we had our oldest twin grandchildren here for a little over three weeks and our little cutie from Michigan here for the fourth of July.

The sadness: The summer started with the unexpected loss of my cousin after a cancer surgery. A little over a month later, one of my best friends lost her battle with cancer.  A few weeks later, I was blessed to visit with two college friends - one in the midst of chemotherapy and the other three years down the road from her diagnosis.

I've never had a year like this - it started a year ago in July with the death of my daughter's best friend's mother to cancer.  Throughout the year, I've watched the "C" word come into several other friends' lives and turn their worlds upside down.  When you add all of this up to ending the year by  losing two more people that I loved dearly to cancer and listening to two of my longtime girlfriends compare notes on losing beautiful heads of hair and having their energy zapped out of them, it's the perfect storm.   My emotional state can be has triggered by almost anything.  The tiniest little thing can tip my "on the verge of crying" to sobbing.  It seems that I've spent most of the summer walking around in overwhelming sadness which is not like me at all.  Yesterday the scale tipped to either a moment of sheer insanity or genius.

I spent most of the day on our morning porch - my favorite "room" in our house.  It's like a tree house and I feel like a little kid when I sit on it.  You are completely hidden from the world so you can take on the role of snoop or spy with the passersby whenever you fancy. Some little joys of our morning porch . . . 

  • Little snippets of cell phone conversations are almost always surprising - everything from political or work related complaints or jokes to more details about a romantic encounter with a boyfriend than I've ever wanted to hear - nothing new, we've all heard them.  
  • I love to play "who are they and what's their story."  We live near the university so there's usually a different group of people passing by every day as well as some regulars.  There is one man who passes by everyday around 6:30 AM and I can hear him from several houses away because he never lifts his feet up.  He shuffles past our house every morning and he really isn't old enough to "shuffle."  Hard for me to quash my mother instinct and not yell out "pick your feet up for goodness sake!"
  • For the past three days, we've been enjoying the flyovers of the Thunderbirds that were in the Milwaukee Air Show.  Poor Greg, practically every time he came outside observe the thundering roar, the show seemed to shift to the on-ground activities and he missed the planes. 
  • What a great place to watch squirrels and birds.  I saw a squirrel jump from one branch to the next one day and he missed and fell to the branch below his desired destination!  Who knew squirrels ever missed?  The funny part was that he actually looked around as if to see if he could safely hide his squirrel embarrassment, then he scurried off to a hiding place.   A less enjoyable moment,  for the first time in my life, a bird pooped on my head a few weeks ago - disgusting.

Well yesterday, the morning porch was the scene of my moment of "scale tipping" . . . After enjoying the sun for most of the day, the rain clouds rolled in. I started to pick everything up and go inside when it occurred to me that all my life, I've always run out of rainstorms or worked quickly to get my umbrella up.  I always wanted to walk through Central Park during a rain but I never did because I didn't want to continue down Fifth Avenue looking like a drowned subway rat.  This is not to say that I haven't been caught in the rain but I've never intentionally just let the rain pour down over me with no regard to how I would look afterwards . .  . until yesterday.  Sounds crazy.  The rain clouds rolled in and I just sat there and let myself get completely drenched.  And the tears flowed.

I think I had this overwhelming need to feel as alive as possible.  My friends who aren't with me anymore, are in my thoughts nearly all the time these days.  Sometimes I feel guilty because I'm still alive and well in this world and they aren't.  When I play with my grand children, I think about the grand children that my cousin will never get to hold, and I cry.  When I finish a new book, I immediately want to call my friend Sunny to tell her it will be in the mail to her tomorrow.  When I see Katie's posts on Facebook, I think about the things I know about her that her mother never got to know.  I seem to be walking around the world lately thinking about all the things I can do, that they can't and it tips the scale to a sadness that can't exist without tears.

I know this isn't a happy blog to read but sometimes I think it takes sadness to make us appreciate joy and to get us off of our butts.  When I sat in the rain yesterday, I was made so aware once again of what a gift everyday on this planet is and I'm embarrassed that it took me 57 years to just sit and enjoy a summer rain on the other side of the window glass.  My cousin Brent was a fisherman so I'm sure that he learned at a much younger age the joy of a gentle rain while sitting in a boat waiting for the fish to bite.  My friend Sunny was a life-long New Yorker so I have no doubt that she took that walk through Central Park in the rain more than once and enjoyed it thoroughly.  I've never met anyone who's name more appropriately fit them - Sunny had one of the sunniest personalities I've ever encountered.  I always wondered if it was just self-fulfilling prophecy or if her parents had one of those moments when they looked at their new baby and knew it was her name.  She absolutely embraced life at every turn to the point that when we had our last conversation, she didn't want to talk about her pain, she wanted to talk about books, the weather, and the joys of daily life.  

Yesterday, after I was completely and totally soaked, I ran dripping to the bathroom and took a hot bath.  I think it was the best bath I've ever had.  I miss my friends so much.  But I'm going to honor and remember them by soaking up every bit of life that I can - the rain and the sunshine.  

A rose must remain with the sun and the rain or its lovely promise won't come true.

And, it's time to do more than send sympathy cards....

The Ups and Downs of Battling Cancer

The Rare Chair Event - October 14, 2011

PS - Happy Birthday to my mom - a breast cancer survivor.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Post Man was Naughty

Saturday morning we were enjoying the sun on our morning porch with amazing Amélie.  She loves the morning porch and she's always very busy there.  This particular morning, the morning porch was turned into a treetop kingdom complete with Disney princesses who were skipping around and visiting each other at their palaces.  Of course their music was playing in the background on the iPod.  Every once in a while, Amélie would shout out "Beast is happy" when "his" song came on or when the iPod switched to Annie, our ears were blessed to hear a resounding "Tomorrow, Tomorrow, I Love Ya Tomorrow...." - all on key and man, can she hold that last note! Reminds me of her mommy and her "Aunty Brentny."  For breakfast, we had animal dominoes with chocolate sauce that had been baked on with the pink princess hair dryer.  They were "yummers."  One observance didn't make too much sense though - the yellow school bus that was parked on the far side of the porch.  It was covered with Mardi Gras beads like it was chained up.  Greg and I decided and that it must have been an MPS bus that was perhaps being detained for reasons unknown to the media.

Recently, Ashli decided that Amélie had developed a mommy filter.  Her frustrations are not alone - I often hear all of my children and their spouses question whether their children are listening to them. They share their frustrations of parenthood with me and my job is to just keep encouraging them to continue doing what they're doing.  They are all very diligent and "on-top-of-things" parents and I know they are making progress in training their children.

Case in point . . . after Amélie had spread all of her Disney princesses around the porch, she reached into the box and found a plastic figurine of a postman.  She was obviously a little confused about this guy because as she was looking at him and thinking, you could see that she didn't recall him from any of her favorite Disney movies.  She quickly decided that he must be an invader and was up to no good because she held him up to her face and said "now you have been very very naughty and you have to have a time out."  She found a chair from the playhouse, took the chair to the very edge of the outer kingdom and sternly put him on a time out.   I think she thought he was at least 15 years old because he had to endure about a 15 minute time out.  She came over to him a couple of times and said "when you are good, it's your time out."  I know that she was trying to replicate her mommy's words to her when she isn't taking her time out.

Naughty postman!

So just a reminder to my kids . . . don't get discouraged.  They are listening to you....they are listening to everything and soaking it in!  It's just their job to make you think they aren't. I know this because I used to feel the same way and yet every so often, I have heard my words coming out of my children's mouths just as I heard my mother's words coming out of my mouth.  We joke and say things like "I've turned into my mother" but that's mostly a good thing.

Speaking of my mother . . . she was a very particular grandmother just as she is in everything else that she does in life.  She wanted the girls to have a perfect dollhouse that would last so when they were little, she asked my sister-in-law's father to build a dollhouse.  The dollhouse now lives in our attic and comes out just when the time is right.  Saturday was the day for Amélie to become the new landlady of the dollhouse.  I loved watching my girls play with this house.  I loved watching Lindsey play with this house......and now it's Amélie's turn.  Talk about The Circle of Life . . . how cool is that?  This is serious stuff!

A perfect palace for all of the princesses.

Beast is happy!  He's dancing with Belle.

 "Play is the work of children." Friedrich Froebel."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I Wonder if Squirrels are Overworked?

I'm feeling very lazy today.  I worked yesterday at school (yes, yesterday was Saturday) and then I came home to find  Greg cleaning out the garage. All I could think to say was "Heavens to Betsy...."   He said, "You don't have to touch any of this!"  He actually said it with a straight face.  In any event, I eventually was pulled into helping because I'm an organizational freak and I love the feeling of being ruthless with "stuff". The garage can now house two cars.  We spent the required amount of time admiring our work before realizing it was nearly time for the long overdue "date night" that we had planned.  We were so tired, we curled up in front of the TV and watched Out of Africa instead of going out like we had planned.  And we actually stayed awake for the entire thing.  Have you ever seen that movie or read the book?  If not, you should.  It is a beautiful true story.  It inspires me to go someplace quiet and calm and exotic and grow my own coffee beans.

That brings me to our awe-inspiring son.  I have this kind of love you/hate you relationship with technology but one of the things that I love are my frequent texts and emails from my kids.  Hardly a day goes by that I don't get a funny text or a tear-inducing picture that frequently involves one of our grand kids.  We are all rarely in the same time zone and we aren't often all together under the same roof, but technology brings us close every single day.

Not long ago, I got a picture (text) of a big burlap bag with ETHIOPIA printed on it  from Ty.  Ty has always been my curious guy - the one who used to ask me 50 times a day why and follow up each answer with another why.  He used to frequently drive me nuts with his questions but I don't think he ever suspected.  God blessed me with a mother's poker face nearly every day.  Add to that the fact that I walked around with Mister Rogers' lyrics swirling around in my head and I thought for sure I would scar him if I didn't go head-to-head with the question/answer sessions.

"Did you know.....did you know....did you know that it's alright to wonder?"  

(Click below to read the lyrics and to hear Crystal Gayle singing it! By the way, if you are the parent of a preschooler and you don't have some Mister Rogers on your iPod .....shame on you - purchase a download today - makes the job of parenting SO much easier with the lessons to be learned!)

In any event, I've always been in awe of Ty's ability to "wonder" and to just plow forward even in a situation where it wasn't encouraged.  Back to the picture of the burlap bag - Ty has evidently begun wondering about the process of how coffee gets to his French press and is also a little peeved at the cost.  He's been wondering so much that he has started roasting his own coffee.  I knew he was working on something the weekend of his sister's college graduation because I kept hearing these little buzz sessions between him and Greg.   But I was so busy, I didn't bother to get details.  I now realize the details are that he ordered a 50-pound bag of coffee beans from Ethiopia and he is going to roast them all, grind them up and drink them.  I hope at a greatly reduced price.....but does it really matter?  He wondered and he now knows. What a kid!

I am also assured that he and his incredible wife are nurturing this sense of wonder in their adorable offspring too and this makes my heart leap!  Do you wonder how I know this?  They all took a walk last night and these are the pictures they sent me from their walk:

Have you ever seen such a site?

Is it THAT  hard to collect food?

The snap of the camera must have awakened him - what adventure will ensue?
I was on the other side of the lake when Ty was standing with his family wondering about this squirrel but I know that a lot of smiling and laughing and questioning went on.  And I'm sure Ty will chuckle about it for days with that infectious laugh that I have grown to adore over the years.

So even though Greg and I were tired last night after a hard day of garage cleaning labor, our life must be better than the life of a squirrel AND when we're tired, we have a bed to splay ourselves out on instead of a tree branch!  Although tree branches are not all bad...............

"It's our insides that make us who we are, that allow us to dream 
and wonder and feel for others. That's what's essential. 
That's what will always make the biggest difference in our world."
-Fred Rogers, Commencement Address at Middlebury College, May 2001

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Happy and Sad Defined

One week ago at this time we were celebrating our daughter’s graduation from nursing school. It was a joyful day.  Between dear daughter, Torie, and myself, the cake was on its way, the food was prepared, the camera was ready and we were all dressed.  I loaned the graduate one of my very favorite dresses and Amélie was coordinated perfectly.  Torie and I were on an electric blue kick with her wearing a fabulous sweater that seemed to have been created for the electric blue heels that I wore.  Don’t remember what the guys wore…….not important….oh not quite true……Xander had a knock-out suit on with handsome black loafers.   He was dapper.
Alexander, Torie, Ashli and Amélie
It was kind of a dreary, rainy day…..but we were all sunshiny inside.  As soon as the auditorium was filled, Amélie looked down at the graduating class and shouted out, “Where’s my Mama?”  Of course this 3-year-old couldn’t totally wrap her young brain around a college graduation but she knew it was a very special day.  To top it off, she had learned just where to insert her new word,   “gra-du-A-shun” into the melody of Happy Birthday.  Ashli was glowing and she got a few extra minutes in the spotlight on stage due to a “hood malfunction” on the other end of the stage.  But when they finally said, “Ashli Jansen,” she moved on cue and received that little piece of parchment and the apricot hood that will always be a part of her.  AI watched her on stage, I could hear my own mother in my head saying “they can never take your education away from you.” 

The party was fabulous.  We had so much fun making champagne toasts to the graduate and sharing good food and yummy nurse’s cake together.  We were celebrating well into the evening until Ashli brought my cell phone to me and said, “Mama, it’s Mamaw……and it’s not good.”   My dear cousin, Brent, had just passed away.   I’m pretty sure I was immediately transformed from a fairly good hostess to one that made her guests feel very uncomfortable and looking for an escape route (my apologies to everyone).  One of the best days ever quickly became one of the worst days ever.

We’re a week down the road now.  Ashli has moved on from graduate to job hunter and expert packer as they prepare to move in to their new place this weekend.  Greg and I have been to Indiana and back to grieve with our family as we laid our dear cousin to rest.  There’s a new addition to the family – the little guy who made Brent a great uncle.  Elliot will never get to know first-hand what a great uncle his great uncle was.  Is that why I just keep crying?  This is not the first loss we’ve had in our family but it seems especially difficult and I can’t quit dissecting the reasons why I haven’t been able to keep any mascara on for a week now. 

Walb and Bertie Wyant had four grandchildren from their first two sons within the span of four years.  I am the eldest and within ten months came my cousin, Greg.  Then within three years, I had a sister, Denise,  and Greg had a brother, Brent.   We were it for a long time – the main act.  We shared Sunday dinners at Grandma’s; we hunted Easter eggs and ate at the little kid’s Christmas table at Nelle and Ruth’s;  we pushed each other on the tire swing at Grandpa’s Beech Hills farm; we picked every kind of berry imaginable with Grandma, or perhaps more accurately…..we ate while Grandma picked; we waited together in anticipation for the surprise visits of our wild and wonderfully exotic Uncle Doyle and then fought for his attention;  we rolled on the grassy knoll at the farm and then complained about our chigger bites; we chided each other relentlessly about who was a better basketball team….the Alices or the Hatchets; we antagonized our mothers as we jumped in piles of leaves on our annual fall trips; we argued about dumb things just like brothers and sisters;  we gave our Grandpa wild hair-dos and then laughed at how funny he looked; we played post office with Grandma’s secretary desk; we listened for endless hours to the tall tales of the Wyant boys and the shenanigans that probably gave our Grandmother her beautiful silvery grey hair.  My sister and I had two brothers years before our little brother Andy was born – we were the four Musketeers.  Our grandparents, our parents, our aunts and uncles were all young and strong and healthy and forward looking.  There was an energy when they all  came together that made you want to grow up – to be just like them.  And the laughter…….it was so infectious that I can still hear it if I shut the world out for a few seconds.
Melinda, Denise, Brent and Greg at Ruth & Nelle's

In addition to the fact that losing my precious cousin was a shock that none of us were expecting,  I think it seems especially hard because it brings the loss of his brother, our grandparents, and two of our cherished uncles right up to the surface again – it feels like more than the loss of one person . . .it’s  the vision of this precious family I was born into changing once again and slipping a little further away from my grasp.  It reminds me once again of the importance of shared family memories.  These are the kind of memories that draw you together and bind you in a way that nothing else does.  The older you get, the fewer people there are who have known you all of your life and the fewer people there are that you can visit your childhood with.   Shared memories not only bring smiles to faces but they also add a fragrance to life – kind of like watching a flower bloom  while the aroma swirls around you on a soft breeze.

After my cousin’s graveside service, my husband and I drove a little further down into the Beech Hills to find the lane of my grandparent’s farm.  I haven’t been there for years and we took one wrong turn but I was amazed at the strength of my memory of those country roads even though things have changed.  I took some pictures and brought them back for my dad to confirm that we were in the right place.  Sure enough, he saw one picture and said, “Oh yeah, that’s where Doyle stripped down bare naked one winter when he realized that he still had his long johns on.”  He finished the story with a big smile, the hint of a tear and one of those big boisterous laughs that I remember listening to as a child.  All of that came back seventy years later from the picture of a mass of greenery……..I watched my father looking at that picture and I knew he had jumped inside it. He was a child again, laughing and rollicking with his brothers.

The scene of the stripping of the long-johns.

If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older. 
~Tom Stoppard

I am so sad that I have one less person to share an incredible childhood with – my sister and I are now the keepers of the Divine Secrets of the four Wyant Musketeers…..but I’m also thankful for the realization that my remaining cousins and I are the proprietors of what began down in the hills and valleys of the Beech Hills and Monroe City.  What will keep all of the little Wyant descendants warm when they are adults?  I'm in awe of the cycle of childhood and families......and how they really can't be extinguished.

I leave to children exclusively, but only for the life of their childhood,
all and every the dandelions of the fields and the daisies thereof,
with the right to play among them freely, 
according to the custom of children, 
warning them at the same time against the thistles.
And I devise to children the yellow shores of creeks
and the golden sands beneath the water thereof,
with the dragon flies that skim the surface of said waters,
and the odors of the willows that dip into said waters,
and the white clouds that float on high above the giant trees. 
And I leave the children the long, long days to be merry in a thousand ways,
and the Night, and the trail of the Milky Way to wonder at;
but subject, nevertheless, to the rights hereinafter given to lovers;
and I give to each child the right to choose a star to be his,
and I direct the father shall tell him the name of it,
 in order that the child shall always remember the name of that star 
after he has learned and forgotten astronomy.
~Williston Fish, "A Last Will," 1898

Sunday, May 8, 2011

What I Know For Sure About Being a Mother

What I know for sure about mothering is that it doesn't leave you time for much of anything else - but the one thing is always supplies you with is time to beat yourself up for being what you believe is an inadequate version of the mother you think you should be.

When I was a single mom, I actually believed that I was supposed to bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and then tuck my well-mannered, well-groomed, and top-of-the-class children into bed with a story, a prayer and the vision of a smiling and completely put-together June Lockhart kind-of-mother (in pearls and a skirt mind you).  I actually pulled this off many nights.  But what my children never knew was that I would then go into my bedroom and cry myself to sleep - usually from feelings of complete and utter exhaustion and worry, topped of with a boat load of maternal guilt.  Finally, out of sheer frustration and self-loathing, I decided to start collecting quotes that I could use as affirmations.  I started reading them through my nightly  tears hoping that they would help me believe that I could get up in the morning and do it yet again and hopefully with a little style and grace. These words became my backstage parenting classes and over time they made me feel like I wasn't alone in the way that I felt.  More importantly, they helped me gain the courage to be the kind of mother who tried everyday  to just do my best with the information and resources that I had at the moment.  I finally figured out that sometimes that meant just being "good enough" and not perfect.

My children are grown now and they have all started families of their own.  My judgment on myself on this Mother's Day is that I must have done a pretty good job because they are all amazing and they are all incredible parents.  I realize that prayer and the grace of God were more influential in their upbringing than any of my mothering skills, but regardless, my children are the kind of adults I would choose to have as friends - I like them just as much as I love them.

As a Nonna, I love the freedom that I have with my grandchildren.  I don't have the "if they don't turn out, it's my fault" thing hanging over me.  But when I listen to my kids, I hear them being so hard on themselves just like I did and I find myself wanting to relieve them of some of those doubts.  But I know that some of those doubts are necessary because they keep you shooting for the "parent of the year" award - always wanting to do it better.  My daughter recently told me that I'm intimidating to her and her sister when it comes to mothering because I did it so easily.  I had to chuckle because I realized that they don't know yet that it took a lot of work to make it look so easy.

So on this Mother's Day, I'm going to share some of those quotes that I collected over the years.  I hope that some night when they are having a parenting melt-down that they are hiding from their children, they'll find some words that will help get them through.

Here are some of my favorites:

The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth.  From this almost mystic affirmation there comes what may seem a strange conclusion: that education must start from birth. (Maria Montessori)  Note from Mom: This is a boat load of guilt if you take it too seriously but it's still true.  You just have to remember that children are not blank sheets of paper for a parent to fill up so you're not responsible for everything that they learn.  Only use this quote in conjunction with the next.

We can't form our children on our own concepts; we must take them and love them as God gives them to us.  (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity. (Eleanor Roosevelt) Note from Mom: there's never a silly question - jump on it when they wonder about things shower them with more things to help them wonder and discover.

My all time favorite words for a mom to daily live by and constantly reflect on:
 Children Live What they Learn by Dorothy Law Nolte

A mother is not a person to lean on but a person to make leaning unnecessary.  (Dorothy Canfield Fisher)  Note from Mom: This is a hard one to learn but when you realize that you're children aren't leaning on you quite as much as they used to, pat yourself on the back and don't feel sad. It means you did your job.

A mother is neither cocky nor proud, because she knows that the school principal may call at any minute to report that her child has just driven a motorcycle through the gymnasium.  (Mary Kay Blakely) Note from mom:  And should you happen to get cocky and braggy......a call WILL come about something to knock you down a few notches and remind you that you aren't done yet.

My doctors told me I would never walk again.  My mother told me I would.  I believed my mother.
(Wilma Rudolph)  Note from mom:  you're the one person who can do this with true authority.

If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much.
(Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis)  Note from mom: it's just true.

At work, you think of the children you have left at home.  At home, you think of the work you've left unfinished.  Such a struggle is unleashed within yourself.  Your heart is rent. (Golda Meir) Note from mom: it's a fact of mothering, not fathering.

Nothing weighs more than maternal guilt.  Men rarely work around the needs of their children; women rarely work any other way.  -Sarah Ban Breathnach

Strengthen a parent and you strengthen a child. -Fred Rogers  Note from mom: take care of yourself or you're no good to your kids.

Over the years, I've read this poem a thousand times:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
(Kahlil Gibran's poem on Children - read the rest: Link to Kahlil Gibran's entire poem on children

Children are living messages we send to a day we will not see.  (Unknown)

Pray to God....but row to the shore.
Note from mom: And then there are times when you can't row anymore and there's nothing else to do.  This is when you drop to your knees because you have no where else to go and then you pray for God's protection on your children.

And above all, remember that the mother who laughs......lasts:

If you love something, set it free.  If it comes back, it will always be yours.  If it doesn't come back, it was never yours to begin with.  But, if it just sits in your living room, messes up your stuff, eats your food, uses your telephone, takes your money, and doesn't appear to realize that you had set it either married it or gave birth to it.
-Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Ha, Ha, Ha - I love that one!

Brittany, Ashli, Ty and your absolutely fabulous spouses, I love you all!


Monday, April 25, 2011

Overheard at Nonna's House during Spring Break

Spring Break : A week of organizing, cleaning, relaxing a bit and then celebrating Easter.

Today our dear little Amélie is 3 years old.  So much to be thankful for!

Her most memorable quotes of the week . . .
Nonna: Come here monkey . . . it's time to put jamies on.
Amélie:  Nonna, I am not a monkey . . . I'm a child.

Later after several dances in the living room, Amélie begs Nonna to dance with her: "Nonna, just get up and wiggle your bum!"

Amélie and her daddy at brunch

On the other side of the lake, Alexander, sans clothes, ran to the mirror and yelled out, "I'm nakey, I"m nakey, I'm nakey!"  I'm fairly certain that it was our son and not his beautiful wife who taught him this phrase!

And to the south, those darling boy twins are into saying "Yo BABY!"

i thank You God for most this amazing day:
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;
and for everything which is natural 
which is infinite
which is yes.
~ e.e. cummings

Sun has finally reached Wisconsin

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Silhouettes and Sun

So busy lately that I have barely had time to breath, but today, while I was in the middle of a full day of parent meetings that are all about solving problems.......I sat and gazed at the Santa Monica sunset picture I took a couple of weeks ago and it's still making my heart skip a beat . . .

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Scissors and Trees

I've always wanted a bonsai tree. I became fascinated with them in Japan and every time I see one, I ask myself why I haven't tried to grow one yet.  When the kids were younger, Greg and I tried to buy one at a local nursery.  We walked out empty handed because the greenhouse gardener convinced us that we would pay a lot of money for it and then proceed to take it home and kill it.  If the movie Julia and Julia had been out at that time,  I'm sure Greg would have started singing, "Bonsai Killer, Bonsai Killer, Bonsai Killer" to me.

Last Saturday we drove to Pasadena to visit the Huntington Library.  Sounds like a boring day until you realize that the library houses an amazing art collection and catalogs every plant imaginable in their botanical garden.  I could write a couple of weeks worth of blogs on the sites that put me into a state of awe but the Bonsai Garden sent me to the moon.  I know nothing about this art except that the people who tenderly and artfully grew these little trees did not go to the same gardener that we went to when they were learning about Bonsai.  There were some very small traditionally sized bonsais but the majority in the collection were about 18 - 24 inches high.  They were exhibited outside in an amazing little Japanese garden area, surrounded by bamboo fencing.  Here are some pictures of our favorites!

Entering the Bonsai Garden.
Bonsai collection with sunlight coming through the rice paper background.
Bald Cyprus Bonsai - Greg's favorite
Another Bald Cyprus
Cork Bonsai - How many wine corks would this tree produce?
Aren't these just amazing!  I'd still like to buy one of those cute little pairs of pruning scissors and take a class in Bonsai.

Here are some facts about Bonsai for those who are interested:

  • Bonsai is an ancient art form that originated in China more than 1000 years ago.
  • Bonsai art manipulates a natural tree to create an ornamental 'majestic' small tree by trimming, pruning, wiring, and grafting.
  • Originally, a bonsai tree was considered a symbol of wealth but evolved as a symbol of peace and balance in nature. 
" The tree is more than first a seed, then a stem, then a living trunk, 
and then dead timber.  
The tree is a slow, enduring force straining to win the sky."
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 

"If you want to be happy for a a year, plant a garden;
If you want to be happy for life, plant a tree."
English proverb

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Birthdays, Gertrude Stein, and Nelle Sampson

Melinda Ruth with mom, dad, and Fritze in Nelle and Ruth's backyard.

Fifty-seven years ago today, I was named after Ruth Bobe - a woman who was never a biological mother but who cared for countless children at work as a teacher and at home as a friend.  My father and his siblings were six of the lucky recipients of her care, nurturing, and guidance.  She lived her life with a maiden aunt named Nelle Sampson who pitched in to help my grandmother,  Alberta Wyant, with her often times wild brood.  In every sense of the word, Ruth and Nelle were as much parents to my dad as his mom and dad were.  I doubt that my grandmother ever heard the quote, "it takes a village," but she lived it when it came to raising her children.   She would probably be surprised that today's world ever doubted it's truth.

When I was in my twenties, Nelle was well into her late eighties/early nineties and one afternoon when we were talking, I asked her how it felt to be her age.  I have never forgotten her exact words.  I can see her in my mind and hear her wobbly and thin voice as she said, "Oh I shock myself everyday when I look in the mirror.  I look in the mirror and I see this old wrinkled face and I ask the mirror who she is.  Inside, I still feel like I'm a teenage girl tending to my little flock of ducks."  Nelle then proceeded to go off topic and tell me about each of her ducks, what they were named and about how she cared for them. 

I think I've never forgotten Nelle's story because like Nelle, birthdays don't seem to extinguish the younger version of myself.  I feel the same, but I don't feel the same; it's a very complex feeling.  And yet occasionally when I look in the mirror, I have a little shock wave, nothing yet to the extent that Nelle was describing, but I know that if I'm blessed with years, that major earthquake shock in the mirror will come.  

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have collected quotes for years and I have several that I love from Gertrude Stein.  Gertrude Stein and Nelle Sampson were both born in the late 19th century.  Their lifestyles couldn't have been lived any farther apart; yet there is one truth they had in common.  Gertrude Stein said very simply, "We are always the same age inside." Nelle knew this too and she passed it on to me. 

Today I'm thankful for the wisdom of the women who came before me and for the blessings I've experienced so far.  As a young girl, I had a bucket list . . . before it was called a bucket list, but at this age it seems more like a blessings list. 

I've been blessed to find the love of my life and kiss him under the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the far away places I dreamed about from Vincennes, Indiana . . .

I dreamed of being a mother . . . . .

Richard Wyant, Brittany, Melinda with twins Ashli & Ty, Cousin Shane Knoy

 . . .and then when I became one, I begged God to let me live long enough to see them into adulthood . . .

Brittany Chenault, Tyson Wyant & Ashli Jansen

If my bucket only held these blessings, it would be enough.  But I've also been blessed enough to have learned to make music . . .

My first musical instrument - a Micky Mouse Club guitar

 . . . and then taught my children to sing . . .

Ashi, Cousin Mandy, and Brittany doing one of their "shows."

play . . .

Ty and Papaw playing marbles.

 . . . and I've shown them how to dance and celebrate with family.

The Wyants:  Terri, Cindy, Michelle, Melinda, Mother of the Bride - Lisa Wyant Arbaugh, and Lisa Wyant

I've made the most of my education . . .

Graduation from Anderson University with little brother, Andy

. . . traveled to almost everyplace I dreamed of as a little girl . . .


. . . and shared the excitement of those new worlds with my grandkids . . .

Logan & Lindsey reenacting the paprikash scene from When Harry Met Sally at the Met in NYC

What blessings will this year's ride on the Ferris wheel bring? 

Coney Island

Thanks for the blessings you have brought me so far in my life!  God is so good.

"Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." 
 ~Mark Twain

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Night-Blooming Jasmine and Mothers

Friday night I walked out of LAX airport and was immediately overwhelmed with the fragrance of night-blooming jasmine.  It is without a doubt one of the sweetest smells that has ever invaded my nose.  It is an amazing plant to me.  It takes over the air and it seems that you are walking in an invisible forest of night-blooming jasmine.  You have no idea where this plant is or what it looks like, but you know it's there.  During the day, you forget about it  because it only calls on your senses during the night hours.  As we unloaded my luggage from the car, there it was again, filling the night air around our apartment.  I found myself sticking my head out the screen less windows of our apartment before falling into bed at 3AM Milwaukee time, just so I could take a little bit of it to bed with me.

At 4:30AM California time, my phone started singing Mamma Mia.  This is my mother's ring song.  I tried to ignore it because I thought maybe my mom had just forgotten that we are 3 hours behind her time zone.  But Mamma Mia was insistent and I soon realized that my mama was really trying to get in touch with me regardless of the time zone.  I stumbled around in the dark looking for my phone and when the call finally connected, of course my first question was, "What's wrong?"  My dear blessed guardian angel mother was calling to tell me about the earthquake in Japan and the aftermath of the tsunami.  The morning news in Indiana was reporting that the tsunami was going to hit California and of course my mother's advise was to get in the car and start driving east.

After trying to assure my mother that the ten miles between our apartment and the Santa Monica beach would keep us safe, I decided to go back to bed.  I did say a little prayer that the weather men were overreacting because I don't know how to swim.  About an hour later, the phone started singing Defying Gravity from Wicked, my specially selected ring song for my oldest daughter.  Is this not the most fantastic ring song selection for my daughter who defies gravity everyday with her two sets of twins!  I answered almost immediately because I knew Brittany was calling to give me the tsunami warning too.  This time I decided to get up and again assure another member of my family that we are on high ground and safe.  I went into the living room and opened the window to see if I could get one more whiff of the night-blooming jasmine but dawn was just starting to break and no matter how deeply I breathed, I couldn't catch it's fragrance.  But I knew it was still out there, just waiting for night fall when it would remind me again of it's existence.

Mother/Daughter love is setting my heart to leap today.  We usually describe it by saying words like unconditional but the descriptor that overwhelms me today is abiding. I am turning 57 next week and my mother's abiding love still never ceases to amaze me.  For 57 years, I have been blessed to experience this amazing love that is enduring, unceasing and not afraid to wake me up at 4:30 in the morning so that I can get to safety.  My mother's abiding love feeds me and gives me strength.  It envelopes me just like the sweet smell of the jasmine and just like the jasmine, I tend to forget about it during my busy day.

After surviving the tsunami scare, Greg took me to see LA Broadway's version of Beauty and the Beast. As we were walking in, there was a mother of twins in front of us.  She was directing her two little blond-haired beauties through the crowd.  They were decked out in their yellow Belle dresses and watching them walk into the theater, I'm sure they felt like little princesses and the most important people in the world, and it was obvious that they were, in the eyes of their mother.  They don't understand yet what a mother's abiding love is all about, but someday, they will.

On the drive home, Greg and I shared some sweet laughter about the tsunami scare and my mother's early morning phone call and were once again surrounded by the sweet fragrance of the night-blooming jasmine.

"The fragrance of flowers spreads only in the direction of the wind.
But the goodness of a person spreads in all directions."
-Chanakya  (Indian politician, strategist, and writer)
Night-blooming Jasmine.  Scroll down for a great music video.

A little more about abiding . . . while it might seem a little strange to think about Elton John singing a hymn, here's a link to his performance of one of my very favorite hymns, Abide with Me.  The hymn was written by a Scotsman, Henry Francis Lyte, in 1847 as he lay dying from tuberculosis.  He only lived three more weeks after he wrote the hymn.      Elton John singing the hymn "Abide With Me"