Friday, August 29, 2014

Milestones


This post may seem like that most insidious of things, a humble brag, but it’s not. For one thing, I take no credit. For another thing, the writing served two purposes—it reminds me of what really matters at the end of the parenting day and it leads into my next blog. Naturally.

It’s been a summer marked by change. Of course, children change most of all. And, when I think of their milestones at age nine-turning-ten and six, at first I think of all their achievements at school, celebrated so thoroughly in May and June.

More recently, I remember how startled I've been when we sit together at a meal and I think, How tall they look! Then comes the second, heart-bursting and stomach-dropping thought: They’re not sitting on their feet. It’s amazing when they grow like that. I look over, startled, and then just admire what they’ve done. Getting taller. All on their own. Wow.

But this summer, like seashells, I’ve been collecting other little markers that, in the end, mean more to me. It all began when we went to our favorite Italian place for a meal. As the hostess turned to collect menus and lead us to the table, she knocked her notebook onto the floor. Faster than I could think, Little A. leapt forward, picked it up, and cheerfully said, “Here you go.”

Something inside me said, This is important.

My heart nearly burst with pride. I realized that this act of kindness truly meant more to me than his report card. I filed that reminder away for the future, for the times when I need to choose parenting priorities.

And then we’ve also had an abundance of small ones in our lives this summer. Dear friends had a beautiful baby girl in the spring and other babies have crossed our path. One sweet girl, about a year old, played with us for nearly an hour at the beach one day. I say “us”—she really played with S. and Little A.

As soon as we arrived, S. laid out a beautiful and elaborate sand project. As she sculpted away, the little one toddled up. Right away, S. saw that the baby and her pudgy fists of destruction were heading for her sand city.  

Calmly, sweetly, cheerfully, our tween started making quick sand castles between the baby and her project. She built tower after tower for that baby to smash, moving on to tunnels and buried feet when the baby’s interest waned. Little A. joined in at times. They had a blast, even though S. never did finish her beautiful sand-sculpting project that day.

Again, the voice inside told me to pay attention.

The remarkable thing about both these incidents—and other sweet moments I’ve stored away this summer—is that I did nothing. Neither did their dad.

On vacation, Little A., bundle of energy, runner-into-walls, thrower of things, hurdler of obstacles, never-say-die, all-around tough kid, played with another toddler in the baby pool. He gently, sweetly, and patiently tossed a beach ball over and over, responding to the baby’s cues. Later that night, Big A. asked me how the kid learned to do that.

I stumbled around, looking for an answer, but in the end, I had to say, “I guess he learned it from the way he was treated when he was little.”

I thought about the wonderful teens who have stayed with the kids when we couldn’t, the teens and big kids who’ve shown delight in our kids—at school, at church, in scouting, at the do jang—and I thought what a wonderful gift they’ve given us.

They’ve shown our kids that big people have fun taking care of little people.

More on that in my next post, which will be my first blog by request!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Changes

I've started composing blogs in my mind, but I can't go on until I take time to acknowledge that our family has changed profoundly in the last few weeks.

My husband's father, the children's beloved Papa and the best father-in-law a girl could ask for, passed away peacefully on August 15.

With the help of a wonderful community of family and friends, we said farewell with a funeral Mass and Celebration of Life on Saturday, then--again, thanks to some wonderful, generous new friends--said a final farewell at sea.

Words seldom fail me, but, now, even a picture's proverbial thousand words seem inadequate. How could I pick one? Or ten? Papa lived life so fully, so vividly, and with so much love that his going leaves a huge hole in this world, not to be patched by words or pictures.

So I will leave this. The whole family gathered for Papa's 72nd birthday a few short weeks ago. On his birthday, the quote on our calendar seemed so fitting that I haven't changed it yet.

"The measure of a man's character is not what he gets from his ancestors, but what he leaves his descendants."
 
Farewell, Papa! You have left us so much--wisdom, memories, adventure, joy, and love. 
We will sail on until we see you again one day!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Light


I have felt no desire to add my voice to the discussion of Robin William’s death. Until now. Now I want to say something about the inevitable and seemingly unending comments about how happy he seemed, how much he had, and whether he chose to die or died of a disease. Now I feel like my perspective might add something.

Everything I say comes with a caveat—it is based on my experience and my observation. I’m not a scientist or any sort of expert, just someone who has been severely depressed.

If you are depressed or know someone who is, a great number of resources can be found on this page: http://twloha.com/find-help

Telling someone who suffers from severe depression that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel—or that there’s help, or love, or that this, too, shall pass—is like telling a person who has lost their vision that it is day.

Maybe they’ve seen day before and maybe they haven’t, but they can’t see it now. Their ability to perceive day is gone. Let me be very clear about this. A person without the ability to see does not choose to look away from light; the mechanism in their body for perceiving light has stopped working. Depressed people do not choose to turn away from hope, help, and love, the mechanism in their body that allows them to perceive those has stopped working.

Maybe you’re right there beside them, telling them about hope, help, and love. They trust you, they know you wouldn’t lie, they know you love them, but they’re still taking your word for it. And, more importantly, they’re holding onto faith that someday they’ll see again, that, in some inexplicable way, someday they’ll be healed. Their vision will return somehow. They must constantly choose to believe that, by some unforeseeable miracle, day will relate to them again.

And so it is with depression. You can say there’s hope and maybe I’ll hear you from my depression, but I can only take your word for it.

Maybe they’ve survived depression before, but not even memory of day can always help. I’ve been depressed before and I know it’s ended, though not exactly how. I know some things that usually go hand-in-hand with healing—slowing down, sleeping, exercise—but sometimes they come first and sometimes they come after. I have knowledge and memory of passing out of depression, but, in my depressions, I cannot perceive it. It doesn’t relate to me.

The sun shines brightly and beautifully, even for those unable to see it. And those who love and care for the depressed do so brightly and beautifully. Believe me when I say that your light is there. But depression takes away our vision.

Holding on through that loss of vision takes faith, courage, and will on the part of the depressed. Yet we are human. Our faith can falter, our courage crumble, our will weaken. We can grow weary. And, because we’re navigating treacherous waters without our sight, we can crash into rocks. Our boat can capsize; our faith, courage, or will can fail for just that second that lets us slip beneath the waves.

Of course we could navigate that river if we could see. Of course we could grab hold of the boat one more time if we were perfect. But we are blinded by depression and we are human.

I stand in awe of everyone who lives with depression. I call you heroes. And I mourn those who have lost their lives to depression. I call you fallen heroes.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Help, The Playlist



This is my Help playlist. I play it when I need a boost, a way to get through the day, a little grace from the universe. I’m musically eccentric, as you’ll see, but every one of these songs has lifted me up in one way or another.

I threw the playlist together at one point, something else that’s completely obvious. Those of you who remember the heyday of mix tapes will recognize the total lack of artistry when it comes to song order, musical and emotional transitions, variation of intensity, and consistency of genre. It’s rough, in other words. That bothered me at one point, but now I kind of like it that way.

Things don’t need to be perfect to be wonderful.

It’s also…incomplete. Some of you will be shocked to see no Toad the Wet Sprocket on there, but then again, fear constitutes an entire album of help on its own. I might stick the Indigo Girls classic “Galileo” on there and Blur’s “Tender” has been asking for a spot. And my new obsession, Pentatonix, has a great candidate in “Run To You.” That’s another drawback to playlists (as opposed to mix tapes)—there’s no definite end point.

Kind of like life, folks. The to-do list is never done. We just have to love what we’ve got.

1.       Elohai N’Tzor (Pink Martini)—I’ve mentioned this before. It’s a beautiful prayer arranged into what may be the most gorgeous music I’ve ever heard. If I just have time for this song, I’m already soothed, calmed, uplifted, inspired, and much happier.
2.       Hallelujah (John Cale)—Everyone has their Hallelujah. This has been mine since college.
3.       Vincent (Don McLean)—Of course, this story doesn’t have a happy ending, but I like to think that the depth of our struggles might relate to the depth of our love for the beauty of this world and its people.
4.       Down to the River to Pray (Alison Krauss)—I love the music, the voices, the lyrical repetition, and also the more metaphorical repetition. Spirituals connect me to generations of people who’ve needed to be lifted up—and that feels much better than going it alone.
5.       Come Unto Me (Sweet Honey In The Rock)—First of all, these women named their group superbly. All the smooth, delicious shades of amber liquid pour through their voices. And then, this song is my promise. For years, I’ve looked forward to resting when my time comes.
6.       Pushing the Needle Too Far (Indigo Girls)—Well, kind of a no-brainer here. I first thought of the main image here in a shooting-up sense, but my husband pointed out that it probably refers to a speedometer or pressure gauge. And isn't that what’s wrong with the world today?
7.       This Is Not Goodbye (Melissa Etheridge)—Because “everything will be all right in the end. If it is not all right, it is not yet the end.”
8.       Running Through Fields (Sister Hazel)—This song connects my heartstrings not to history and many people, but to one person’s heartbreak and ability to make art of it. It also takes me back to when I first heard it, a time when I found much goodness in my life.
9.       The Girl With The Weight Of The World In Her Hands (Indigo Girls)—If “Come Unto Me” is my idea of heaven, this song describes my struggles on this earth. I can see what this girl gets wrong and yet, still, I sometimes slip into it. I’m constantly working to leave this girl behind.
10.   You Don’t Have To Walk Alone (Roger Day)—Because we don’t. We don’t have to walk alone. And this song reminds me of the miraculous time when my husband taught me that.
11.   Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own (U2)—U2 has been such an integral part of my life that their music sometimes simply becomes a soundtrack, a background. Then I’ll listen to some lyrics for the first time all over again (if you know what I mean) and I’ll want to run around and show them to people. “See how awesome this is? Look at the poetry! See what they did there?” So, yes, Bono, you can take some of the punches for me any night. You rock.
12.   How Can I Keep From Singing? (Enya)—Well, Enya. Plus history! I love the ecumenical lyrics, connecting the singer—and the listener—with all people who’ve fought the good fight.
13.   Angel (Sarah McLachlan)—The beautiful madness and comfort of angels—just what I need on those days. And a gorgeous voice!
14.   Prayer of St. Francis (Sarah McLachlan)—We said this prayer at our wedding. It still offers the best guidance I know of for living with each other on this earth.
15.   Yes It Was (Sweet Honey In The Rock)—Well, the voices in this group produce a physical sensation of peace in me every time. And then the refrain “Was it all for the army of love? Yes, it was.” That’s the good fight, folks.
16.   This Is Love (Mary Chapin Carpenter)—This song goes with an incredible memory. One night our newborn daughter simply would not stop crying. Her daddy held her so I could escape to the shower for twenty minutes. I returned to find him rocking her as this song played on repeat. And every time it came on, she calmed a little more. Could there be a better song for family?
17.   Lightning Crashes (Live)—This song grabbed me the first time I heard it. It pulls my spirit outside my body for some reason. Debate about the lyrical story rages, but I like the poetry. Life comes and goes. And it has the word “placenta” in it—how many Top 40 artists can pull that off?
18.   I Run For Life (Melissa Etheridge)—I know Ms. Etheridge wrote this as an anthem for breast cancer survivors, but it works beautifully for other illnesses, including depression. And when I’m running errands, running the kids to school, running the vacuum, etc, I feel MUCH more like a badass if I’m singing at the top of my lungs, “I run for life!”
19.   Finale B (Rent)—Okay, intensely horrendous emotional, musical, and genre transition here. But I’ve always loved musicals and Rent takes me back to three years when I hung out with an amazing found family and we made art. And every time I hear the words of this song, I learn from them. “I can’t control/My destiny/ I trust my soul/My only goal/Is just to be…”
20.   Amen (Sweet Honey In The Rock)—One of my favorite series of books features a wise man who prays the ultimate prayer. In the end, we find out that the prayer is “Yes.” Amen is another way of praying that prayer.

Yes, Amen, Let It Be. Oops—that’d be another great song on here.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Grace


So, no blog posts lately because I’ve been busy with mundane items on my to-do list.

It’s funny. I had a wonderful high school psychology teacher who compared depression to viruses. Everyone gets them. Sometimes it’s a three-day cold (or you’re a bit blue for a couple of days), but you shake it off and life moves on. It can run the gamut, though, and sometimes you’ve got viral pneumonia (or major depression) and you’re in the hospital with doctors prescribing meds.

I think recovery from depression also resembles recovery from viruses. I probably had a flu-level depression this time and, as after the flu, I felt better, looked around, and realized a Crap Ton (that’s a standard American measurement) of tasks had backed up while I wasn’t feeling well. Like after the flu, I’m still a little shaky, but I feel so much better than when I was sick that I plunged into catching up.

Well, it’s not working for two reasons. One, because I just plain always overestimate myself. That’s me, my Achilles’ heel, my fatal flaw. Two, because there’s no grace in this world. I’m currently obsessed with this idea, so I’m sure you’ll read more about it later, but for now, I’ll just share the definitions I’m talking about—Merriam-Webster’s second definition, meanings “d” and “e” if you’re counting.

--a disposition to or an act or an instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency
--a temporary exemption: REPRIEVE

What am I talking about? Here’s a simple example. My dad talks about how folks used to send business letters. He’d have a day or two—a grace period, if you will--to think about a reply and then send a letter back. Can you imagine that today? Seriously. Can you imagine regularly taking a day or two to think before you reply to an email or voice mail now?

I get worked up about vacation days, too. A lot of folks in Europe get six weeks of vacation time every year. Why? Because we’ve proven people produce MORE if they get that much time off. How many of you get six weeks of vacation time? Can you imagine being gone from the office for two or three weeks all in a row? Do you even take the time you have as vacation or does it get sucked away in kids’ programs, field trips, and sick days? Or maybe you spend it doing big projects around the house? Do you spend it traveling to visit family for family events?

Or do you somehow, miraculously manage to regularly do something purely for pleasure and rest for a week or more? If so, tell me how!

And don’t even get me started on parental leave….

I have no idea how to fix this, save to cry out to you, my loyal two dozen readers. Maybe if we all yell loud enough some bureaucratic Horton will hear us and lobby for more grace in modern America. I do know that I’m surviving by giving myself mini-grace periods. I did not answer a work email last night; I went to bed instead. I have some low-priority tasks that are still piling up. And I listen to my “Help” playlist a lot. Everyone should listen to spirituals at times.

But that’s a topic for my next post!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Slipping Into Summer


This weekend, the house is a mess, we ate terribly, and I’m way behind on my work. This makes me pretty darn happy.

The whole situation sings of the transition from school to summer vacation. As the tide of summer life comes in, the flood of carlines, field trips, homework, packed lunches, early bedtimes, and last minute everythings recedes.

Right now, the porch and deck gleam a fresh white around a newly turquoise pool. We all glow a golden brown from outside chores and a morning at the beach. End of year gifts and notes cluster on the table, ready to give, and we’re choosing books to read aloud on our summer evenings.

Flip flops have joined crocs and school shoes at the door; soon the school shoes will vanish into closets along with backpacks and lunchboxes.

For various reasons, we won’t travel this summer, so the kids and I look forward to setting up a rhythm for our summer days--library day, beach day, splash park day. Sure, we have a few weeks of camp scheduled and, sure, S. will keep on with piano and A. will do tae kwon do, but without the tyranny of the bedtime required for early-rising, spirited school kids, the long summer evenings look luxurious.

Summer is also our time to grow comfortable with the independence the year has brought. I’m looking forward to helping the kids learn and master some new tasks. Not just because Big A. and I need all the help we can get, but because I know the kids will love the freedom that comes from doing things themselves.

So, despite the messy house and current lack of balance, tonight we put the bluegrass on the stereo, cooked up a pot of tomato sauce, and ate on the porch, enjoying the perfect weather at the turn of the seasons.

Soon enough, this transition time will pass into the glorious gifts of summer.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Ballad of Dust Bunny


So, somewhere on Facebook I saw that May 16 was Mental Health Blog Day. I, of course, believe in complying with these very important internet imperatives.

No, I don’t really. But parenting and PPD have been on my mind lately, probably because Mother’s Day was last weekend. I had a lovely day. Our children made me such incredibly thoughtful gifts—they overwhelmed me. I couldn’t help thinking how things had changed since my first Mother’s Day.

I wrestled with PPD for nearly a year after S. joined our family. Then, just as I felt better, I became very ill with thyroiditis and the resulting hypothyroidism. Between the two illnesses, I spent many days on the sofa while S. was small.

So, with mothering and mental health (health!) on my mind, I thought I’d post one of my attempts to write about those days. If this sounds familiar, please know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Tell someone, reach out, get help, and know that it can and will pass! Tell your family, tell a friend, tell your healthcare provider, or check out this list of resources--http://twloha.com/find-help

I promise I'm working on an uplifting blog for next time!

The Ballad of Dust Bunny

From my angle, I spy
A compatriot
Dwelling in the corner
Beside the tv, under the chair
Just this side
Of the shelf
A shadow of more substance
Less linearity
Than the other shadows
In a day or so
He seems a little heavier
A little more rounded

From my angle, I suppose
Does he mutter
To himself
Does it cross his mind
To matter?
Does he think he should
Have one foot to drag
In front of another
Does he sigh for
A to-do list to
Wrap up in at night?
Would he give his form
Weight
--if he could--
To anchor himself
For motion, for change
So he might matter?

I change angles,
My side grown numb
 
II
A humid comforter
Hovers over
Monotonous green
From our window
We watch
The same plants
Growing the same leaves
Over and over
In weeks
Between clippings

He’s heftier now
And I …
Diffuse
In long hours
Interrupted by
Brief functioning
A meal to be had
Dirty laundry
Waded through
Sleep sought
And avoided
Guilt consumed
And abandoned

Another day
Another destiny

III
I watch
My daughter bustling
She whips up a lunch
Feeds bears and monkeys
With equal ease
Leaps block towers
In single bounds
Puts hordes to bed
And wakes them
Two seconds after
She even brushes
My fellow-sufferer
In her urgent reaching
For a miscreant toy
What will she do
With the next five minutes?

The constant
Ever-so-slight
Pucker
Between her eyebrows
Punctuated by
Disguised, quick
Shoulder glances

My indictment

At least
With a ball of fluff
She knows
To ask nothing