crickets and more angel babies

I haven’t written much lately. Last month we moved from our home of nine years to a new house located almost exactly thirty minutes drive from our first place. It’s not far, but it’s a whole different world over here.

It’s funny when you leave a place you’ve loved, or hated; and both. Right? Relief mixed with laughter and sadness and bittersweet memories. In my mind love and hate are intrinsically linked. Both are feelings so passionate, and seemingly beyond our control.

But is love a choice or an emotion?

Though I am tempted, I will not explore that question here.

I’ve never moved with kids before (and I don’t recommend it). My kids are young (7 and 4) and they won’t have terribly vivid memories of this transition, but for my husband and me it has been a very big deal. One, in fact, that is still evolving as we continue to break down boxes, place books in the giveaway or keep pile (SO MANY BOOKS), and quietly realize that a particular blouse or jacket or scarf is one never to be worn again.

Our former, first and only house was built in the early 1920’s in Portland, Oregon. It was smallish, a two-bedroom, one-bath bungalow on a busy street in an excellent location. Urban. Creative. Dark purple. The house had useful and quirky things like built-in cabinets and closets. A few demographics: Our neighborhood was evolving and relatively diverse in ethnicity and socioeconomic status (SES). My son’s primary school was 63% White. He had fantastic kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers. His friends were a blend of funny, serious, kind and smart boys. The school does a tremendous job in recognizing and appreciating differences and diversity.

My son’s new primary school is 83% White and I can’t comment on SES yet. It is more well-resourced than his former school, though so far it is just the same in the best ways – we receive gentle smiles and welcomes from the teachers and staff; the parents are involved and active in activities beyond reading and math. We will see how the year goes, and we are happy to be here. There is a great deal to do and consider.

Our new place was constructed in the mid 1970’s (in fact, the year I was born). There are no stairs, which in itself makes it feel weird. And I guess people in the 70s didn’t need many closets. The neighborhood is quiet and woodsy. We can hear crickets. Crickets! The boys run out on the patio to listen at sunset, and my eyes shine with secret joy and thoughts of my childhood home, a place where crickets sang for me for many years.

The layout between living and kitchen and dining space is lovely and comfortable. And we just bought some beautiful new furniture. I am a proud owner of a spectacular dining room table today. And BENCHES. I can’t wait to host our next Thanksgiving dinner (and make my guests share their gratitudes – ha!).

But. MOVING.

It pretty much sucked.

However, the MOVING IN part is okay. Sure, we’ve had to have plumbers out on two occasions already, and had a near miss with a catastrophic sewer repair situation. And we need to rebuild a fence and rip up some carpets and build a shed. Did I mention we had no Internet access for fourteen days? And there are a lot of spiders out here in the woods? I’m not scared of spiders, but my four-year-old is now waking up in the middle of the night. 

Our treasured photos are on now the walls. We tuck our boys into their own bedrooms (super awesome for the oldest, rather traumatic for the youngest). The dog has a special corner of his own in which he can rest. There are two towering Doug firs on the property (really big Christmas trees), and we can be at the river bank in less than a ten minute walk (a kayak fund has been established for both kids, in case you’re interested in contributing). We are settling in nicely, and I had to explain recently how Santa would know how to find us.

And, best thing ever, we have two bathrooms!

So why does everyone insist on using mine? 

(just wondering)

As a result of the sale and purchase of two homes in two months, I’ve barely kept up with what’s happening beyond my personal walls (both perceived and real). But it’s a habit for me to briefly check the New York Times, Huffington Post, Washington Post, and CNN to absorb the headlines and click on what’s compelling a couple of times a day.

So today I learned another American man took up a gun and killed his own daughter and six grandkids. While I’ve been focused on my family… attending back to school night, meeting teachers and getting to know neighbors and moms and dads of the boys’ new friends….noting when and how often trash and recycling are picked up, cooking on a gas range instead of electric, dusting off my running shoes to venture out in on a path unknown…well, someone (s) out there either plotted his family’s deaths, or more likely, ended his own life and theirs due to untreated mental illness and stress.

I’m speculating here, of course. As the investigation into this particular horrible event takes place, however, I’d be surprised if mental illness and/or domestic violence wasn’t at the heart of the tragedy.

Um, doesn’t this sound all too familiar?

And here we go again, gun-control advocates vs gun-loving, Second Amendment Right-touting fanatics.

The record player keeps skipping, gets stuck and repeating one groove over and over.

A three-month old was killed today. And an eleven-year-old. And four other kids.

I won’t link up to the many brief news articles about this tragedy today. There’s little information to be gleaned from the official record.

But. Again.

As I consider the ways in which my family and I have dealt with the stress of moving… of new schools and places and spaces… of strangers and work and libraries and stores… I know that I am okay. I have strategies to deal with my anger and my sorrow.

This man did not have strategies.

He could not or would not — we don’t know — apply strategies that would help him deal with himself, his reality, his surroundings.

I don’t know what was going on in his world.

I do know that he had access to firearms, both legal and illegal according to the reports, and that police had been called to his family home on more than occasion.

As a society we are responsible for keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people like criminals and the mentally ill (I know that most mentally ill people are not dangerous).

Gun advocates claim that “Federal law requires that individuals seeking to buy a gun at a licensed dealer pass a background check to prevent criminals, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill, and other dangerous people from purchasing firearms.”

This is true. Thank goodness.

However, anyone who wants to may approach a “private seller” at gun shows, on the Internet, and elsewhere to buy guns with no background check, no questions asked.

This article released in May 2014 says that just days after new polling showed an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Americans continue to support expanding background checks, new FBI data released by Everytown for Gun Safety shows the number of mental health records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has tripled in less than three years.

This is good. But. It’s a work in progress, and it only works if people are actually required to have a background check before they take home a gun.

I am definitely not an expert on guns or gun control. I have family members and dear friends who own guns. I have no issue with ethical hunting. My boys think guns are great. They are very aware that I do not.

My takeaway, and this is not something that I came up with on my own, is that instead of focusing on making it harder for the mentally ill (and criminals, I guess) to acquire guns, we should be making it harder to get guns, period. For everyone.

I am grateful for my family. My heart breaks for the six children, their mother and yes, the man who took their lives and his own.

My record player is on repeat as I quietly lift a prayer to my angel sister:

Liz, six more kids. Six. One is just a babe, a babe like the one that you never got to have. Welcome them, hermanita. Give them the biggest welcome ever. Love you.

Here are some links that were helpful to me think this through. Thanks for reading.

5 Facts about the NRA and Gun Control

Background Checks Work

A Police Officer’s Words on Sandy Hook, 21 months later

Guns and Mental Illness

Comments by Obama after Shootings in Portland, Oregon (my most recently departed hometown)

Conservatives History on Gun Control (Ronald Reagan)

A Hunter Speaks Out for Gun Control

(and finally, a pro-gun argument) note that I do not agree with many of this author’s statements; but this one I like: “I believe we need a general shift in our attitude toward public violence—wherein everyone begins to assume some responsibility for containing it. This makes sense to me. Both gun advocates and gun-control advocates might come to consensus on this point.

morning is breaking

Long Time Gone

When my sister was born, I’d been led to believe that I would be the recipient of a brand-spanking-new, ready-to-play-on-demand girlfriend.

I was almost three years old.

She came home with my parents at Christmas time. They tell me I looked her over, and she tucked into herself, teensy, wrinkly and perfect.

She can’t play!

I walked away, unimpressed.

What kind of a playmate can a newborn be?

I do not remember this scene, of course, but according to credible sources that’s what happened when Elizabeth Kasulis Padilla joined me in my great big three-year-old world.

I do not remember another moment being unimpressed with my baby sister.

Three days from now she will have been gone for eight years. More than a year after the accident, I wrote,

I either want to live here: that is, here in time and space and being, creating and contributing to love, health, and happiness within my family and myself. Or I want to live there: where she is. But I do not want to linger anymore in this peripheral life that has forced my every thought into such a dark and empty space.

I lingered in that dark space for a long, long time. It’s just recently that I’ve been more fully present in my life, in a good way. Those of you who haven’t experienced immediate loss of a loved one may puzzle why, why it takes so damn long to get over it. The thing is you just don’t get over it, you get through it, tumbling beneath its weight, pushing against its intensity, cringing from its cruelty. You find yourself living a new human experience, one that you didn’t expect nor ask for. You make yourself and your world anew because the old one is a long time gone.

Wondering what the angels are up to today and every day, I imagine my sister as the quintessential angel organizing force. She could lead a union of good will, and everpresent and inclusive prayer, and initiate the transformation among us from a place of sorrow into unsorrow, and then support the work of we survivors as we march heavily toward joy.

A born leader and organizer, my sister was persistent, sensitive and smart. Above all she was a hard worker.

The work of healing is real, but more subtle for the bereaved than I’d expected. When I watched footage of the final survivor of the Boston Marathon bombings leaving the hospital, I was tearful and yet mindful that she was able to take physical action to heal. One of her legs was amputated above the knee and the other is severely injured. As insensitive as this may sound, I am a little envious of the survivors. I hurt for them, but wish my sister had been able to heal, too.

Despite what the DSM says, bereavement isn’t depression, not exactly. It’s more like coming to truth. It might be a coming to Jesus moment, except I don’t believe anyone can save me but me. It’s coming to heartbreak and getting up in the morning and painfully realizing that a measure of joy of your own life has been stolen not only from you but from everyone who knows you. And among them in my case was included the person who promised nine months before her death to love me ‘for better or for worse’.

And then ‘for worse’ happens and that really sucked.

It’s so real, believe me, it’s the realest, darkest, angriest, most terrible thing you can know and know and know it’s real.

It’s real and she’s dead and the next day she’s still dead.

The grieving process feels mean sometimes. It’s that bitter old man who tells everyone who will listen that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

Then you wake up again and a piece of your bleeding heart is still beating, but threatening to destroy you so all you want to do is sleep and self-medicate and forget. So you do so, for a long time, and work a little in between the space where the sun rises and slips away, another day done and done.

It’s been a long time since she’s been gone.

For so long I couldn’t give up grieving, because leaving the grief felt like leaving her.

I know I’ve felt sorry for myself. Others have lost children. I haven’t. Others have lost their partners or parents. I haven’t.

Others have been touched by absolute horrors, so much more appalling and more terrible than my own, here in my own community and my country. Across borders and oceans and through lines of people waiting to show passport and greet bored and suspicious people who work in customs.

In the year 2004 I was stopped twice in Miami because the FBI was looking for a woman whose name matched my own. They wouldn’t tell me anything other than she had a scar on her stomach.

I wasn’t her. She wasn’t me.

Finally they let me go. I pissed the border control guy off by switching to English after several minutes of being very nice and cooperative in Spanish. Upon my release, I inquired as to how I could prevent this situation from happening again.

Get married, he said. Change your name.

I was married. Seriously?

During the year after my sister’s death, I wrote this:

Do I have regrets? Yes, absolutely. I feel cheated, brokenhearted, devastated to have lost my sister. People who tell you otherwise are lying. My regrets, however, are not for the past. They are for the future. I took for granted that my sister would be, at the very farthest, a phone call away from me, until we were very old, withered from the sun and rain and adventure of many decades. I looked forward to holidays and birthdays and regular days of no particular significance, other than it was a day and we were there. I wanted to be an aunt to her children, and of course, expected Liz to be Aunt Liz to mine. Yes, I have regrets.

But still. I’m here for something.

I still rise in the mornings.

There’s a lot of wonder in our wonderful world, after all. Maybe even more than before.

I’m thinking of those whom my sister greets in her space within the universe, small children from Sandy Hook, old people who are ready to go and middle-aged people like me. Certainly people who never intended to meet her there, like the eight-year-old Boston spectator, the children who died when a tornado in Oklahoma showed no mercy, and the friends of my parents who have lost their lives since hers was taken.

Given her enthusiasm for life and people and care packages, I know she is capable of providing the most perfect welcome for anyone who crosses her path.

Especially the children, I think.

That said, I avoid looking at the bestsellers at the airport that scream Heaven is for Real… stories from those who emerge from death to tell the tale. I’m not sure if they frighten or offend me because I think they’re simply a fraud or because miraculously they might be true… and in that case why didn’t my sister get to write her own bestseller?

Clearly my handle on what happens next and after and forward is vague. But I do believe in the spirit of my sister. I am filled with gratitude, and yes, joy, at having known her for 28 years. And for knowing her still.

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.

~ Henry David Thoreau

bella

Sunday times

This morning my eldest son approached me with a gleam in his eye. Still in bed, I had been awake for a while but felt no rush to get up.

His fair hair, floppish and wild, made him look like a miniature teenager.

Mom, do you know who my favorite girl in the whole world  is?

I shook my head no, but suggested, Miss Penny? (his kindergarten teacher)

No! YOU! He pointed at me.

Despite the ache in my head and the congestion setting in and making itself at home in my sinuses, that was a wonderful way to start the day. I got to be a girl, for a few minutes, at least, and to be his favorite girl is something I know won’t last forever.

Yesterday was an off kind of day, as I was in between worlds of work and play, an altogether backyard westward jet laggish sort of day. Unsurprisingly, I developed a sinus infection within 24 hours of arriving home, my nose is sore and red, and I’ve wiped out our tissue supply. I’ve had my fix of the East Coast this month (four trips in four weeks!) and I’d like to linger in one time zone for a while.

Still, I find myself looking forward to the days ahead. We have entered the shortest month of the year, a bridge-like month that promises to lead us out of the darkness and into the grey damp that Portland knows well during the so-called Spring. Even when it’s not raining, drops of water cling desperately to every leaf and flower, daring the sun to make them retreat.

It’s a drab sort of month, but yesterday’s weather was gentle and unassuming with temps into the 50s and sunshine. We ate lunch outside on the deck and the boys surprised me with a new birdfeeder hanging toward the edge of the yard.

One of the things I like best about going to my parents’ home is the excess of feeders and birdhouses that attract cardinals, sparrows and wrens to the property. Despite the lumbering presence of our sweet squirrel-chasing lab, the birds seem to like our backyard, too.

Later that morning I asked my son about a show he was intensely watching on public television. It’s called Travel to the Edge.

Right now he [the narrator] is going to make the iceberg the dominant feature in the frame, he explained.

He’s five and he knows more about landscape photography than I ever will. Pretty great.

The rest of the day has been a blur of household activity and indoor catch up. I made our favorite spinach and artichoke dip and baked premade jalapeno poppers that are required on the day of the Superbowl.

Never mind the football. I teared up listening to the Sandy Hook school choir and told my boys to put their hands on their hearts during Alicia Keys’ rendition of the National Anthem. One listened distantly and the other did a running cartwheel back to his bowl of Pirate Booty and sliced strawberries, making sure his brother hadn’t snatched any. At half time one bopped to Beyoncé while the other asked why the rockers on the stage were all girls.

Now I glance around, tired, congested, but content. Our family is at home, no place to go and nothing to do but rest and play and be. Never mind that being quiet is impossible for the boys, but together we can manage the squabbling and running and wrestling…. and the inevitable tumbling of tears and laughter… in one place, at home and among ourselves.

birdfeeder