Holiday lights and haunted houses

A month ago the light was touched with the colors of the season. We counted pumpkins on doorsteps, noting the special ones, unusual colors or sizes, and brought great quantities of candy into our home. The quietly spectacular transformation of green into stains of orange, red and yellow took place before I could appreciate it properly.

One by one, thousands of fallen leaves evaporated into the earth, leaving us with a memory of when they were lush and unseasoned.

Like so many birds, I flew south for a few days last month. During my absence winter came crawling, beckoning at the door. When I got home I dug out gloves and hats in preparation for stinging weather. A rainbow teased itself across the blue only to leave no trace of its existence when I blinked, and suddenly I was gazing upon a dull grey sky.

I blink sometimes, and she is gone again.

When I talk about her with someone who really knew her, it makes it feel real again.

It makes me miss her more, and yet makes me feel like I’m not the only one, and so I am sad and grateful at the same time.

Most of the time these days I’m hardly thinking of my dead sister, though, and the enormous void that was left in our family when she died, and really, for a long time now, my grief  has remained silent. I am happy, and yet my heart is haunted, you see.

So then.

Then something happens, and I am struck, no, torn, torn into a thousand pieces of misunderstanding and hurt and terror mixed with ambivalence and blame and fear, and I fear for my children, for the world in which they are being raised. How on Earth can we protect them?

Yet when I was a child, we lived without sun protection and seat belts. Secondhand smoke was, well, everywhere. I remember tipping full ashtrays into the trash, with no immediate effects. We were routinely allowed to get hurt (or okay, at least put in harm’s way with limited observation especially in the summer time).

My sisters and I made it to adulthood with a few scratches and scars, but nothing serious. Certainly we arrived as newborn adults prepared to live, and live freely and confidently.

This is part of the reason why it’s been so very, very difficult to accept my sister’s death (nine years ago and counting). She was so very much alive.

That, and also that our national and international news is so terrible of late.

I know my sister would be fighting to arbitrate such news today. In her core she was a stubborn negotiator, a protector of human integrity, and a woman who sought to collaborate, agree with or attempt to understand someone despite of or due to their differences.

She was a person who fought back, typically with words but once with a well-placed and most deserved punch to the face. She listened to stories from men and women who were disabled but not downtrodden – she recognized those who needed a hand from time to time were not unworthy of their humanity.

She would fight with me, with us, help me to understand what I can do better.

There’s a lot on my list to do better.

(At least seat belts, smoking and sun protection don’t make the list).

I’ve been doing some yoga lately. I’m not one with the mat or anything, but it makes me feel better.

Yoga makes my wrists hurt, my sister said with a shake of her head, a long time ago.

Some nights I cannot sleep.

There are haunted houses in my dreams, darkened windows, broken glass. The wind scatters leaves across my path; a cat cries before I wake up.

Haunted hearts, empty, shadowed by sadness. Full of memories that can not always be trusted.

I lose you again and again and again.

You move and breathe and smile in our minds, but just like those moving portraits that hang on the walls of Hogwarts, you aren’t really there.

Those whom we we have lost in recent days are real. As usual, I send a silent appeal to my angel sister so that she may greet them in turn, a reflective reception for Michael Brown among them… always, I think, those whose deaths were unexpected deserve a kind and compassionate welcome.

Lights sparkle in our living room tonight, illuminating a tiny Nativity scene organized on the coffee table by our youngest son. He is very taken with the miniature wooden figures, especially the Three Kings and the Baby Jesus. We have been listening to a lot of holiday pop music lately, and not especially focused on theology, but I thought I’d been pretty clear about the meaning of the holiday until he asked me about Michael Jackson’s role in Bethlehem at Christmas.

Perplexed, I asked a few questions, and it turned out that he had confused the Baby Jesus with the renowned rock star.

My explanation of Christmas was puzzling at best, dubious at worst. I attempted to set him straight, and he marched back into the family room to dance to little Michael’s rendition of Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

My sister would have celebrated another turn around the sun tomorrow. Surely she’s dancing, wherever she is, and crying, too, at the loss that we invoke while here on Earth, at the sudden force of grief and mourning that we create when another young life is taken senselessly and forever.

In my heart I remember you as you were, Liz, 28 years old, a smile upon your lips to greet a loved one or a stranger, a frown as you observed injustice around you. I am grateful for you, and saddened by your absence. Always, I remain your sister and your friend.

love

 

 

phantom spiders and falling leaves

Our house had been unoccupied for the better part of a year before we moved in. As a result, the land was stirred up and spider homes unearthed themselves into walls instead of trees. We spy tiny spiders in the yard and driveway, beneath the eaves and mailbox, and sometimes, inside.

Inside isn’t good for spiders, and inside spiders sure aren’t good for children who are scared of spiders. Our youngest hasn’t struggled with sleep in a couple years, and during the first month living here he woke once or twice every night crying I’m scared! of the spiders in the closet.

We’ve done all the right things to get the phantom spiders out of his mind. Three night lights fill the room with a gentle glow. He shares his sleep with two elephants, one cow and a shark, but last night he woke up screaming again.

Scared or not, he is often tender and loving, and yet he can turn into a heart-crushingly difficult child in the blink of an eye.

In an effort to direct some of his energy in a positive direction, we signed him up for taekwondo. Master Frenel is soft spoken with a slight accent inspired by French Creole, and his ability to capture and hold the attention of a roomful of four and five year olds for forty minutes is almost miraculous.

taekwondo max

After class he is more relaxed and less combative. He typically sleeps for at least eleven hours straight. He is learning to speak in a whisper, sometimes. He tries to catch the leaves of fall as they gently rain down in the backyard, changing from green to yellow and orange and brown.

The season that makes every leaf a flower is ever welcome.

Some people think Autumn is a sad space, as winter beckons and branches grow bare. But I love it, perhaps more even than the fresh breath of Spring. I like tucking into cooler nights and finding socks again. I like the evening light, even as the days grow shorter and darker. I like pumpkin patches and cider and soccer games and rays of light that stream like lasers through orange and ruby and golden leaves. They settle into a richer earth and drape themselves like a blanket across the land.

When I asked my oldest what he thinks of Fall, he said I think about how the birds will migrate and how mostly we’ll see hawks and how it’s apple season and apples everywhere and Halloween is coming up which I am very excited about and I am very excited about how Christmas gets sooner and sooner when you pass Fall. 

Last weekend I ran in the Memorial 5K event established to remember and honor my sister’s legacy and raise money for an organization (her former employer) that provides free legal services for low-income individuals and families in Brooklyn. It was a picture perfect fall day, breezy and chilly until the sun shone full and we began running.

LP5k_9th_logo

Two dear friends joined me for not only the race but the entire weekend. It was an absolutely wonderful experience, and I mean all of it – the trashy paperback I read on the plane, brief reunion with family friends, hugs and smiles, and an amazing meal with my friends. I would also be remiss to neglect the kind Dominican couple, boisterous Jamaicans and quiet Indian woman on the subway without whose direction I would never have managed to get from the airport to Manhattan by myself.

(and I would never, ever live in this city, not if I was expected to get somewhere on my own).

My sister would be very happy to see what a fine community event this has become. I believe that from her unknowable space in the universe she was shining for us all day, a candle whose light burned out far too soon but whose joy in living and commitment to service endures for all of us who remember her.

Her light shown within the children as they toddled toward the finish line in the kids’ race. It beamed from the speedy runners who finished in 18 minutes and some change. Walkers and joggers and slow and fast runners made their way along the course.

Some ambled. Others dashed. One guy rode a bike.

Light shown within the race volunteers and the park and city staff who keep this part of New York beautiful and accessible. Our mother’s tough spirit was also illuminated, and reminds us that the event represents so much goodness and a very, very hard reason behind the day.

Yesterday was Eleanor Roosevelt’s birthday, so I’ll end this post by borrowing her wise words, and wishing my readers a lovely Fall.

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Eleanor Roosevelt

following a cloud

Mom?

Max smashed his head into my face… and it’s still wriggly! My tooth! It didn’t even come out! I can’t believe it!

Great, are you okay? Why is your brother smashing his head into your face?

Oh, don’t worry. It was an accident.

The past weekend alternated from an environment of peace to nearthebrinkoflosingmysanityforreal and whywon’ttheseboysstopfightingfortheloveofgod and then back to peace. Boxes are stacked neatly in the corners of every room, leaving lonely Lego pieces scattered beneath the boys’ bunk beds and across the living room floor. Our dog moves from room to room seeking refuge. And it’s been quite hot in our non-air-conditioned home for the past few weeks. Tempers have flared. Maybe they, too, are seeking refuge.

It took me four hours to dismantle a rarely used closet filled with odds and ends that we didn’t have space to care for properly, yet didn’t want to let go. Shredding sleeves of worthless paper felt good (lay-off letter, anyone?). I found our unofficial marriage certificate and a copy of a love letter scripted in broken English from my great grandfather to the woman he courted, and eventually married, in 1918. Those I kept. Unused passport photos were tucked into a box I call “old photos and letters that I cannot bear to throw away” along with sweet cards recognizing several firsts…. birthdays and holidays and etc.

A heavy layer of dust unsettled as I lifted a thick folder of material from the closet containing details on bicycle travel, bike accidents, cycling law, city zoning policies… changes to New York City streets to make them safer… newspaper clippings, print outs of e-mail exchanges, and duplicate copies of articles that are very difficult and painful to read.

I tossed the entire folder.

Well, I recycled it, anyway. I know what the articles say. I know that good people are working to make streets less hostile and more compelling for cyclists. I see no need to keep every unkind reminder of my loss.

Instead of tucking into myself afterwards, I shouted to my kids. Look at this! a picture of Miles hugging a stuffed soccer ball at six months young. Keep. A handwritten note from an old friend? Keep. Burned out birthday candles? Seriously? Toss. Paperwork from a rental three cities ago? Toss. Toss. Toss.

The process was either mindful or mindless depending on the material that we had saved for mostly unexamined purpose and little value for many years.

Shifting gears, I finally took a shower so that my husband and I could head out for an evening by ourselves. Early the next morning, and I mean early (4:30 am rising), we arrived in a fog lit field in which wandered other expectant visitors waiting for a ride in a balloon.

I have wanted to go up in a hot air balloon for a long time, and my husband’s 40th birthday gift to me was a certificate for a summer flight for two.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the Wizard of Oz when he cried out, I can’t come back, I don’t know how it works! Good-bye, folks!

basket

His balloon lifted as Dorothy watched him from the earth feeling lost and hopeless as she realized another opportunity to go home had crumbled before her eyes.

Not unlike the Wizard, we climbed into a sturdy wicker basket and quietly yet quickly rose upwards beneath the skillful direction of pilot Roger, co-founder of Vista Balloons in Newberg, Oregon. Roger provided us both an education and a promise of knowing a space previously unknown, unique to that morning’s winds that shifted east and west as we moved through the air, high above vineyards, forest and agricultural land.

The hot air balloon is the oldest successful human-carrying flight technology. Historically it wasn’t the sort of travel available to those without immense wealth or power. The first manned flight took place in 1783 in Paris, France. Not until the 1970’s did ballooning become popular and (relatively) affordable for regular people.

We followed a cloud, slipping into an astonishingly peaceful pause in which the light warmed us and the wind seemed to disappear. I waved my hand into the emptiness. Our small group of seven, including Roger, remained pleasantly quiet as we took in the substantial views. Blinking, we watched a deep red glow rise from beyond the hilly horizon, and as we rose the sun rose with us, moment by moment. It was as if we had traveled a thousand miles and a thousand years from our daily experience, and acknowledged that there is so much more out there than where we spend most of our time.

Not unlike Dorothy, I felt lost and helpless many times during the better part of a decade. But curiously enough, the tranquility of floating 1,400 feet above the earth made me feel more grounded, more calm, and more ready to return to real life.

We went home and it wasn’t a perfect day or one in which I managed to feel that great. But just when the boys were about to bring me back to that place where Mama is losing it, I overheard the oldest suggest they have a “dance fight”.

And they did.

With no music.

It was pretty funny to watch.

When the whole weekend was said and done, I felt not quite rested, dusty and troubled and tossed, and yet moved enough by flight to be able to return to a space in which I could remember the gentle light within the balloon, wherein strangers and lovers mingled in a basket among the clouds, and I thought, I will get through this. I will do what needs to be done to move forward, change where needed, and amend plans as necessary.

We are moving soon. Goodbye folks!

All balloons start out flat and empty.

empty balloon

And then they begin to grow.

balloon basket balloon filling up with air

Until they are full and light, strong and beautiful.

a single balloon

We were lifted up, up, up… by invisible wings that grow still as they light on a breeze concealed from human sight. Our journey became rhythmic and peaceful as we rose keeping pace with the sun. 

morning is breakingballoon at sunrise

And our souls were realized as essential and strong as we fully entered into the day.

forest nearby ballooning floating

Postscript

After I finished writing this post, I wandered around my backyard to look for overgrown zucchini, cherry red tomatoes and dog poop. I glanced at the few sunflowers that came up this season.   None had opened until today. first sunflower 2014

As we leave the sunflowers behind for the new owners of our home, I hope to remember the slight turn of the wind as we drifted without great expectation or worry a day ago. So many memories in this busy house. So much stuff. So many tears. So many children (okay, two). So much love.

first grade rainbow

A friend of mine made me laugh recently while describing her approach to sharing a potentially objectionable plan with her partner.

Paraphrasing here, she said,

I’m like, listen. There is fantasy, and there is reality. We live in reality, dear. 

And reality makes us do things sometimes that we don’t want to do.

Blogging is a heavily filtered view of reality. I share what I want to share, and I withhold so, so much. It’s a curious way to write. Sometimes I go back and read something I’ve written, and I hardly recognize myself in the words. Other times, I read my words and am grateful to no longer be in that space, yet know it remains within me, unforgotten, unforgiven.

Last night my reality included first grade homework. The task was to write six sentences describing my son’s summer plans. His words were effective. The plans include attending a Portland Timbers soccer camp, a family visit to the East Coast, and camping in southern Oregon.

At some point, however, his mind turned back to school. Casually, he mentioned being almost stapled in the hand. Further questioning revealed that a friend nearly stapled his finger while attempting to fasten together some paper. Nothing indicated that he had actually been stapled, and we agreed it had been a near miss.

The conversation reminded me of when my younger sister once stepped on a staple. I was in the second grade and she was in kindergarten. I don’t remember the incident clearly, but I think it involved her throwing staples down a flight of stairs in a fit of anger. Several minutes later she stomped downstairs and stepped on a staple, sharp side up. There was blood and tears.

And… childhood karma?

I shared the memory with our son, and he wrinkled his forehead. He went to the piano where we keep his aunt’s image framed and present, and brought it to me on the sofa. The photograph of Elizabeth Kasulis Padilla was taken at age 27 during my bridal shower at our family home. She is young and beautiful.

I asked Miles if we looked alike. He studied her image before he spoke.

Um, Mama? No, not really. Well….. yes, you actually have the same eyes.

He continued, but you’re not wearing a bracelet. And she has different eyebrows. Hers go like this (demonstration) and yours go like this (demonstration).

Plus she has long hair. And you have a wig. 

What?! (that was me).

Oh! I mean not a WIG. You have a PONY TAIL. And her hair is long.

Let the difference between a pony tail and  a wig be clear. Not that there’s anything wrong with wigs, but I’m trying to work with what I’ve got here.

He continued, Well, not really, you don’t look alike. Except for your eyes. Oh, and your ears are the same. PLUS you might have the very same big toe.

I swear he said this.

After this illuminating dialog we entered into a faux soccer match between Mexico and Brazil. I’m always Mexico and he’s Brazil or another spectacular team. (I’m not advertising, but these soccer guys are an awesome toy for creative young soccer aficionados).

soccer guys

The 2014 World Cup is imminent. I am excited not only because I’m genuinely interested in watching the matches, but I love that it’s something our family can get into together. We are teaching our children about nationalities and maps and languages and colors. We may choose different sides along the way, but we all experience similar lessons in play, struggle, pain, loss, movement, observation, success and strategy.

Also on the horizon is the anniversary of my sister’s death, and in the days and weeks prior it is no secret that anxiety and fear are my closest friends.

In a few days, Liz will have been dead for nine years.

I still struggle with this menacing truth. It has threatened to destroy what little faith I have for so long.

Haven’t I grieved long enough?

Allowing the grief to move through me last night, watching my son compare my sister’s image to my own, was enough. It was enough in its authenticity. It was enough in its innocence. The experience was enough in its brevity and relaxed sentiment. It wasn’t sad, comparing faces, one in the here and now, one in the past.

It was enough to move within a brief span of time from dreams of summer to howdoyouspellDeschutesRiver to the dangers of staplers to remembering my sister to World Cup fanaticism. It was enough, and I was happy.

Because, as my son pointed out, my sister and I might have the very same big toe,

and that is enough for today.

Ms. Maya Angelou once said,  “Try to be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.” 

Last night my oldest was my rainbow.

She also wrote,

When I think of death, and of late the idea has come with alarming frequency, I seem at peace with the idea that a day will dawn when I will no longer be among those living in this valley of strange humors. 
I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else. 
I find it impossible to let a friend or relative go into that country of no return. 
Disbelief becomes my close companion, and anger follows in its wake.
I answer the heroic question ‘Death, where is thy sting? ‘ with ‘ it is here in my heart and mind and memories.’

And so it is in mine.

 

I’m sorry

Last week I was thinking that I don’t have anything very compelling to write about anymore.

After all, I get up, get the kids up (and generally in that order, which is wow and wonderful), hubby or I fix breakfast and get ’em ready, out the door, etc. First grade provides me with six hours to focus on work. The weekdays speed by in a busy blur of work and activity and little down time.

Afternoon/evenings are also fairly routine,  alternating with swimming, soccer, piano lessons and trips to the park. During his big brother’s lesson, I generally keep my youngest son out of the living room and occupied. It’s never been a problem. But this past week he informed me that HE is ready for piano lessons. I explained that HE then has to be six years old for that to happen, and he just looked at me thoughtfully.

A moment later, he parked himself on the sofa to watch his brother practice. He stayed there for several minutes.

Eventually I approached him and asked if he wanted to play outside or something (I mean, I am thrilled that my oldest is learning to play, but listening to Camptown Races x infinity times is a little boring).

No, Mama! I’m the audience, he stressed.

He continued to sit there, and clapped wildly after his brother completed each piece, tapping out wrong notes joyfully.

Such are the moments that make this parenting stuff worth it. Unlike, for example, grocery store meltdowns, one of which was unexpected and epic. Those are moments when I prefer to hit my head on something hard and become temporarily amnesiatic.

In line at our local grocer the other day, the cashier asked how my day was going. I offered a generic response. My youngest was in one of the those unwieldy “car carts” that are a hybrid of grocery cart and maneuver warfare strategy number one. I manage to crash into at least two displays per visit as I round a corner or pause to examine produce.

[maneuver warfare, by the way, is a term whereby your enemies attempt to incapacitate you through shock and disruption. Clearly a strategy created by a parent or team of parents who should know better.]

The cashier shook her head. I remember when my daughter was that age, and she.…I can’t honestly remember what she said next.

But this I heard.

She said, parenting, man, you just don’t know what you’re in for. It’s a hard, hard job.

Rather loudly and immediately, I agreed, that’s the TRUTH.

My response surprised her, and she looked up at me, wide eyed, and smiled broadly. We made this immediate connection. She didn’t tell me how cute my kid is or remember to offer him a sticker. She didn’t offer me a story detailing her own kid’s antics at age four nostalgically. Instead, in a reasonable voice, she acknowledged out loud that parenting is not easy.

And it sure isn’t fun a lot of the time. Sigh. I walked home feeling validated in my own feelings about parenting.

The ‘it’s worth it’ moments battle intensely with WTF were we thinking?’ moments often.

Fortunately for the small people in the house, the ‘it’s worth it’ moments won out this week.

One night we allowed the boys to watch a 40-minute show after homework, brushing, bathing, etc. They commandeered the I-pad while their father and I talked quietly in the living room. At about 10 minutes remaining in the show, I gave them instructions to let us know when it ended and added a heads up that bedtime was imminent.

More or less ten minutes later, I called out, Is it over?

No, Mama! sweet voices assured me.

Two minutes later I walked in and checked the screen. They had finished the show and were exactly three minutes into the next episode.

Promptly I shut the damn thing off and gave them their marching orders for bed.

Tears. Defense. Cries of the tricked and the innocent rang out into the night.

The little one and I worked it out. He wasn’t completely guiltless, but  doesn’t have as much of a handle of time and orders as his big brother. He was mostly sad that we skipped books.

I let my oldest know how disappointed I was in his decision to continue watching shows despite my clear guidance. It was dishonest and irresponsible. His father confirmed the message. He went to bed in tears, angry, and hardly made eye contact as I said good night.

This type of thing doesn’t happen ALL the time, but it happens often enough to be frustrating and annoying. I shrugged it off, like so many other six-year-old battles.

About twenty minutes later, the quiet but inescapable click of a door opening sounded across the first floor. I glanced up as my ninja-stealth-like boy walked over to me. He usually wants water, a bathroom break, a book, or something else that allows him to stay up late.

He often has to tell me something important having to do with Major League Soccer season stats or when How to Train Your Dragon 2 is coming out at the theater or how to spell raptorsaurus.

I was taken aback, in a most wonderful way, when he proceeded to clearly say,

Mama?

I have to tell you something.

Pause.

I’m sorry.

This is a kid whom I regularly force to say “sorry” when he’s mean to his brother or does something for which he knows better… he says it, and it’s so completely fake. Apologizing does not come naturally to him, probably because 99% of the time he doesn’t see that what or how he’s offended requires an apology.

Fair enough.

But this time, after my little speech about responsibility and honesty, well, I don’t know what happened. But something struck a chord within my sensitive boy’s strong-willed heart.

He said he was sorry. He meant it. I accepted his apology, and he gave me the biggest hug.

I know some people aren’t really into apologies. They’re just words, right? Actions speak louder than words, we claim. But hearing those two words spoken out loud sincerely can make the air feel different.

And different air means the day is no longer routine and typical, but rather unusual.

I like unusual.

Like the cashier at the grocery, I like feeling surprised by unexpected authenticity in action and in words.

Thank you, my sensitive, little boy who is age six going on seven and eight and nine and nineteen and thirty. I love you so much. miles looks

Do I title this post Creepy Bunnies?

Or Boston Strong?

I woke up ruminating on the holiday, but my thoughts quickly turned toward the runners and spectators who lined the streets of Boston this morning.  It’s been humbling and inspiring to read about how the running community moved resiliently through this first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. I was touched to learn that hundreds of runners and their families attended the Blessing of the Athletes at Boston’s Old South Church yesterday, which coincidentally was Easter Sunday.

Part of the blessing read:

May you mount up with wings like eagles. May you run and not grow weary. May you walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

I remain unconvinced that Christianity with a capital C is the way to go,  but I also appreciate how we might seek solace and inspiration in scripture. This particular piece seems especially meaningful for runners.

That said, the explanation I provided to my kids about the meaning of Easter felt inadequate.

Our eldest son can tell you the Christmas story, or at least he’ll hit the highlights… how baby Jesus was born in a manger after his parents wandered for several hours in search of a place to rest. He likes the idea of a bright star guiding the way of those who sought him, and he’ll certainly mention the fact that there were animals, too… an ox, a donkey, a camel, and maybe a dog.

Also, since the city of Bethlehem is within an hour’s drive from the Mediterranean Sea, my son is certain there was a shark or two silently lurking near the shore the day Jesus was born.

Healer, sage, leader, teacher and philosopher, Jesus was a man who cared deeply about humanity. Was he reborn? I’m not entirely certain.

Anyway.

Most Easters since our kids have been born have passed without much reflection on the day’s purpose or history. Yesterday I felt like tackling it differently, because the secular approach to Easter is focused on a creepy, man-sized Easter Bunny, and and the sugar ingestion alone is bound to hurt.

We painted and hid eggs and filled baskets with treats. Our eldest handles special treats discreetly, saving them to enjoy one at a time. His Easter Basket was still pretty full by the time the sun set. Our youngest, on the other hand, was intentional in his excessive consumption of jelly beans and chocolate. Throughout the day, he returned to his basket to dip in for a handful of sweet, until it was gone. Then he leaned in to me with chocolate breath to inquire about more.

After spending the entire day in our backyard playing soccer and badminton, gardening, swinging in the hamaca and organizing an army of Lego guys on the deck, we finally stopped to come in for the holiday meal. Before dinner, we went around the table to share gratitudes.

I said something like, Today I’m grateful for sunshine and each of you and the understanding that we are sharing this special Easter Sunday with many people around the world.

Oldest son: Um, Mom? Couldn’t there be a cooler holiday that celebrated sharks around the world? Like everyone would just be excited and celebrate about Sharks being alive in the ocean around the entire world?

After dinner, the boys scrubbed down into cleaner versions of themselves and watched an original Peter Cottontail movie from the 1970s.

Public apologies to the movie-gifter, but this film is a little scary and dated. The boys didn’t think so, but I cringed watching the dark Evil Irontail try to outsmart the innocent Peter Cottontail. The stop-motion animation is fun, and probably easier for our youngest to follow than fast-paced modern films, but it’s still a pretty terrible movie. I like to be present during the viewing of a new movie in order to interpret as needed or talk it out afterwards, but I’m also finding myself being less present lately.

More and more, I need the boys to work stuff out on their own.

When they are separated, they long to be together… or at least the youngest wants to be near the eldest. Left apart long enough, the eldest inquires about the youngest, too. Since we don’t live in the Taj Mahal, intimacy isn’t typically a problem, and we are within shouting distance at any given point.

On Easter Sunday I felt like we should feel as a family,  like a whole, curious, healthy entity, moving toward a shared interpretation of the day. Faithful or not, life really comes down to love, gratitude, family, patience, kindness and strength of spirit.

Our kids are young. Easter baskets are compelling, and they sit in the room, teasing, tantalizing as they entice little hands to dig down for jelly beans and chocolate. But if I can support those things listed above as part of my life and that of my family’s, then I feel we are doing pretty well.

And that, readers, makes for a happy Easter.

ry518BPKQq9qJWPiSgqfHqhSQT5hpRnzCpqF335_5YU (2)

 

holiday thoughts and blessings

Dear 17-Year-Old Me

High school was a series of dark, dreary lows and dazzling reach for the stars highs.

That’s not true. Not really.

Except for the occasional moment, there actually wasn’t much drama in my high school experience. Every morning I slept as late as possible and rushed to throw water on my face, brush teeth and pull a shirt on before my ride cruised by my house honking. We were rarely late, but not a minute early.

#thankgodmykidsarenotinhighschoolyet

Adolescent mood swings notwithstanding, some routine was built into my high school experience. For example, lockers were organized alphabetically. I remember my locker neighbors, for better or for worse. Routine can be a very good thing for works (and human beings) in progress.

Some schools around the country are removing lockers for safety reasons… kids hide stuff they shouldn’t have in lockers, obviously, and also for changing norms… Kindle Fires and other e-readers require less storage than heavy textbooks.

But beyond the locker, nearly everyone’s high school experience seems full of events that are either real, not real, fantasized, or flat out made up. High school is quite terrible and wonderful. Or so my high school was, all those years ago.

In high school, I had a huge crush on a BFF’s boyfriend – which is to say I experienced a thing quite common and impractical and mostly not acted upon – because he was nice to me.

Never in a million years would I have copped to the crush at the time, given that I didn’t really understand that it was happening. While surrounded by loyal and not-so-loyal friends and beautiful and not-so-beautiful people for four years, my adolescence was more or less romance-free.

Instead of making out, I got good grades and lettered in track, cross country, swimming, and soccer. I didn’t excel in any of those sports, but I wasn’t the worst, either. It sounds crazy, but I would love to show up for practice tomorrow… in the pool, on the track or field. I loved being a part of a team in spite of the tough parts (read HERE for my thoughts on team sports).

This past Saturday my husband and I were walking toward the stadium to watch our dear Timbers draw another match, and we spied a young couple dressed to the nines, the girl in bright rose, the boy in a tux and a pink bow tie.

Prom? Prom! we both noticed simultaneously.

They were holding hands and happy as they strode past us in downtown Portland. Unknowingly, the young couple brightened up the street.

I secretly thought they were very brave, but I kept that thought to myself.

Seems a bit early in the season for Prom, I observed out loud instead.

Because once I got asked to the Prom by this guy who was a friend. It was cool because we were friends, and also friends within a larger group of friends, and it seemed right at the time.

Somewhat awkwardly, we got dressed up and took pictures.

I thank God regularly for a lot of things, like for my amazing family and my health and Pharrell Williams’ song Happy, but mostly right now I thank God that I am old enough not to have had social media at my fingertips when I was 18 years old. Those who scan old photos of that era, well, you know I love you but please keep me out of those publicly shared memories.

Now back to Prom. My date and I headed out for dinner and dancing, teenager-style. At some point I danced with another guy. A guy who, I guess, was interested in me. Thinking that my “date” was no big deal because he expressed zero interest in me, I thought nothing of said dance. A few weeks later, we drank too many Miller Lites plus an unknown quantity of cheap tequila, got into an argument and the sad story played itself out.

Fast forward to High School Graduation. I was a capital W Wreck. But I was also thoughtful and surrounded by wonderful friends. I was happy and worried and excited. I was eager and motivated and ready for summer, post-high school style.

And did I mention I Was Surrounded All The Time By Other Teenagers?

Who wouldn’t be a Wreck?

Oh, and by then I was a practicing bulimic.

In other words, totally ready for college.

Right?

Recently a distant friend from high school suggested that we meet up at a local race this summer and grab a beer afterwards… a lovely invite, absolutely welcome. But a little, long ago voice inside of me inquired: Why? Why on earth would she want to hang out with you?

It made me remember those days, high school days, filled with highs and lows and in-betweens that I would not change today. Well, maybe I’d change a few of them. But mostly I’d change the way I perceived myself, and others, as a result.

Dear 17-year-old Me, please know that you are not all that ugly or different or bad.

Please reach out more authentically to those smart, interesting people that don’t play sports or direct student government and produce talent shows.

Please connect more willingly and openly with your closest friends and teammates. 

Please notice that one of those people was nice to me, and especially realize that this same guy who once gave you a rose before taking you to a movie isn’t deserving of you being a jerk, and please stop being so unresponsive to his kindness.

Dear 17-year-old Me, please consider that what it takes to bring people together is more important than what may be taught by your peers, teachers, coaches, siblings and parents resulting in people remaining apart. 

My kids are little guys. They embrace and reject their friends all the time, depending on the wind, day, sport, class. It’s a joy to witness their friendships and observe how they learn, grow, stretch, and challenge one another.

I suppose we “grown ups” continue to do so as well, but we don’t hold hands spontaneously anymore.

Every night at the dinner table we take turns around the table sharing our gratitudes. Once a novelty, now it’s a tradition. Both boys raise their hands frantically, competing as to who gets to state their gratitudes first.

It is a time when we can each think briefly about something – anything – for which we are thankful. Some nights, like tonight, it’s hard to think of things for which I am thankful. I’ve got a parent who is hurting and friends who are wandering. I haven’t met personal goals that I set earlier in the year. We put the boys down unhappily last night –  I try to time it so we avoid meltdown sibling squabbling, but didn’t close the deal tonight before they fell apart. It’s so frustrating.

And yet…

they slept nearly twelve hours last night, blessedly ignorant of what awaits them in High School.

Today I asked them what they wanted to be when they grow up.

The oldest responded confidently, A professional soccer player and a shark explorer.

The youngest said, I want to be the Happy Guy.

You mean you want to be like Pharrell Williams, the singer who sings Happy?

No. I want TO. BE. THE. HAPPY. GUY.

So you want to become Pharrell Williams when you grow up?

YES.

Ok.

I love my guys. And High School wasn’t awful. It was actually pretty good. I am grateful.

BUT.

IT. GETS. BETTER. 

hermanitosabril