Saturday, September 26, 2009

Brush with Beauty

We have been hearing for weeks that a production company would be in town, filming a new Will Ferrell movie, and streets might be blocked off. Because hubby works for the highway department we knew dates and hours of filming but never found time to get down there to watch. As we were out last night, we stopped by downtown and noticed they were still filming.

Because I am still in 'leg off' mode, we parked and I sent Jeff and the two younger boys off to watch the action. I could see about a third of the street they were filming on, and saw several sequences of car chase scenes with lots of fake gunfire. Pretty fun.

Jeff and his posse wove through the police and barricades that were set up and found a good watching spot by the area where all the back up cars were being held. Each identical car was in a different state of damage.

At one point he noticed a woman sitting by a table, dressed in an outfit that seemed out of place.She was right next to him so he kept trying to glance at her, to figure out who she was and why she was there. She returned his stares several times. It really bugged him, and he told me about it when they got back to the van. She just seemed so 'familiar', yet out of place in downtown Albany.

Today as I was pulling up the shooting schedule for this afternoon I mentioned to him that Evan Mendes was also in this movie.

From the other room, my normally very low key hubby yelled, "That was HER!"

I had no idea what he was talking about.

"That was her! The girl from 'Hitch'....I knew she looked familiar!"

So now my husband and sons can say they have stood next to Eva Mendes while watching the filming of her latest movie. And hopefully she has not processed a restraining order against him.

You Know You've Had "The Talk"...

I have been on crutches for the past three days. It is probably the longest I have been on crutches since my surgery, almost six years ago, and it is maddening. There is a significant sore on my stump that will only heal with exposure to air so the only answer is no wearing of the bionic leg. It makes cooking, cleaning, and even getting dressed, a real pain. (although I am finally all caught up on TV shows taped)

So this morning we were headed out for an adventure. I needed to get out of the house and our sixteen year old had a cross country meet way up north. Perfect excuse to drive some gorgeous upstate roads at a gorgeous time of year.

But before we could go I had to dress in normal, leaving the house kind of clothes. Sam (my eight year old) was my helper, digging through my dresser drawers as I balanced nearby on crutches, analyzing what he was finding. We finally found some appropriate apparel and I sat down on the edge of the bed to put it on. Sam began to dash out of the room, which confused me at first.

"Where ya goin'?" I asked.

"Well, you're gettin' dressed, right? Taking off your clothes? I'm not like dad....I don't really enjoy that..."

Ahhhh...the joys of having all 'older' kids.....

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Them's Fightin' Words

So after we had hiked up a long trail, rappelled down a short slope, crossed two rushing streams next to small waterfalls, huffed it over jagged rocks and were almost to the spot where I would perch myself to watch my kids jump off cliffs into the cold waters below, adorable hubby and I look up to see some college kids coming through the woods from the other direction.

He turns to me and without missing a beat, says, "They must have used the stairs."

In the split second before I realized he was kidding, the word divorce suddenly flashed before my eyes....

Lifetime Snapshots

These days it’s the little things. Things that make my heart overflow with contentment and peace. Because on most days, the big things have fallen off my list of worries.

I try to let myself ignore the fix it list we’ve created for our house, as it haunts me from the bulletin board hanging in our office. I stopped letting the fact I could not do it all, all the time, bother me, about the time I started working full time last year. The kids have clean clothes in their closets (most of the time) and food on their dinner plate every night (granted, not necessarily gourmet). Although he has the potential to drive me crazy (as I do him), lately I have been pretty happy with the friendship the spouse and I have cultivated for the past twenty years or so. We have a close relationship with our family doctor but so far nothing has been life threatening or even very life altering. We are a pretty healthy, secure bunch on the average day of the week. It’s what keeps my blood pressure under control.

But then I get these rare little treats. These special nuggets that fall out of the sky and surprise me with extra love for these kids and this pretty average, pretty amazing life we’ve put together.

Like last night, when the almost totally grown up daughter came in from work pretty late, right at the moment her youngest brother was headed off to bed. The little brother she rocked as a newborn and has nurtured and spoiled through every year of his life. The little brother she pays to do her chores because it makes her life easier and in his eight year old world, a dollar goes a long way. The little brother who hates to admit his returned fondness for big sister if there is any chance a big brother is around to tease him for his affection.

But last night big brothers were upstairs, out of sight, and in a magical moment I looked around to see him perched, half on his sister’s lap, like an eager puppy, and half on the couch, ready to bail if he heard footsteps on the stairs. He slowly got caught up in her attention and melted into that toddler who worshiped the ground she walked on. As a mom it was heart melting to watch.

They laughed and shared stories about their days, made promises about chores to do and debts to pay. Before it was all over he was headed off to read his nightly book and go to sleep, curled up in ‘the nest’, a huge papasan chair that sits in the corner of her room. (one of his favorite sleeping spots) And it was all just a bit too much. Too much of a gift to this mom who sometimes forgets that I am no longer worrying about the big stuff that haunts a parent’s mind.

It was a loving snapshot of life I will carry with me for years. Tucked away in my brain along with so many other sacred moments that remind me what life’s all about. The way my mom’s voice carried through the whole house, lovingly calling my name when I came home from college for a visit. A frigid night in a record breaking snowstorm when a handsome young man presented me a life changing diamond ring in the front seat of my red Volkswagen rabbit. Sneaking in the back door of my mother-in-law’s house, carefully cradling her first born grandchild I had flown halfway across the country to share with her for the first time. The bright smile of my oldest son as he marched through our local grocery store on his third birthday, proudly wearing a crown his older sister had made him that announced, in glitter and glue, “I’m 3 Today!”

Excited doctors who burst into a dark hospital room to announce they had discovered what was making my second son so deathly ill, and it was all going to be okay. A million little moments I got to share with my children as we slowly made our way across the country, moving from D.C. to Utah, taking the longest route possible, through the gulf states and Texas.

I will never have a million dollars in my bank account. I feel pretty safe in making that announcement. I have no delusions that our house will ever be completely finished in this remodel project we started three years ago when we moved to New York. We will always have a mortgage and most of the time have a car payment, that make the trek to work necessary every morning. I will continue to fill up the grocery cart with food that lasts about half as long as I need it too. But it’s all okay. It’s all good.

Because sometimes, on magical nights, when all the stars line up in the right order, I get these little reminders. These little lifetime snapshots, that remind me that it’s all going in the right direction. It’s about love, and sharing life, and raising a bunch of great new people to send out into the world.

And I’m having a great time collecting the lifetime snapshots along the way.

Grief in Life

I have a friend who lost her mom a few months ago. It was a cancer that was not supposed to be so quick or so brutal and suddenly my friend found herself in the place I found myself as a young woman in my mid twenties - a motherless daughter.

It is a unique loss, for a girl to lose a mom, and unless you have lived it, especially fairly early in life, you cannot know its sting. My friend has been on my mind a lot lately as the months without her mom drag on and she figures out how to do this world without that one pillar of support. Here is an excerpt from an email I sent her today, to give you a glimpse of her world, and mine:

Dear friend,

Here are a few things that have happened to me lately that I thought you would appreciate.

The fifteenth anniversary of my mom's death came and went and I didn't realize it until the next day, when I got an email from my sister.
For the past fifteen years I have had a variety of reactions and feelings about my mom's death date. Most years I felt an approaching dread as the day grew near, then was okay on the actual day. Some years the approaching dates didn't bother me but the day itself made me so sad I could hardly breathe.

I don't know what it means that I forgot the date this year, except that grief is crazy and I cant count on next year just breezing by. I am fully aware that next year I could be back on the couch wrapped in sadness.

I heard a specific song that always makes me think of my mom. I mull the memories around in my mind and am fully aware of the power they have. I could go from perfectly content to sobbing in my hands in less than two minutes if I allowed myself to ruminate in all that I miss about her. If I sat down in a kitchen chair, instead of continuing to make dinner, and let myself think about all the things I've missed, and my kids have missed, by not having her in our lives for the past decade and a half, I could be a weeping mess.

But that is no longer productive. The tears are a healthy part of the grieving process but I have learned the healthiest way to deal with them is to ration them out. I can choose not to 'go there' and instead let myself remember all the things I loved about her and how she helped create so many of the great things in my character and personality. I can count the years I had her as a blessing, as I peel potatoes and let the song on the radio play out.

My sister emailed and had a very strong 'mom is watching me' moment in her life in Texas. She knows this means a lot to me so she emails me when it happens. I'm not 100% sure what I believe when it comes to heaven and the afterlife but there have been just too many moments through the years, where I strongly felt her presence, or my sister did, to think she is not somehow watching over me still. I feel like it doesnt hurt anything or anyone for me to think this way and it would make her smile, to know her presence in my life didn't end when we said goodbye in that hospital room so many years ago. So I believe.

My heart hurts for you, that these words might bring tears to your eyes because you were thrown into this club just a few months ago. I wouldn't wish this club on anyone but since we both became reluctant members, I thought these words, from an experienced member, might help you in your path.

Love you friend. Let me know if there is anything I can do to make your heart hurt a little less.

I truly understand,

Fellow member, Judy

Thursday, September 17, 2009

First Book Review

As you can imagine I love to read. I strongly believe being a strong reader makes you a better writer. All those chapter books I devoured for endless hours on the school bus taught me what works and what doesn't when it comes to the written word.

I have a bookcase full of my favorite books. My technique for stocking my bookcase involves checking out piles of books from the library and only purchasing those I absolutely adore. I have to admit that sometimes I can just stand by my bookcase, glancing at the titles, and get a warm feeling, just remembering the stories that lie within their covers. I no longer have to crack the book open to absorb it's healing powers.

I never intended to put book reviews up on this site but I just found a new gem and I have to share. I have no idea how many people even see this blog anyway so I figured it can't hurt.

I have a full length memoir manuscript written and edited, waiting to find a publishing home someday. In the past few years I have read many of the memoirs that graced our library shelves, to get an idea as to what is currently being published. I loved some, hated some and was indifferent to all the rest. But this week I found a real gem. It's called "In the Sanctuary of Outcasts" by Neil White.

I think what I love about this book is the lack of abusive childhoods, alcoholic parents who ruined dreams, and drug abuse that almost seem commonplace now. Instead it is an honest account of one man's experience living in the middle of a leper colony against his will.

Neil White was a big time magazine publisher with (by his own admission) a head too big to survive. His life changed dramatically on the day he got caught 'kiting checks' to keep his business afloat and he ended up serving a year long sentence in a federal prison that happened to also house quarantined leper patients.

He writes so beautifully and so down to earth, about his transformation from fearful executive who couldn't afford to be touched by these outcasts to a broken soul who realizes what being an outcast really feels like.

It took him 15 years to get his story to book form. I appreciate that. He is not a fly by night storyteller. He is a man who walked around with a story in his head and finally gave it some breath and life. I loved every chapter.

So if you are looking for a great story, a great reminder about what is truly important in life, go track down Neil's book. I promise you won't regret it. And I promise you won't forget it, once his story is in your heart.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Bunny

If all goes according to plan I will be saying goodbye to our bunny this week. It is not a rash decision. We have kicked the idea around for over a year now. But the final snuggle and the last stroke of his soft grey fur will be difficult and maybe even emotional. Because somehow Thumper is my bunny as much as he is my kids’.

We first saw him in a cardboard box in the corner of a pet store in Utah. He and his siblings were being stored there until the owner could find an appropriate cage for them in the store. We were frequent visitors to this pet store because of our history with hamsters. Boy, did we have a history with hamsters.

It all started when Isaac was about six. He really, really, really wanted a pet. Being the Dr. Doolittle of our family I had no doubt about his intentions. We were not ready for a big animal like a dog or cat so we settled on a hamster. My sisters and I had had hamsters when we were growing up and they seemed pretty tame and low maintenance. What I had not taken into account was the emotional factor.

Somehow I had forgotten about the frequent hamster funerals that had taken place in my childhood back yard. Mound after mound of dirt clumps marked the final resting places of many of our dearly loved pets. My oldest sister still recalls the intense grief she felt when her first hamster died, over thirty years ago.

But in the early days of our new pet ownership we saw no death on the horizon. Only a cute fuzzy little guy who rode around on Isaac’s shoulder. He was appropriately named “G.H.”, which stood for ‘great hamster’. He roamed in the yard with Isaac close behind, was tucked into Isaac’s pocket as he rode his bike. It was a match made in heaven. Until heaven came calling.

As with most hamster deaths, I would imagine, G.H. left us quickly. One day he was alive, the next he was not. It was my middle boy’s first experience with grief. This little creature had truly become his best friend. It seemed unimaginable that he was suddenly gone.

We found a small box and wrapped him gently in soft paper towels before tucking him in and taping it shut. A short drive later we were standing at the foot of a beautiful mountain, picking a perfect resting place. We all took turns digging the shallow hole and we all said a few words about G.H. before he was placed in the ground. Even with the act of burying him, he was not truly gone. We talked about him every day and on particularly vulnerable nights when he was beyond tired, my boy would cry for his friend, sobbing only, “I miss G.H.!”

So we did what every other parent does in such situations. We went to the pet store and got another hamster. It was a good hamster, but no one could measure up to G.H., the greatest hamster. And before we could even get to know this new little guy, he was gone too. Soon buried in a shallow grave next to his predecessor. We continued this pattern for several months. Buy hamster, fall in love with him, bury him. It was getting to be a bit much for my tender hearted boy’s heart to take.

So the day we found Thumper we were at the pet store looking for a new kind of pet. We needed one with a longer shelf life than a hamster. A rabbit-it seemed to be just the right pick. Rugged enough to live a while, maybe even years, and still small enough to play with and snuggle.

We picked the cutest one and Isaac held him all the way home. At first he lived in a clean plastic tub in my office. I was working on the computer a lot in those days and most afternoons you could find me hacking away at the keyboard, tiny grey fluff tucked on top of my shoulder, nuzzling my neck. He fit in the palm of my hand when we first got him. It was easy to carry him around the house. Soon he outgrew the plastic tub and we shelled out the big bucks for a real cage, which was tucked in the laundry room. Thumper and I saw each other every day and I could not walk by his little jail cell without stopping to pet his soft fur.

Isaac, of course, fell in love with him and showed him off to the neighbor kids often. He was as tame as the hamsters since he’d spent the first months of his life hanging out on my neck. Easter rolled around and we took pictures of our own real live Easter Bunny. We even hauled him along when we moved across the country. He lived with us at the Residence Inn for three months as we searched for a house.

But for reasons beyond my control we will be giving Thumper to a new family this week. Hopefully someone who loves him as much as we did and snuggles him like we did. Someone who will treasure him and adore him and understand how this one tiny animal played a key role in healing my son’s heart. Good-bye my furry friend. You will not be forgotten.

Update to bunny post

Clarification: We decided to give away Thumper for many reasons, one being we had inherited a second bunny about a year ago and two extra animals was just too much. We decided to just give both bunnies away.

Then the day after I wrote this essay and sent it in to my editor we had an unexpected turn of events. One of the bunnies died.

Teddy, the one we had inherited from friends, was found the next morning, stiff and cold. Jeff and the boys (and the very confused dog, who kept pawing at the grave)buried him lovingly in the woods. My theory is that he overheard us talking about possibly giving him away and he got nervous. Death seemed like the better option.

So now we have to decide if one bunny is too much or if we can settle back into life with just one little furry guy hoping around in the basement.

Stupid Survival

It’s hard to believe that school is back in session. It seems like just last week that we were counting down the days until we finally had a more relaxed schedule. The summer came and went in a wet, chilly flash. It was the first summer since I’ve had kids that I’ve worked full time. I was just a little nervous about how all of that would play out.

Would they kill each other before I got home at five? Would the big kids really keep an eye on my littlest guy or would they assume their sibling had it covered? Would chores actually be done or forgotten in the excitement of running off to meet up with friends? One of my biggest worries concerned food.

I know older kids. Food is something they like to think just appears in the cabinets and then on the counter, warm and ready to scoop on their plate. They knew the basics - how to open a can of ravioli, how to make Easy Mac, how to pour the appropriate amount of milk on a bowl of cereal. (Although I sometimes wonder if they have a special blindness for containers full of leftovers because they seem to sit on the shelf of the fridge until it’s time for me to introduce them to the trash bin.) But overall I was pretty sure my kids would not starve in the eight hours I was at work.

The first week came and went and all seemed to be going smoothly. Everyone was getting along. Littlest brother was happy and well supervised. The house was not a complete mess of clutter and, better yet, had not burned down. But I was suspicious about the food thing.

I was seeing evidence that lunch consisted of a box of crackers, woofed down during a game of Xbox live. Or a couple of granola bars, scarfed up while they ran out to get their bike ready for a long ride through the woods. When I got home at five everyone was hungry. Very hungry. Our dinner hour was bumped from six to five, because that was the latest I could hold off on these starving children.

So I decided it was time for a chat. Just a reminder about the idea of actually deliberately sitting down to enjoy some real food for lunch. An actual break in activity to pull out a bowl and a spoon and put the microwave to good use. Isaac was the first kid who came through the kitchen that night so he got the first lecture.

I spelled it all out to him. Reminded him of all the choices I had strategically placed in the cabinets for him to pick from. I offered to make a list of options to post on the fridge, to tweak his memory when lunch time hunger pains were distracting him. I told him how important it was for his body, his energy, and our regular dinnertime, that he make sure he sat down and ate a real lunch. He listened patiently (while he poured a glass of milk to tide him over until dinner) then he sighed and said, almost under his breath, “Ug…stupid survival!”

I had to laugh because I totally related to what he said. In the days after his three word revelation the phrase came to mind many times.

When I came home from work and knew there would be five people waiting for me to come up with something amazing and tasteful for dinner, I said to myself, “Ug, stupid survival.”

When I filled my cart with allergy and sinus meds for sniffly nosed kids, and bandaids for frequent summer boo-boos I said it, “Ug, stupid survival.”

When I had to scour the calendar for a date I could schedule my yearly doctor appointment and no dates seemed to be free I said it, “Ug, stupid survival.’

When I squeezed the last bit of sunscreen out of the slippery tube and vowed to buy the big family sized bottle next time, I said it, “Ug, stupid survival.’

So many things I do during the day I do because they are necessary for survival. Like Isaac pointed out so clearly that day early in the summer, life is full of really fun stuff. There are great opportunities all around us. But that survival thing seems to get in the way.

I go to work every day so that we can actually pay that mortgage bill when it rolls around each month. We teeter on ladders to clean out gutters, risking our life, so we can maintain the house and provide a safe, warm, dry place for our kids to live. We wrote a huge check out to a contractor in the middle of the summer, money that we would have loved to have spent on family adventures, so that when winter came we could have a furnace that actually heats the house. Ug, stupid survival.

So this week I have to thank my middle son for the smiles he puts in my day. Many times when I am getting hung up on the stuff that doesn’t matter, the stuff a mom has to do to keep a family running smoothly, I see my son’s face. I see him roll his eyes in frustration and let my new coping mantra slip out. The smile it brings to my face to say “Ug, stupid survival’ never fails to make me think of my boy and reminds me of why it’s all worth it.

So very worth it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Not Too Late To Be Early

Almost every day at work I stamp cards. You know, those small colored cards that are tucked into the back of your library books, telling you when they need to be returned? Spending that much time stamping future dates makes a person very aware of what’s to come. Most days I hardly know what today’s date is, but by golly, I could tell you what date it will be 7, 14 and 28 days from now.

So when we started stamping dates with the number nine in them, as in the ninth month of the year, I already felt like summer was almost gone. And now the dates I stamp are in the last days of that ninth month and soon, very soon, I will be stamping tens. And this is the reason for my recent distress.

October. September is almost here which means October is waiting in line. In baseball we’d say it’s on deck. That tenth month of the year when the clock suddenly speeds up. Very soon we will be seeing pumpkin decorations, Halloween displays and aisles and aisles of bulk candy.

From there the calendar seems to move in double time to Thanksgiving. Blink your eyes twice as the turkey digests and it’s Christmas eve.

It happens every year. Just about this time every year I vow to be ‘early’ for Christmas this year. Meaning I will not do like I have done for the past dozen years and rush around at the last minute like I had no idea this holiday was on the horizon. Because it is all very logical. It comes every single year, no fail. When I was a kid it felt like decades passed from one December to the next. Once I had kids, December seemed to show up as every third month on the calendar.

It’s coming. I know it’s coming, so there is no logical reason I can’t be more prepared.

The other day, as I was stamping all those nines on the library cards, I had flashbacks of this joyous holiday from last year. On both sides of our extended families we have stopped buying for everyone. Instead the kids all draw each other’s names. But that still means I buy for four nephews or nieces on each side. Last year I had all eight of those gifts in the mail by early December. Then there were parent gifts,and a few special aunts and friends. Teacher gifts, something special for the neighbors, don’t forget the bus drivers…I felt pretty good about things once mid December rolled around.

Then two of my kids came down with strep. One of them also had pneumonia. Oh yeah, in the same week, the computer completely died and along with it all my online banking, bill paying and overall life organizing. It was in the midst of all that chaos that it dawned on me. I had covered all the basis. I had all the gifts bought, mailed, toted off to school. All except my childrens. I had not gotten one thing for my own kids. The sleeping cat was the only thing under the Christmas tree in the corner of the living room.

And I have older kids. We are long past the days where a two hour, two hundred dollar trip to Target can satisfy the wish list of four children. As a matter of fact I gazed longingly at the toy section the last time I was in Target, remembering the days where I could do all my holiday shopping in those six colorful aisles. Now it’s a complicated game of trying to find something fun, interesting, creative and wonderful (for a decent price) that they don’t already have. And let me tell you, when you have four children, three of them teens, you pretty much have all the basics in the house, from birthdays and holidays past.

Buying stuff purely for the sake of buying stuff is not a life habit I can condone.

So this year, as I have done in so many years past, I am making a promise to myself. Before that month that starts with O is exposed on my office calendar, I will have a plan. I will risk being called obsessive by far away relatives and insist we draw names NOW so I can get my list started. I will shop and wrap and mail before that last calendar page is turned. Because this year it’s about my kids. It will be about having time to make cookies and watch our favorite holiday movies. It will be about them seeing a calm and peaceful mom in this holiday that is supposed to be about peace and love, not stress and expectations.

And maybe, just maybe, if I start brainstorming now, by the time that month with the big D in its name rolls around, I might, just might, have some special gift figured out for this house full of big kids, and they will be wrapped in pretty paper and ribbons, keeping the cat company under our tree.