Thursday, August 30, 2012

Stealthy Things Theory

Every woman knows it.  Her purse is a ninja.  It can hide in plain sight.  My pocketbook of choice is large. It is modeled after the Texas flag and has sparkles on it.  When a decidedly Not-Texan friend saw it for the first time, all she could say was "wow." Yeah. There was snark in there. 

It is big. It is loud. It is fun.  I think it is cool.  It is slightly insane.  In short, my purse looks like my personality the way dogs look like their owner.  Except for one thing.  My purse can hide from me.  I have never yet successfully hid from my children or my purse. 

Even the kids have noticed, the thing can be sitting on a mantle, draped on a chair and we can spend a good 20 minutes before someone trips over it.  Thus we came to the understanding that everyone has a secret ninja in their lives. For several of my children, it is their shoes, for others, their backpack when it is homework time, and for still others, their lunch box.  The question is not what is the ninja object in one's life but why is there a ninja object in one's life?

There are several controversial competing theories on the matter of obvious yet invisible objects.

1) We are failable forgetful disorganized beings: This has been loudly decried by the establishment as judgemental, harsh and unreasonable and thus dismissed as a kookie premise that only the despairing or lazy thinker embraces.  I agree.

2) Government Conspiracy Theorem:  All objects have microchips in them that allow the feds to test teleporation technology in discreet and multiple locations so as to perfect it before letting the public know about such things.   Sometimes the process doesn't work entirely, explaining the single sock/shoe/lost car keys that are never located.  Such a theory has much in the way of promising explanations of reality if true, it would resolve those perpetual seemingly eternal losses like the wallet that is always empty, the completely devoid of cookies "Cookie jar" and the empty ice cream tub in the freezer. 

3) The Toy Story Premise:  You know how toys are alive when we're not looking?  Well so are the things.  Attention things!  I will not abuse you if I gain knowledge of your being sentient.  Further, I would welcome your help.  Please please please, pull a Beauty and the Beast number on my home and put yourself away properly.  

4) Object Permanence Isn't: We know as infants that things don't stick around, but we're conditioned by all that came before to think otherwise.   It's possible.  After all, all things are finite, but that might seem like too hard a truth to bear, and so begins the socialization of a whole people to think that objects should endure beyond time.  

5) It Takes a Village to Create Real Paranoia: My kids can see the purse, they've just colluded to not notice in the desperate hopes of not having to run one more errand.  (This one seems entirely reasonable to me, except I'd have to be in on the scheme because there are times they want to go and I don't and I still can't find it). 

These are just a few of the possible explanations for the cloaking devise that ordinary house hold things sometimes use to avoid detection.  Feel free to add your own in the com box.  In the meantime, I've decided to put my phone in my purse so I can call it and locate it....except that's missing too and I'm pretty sure I turned it off....may have to reevaluate my staunch denial of theory #1.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

While I will Not Wordpress on...

Blogger was giving me fits yesterday. It vaporized two of my blog posts. That was after vaporizing a post on Sunday too.  Finally, annoyed, I thought maybe it was time to move to Wordpress. Wordpress seemed to be "the blog platform" of the sophisticated blogger...the arrived blogger, the one who made money writing to their own private audience.  (I do not make money with blogger, in fact my Google adsense that has been in place since about 2010, is still holding all the funds I've earned via ads, a whopping $27.86!). But I could set up a wordpress blog for free so I went to do it. 

On the dashboard, there is a button that lets you import your blog.  I imported my blog.  Do you know what it did? It uploaded every title, not one of the posts. Instead, every post is my "About me" profile page.  Bleah. 

If I were to post it, I could hear myself singing... Your blog's so in vain....every single post is About you....

But Blogger has returned to normal and thus, so have I.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Better Parenting through Saint Martha, Saint Monica and the Blessed Mother

The past week, I met a lot of new people because of school starting and some social events that happened over the weekend.  The question of "How do you do it?" when people were faced with the reality of "the number"  kept popping up.  I usually give a flippant answer like, "Some days I don't." (true), or "I haven't finished yet. I'll get back to you."  But the question itself kept presenting itself which meant, it was time to try and grope at an answer to this, "How do we raise ten children?" 
For the longest time, I flailed against Saint Martha.  I tried everything but remembering, she was a beloved friend of Jesus.  When I would get anxious about managing finances, housekeeping, homework, health forms, school supplies, chores, bedtimes, you name it, I would think I was suffering from "the sins of Martha." I wanted these things done, I just wanted other people to take them on.  I didn't want to always get "the crummy jobs" that no one else wanted to do.   You know what I mean, the sink of dishes that everyone walks by EXCEPT for one person, same with the laundry, the schedule, the bills, the assignment deadlines, the paperwork (I hate hate hate hate), the bank statement, all of that crammed in my brain and I would revolt and head to the blog.
So I took a two week break to try and get everything done and while I didn't last the two weeks (10 days but hey, it was close and I didn't write on the weekend),  I did notice, I still found ways to avoid the work where possible, so it was the blog as a vehicle of my sloth, rather than the source of it.   I need to write daily. It is important to my psyche, it lets me see patterns and identify issues that if I didn't write even if only to myself, I wouldn't fully recognize.   My favorite priest pointed out to me, "Martha was still a saint." and once I allowed myself to relax about things, I found honestly, things did work out even if I didn't always see how.  It just took me being willing to look at the "crummy tasks" as signs of love and to teach my kids to occasionally pick a crummy job and do a decidedly Not crummy job doing it. 
Saint Martha and I have an understanding now.  Upon reflection, her life points out that I need not to be anxious about all these things, and also need not to fume when I am giving or guess what, I am not giving.   So first and foremost, everything is a gift or not, that is the freewill choice of raising ten kids.  I either will do it or not.  So I'm reminding myself nightly to climb the stairs and give kisses to each of those who will let me.  It's part of what should be baseline.   I shouldn't do a crummy job at the best job, and fuss over the need to do better at the crummy jobs involving things.   I can wash the dishes as part of washing their feet. I can also teach them the same.  But I can't do that if I'm humphing about getting it done. 
So the first part of the answer is "Serve with love."
Saint Monica and I have become friends since I have teenagers, because no matter what I say, sometimes I'm just not what people want to hear.  I have found a new source of anxiety that isn't related to domestic daily routine, the doubt of my words and action as well as my silence and inaction.  Too much scheduling. Too much pressure. Not enough.  Should I push? Should I pull? Should I rescue? Should I double check? Should I sign him up? Should I not?  Check. Check. Check and triple check...and then be really annoyed when I didn't check and of course if I had checked, I would have found the critical paper/error/problem that now has snowballed.
It's not that I want to worry, but having teens is always about seeing the various paths before them and hoping hoping hoping they choose wisely and figuring out all the points before now when you dropped the ball or hogged it making their choices harder to discern.   It isn't a case of false guilt or fake humility, it's a case of knowing...that should have been handled better, and still knowing what you do next will probably be over correction. 
It is hard to surrender.  It is hard to trust trust trust beyond your own ability, in the deep deeper grace that God has to give if we ask.   This will look like a mess but it will work out.   The grace is to trust enough to accept that you cannot see all ends and you're not supposed to, you're only to love and to serve and to pray.  The rest of it, is that pesky freewill.  Trust trust trust.  And then with the teens, verify, verify, verify.   Not because they're bad but because they're inexperienced and so they make choices that they do not know the consequences of as they do them.  Like my son who put red pepper flakes on his hand to sprinkle on the pizza.  When I told him that was spicy and to wash his hands, he naturally asked, "Why?" and when I said it would hurt his eyes if he touched them, he had to really work to NOT touch his own eyes...or his brothers in a moment of mischief. I followed his hands to the sink to make sure they were properly rinsed.
The second part of raising ten: wise as serpents, gentle as doves.  There's a bit of vigilance laced with mercy in that saying, but it has a spine.  It's all necessary.
Finally, we come to the Blessed Mother, where we fall down and say "How?"  or "Why?" or my personal favorite, "Help!"  My grandfather used to say, "Sooner or later you just have to fall on your knees and bawl like a baby." and he knew of what he spoke, trying to raise nine.  So Mary gets a goodly chunk of my prayer life.   It's almost a daily lament/call, like my daily chat with my own earthly mom.  I need it as part of getting through all of this with some degree of poise and humor and sanity.
And do you know what?
Mary always answers. Even more, Mary always intercedes. Mary always comforts. Mary always is there, leading us closer to her son, pulling us out of our comfort zones to a zone of peace which is much greater and richer than the pseudo serenity of control. 
The other day, I was at the park while five of mine had swimming lessons. I'd taken the youngest two with me as well to let the oldest girls have quiet time to get their homework done.  My daughter tripped on the stairs and whacked her head.  Holding her, rocking her, kissing her forehead and saying, "It will be okay. It will be okay. It will be okay." she snuggled into my arms deeper.  My words and kisses soothed the pain.
Mary is like that with us, except she is even more effective.  I could have hovered and perhaps stopped the trip, but the next time she took the steps, my daughter held onto the railing. She'd learned a touch of caution and was back at going down the slide with a fully joyful face each time after the initial bump faded.  Wisdom through suffering, even at 19 months is a part of our reality as hard as that is, but I got to comfort and that was a grace too.
So the third part was prayer. Pray. Pray. Pray. 
No one ever wants to fully recognize how intimately God answers our prayers because that would be almost outrageous, almost too much for our human fallen hearts to bear.   But I know it is true, that God answers our prayers, our deepest hearts cries, even on the stupid stuff.   What He answers is always "I love you." and designed to bring us and as many as possible back to Him, like a parent being willing to fly everyone of her children back to her home for Christmas on her own dime because she wants all of them near or it isn't as full as her heart longs to be. It's why we want to be as lavish as possible at weddings or why we want to celebrate and we're always looking to see if everyone we invited came and to make sure we invited everyone our heart could think of when something is important.  And our hearts ache when we forget or we mess up or we can't somehow make it happen.  We want that luminous feast with everyone, and we want it to go on and on and on.
On Earth, this is as close as we come, we get slivers of understanding of the infinite heart of God come through the process of serving others, and the surest way to guarantee that we have someone to serve, is to be responsible for somebody else's future in addition to our own.    So How do you raise ten kids?  The same way you raise one, two, five or 19 or however many you've received.  You raise them with love, wisdom, prayers, service and you do it...forever, even when they're grown, because part of you will always be responsible for their souls, just as they are in part for yours.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Things I Teach My Kids that I'm Still Learning

By definition, if you are a parent, you are a hypocrite.  Why? Because you don't want your kids to bang their heads against brick walls until they are injured even though you doing  the exact same thing injured you but also taught you better ways to get around obstacles.  We want to by nature, short circuit the process of growing up and make it easier.  It is out of love and stupidity about the learning process that we do this, but it is also absolutely true. We hope they will do better than we do, but often the reality is that kids are here on this earth to make us finally shape up and do the things our parents always told us would make our lives soooooo much easier if we did.   Some day I'll mature past 15. 

10) Eat healthy.  Pass me that diet coke, I need to start my morning.  Yeah, I got pinged on that this morning...stupid smartie kids.    

9) Stay organized and write it down. (This part I would do if I could find a working pen).  I can find everyone else's assignments, but can't keep track of my notepad for more than two days at a time.  Nubby orange (why is it always orange?) crayons and dried up felt tip pens don't cut it. 

8) Read directions 3 times before you start a project.   Pshaw. Who has the time? I'll just skim and intuit.  It will work.  Really.

7) Go outside, breathe the fresh air and play.  Step away from the screen. (Cue irony alert, she wrote a blog...ummmmmm MOM? There's the door, go do it)!

6) Dress nice.  It matters.  Memo to me...get hair cut.

5) Learn new things that are hard.  (Is that like how you've been working on the same piano piece for 5 years Mom? Or the guitar where you can play maybe 2 chords?) yeah. yeah. yeah. Having 4 teenagers is really really really fun.

4) Exercise.   Not doing it is just an excuse.   Please excuse me, I have to go fold socks. 

3) Did you ask Saint Anthony?   (Okay, this one scares me because my kids will not look until I've asked). 

2) Write thank you notes.   Do it the day of the party and whatever you do, don't lose the list.   I've learned to preemptively buy the stationary and stamps.  I'm considering making the next party list on an email so I can ensure it doesn't get lost.

1) Go to bed...on time....90% of the time.  Yeah, that will happen.  Some day.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Luminous Cross

Yesterday, I was flat. Moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer, from the dryer to the couch to begin the hard slog of folding, I just felt empty. Two weeks of not writing had left me wondering (as I am neurotic this way), could I write, was writing what I should do?  Or was it an exercise in ego that took me away from my main vocation, parenting these ten children? 

So I told God, "I need to know YOUR will.  I know Mary obeyed perfectly, so she got an angel to tell her directly what God's plan was.  I don't merit an angel, but I'm stupid and stubborn so I need a big NEON sign on a Silver Platter, what do you want me to do?"  Then I folded the clothes, dealt with a sulking teen because Wendy's messed up his order and so all he got was fries (mine), convinced a reluctant 10 year old to do math and an 8 year old to read, did the dishes and picked up school supplies for the new high school student who was hyperventilating over 3 ring binders.   When we got back from the Popsicle social (swimming lessons were to follow but got canceled due to thunderstorms), I checked my email. 

There was a Neon sign on a silver platter.  1) The Arch Diocese was considering my application to be a writer for them and 2) Museitup publishing sent me a contract for THE BOOK OF HELEN.  I owe God some serious knee time in thanks and gratitude, 1) because I'm very happy and grateful and 2) because He took my silly demand for a overt message seriously.   I'm glad He humors my impatience. 
But He expects reciprocity from me.  

To celebrate, I got to change two diapers, my teen said, "That's nice. I have homework." and the other said, "Stop calling people and help me pack for school."  So I did.   My younger children wanted to throw a party, so today, we're making a cake and I may get balloons and champagne.  

Back when I was in graduate school, my advisor asked, "How will you keep from being seduced by academia?" as I detailed my dream of running an inner city school for students with special needs that provided real services, cleaning for low income housing, home repair, landscaping and a soup kitchen.   Being a smartalec, I responded, "That's my husband and children's job."  I don't know why I said children, as at the time I had one.  But God understood and essentially said, "Okay, that's your path to holiness."  and graciously gave me this luminous cross.  

So today, I'm celebrating....and getting more school uniforms, a lunch bag to replace the one that's broken, and I have to stop by the doctor's for medical records and have reached critical mass on the dry in the midst of triumph, it will still all be very real.  

Thanks for sharing in my joy! Now I have to get to the real work.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Storming the Castle, or at Least, Starting the Commute of Despair

Pass me that miracle pill.   The chocolate coating makes it go down easier and I shouldn't go swimming for at least an hour. 

We are about to embark on an insane journey that makes the trip to Texas in a 12 passenger van sans air-conditioning and back seem like a walk in the park. 

We start school Monday.  By 6:35 a.m, the first must be launched. The second must be out the door and at the bus --she can't walk to the bus stop because it is too far, by 7:20.  Five must leave by 7:35 to escape being late, and one must be walked down to the bottom of the hill every day by 8:25.  Before they leave, they must have been fed, assemble a lunch and be properly attired for their respective school and have all their things.   In how many weeks will Mom and Dad simply collapse? 

When did my life become a word problem from my fifth grade math book?

The afternoon is just as nutty, with one coming back via metro, one via the school bus --same pick up place as we dropped off, and five needing pick up from their school all at the same time (natch), by one mom with two in tow.   This does not factor into the equation late days because of special activities, evening meetings or practices, homework or any of the other things that life normally has within its folds, like folding, dinner, bath time routines, bedtime routines or the most evasive and elusive of all basic needs, sleep.  I'd be very happy with the gift of Bi-location, but it would have to include my car.  

I keep running over things in my mind and I come back to one thing.  I Do  Not  Know. 

That's my answer.  How does she do it?  Answer: She doesn't know yet.   I'm making this up as I go along.   Indiana Jones I'm not, but I'd be very happy if my kids could commandeer some perfectly saddled white stallions and run them back to my house every day. Cue trumpet theme song.

Alternatively, if someone would just develop that darn transporter beam, all of Bone's concerns about scattered molecules aside, I'd be game if only to know that I would not become mind melded with the van for the next nine months.   In this case, (sorry Indie) it's not the mileage, it's the years that I will be able to count up that I have spent driving, enough to go toe to toe with any cross country 18 wheeler.

So those are my options: High technology, High Fantasy or High Spiritual Grace or slogging it out with the sincere knowledge 1) they are going to be late and 2) you are going to be tired.  But I'm game. I've set my alarm for 5:45.  We'll see what we can do about doing the kessel run in less than 12 parsecs.  I'm hoping I can get them all up at 6:00, have made the lunches by 6:30, take the girls and drop them off at their respective spots and be back by 7:00 o'clock, finish fixing breakfast and load the car for the next launch by 7:30, leaving me to walk the youngest two down the hill so I can get my son on the bus by 8:25.   Then I hope a friend will pick up my metro girl and bring her to her old school so I can swoop in and gather 6 before heading back to just near home to get the 7th in short order.  It's possible.  It's just not easy.

Think it will work? 
It would take a miracle.  

Bye Bye!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Writer's Block Break

I worry when I take a break from blogging, that whatever it is that inspires writing will pack up its things and leave no forwarding address.   But the past few weeks, I've stared at the page and the page has stared back and even pouring out my heart feels repetitive. 

So I'm taking a break.  I'm forcing myself to not blog (I'm sure I'll think of 6 topics in the next day because of it), but this blog will fall silent for the next two weeks.  It will force me to 1) help get people ready for school and 2) allow me to store up stories...and let them bake a bit.  

See you on August 25th. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Struggles that Don't Make Great Reading

5) We are out of diet coke.  I'd get the kids in the car and drive to the store but I lack the energy.  Why? We are out of diet coke.

4) Staying on a diet where all you eat are proteins and veggies means, if you step on the scale the next morning and the number hasn't gone down, you feel robbed. Personally.  I could have had this weight today and eaten a candy bar but instead....I got eggs.  Not happy.

3) The laundry takes over sofa.  The urge to bag it up even though it is clean and take it to the laundry mat where I can pay someone to fold it is strong. I'd pay my kids to do it but there isn't enough money in the federal government's dreams to make them want to possibly have to touch their brother's or sister's underwear. 

2) My children apparently suffer from the same fatigue as me even though they haven't developed an addiction to caffeine yet.  That's my only explanation for their leaving the towels and clothing from yesterday on the floor and the lights on in the bathroom.  Exhaustion. Yes. That's my explanation and I'm sticking to it. 

1) Fights over the TV.  The children have learned that one of three things shall happen:  a) the tv goes off. (This is the most likely).  b) all children involved will be given the chore of laundry. (See #2).  and c) I will control the TV, and as such, I shall be watching the Food Network or some bor-ring movie that you won't like. 

I may have to go out on an emergency run for diet coke.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Be Still my Heart, or at least, Be Quiet, My Brain

Every year, we pick a spiritual theme and this year, it is "Be Still and Know that I am."  You would think this would lead to an obvious pilgrimage to visit the Blessed Sacrament. I won't deny I'd fully intended that this be a weekly regimen. 

Then life happened.  And we got to August and I'd not made it to adoration once.  "How can you know I am if you will never ever be still?"  I could hear God smiling, bemused at my frantic attempt to get through the laundry, the chores of the day, helping with math, solving fights, running errands.  Here I was flailing away and feeling like less and less was getting done, less and less was mattering, and much of what I did do, was without a sense of peace that I thought would come from the Rosary, from serving my family, from trying to do what I ought, rather than what I wanted.  I had to ask, did I really want it if I put it off so much? 

But the opportunity kept quietly insisting that I consider it, like a wound that needs tending.  It pulsed. 
I drove by where there was 24/7 adoration.   It kept reminding me.  Every time I went out. 

My writing started drying up.  Everything felt stale.  My prayer life felt rather like a diet that wasn't working. I was eating right, exercising, not losing weight.  What more do you want God? I asked. 
And I knew.  You can keep beating your head against a spiritual wall, or you can go. 

So today, after dropping off my oldest at his job, I told myself, give yourself 20 minutes.  Immediately, my brain came up with three different other tasks that needed to be done.  I shunted them aside. My brain suggested I go back home and help with the math, get the kids and take them berry picking, clear out the computer room, plan our anniversary...after all, didn't I say a daily rosary? Didn't I read the Magnificat?  Wasn't my prayer life already full?  How was it going to make any difference? 

I drove through the parking lot the wrong way (as if that isn't symbolic enough).  I parked. I called home to check on my two teens that were serving breakfast.  All was quiet.  I'd run out of excuses. 

I'd love to tell you I had this great spiritual awakening, but it was more like a, "What took you so long?" moment.  And I cried and prayed for all my family and wondered why it had taken so much, why it had been such a struggle, to simply come and sit?   There was a temptation to say the rosary, but I didn't want to be busy before God, so I refused my desire to get some of my to do list done. This was be still and know time, not rosary time.   Sitting before our Lord, I felt bothered that I'd been so bothered, troubled that I'd considered coming such trouble.  All I could mutter was a "I'm sorry, I've been away."  and over and over again, "Jesus, I love you." It was a warm calm place to be, the very opposite of much of my life with the twists and turns that ten different personalities can generate. 

When I left, I promised, it would be fewer than 8 months before the next time.  "Be still and know that I am."  can't happen if I don't visit.   Now God's working on the...couldn't you stay an hour?  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


February 1986

“My back hurts.” Becky announced as she sat down next to me after we’d been tagged in a game of duck duck goose at the Saturday morning “rec” program.  She and I were in the mush pot.  I’ve never been a fast runner.

I’d never volunteered with the handicapped before either.  The Saturday before, I’d overheard the table next to me laughing so hard and so loud at lunch that I looked over.  They were all wearing nametags and doubled over in fits.  My first thought was “Drunk.” but they explained they were just a bit giddy from having spent the morning at Logan Center and seeing how excited the clients were when the entire Notre Dame Football team came for a visit.  One guy was even nicknamed “Mr. ND” because of his love for the Fighting Irish.  He’d needed twenty minutes to gain his composure when Coach Lou Holtz shook his hands.  Every weekend they went over to assist with the recreational program and occasionally had special guests, camping trips, dances and parties.  It sounded…fun.  Lent was coming up. I thought about volunteering. I knew I needed to do something more.  I dutifully wrote down the details of how to participate and filed it away as a possibility.

Seven o’clock next Saturday came much too early.  “Maybe I’ll just give up chocolate.” I groaned as the alarm blared mercilessly.  But I got up. My roommate snoozed on and I rummaged for jeans and a sweat shirt, envious as she snored away.  I’d have to hustle to catch the bus or it would be a 2 mile walk in Southbend, Indiana, in February, the very definition of unpleasant.  “I said I’d do this.” I growled aloud as if to will myself forward into the hard dull icy outside.  The air held a strong trace of ethanol from the plant nearby. 

Half asleep on the ride over, my mind ran over why I felt the need to go?  Why did I always pick the hardest book, assignment, job around? Why I felt compelled to add layers of complexity to my life?  Sophomore year was running pretty smoothly. I had a steady boyfriend.  I had a tight circle of girlfriends.  A double major in English Literature and Creative Writing, I had mostly A’s for the moment.   Why was I not back in my warm dorm room dozing away?  Why was I seeking more to do? “Because,” I answered myself firmly, “something was missing.”  “What?” I asked myself, “What is missing?”  “Something.” I decided I was a lousy Yoda, sipped my morning soda and hoped I hadn’t made a colossal mistake.

We arrived at the center and I was given a nametag and told to wait in the gym.  Within five minutes, I’d been given a briefing on the routine.  Songs.  Arts and Crafts.  Games.  Closing circle.  This recreation program serviced people ages 7 to 70, all having handicapping conditions that ranged from moderate to severe.  There were many that had Down Syndrome, some with cerebral palsy, and a few with multiple conditions that precluded specific classification but always included mental retardation.  After twenty minutes of screaming songs I hadn’t given voice to since Kindergarten, my voice was dying.  Doing arts and crafts was much more of my element, although I’d be scraping layers of glitter and glue from my fingers for a few days. Games included relay races, freeze tag, red rover and duck, duck, goose.  Becky had adopted me from the get go and good naturedly scooted right next to me, presenting her back. “My back hurts.” She repeated.  “Rub it please.”

As I put my hand on her back, I felt the unnatural “C” curve of her spine through the thick Notre Dame sweat shirt. She physically relaxed as I massaged her shoulders.  “That feels nice.” She mumbled.  “You’re nice.”  And she then sprang up and ran out of the circle because her “boyfriend,” a Notre Dame junior who volunteered, had just walked in the gym. 

I sat there holding my hand, thinking about how I hadn’t thought for a moment when she asked.  I’d just done it.  I could still feel the shape of her spine, my hands wanted to somehow smooth it out.  Looking around at the room, here was joy unbridled in awkward gates and full throated off tune voices.  Becky came back to me excited. There was a dance that evening.  Did I want to come?  Did I want to do decorations?  Could I make brownies and did I know how to dance?

The alternative was likely pizza, a movie, or nothing.  So I said yes, yes, Yes! and you better believe I know how to dance.   “Prove it tonight!” she challenged.

That evening came and I was again filled with the “Why are you doing this?” thought line.  “You could be going to a movie, making out with your boyfriend, or have a girl’s night out and go to the dorm where your friend’s boy friends live, they’re in the glee club and that would be cool.” “You could stay home and catch up on your homework or sleep –remember that? You could be sleeping.”  I’d opted for dance casual, black pants, black boots and a glittery top.  I’d made some instant brownies, the kind of slice and bake junk you get at the dorm mini-store that’s only open on weekends but figured chocolate was chocolate. 

The bus ride over, surrounded by people who were going to “real” dances thrown by dorms, by groups of girls planning a night at the dance club above the student center or headed off campus for pizza and a party, I sat with my tray of brownies wondering…”Why did being with these people compel?  Was I feeling sorry for them?  Was I just “trying to be a good person?”  Was I simply caught up in the enthusiasm? What was it they filled, what was it that had been empty?” “Was it the something?”

I walked into the dance hall and was handed streamers to hang up after I put down the plate of food on a table bursting with sweets.  The DJ had already set up and was cranking tunes before we were ready.  “You’re here!” Becky said as soon as she saw me.  “I brought the brownies.” I offered.  She waved her hands at me, “I don’t eat that stuff.  Too sweet.” “But you said…” I started but she was already kicking off her shoes. “Let’s Dance!” She cried and dragged me with her.  

“Footloose” kicked off the festivities and I don’t think Kevin Bacon could have competed with this crowd.  After an hour, I’d not left the floor.  Becky had brought me partners and we’d even broken out some older moves like the hustle, but the best moment came when we all acted like zombies from Thriller.  The differences between those of us pursuing degrees in English or Government or Engineering or Economics, and those who could not read, had fallen away in the moment of the dance.  It was a delicious communal moment of pure fun.  Everyone’s eyes shown with palpable joy as they applauded Vincent Price’s final cackle.  The crowd decided it was intermission time, cleared the floor and hit the snack table. 

Looking around at the smiling faces and hearing the near continuous sound of laughter from all this fun, I knew the absence of barriers was the “something.”  I wanted to do this again, to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. The something became necessary for me.  It was the beginning of a love that resulted in two more years of surrendered college Saturdays and eventually, a Master’s degree in Special Education.  Taking students out of their wheel chairs to stretch their long frozen limbs to Madonna reminded me of her.  Like Becky and her friends at the dance, they smile with a joy unstrapped.  The song Thriller every Halloween still invokes a sly knowing smile of that moment, and my hand can still draw the shape in the air of her back.  I still wish I could pat it smooth.

Becky and her friends prepared me for all that came, not only professionally but personally.   As my youngest son Paul begins pre-school, I look at the people who will work with him to see if their eyes reflect the same knowledge of that infectious joy that I experienced.   I look to see if the love that began me down this road has struck them too.  My little boy has Down Syndrome.  He will need the equivalent of a Logan Center recreation program one day.  Like Becky, Paul teaches hands on, how boundless love can be.  It reaches out beyond speech --he's non verbal.  It reaches out beyond age --he charms every one of his brothers and sisters, even the surly teen girl who pretends that she doesn't belong to this motley noisy messy lot. Like Becky, my son dances with pure abandon and his siblings join in, surprised by themselves, surprised to discover the absence of a difference that is the something that is love.  

Necessary Summer Skills

Today, my children illustrated why school is necessary for at least 9 months of the year.

They developed an Olympic sport all their own, Samurai banana peeling. 

To explain, they toss said banana in the air and slice it in mid air with a butter knife. 

They then eat.

No one has been hurt so far, but 15 bananas have been thus consumed as a result of the momentary entertainment value.  At what price boredom?  Apparently 58cents a pound. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Summer Brain

I was going to post on Monday. 

I forgot my blogger password.  When I went to go to yahoo to check my email to get a new password, I'd forgotten that one too.  At that point, I declared the day over, took the kids to the park and bought ice cream from a truck.  

It's summer.  My brain cells are on a need to use basis only. 

So this morning when my daughter came to me with 4th grade math (fractions), I worried before she showed me the problem.  At what point do I allow this mental slide into the permanently beached ice cream coma stop?  I decided it would be when I couldn't do the math. 

The problem with doing the math, I had to do it.   The problem with having done the math, was the cold slap of older children's homework looming. "Hey Mom, what do you know about the Scarlet Letter?" Blithedale's Romance for senior Scarlet letter because I'd never read it and decided I should, so it's been checked off but no analysis.   "Hey Mom! I need a poster."  "Hey Mom? What do you know about McCarthyianism?" 

My desire to go running to the nearest ice cream truck is strong.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Facebook Chicken

Something I've noticed about debates on Facebook. 

They don't create friends. Politics in social media are more like a game of chicken on a two lane highway.  This past week, the entire Facebook community seemed consumed by Chick-Fil-A, and yet I do not recall a single post of a single person being converted heart or mind from one side to the other. It was really a sense of tribal camps.  Camps that had good reasons for being, but camps that could see the multitude of reasons on its own side for joining, and none of the thought process of the other. 

The nature of the debate on Facebook shrinks rather than expand the arena of ideas.  It just divides us into the us and them, the like and don't like, the R and the D, the Yeah We're Great and Good and Wise and the Evil Other side is stupid...we do not see our own planks in our own eyes, but those splinters, WOW, they're big.  Let me help... Click "Like" and share is not the same as give love and sharing. We aren't doing much giving if all we are doing is standing on a soap box and saying anyone who doesn't agree with me is a doof and I'm unfriending.  

Facebook politics don't allow for much nuance, so there is much opportunity for hurt. But real relationships must change us, or they are not real. Because we do not see face to face, we miss the smiles, the eyes, the heart that comes with having a discussion about real things with real people. There is far more nuance in the motivations of our thinking than our political ideological monikers reveal.   It is a hard thing to recognize, that in this age of most people having 200+ followers, and over 500 "friends," true relationships are being lost in the cross fire of expecting that all friends shall be mirrors unto ourselves. We have to be willing to open our eyes even in the virtual world, to the bigger souls that are shrunk by our limited vision in cyber space, and to how we might be shrinking our own in the process. Friends are not mirrors, they are facets of God's eyes, that show back to us, the pieces we won't otherwise see. 

Pray for peace in all our hearts, in all our actions and in all we think and say everywhere. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Happy Dog Days of Summer!

The dog days of summer are upon us and I've noticed some behaviors that are not strictly speaking, healthy, smart or acceptable.   I wish to clarify without lecturing so let me put them in a 10 point rule format.

10) Bedtime is not cruel or unusual. 

9) We will not eat out every day or even every week. Deal.

8) Lack of an event on the schedule does not equal an invitation to propose six. 

7) Breakfast service ends at 9 a.m.  Lunch opens at 11:30 and closes at 1. (See, I'm reasonable).  Snack is a sometimes thing, and dinner is at 6-7.   I promise, you won't starve.  Now get out of the refrigerator.

6) Sleeping until noon will earn dinner dish duty.  It will still be earned if you get up at 11:58.  (or close enough).  

5) You must shower daily, as well as see to all other necessary hygine.  (Sorry, them's the breaks).

4) The Internet, TV, Computer, Kindle, DVD player and Wii all have off switches.  Coincidentally, when you turn them off, your brain starts working.  (Useful for summer reading). 

3) Being bored does not mean "Let's poke our sister until she screams."

2) Just because homework isn't being assigned doesn't mean chores don't still need to be done. 

1) I don't stay on you to exercise, read, wash, do your math and take care of things because I enjoy being a Matronly Goblin task master, trust me, I'd rather write, swim, shop, surf the net, sun, eat out and nap too. I just know, if I leave you to sink or swim, I'm supposed to be the lifeguard, so I'm trying to help you learn how to do more than tread water.   

P.S. Swimming lessons start next week.  

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