Welcome Home

Along with cooler mornings, this Thanksgiving has brought the reality of a dear uncle’s final days. He is a young man, not yet 60. Cancer has laid a stake in his body and isn’t backing down. His beautiful children and grandchildren made the journey to East Texas along with him. 

Tonight, after second helpings of dinner and dessert had been cleaned away… after a last round of card games and dominoes had wrapped up and victors declared, we gathered around our uncle, brother, and son seeking mercy and comfort through prayer.

To see my 90 year old grandmother hold the hand of her dying child and call upon God’s grace was heartwrenching. A poet once wrote, “How much fear can one woman carry? How many children can she stand to bury?” She has buried three children in her time on this earth. She will bury another. Her faith that brings a peace to her heart and fills her home with love and respect every Thanksgiving, is something for which I am thankful. Watching her children, grandchildren, and great children gather around her and her son in strength and admiration, is beautiful.  I am thankful for this.

Witnessing this uncle return to the home of his family, to be welcomed with open arms and so much love, is something for which I am thankful. Our family having the opportunity to say goodbye to this beloved member is something for which I am thankful. Having this family is something for which I am thankful. Having faith that this uncle is surrounded by mercy and love of a gracious God who will look upon his face and state, “Welcome home, my son”, is something for which I am thankful.

Life Lessons and Laces

This summer has been particularly challenging for my teenage daughter. She spent it working hard on studies to complete freshman year of high school. The most difficult for her was Algebra. Having a mom who is basically a mathematics idiot certainly did not help.

By misfortune that resulted in a positive, her dad was laid off from his job in DC, thus, he was able to spend the last month tutoring her. With advanced degrees in mathematics and physics, he literally is a rocket scientist. Who better to serve as her teacher than dear dad?

In the final countdown of preparing for her last exam, they crammed several chapters into hours of review yesterday. By this point, they had each had enough…enough of math, enough studying, and enough of each other. After fielding a few calls and texts from each of the exasperated duo of teacher and pupil, I was up to my limit as well and let them both know it in not the most gentle way.

Once home and able to observe the lesson firsthand, and all of their mutual frustration about how she was repeatedly skipping steps leading to the wrong solution, a thought struck me. I remembered teaching her to tie her shoes. She refused to wear the kind with Velcro straps or buckles and insisted on laces because she was “a big girl.”  We both repeatedly and with loving care taught her over and over again how to hold the laces in her stubby fingers using sing-songs and cute anecdotes to form a bow. This recalcitrant teenager had once been that precious, little, angel child. This  obstinate father, had once been the guy who spent hours teaching her the simplest of life’s tasks with joy.

Algebra was her new set of velcro-less shoes and without the shiny buckles. With all her strength of spirit, independence, appearance, intelligence, and confidence, we had forgotten in some ways, she is still a little person. Her fingers are less stubby and instead of stickers and marker smears, they are now adorned by metallic blue nail polish.

I reminded her dad that just as he did so gingerly with her five year-old version, he needed to tenderly teach the fifteen year-old version how to tie her laces using equations and polynomials.

Although the years have truly passed so quickly, we somehow lost sight of the  patience we once had with her. No doubt part of this is her constant reminder to us that she’s “a big girl.” I can only imagine that there will be many more of these tutoring lessons as life goes by. In the future, hopefully when she doesn’t tie the laces tight enough and they come untied, or when she ties them without thinking and they end up in knots, we will remember our roles. Then proceed with tolerance, love and probably a few concentrated breathing techniques until her laces form well tied bows.

Mothering

Sitting in the kitchen at Mamaw’s house, listening to her direct my 63 year old mother how to prepare a dish she has oft prepared, helped magnify the reality that regardless of the age of your children, you will always be their mother. In her 89 years on this earth, my grandmother, or Mamaw as she is lovingly known to her family, has raised eight children. She is surrounded by scores of grandchildren and great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. She has lived now to see four generations brought to life from her life and experience. Imagine the beauty of that?!

As my mom prepared the dish, Mamaw sat at the counter, watching each step. I could hear my mom respond under her breath, much like I did at 15 when my mom stood looking over my shoulder. I love watching her hands at work; hands identical to her mother’s. These are the same hands I see when I look down at my own. Strong hands. Hands that have  accomplished much, worked hard and produced something. Hands that nurture and protect.

Now, as mother to a fourteen year old girl myself, surely there are moments that mirror this exchange; moments of motherly love inevitably passed down through the veins. I watch my girl with anticipation of all her potential being fully realized. I instruct and marvel; words she may exchange for nag and hover.

The truth is, mothers cannot help but to mother. That instinct is born at the first stirring of life in our womb. I still remember  that moment well. After a long day and night, preparing a dinner party for 25, I finally sat down to rest…my four month pregnant belly starting to extend. I felt a little flutter, much like a goldfish swishing around a glass bowl. Joy washed over me, helping me forget my tired feet.  The motherly instinct grew astronomically from that moment on; sometimes completely overwhelming all rationale. The instinct to mother fills our thoughts as we watch our children take their first steps, walk through the school gates, pass the graduation podium, down the aisle, and over the threshhold of motherhood themselves. The instinct to mother keeps us from sleep, steals our breath and drives us to instruct our 63 year old offspring to stir the pot and turn down the heat before it boils over.

I enjoy watching these moments of motherly love between my mom and grandmother. It makes me proud to be from a heritage of strong, genuine, women who hold the future in their hands and faith in their hearts. ❤

  

Blameless Shame

There is a shame in being homeless. The scowl of others as they pass by shaking heads. There is a fear in being homeless. A fear of nots…not having food…not having warmth…not having security. I don’t know which was worse…the fear or the shame. I’ll go with shame. We had been here before. While there were times we had enough and times we had plenty. Not having more than what I could hold in my two small hands was all too familiar.

It was a shame not caused by any action or choice of my own. It was a shame caused by foolishness…by unplanned dreams…by substances I knew little about. The first time I felt that shame, even understanding the idea that we were homeless was beyond my comprehension. Until age 11, we had been homeless no less than five times…maybe six. What did I know about the world? What did I know about money? What did I know about responsibility? I was far too young but I did know shame. I knew fear.

I had difficulty with math and time. Even now I sometimes must concentrate when looking at a clock that doesn’t have numbers or marks. At the time, as a homeless kid in America, we were not able to enroll in school when we didn’t have an address for letters and grades to be sent. We missed a lot of school during those years. I remember my mother pleading with the elementary school registrar when I was in grade four about enrollment. She and dad needed to work. Where would her daughters go during the day if not to school? The registrar was defiant as she looked at my sisters and I before replying that she could not take us. I cried as I tugged at the sleeves of my jacket…too short to reach my wrists. We were unwanted. We were not good enough.

Having only lived in Reno a few months, my parents finally found jobs. We stayed in the camper of my dad’s pickup truck during the day while mom worked at a copper pipe company nearby. For weeks, we sat parked outside the dog food manufacturing plant, acridity seeped through the camper’s crevices. I can still taste it in the back of my throat. We sat there all day…reading, studying flash cards, playing jacks or Go Fish. My older sister needed to use the restroom so badly that she could not wait for my dad to come out for a cigarette break. As I watched for witnesses, she made a puddle in the grass on the side of the dirt road next to the factory. Just then the door opened and a woman with yellow hair, her bangs so tightly curled they practically grew back into her scalp, came out a side door. It was a door that I had never noticed before…grey metal that blended in with the factory’s outer wall using the same accompanying red stripe that followed down the length of the cement block building. Just as I saw her eyes with frosted blue shadow and thick mascara, she too saw me. She looked puzzled, returned her cigarettes to the pocket of her purse and back through the unnoticed door she went. About half an hour later, the door reopened. I peeked out of the corner of the camper window, covered by pale blue curtains of a heavy material imprinted with tiny white rosebuds. My mom made them when we lived in Austin, that was before moving to Nevada. Why we ever moved there to begin with was beyond me. This time the woman had a security guard and a few others along with her. Rap rap rap, my sisters and I sat as still as possible holding our breath as if to not exist. RAP RAP RAP. The voice of a man shouted to unlock the latch to the camper hatch as he knew we were in there. I looked at my older sister who replied with a shrug of her bony shoulders. We ignored the officer. The wrath of our dad was far worse than we thought the security guard could ever dole out. Back through the door they went. What felt like an hour passed before the door reopened. This time, with the whoosh of the heavy door being opened, we also heard the deep baritone voice of our father. My hands covered my mouth as I peered at my sister…I told you sonow we are really going to get it! Why couldn’t you just hold it?

Dad unlocked the camper and we saw police offers standing next to him. The officers asked our names and if we were his daughters, pointing to my dad. We nodded our heads. My dad explained to the officers, for what clearly wasn’t the first time, our family situation. The yellow haired lady stood by sneering. The way she looked at me made me feel like a mutant. So I looked pointedly at her with half a shake of my head…what are you looking at? She turned her attention back to the officer’s conversation. Then she piped in that my dad would be leaving the premises immediately and he would not be allowed to return so to take any belongings from his locker. Dad got in the driver’s side of the old truck, slamming the keys into the ignition along with the door and we drove off.

Soon after my parents decided it was time to move…again. This time we would not go back to Texas. We wouldn’t go to Colorado or Arkansas, Louisiana or any other state I could remember well. This time, we would go back to Arizona. I had little memory of living there before. What I did know was that compared to this place…compared to sitting outside smelling dog food all day while our stomachs grumbled, compared to sleeping in the crowded camper with four other people wondering when life would get better…compared to feeling this shame…Arizona sounded grand. My parents promised us a place to live. They promised us school. School! I missed school. I missed books. I even missed math.

rugrats

Parenting. Doing it right, at least for today.

mommynmaddieThere are numerous books on parenting; entire sections of Barnes and Noble dedicated to it, monthly publications focused on it’s techniques. There are many women’s magazines that share silly anecdotes and websites devoted to  “you’re doing it wrong/right” pictures. Funny stuff.

The quote about parenting that has most resonated with me was said by the incomparable Frank Zappa. “The first thing you have to do if you want to raise nice kids, is you have to talk to them like they are people instead of talking to them like they’re property.” I actually choose not to read most magazines and books about parenting. After moving beyond the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” phase, I chose to parent naturally. What can a book tell me about my child that listening and spending time with her does not? She is exactly the girl I have raised her to be, or more like allowed her to become. She is snarky, smart, sarcastic, clever, creative, beautiful and lovely in all her introverted fabulousness.

Truth be told, I have made and will continue to make mistakes…as a person, a woman, a daughter, a sister, and yes- as a mother. I am imperfect. Shock. I know. So instead of feeling like a complete moron, I choose to embrace it! Apologize when necessary. Learn from it. Move on and let go. Celebrate life and those moments that are as close to perfection as we can have here on Earth. Fortunately those moments happen often enough that it keeps one encouraged and not so often that I get spoiled. One such fantastic moment of parenting perfection happened yesterday.

The night before I was discussing with my 13 year old girl, the importance of her life skills education. I told her that she will be required to take more responsibility around the house (chores), for herself and her belongings. She will start helping me prepare dinner and complete tasks so she can learn. The goal being to prepare her for life on her own.  It is true that I do a lot for her that she could do for herself…not because she isn’t capable but because I enjoy taking care of her. However a few years from now she will be off at college. She will not have me to take care of things on her behalf so because I love her and her happiness is important, I need to step it up! Life Skills 201 has begun! She scoffed at the thought. If I listened hard enough, I’m sure there was even a snort hidden in her scoff. The look on her face was an “AS IF!” in perfect Cher Horowitz’ fashion.

Then it happened. That moment of near perfection. When I awoke the next morning, I could hear sounds of her from the front rooms. Walking down the hall as silently as I could, peeking around the corner I observed her stacking DVDs on a shelf. The shelf was not where it once was. She said, “Hi Mom. Go have a look at the living room.” The living room had been cleaned, dusted…including the ceiling fan. Exclamation point! She then pointed at the built in desk which prior to the “it” moment, had been a hodgepodge of mail and other items. However now neatly on display was her 27 inch all in one desktop with a cute Wizard of Oz background and a sticky note pinned to the top right corner.

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She is exactly the girl I have raised her to be. I would not expect anything less. As if! ❤