the angels are working overtime

When I learn that someone has died, I always send up a quick prayer to my sister, organizer of angels, so that she will welcome them into her part of the universe. I make a special urgent request that she do so when it’s someone that has died unexpectedly or senselessly, so that he or she will have a friend greet them wherever they land.

I’m not suggesting that the death of Robin Williams was senseless. On the contrary, and I do not presume to know a damn thing about depression except for my own bits and pieces of sorrow, and even they bewilder me sometimes.

But I think that probably in his mind at the moment, his death, well, it made a great deal of sense.

It may have been the only thing he could do to stop the pain.

It sure seems like I’m having my angel sister work overtime these days, doesn’t it? A friend’s mother, another friend’s father, a seventeen-year-old from a local high school, all lost within a few days of one another this summer. And it sure is hard to write when you’re crying.

But then again it sure is hard to NOT write when you’re crying.

Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation. ~ Kahlil Gibran

Mr. Gibran’s words resonate deeply with me. My heart goes out to all the families experiencing pain and loss right now.

Just a few hours after my grandfather died last year, I wrote this post. His death, while tremendously sad, made sense to me, and the words came easy. On the other hand, I’ve written about sudden loss due to accidents, bombings and guns in schools, and those words are a struggle to put on the page.  

Managed pain is still pain. Controlled depression is still a deep well in which one swims, where the light seems far, far away. I grow sunflowers to cope with sadness. I admire the tiny seed that sprouts from the earth, fragile and small, that keeps on reaching for the sun until it is seven feet tall and brilliant. Its edible seeds start to tumble and twist from their place on the blossom, and squirrels feast while the great stalks gently fold back onto the earth to close another summer season of light. 

Just over a decade ago I was living in central California with my then-boyfriend-now-husband. We road tripped to San Francisco to spectate a professional cycling event in which the then-much-adored Lance Armstrong was racing. While walking around the course we heard a familiar, friendly voice.

Robin Williams was standing next to a bike and a guy who might have been an assistant or a friend. Within minutes everyone around us immediately recognized and surrounded him, and for about ten minutes he joked and smiled with the crowd. An old lady nearly knocked him over trying to get a photo, and he made a kind joke about being taken down by someone just a tad older than him.

I shook his hand. 

When I moved to California I expected two things: 1) warm, sunny beaches and 2) frequent celebrity sightings. We lived less than a block from the spectacular coast, but it was chilly and foggy most mornings. And I guess most of the celebrities lived somewhere several hours south of us. 

Robin Williams remains my one and only celebrity sighting. When I shook his hand, it felt like a normal, healthy, happy guy’s hand, one whom life blessed with talent and opportunity, and certainly not one that belonged to a man in a critically unhappy and potentially life-threatening space. 

I’ve been pretty lucky not to have too much direct experience with depression other than that which was mixed up with bereavement. I’m not depressed anymore. But I am Sad with a capital S about the death of Robin Williams. 

Crying isn’t innocuous in public spaces. It may be rooted in deep emotion, but it isn’t always appropriate. You know that moment when your voice catches and you pause in order to suck back in the sad? Jimmy Fallon did that last night on his show. I do it all the time.

Please seek out help if you’re feeling deeply or desperately troubled. 

You can reach The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 day or night.

wpid-IMAG0038.jpg

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.

spaces in togetherness

I have too much to think about right now, which tricks me into feeling like I cannot write about anything. My family and I are alternately wading and sprinting through some major transition this summer, and I haven’t been sleeping well. There is great reason to be excited and tremendous space for dreaming, and also much to do and consider before we can call it done and my mind can settle.

Additionally, summer vacation requires a whole lotta togetherness, and togetherness has been a wonderful, challenging, exhausting thing for the past month or so. This is what the wise Khalil Gibran had to say about that:

But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love; let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

He was talking about partners, or people in love, but I think this idea of making spaces also applies to families.

Until I can focus on the words tumbling about in my brain that involve family and transition, I will at last respond to a most kind and unexpected award that I received from the truth-telling blogger of the Imperfect Kitchen. Please click on the link and read her thoughtful posts when you have some time; I promise that you will not regret it.

Called the Liebster Award, and created to build relationships within the blogging community, it’s all based around the number 11. To accept the award, one must

  • Post the award on your blog
  • Thank the blogger who presented the award to you and link back to their blog
  • Share 11 things about yourself
  • Answer the 11 questions given to you by the person that nominated you
  • Nominate 11 bloggers who have less than 200 followers
  • Create 11 questions for your nominees to answer
  • Notify your nominees by posting your nomination on their blog.

So here we go.  These are both 11 things about myself and responses to the 11 questions (sorry if I am cheating)

1. Which book(s) should I add to my ‘don’t miss’ list?

Ah, I love this question. What comes to mind tonight include The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. 

2. If you could give $10m to any person or organisation other than yourself, who or what would it be?

The sum of ten million dollars is difficult for me to comprehend because it’s a lot, I mean, a LOT of money, to gift to just one person or organization. There are so many dedicated among us doing good work. I am a supporter of many organizations… Amnesty International, FHI 360, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Farmers Market Coalition, and Oregon Public Broadcasting, among many others. However, I think I’d just give the money to my parents. They’re smart, resourceful, like-minded, and compassionate. Their generosity and willingness to give to a host of just and meaningful causes makes them a strong candidate for when I win the lottery.

3. What’s your Myers Briggs type and Star Trek Personality (click on each to find out if you don’t already know)? What do these tell us about you?

Can I please get back to you on this one?

4. Is ignorance bliss?

Probably. I guess it depends on which issue one is ignorant of understanding. Ignorance explains so much…many people do not have access to a great deal of information out there that could influence their ideas or beliefs. In spite of our best intentions, we are generally far more comfortable not knowing or identifying with something unpleasant than we are with acknowledging difficult truths.

5. If you could change one policy of your current government, what would it be?

America’s immigration policy is in critical need of reform. We need an illuminated path to citizenship for men and women who come to our country, work hard and remain out of trouble with the law. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented children are at the heart of this struggle, and deserve a chance at living among their peers in the USA as a friend, neighbor, and documented person.

6. If you could ban one word or phrase from the English language, what would you choose?

I suggest that we eliminate two phrases from the common vernacular.

1) “Baby bump”.

Yuck. I love seeing my expecting friends become beautifully round, but I dislike this phrase and even more dislike attention from strangers placed on someone’s stomach. The presumption of a stranger (or a friend, truly) to shake and rub one’s pregnant belly is something I do not support or understand.

2) “Don’t take this personally”.

Everything is personal.

Everything.

7. You have to live, for one year, in a different town, city or country to your current home, where is it?

This is a timely question given that we have just sold our house and put an offer on a new house in a different city. Please stay tuned for details! But for one year, please transport me immediately to Barcelona, where I will wander its narrow streets for hour beneath imposing towers and gentle sun, stopping when necessary for grilled vegetables, arròs negre, seafood and wine.

8. Salt or sugar?

Salt, unless fermented fruit counts. Then sugar!

9. Who or what was your favourite discovery of the last year?

That there are strangers who will treat you as a dear friend, and friends that sometimes turn into strangers. The latter part of this discovery brought sadness, but also relief.

10. What is the most fulfilling thing in your life?

My family, of course. But also, my time that is mine spent doing things are non-family: writing, reading, running, sitting in silence, slicing and salting an avocado, and trying to remember how to play the piano. My family.

11. Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?

Smarter than I am today. That’s a what, not a where. I hope to be Home in five years. In a different place but inhabited by the same characters… they will include a pre-teen, a nine-year-old, an old and loving Labrador Retriever, my husband and me.

And these are the nominees (and some have more than 200 followers because they are amazing!):

1. Holy Bee Press (oh, how I want to keep bees someday)

2. Really a Runner

3. An Inch of Gray (heartbreaking and heart-lifting)

4. Brown Girl Farming (stories of food justice in communities of color)

5. Running while Mommy

6. Cupcake Crusade (delicious and fun)

7. Local Milk: A Cast Iron Skillet and a Camera

8. Living on Ink (writing, publishing, writing)

9. Word Savant

10. Invoking Frida (photo tribute to a heroine)

11. Grief: One Woman’s Perspective

path

Thank you for reading, and enjoy the links!

I am behind in posting to this personal blog. I owe two reviews, various musings, and a special response to a nomination by The Imperfect Kitchen – a post that I am excited about writing and sharing with my readers.

But lately I’ve felt more like thinking about writing, rather than actually writing, thinking-past-bedtime-style, and thinking about the the usual suspects.

Loss, healing and love, in no particular order, because in my mind they are all one and the same.

A neighbor of mine cared for her mom during her last days this month. She gently, sadly left her family far too soon, and it made my heart ache, though I’d never met her.

It made me think, god, I’m so grateful, truly grateful that my mom and dad and sister are still here with me. 

Most nights my family sits around the dinner table and haphazardly share our daily gratitudes. It’s our “Our Father, Full of Grace”, a reflection on the day’s gifts and rainbows.

The deal is that everyone is supposed to share at least one thing for which they are grateful that happened that day, even if, and this is quite plausible, that day truly sucked and was horrible till the end.

Despite that we have shared gratitudes before the evening meal for over a year now, it’s not sinking in. Our boys dig into their food, starving, until I ask them to pause. Then they’re suddenly squabbling, hands reaching, each determined to share his gratitudes before anyone else.

Our youngest says he is grateful for the “water park” that we visited last November. He says this every night.

It’s not a religious practice, I guess it’s optional, but it irritates me that I constantly have to remind them to show appreciation for what they have. They are good at saying ‘thank you’ for an ice cream cone or a birthday gift, but less so at acknowledging a subtler act of kindness or uncommon experience.

The truth is that we live in a community that enjoys so much privilege. I want our boys to recognize this, and so I make them identify something, anything, for which they are grateful every night. Once they get started, however, they have a hard time stopping. This suggests that one day I won’t have to prompt them.

Right?

Recent gratitudes from the older brother include “watching the World Cup, especially Brazil and USA and the Netherlands, and sorry, Mom, but I’ve got to root against Mexico when they play the Netherlands, and for this dinner, and for getting ready to go to Bubba and Nana’s house…” and from the younger, “I’m grateful for this beautiful dinner and I love Mom and Dad and Miles and Coppi and our new kitchen and going to the water park and coming back from school and the dumpster wasn’t here and we didn’t need to do any more work”. 

It’s really good stuff, these gratitudes that I insist they share.

In late 2000, my two sisters visited my partner and me in southern Mexico. We were working 12-16 hour days, volunteer-style, at a guest ranch located not far from the Guatemalan border. Mostly European and a few intrepid American travelers arrived shouldering backpacks, ate great quantities of excellent home-cooked food, hiked and photographed nearby ruins before heading on their way.

We served traveling Germans a lot of Mexican beer and washed piles and piles of dishes. We also developed a healthy respect for the indigenous Zapatista community’s presence down the road as well as for the Mexican army base located less than one mile from the ranch.

I’ve written about this experience in Birds of Paradise, Part One, Two and Three. Fresh out of the Peace Corps, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to live and work in a piece of the world not well known by anyone other than its residents and the local American missionaries (I should write about them sometime – they weren’t your stereotypical missionary family).

Toward the close of our tenure at the ranch, my partner and I spent time in close dialog, not only with each other, but with members of the staff. We agreed that the way in which the operation was run (by American expats greedy for pesos and a permanent vacation) was crude and unethical. The ranch employed a hard-working staff of young men and women who completed their tasks with a serious yet pleasant attitude. For most of them, Spanish was their second or third language after their indigenous dialect. We earned their trust by working alongside them, washing dishes by hand, serving plates and drinks, and weeding the garden. It helped that we spoke the language, sharing jokes and lightening the atmosphere a bit.

Bringing this memory back today seems timely. Although we did not have children back then, and in fact did not have much for which we were responsible – no mortgage, no “real” jobs, no bills waiting to be paid – we felt accountable, to one another and to the staff and neighbors of the property.

At the end of the day we felt responsible and grateful. We coordinated humble yet delicious dinners and assisted in buying, cleaning and preparing the food alongside two talented Mexican cooks. Eventually the work took place in a rhythm that worked beautifully so long as the ranch owners were not present. It was a good, yet unsustainable situation since we knew the owners were due back any day. After six months, we chose not to take part any longer in an operation that was unkind and unjust to the very people who made it work.

Maybe gratitude can’t really be forced. Through observation and experience of humbler conditions than my own, I grew in immeasurable ways that season, and I was a whole lot older than our kids are today.

I want to live my life with eyes wide open to the blessings around me. Our boys have big hearts, even if they less aware of how good they have it.

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.

- A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

 P.S. By the time I got around to posting this, both of my boys had driven me mad, because they were tired and melting down, causing me to feel very ungrateful indeed. But we’ll try again tomorrow. 

gracias

 

 

 

the usual suspects

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

old and new, near and far

It came to my attention last week that I never wrapped up last week’s post.

What happened to my son and his first grade BFF after their falling out?

Well, I don’t have a simple answer. My son and this boy remain good friends.  At home we’ve recently hashed out different strategies for managing his response to school playground challenges, and the thing is, he gets along beautifully with this friend and all of the other boys when they are playing one-on-one. It’s group play that becomes tough and provocative for him.

His situation strikes me as similar to ‘group play’ as experienced by adults, whether on the playground, so to speak, or in the workplace. As adults employed in a professional landscape we experience partnerships, jealousies, and breakups. Our relationships with our colleagues and friends are distinct, yes, but also similar in that we spend meaningful time (I hope) with men and women tending to shared goals and impact. The way we get there, however, may or may not be on or even treading close to the same path.

Navigating new and personal grown-up friendships is also interesting. Most of the time I like meeting new people, but there are times when doing so scares or shuts me down. Given this and for a thousand other reasons, I treasure my ‘forever’ long time friends… the women I met as a happy, breezy, active girl, and later as a smart, insecure, more or less happy teenager, and still later as a searching, open, and unsatisfied college student. They’ve known me long enough that if they wanted out of our friendship I believe they would have ducked out long ago. The fact that liked me ‘then’ and ‘then’ and then’… and still like me today, well, I am humbled, happy and grateful for their friendship.

I may have mentioned it in my last post, but I have the most amazing friends. Writing this makes me want to be with them right NOW!

Friendship break-ups are the worst, though. While I haven’t gone through permanent separation from a loved one/partner/spouse, I do know the sadness of a friendship that is, for a variety of reasons, unrecoverable. There are people out there (fortunately very few)… who know me… or knew me… and we are no longer friends.

Experiencing my parents cherish, but eventually break up with their dearest friends years ago is something I will never forget. On the other hand, observing them hold other friends close for more than 40 years (my lifetime) has been a privilege.

Sometimes I think my parents’ friends are actually my friends, too, and I feel so lucky.

When my sister Liz died, I had the true pleasure of connecting  or re-connecting with a few of her BFFs. Of course I’d known them before the accident, but they were hers, not mine.  In fact, I often observed Liz’s friendships from a distance, due to geography or biology or whatever.

Once I went out with a guy in her circle of summer friends.

It did not go over well (with her).

Today, these lovely, accomplished, smart women are still not mine, but occasionally I reach out to them or they reach out to me. When this happens, my heart always fills with the knowledge that they remember Liz. And that we all remain connected to her. I’m struck, but not surprised, that she had such awesome girlfriends.

One thing Liz and I had in common was our ability to cultivate wonderful friendships with women who are extraordinary given their grace, intelligence and humor. (Some of these women, I should note, were stuck with us because our parents were friends and so that was that. Like cousins, we came together regularly on special and non-special occasions through no planning or our own desire. Thank you, thank you, parents.)

To my sister’s friends, whom I now might quietly call my own, and to my friends – old and new, near and far – and to my sons’ friends – the new, the challenging, and the sweet — I raise a glass tonight.

I look forward to knowing you all for a very long time.

And I thank you for knowing me.

Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.

 Khalil Gibran