Every year I make a list tracking the gifts I’ve procured for Christmas so far. On the list appear my husband, kids, mom & dad, youngest sister, sister’s kids, sister’s husband, in-laws, nephews, and a few others. Tonight I jotted a few notes down after a mad trip to Target on the Saturday before the holiday and briefly thought, who’s next? Liz?… oh, right, she’s no longer on the list.
My thoughts then turned to the twenty children who are no longer on the list. No doubt holiday gifts had already been lovingly purchased and tenderly, or rapidly, wrapped for them. Sigh. Those moments when my brain signals to me that my middle sister is still among the living are rare these days. Once in a while I still reach for a phone to connect with my sister again in hopes of hearing her voice just one more time.
As I quiet my mind, I do hear her voice. It is specific and directed, with a note of barely held back laughter. It is real, as real as anyone else’s in the room. I’m just not certain what she’s saying (or I’m just not listening, which is entirely plausible).
These past few months have been full in a way so different than what I was used to in the past, mostly because my work shifted and my kids have had to spend a whole lot more time with me rather than with caregivers. They have been good, challenging, funny, tiring months. As we approach the end of the year, my heart feels as full as a heart can get, I think. The gaping hole in my heart left after my sister’s death remains not full yet no longer empty.
For seven years I lit a candle in my sister’s memory – not quite every night, but almost. I was challenged recently to consider what I will do the next time I lose a loved one (and though it may be far off, it is inevitable). Will I light a candle for him or for her? Will I eventually be surrounded by candles, their lights flickering at sunset, tucking me into bed every night?
It seemed more creepy than comforting when I pictured so many candles around me, one day. So I am taking a break from the Guadalupana.
I suspect that my sister won’t mind me getting on with life, because she may be far busier than I am these days, what with welcoming all those young souls from Connecticut into a new space and a new light.
Observing the firelight from my place tucked beneath a soft red cozy, I appreciate that the boys are quiet, the dog is sleeping, and the wind is still. It is finally my time to just be for a few minutes, and let the world around me just be, and let us all just be enough tonight.
Wishing each of you a most wonderful holiday.
There are no words, and yet, there are an infinite number of thoughts and feelings to describe what happened yesterday in a pretty town located in the northeastern state of Connecticut.
My husband called me with the news. At a stop sign, I stopped and glanced down at my phone and the New York Times website.
The words were aggressive in large print black and white.
27 dead in shooting. 20 children.
The news implied that most if not all of the children were in Kindergarten.
A few days ago I attended my son’s puppet show. Kindergarten, Room # 2, Chief Joseph Elementary. It’s just another ordinary elementary school in a city not entirely untroubled, but not too bad off relatively speaking. A few dozen parents watched 29 bright five- and six-year-olds taking turns introducing their puppet – an animal who lives in the sea – and its special qualities. I enjoy theater, and this was the best performance I’ve seen all year.
At another school far across the country, I picture 29 children lining up to wash their hands before snack, sit at desks practicing their letters, and listen to their teachers reading a book or demonstrating a simple skill. I can’t go any further than that because what comes next is beyond most people’s worst nightmares.
We live in a time of great uncertainty, financial discomfort and competing priorities at any given time. Threatening news reaches us from everywhere, all the time… terrorism, traffic, PTSD. Streets may not be safe. Parks may not be safe. Shopping malls and movie theaters… not so safe.
But School should be safe.
There is no question in my mind that our children should enter a school without a greater worry than passing their spelling test, making a new friend, or maybe, sadly, confronting or avoiding a bully in the classroom (and bullying is scary, unsafe, and should not be ignored).
School leadership, the principal and support staff and cafeteria workers and aides and parent volunteers, should be safe.
The teachers should be safe.
The children should be safe.
Over the next few days much more will be revealed about what transpired in Newton, Connecticut. There will be details of more action. More shock. More terror. More heartbreak.
I know I’ll read each of the twenty or more obituaries of the kindergarteners who died.
The words kindergarten and obituary shouldn’t be in the same sentence.
President Obama addressed the nation. Everyone watching witnessed him pause, take a breath, and struggle to address a senseless incident to people at home wondering what to think and how to respond to a series of actions so horrific and so permanent.
Among his remarks, he said:
Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors, as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early and there are no words that will ease their pain.
I have often imagined my sister as a greeter of angels. I picture her greeting each of the Newton children, one by one. Hello, Margaret, hi James, hey Nicole! You’re OK now. You’re safe. I’m here to help.
I wonder if I might be able to help. I’m a survivor, too. I’m not a bereaved parent, but as someone who has experienced unexpected and senseless loss, I might be able to help. I can at least pray. And coming from an agnostic, that means something, right?
Nearly three dozen beautiful children are – poof! – gone, in an instant. We hope. Or maybe they are gone – painfully, suffering, scared – it’s too much to consider right now.
I started a letter to a family who I don’t yet know tonight. It may serve as the draft for something bigger. I don’t know much, but what I do know is that the work of one person can make a difference.
We are in the midst of a season known by many around the world for hope, the miracle of light, the birth of a savior, unity, collective work and purpose, giving and faith. I believe no one piece is greater than the other. We are young, old, male, female, poor, rich, humble, arrogant. None of us can predict what happens tomorrow.
I cannot offer profound reflection. I can only echo the thoughts and prayers of those near and far, and I appreciate the reflections of those whom I’ve spoken to about the tragedy in Newton.
May the families of Newton discover a moment of peace, an unknown courage, and a deep well of strength and love from which they may draw deeply from tonight.
P.S. And one more thing. Ordinary people should NOT feel compelled to own assault weapons or handguns.
Good day readers!
I am super excited to direct you to a post I had the pleasure and fun of writing for Momma Be Thy Name‘s Twelve Days of Christmas holiday guest posting extravaganza!
Please click on THIS LINK to read my post about why all I want for Christmas is a giant, inflatable snowman. Seriously.
Leave a comment on today’s or ANY Momma’s 12 Days post and be entered to win an Elf Pack, filled with fabulous holiday treats, plus the GRAND PRIZE, a Keurig Platinum Series Brewer! COFFEE = YUM!
Oh yes, the sun. I repeated these words silently as I ran down the road, navigating gently sloping roads with no sidewalks in a close-to-gated community in southern California. I smiled broadly as the sun shone from its place in the brash blue skies, skies so bright and deep blue they looked unreal. I rarely wear sunglasses and use sunscreen at a minimum so I just concentrated on soaking in the Vitamin D in a curious hope that it would keep me sheltered from the impenetrable sky of grey that awaited me back home.
I ran twice, slept thrice, and casually but mindfully hiked for an afternoon through Joshua Tree National Park during a weekend getaway with good friends. It was my first time experiencing this strange and beautiful landscape of sand and rock and shadow light. The famous Joshua trees stand small and twisted, dark green and spiky. They collapse curiously under the weight of their years. We learned that it takes nearly a century before they fully decompose, and we observed toppled trees in this process of half-life, half-death, as the green subsides and the grey-brown seizes their limbs in the desert.
Heading out without cell phone or watch, I quickly got lost during my first run in the neighborhood where we had rented a lovely, spacious bungalow to welcome a dear friend into her 40th year. After running about 30 minutes, I realized I had no idea which way to turn. The palm tree I’d chosen as a land mark looked exactly like dozens of others I’d observed along the way. Uh oh.
In my mind’s eye I heard the inevitable dialog between me and the only person I could find on the streets, a gardener or carpenter working on a property in the neighborhood.
“Señor, buen dia. Estoy buscando una casita en la esquina del Camino Sur con la Calle… Verano? Vespero? Ummm. Se queda cerca de un arbolito de palma. La conoce Ud?”
My ineptitude at navigation is embarrassing.
Just as I was about to give up and walk, I turned a corner and spotted a sign. Vespero! Yes! This is my house!
I entered the house briskly and drank a large glass of water. I’m not used to the bright sun and its powers to dehydrate, but what it gives back is so worth it. The sun poured its energy into my body and spirit. For three days I laughed and talked and listened to a handful of thoughtful, intelligent, funny, warm, beautiful women, one of whom I had the pleasure of meeting for the very first time. I also got to do some not-thinking, not-talking, and not-doing, which was also wonderful.
My return home yesterday was lovely. It wasn’t raining, but it was overcast and chilly. At home we lit candles and fired up the Christmas lights. The boys settled into their typical half-love, half-hate relationship as they built structures from Legos and blocks and random stuff around the house and watched Scooby Doo and built a fort with pillows and blankets and flashlights. After they were tucked in, I discovered a book that a friend has passed on months ago that I hadn’t cracked, and I dove in, glass of wine in hand, letting the long weekend linger.
This is an amazing song and story by an artist who inexplicably seems to know my own heart. Then I realized that perhaps it’s my heart that knows the song. It’s a cover of Jeff Buckey’s version, which is also gorgeous.
P.S.S. The most common definitions of Hallelujah refer to an exclamation of praise to God and/or an expression of relief or positive overwhelm.
Photo credit to Sasha Muench. December 2012.
Sample of real life conversation between my kids:
Five year old: “Don’t point that at me!”
Pretend shooting noises from my two-year-old.
Five year old: “Stop it!”
Five year old: “Stop it! I’m tired of these Lego gun games!”
Two year old: “Stop it!
Five year old: “Stop copying me! These are my words!”
Me to two year old: Can I help you?
Two year old: “NO!! I do it!” (two seconds later) “Mama, help!!!!!!!!”
Actually, he is two years and eight months old.
Five year old: “You’re just getting coal for Christmas!”
Two year old: “Roar!”
Five year old, happy: “I’m Puss in Boots!”
Two year old: “No, I’M Puss in Boots!”
Five year old, frustrated: “I’m Spiderman!”
Two year old: “No, I’M Spiderman!”
Five year old: “I just need some space!” He marches away. The two year old follows him while contentedly humming the “Ants Go Marching” song.
The two year old is crying because we have said good-bye to his big brother.
Me: Are you sad?
Two year old: YES!
Two year old: Because Max no give Mi-nuls huggy in kindergarten”.
Good times. Can two years old be over now? Bring on three, please, or I might not make it.
Today was a good day. Holy cow rain! I fell asleep last night listening to the skies open up and wishing for a zinc roof. Driving rain on a zinc roof makes a beautiful white noise that I would love to make my bedtime music for all time.
The boys slept till 8 am. Swim lessons. Park. Plenty of hang out at home time while the other adult in the house played with friends (MLS championship match). Upon his return, I headed out to run on a race track surrounded by lights and sparkle and colorful drums and nutcrackers and Christmas wreaths and friendly holiday animals.
It rained the entire time. It was fantastic.
Less than one hour and six miles later, I tucked my wet, chilled self into the car to drive wearily and happily home where three men, ages young and less young, greeted and rushed me into the bedtime routine. Good thing the peace a run leaves behind tends to linger, because the homecoming was stressful. The boys were mostly great all day, but evidently fought the entire time I was gone. They continued to bicker and pester one another until both my husband and I had had it. It is so unbelievably annoying and unnerving to have to be a referee all day long. I wonder how other parents manage to talk to each other, because we can not have a conversation without being interrupted by one or both children… say… every three seconds. Seriously.
I’m so glad they’re asleep right now.
On this day a year ago, I wrote this love letter to my middle sister.
A few days later, I wrote this letter to my youngest sister.
Tonight, I am still writing to my sisters. A year and a half of blogging plus a lifetime of journaling have made me tell people that if you read my blog, please don’t hold anything you read against me.
I now understand why some writers elect to use pseudonyms.
Today is my middle sister’s birthday. She would have been 36 years old.
If you don’t know what happened, then you might want to read this post.
She is, instead, forever 28.
I sit, and I light the Guadelupana, and I think, and I remember. I breathe in and out. Again and again and again.
I miss her.
This song speaks the words of my heart, even though I didn’t write them.
Liz, I remember you today on your birthday, and hold you close during the holiday season, and attempt to treat these days as critical and unique because we won’t ever get them back, and appreciate that we are overflowing in holly and bells and dreidels and reindeer and cookies and trying to make those curly strips of ribbon with a scissors and wishing for snow days and making a list and checking it twice and threatening small children that Santa’s really watching now. Miss you.
Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation. ~ Kahlil Gibran
This morning was back-to-school, back-to-work, and back-to-Monday.
It was also back-to-tears. I’m not quite sure why after so many dry months. I’m feeling wrapped up like a Christmas gift that was left behind the tree, and I need someone to come and find me.
Driving back home after kindergarten drop-off, a single tone of Angels We Have Heard on High forced me to blink several times in order to keep my eyes focused on the road. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve entered the season of angels or what, but I’ve felt borderline weepy all day.
Please do not misunderstand – I absolutely love this time of year. My heart sings with the ringing of the bells, and my soul invites the deep green of Christmas wreaths and mistletoe to come in and stay awhile, and the comfort of warm winter drinks fills my hands and heart on chilly, rainy days. I love that it was pure sunshine today when it should have been raining and that I had (have!!) work to do. I love that in a week or two’s time our home will be candle lit sparkling and colorful as we dust off old friends, special ornaments, empty stockings and stale candy canes from last year’s season. If you send us a holiday note or a photo, know that I’ll save it for years to come.
But today I let myself feel alone in the deep and icy knowing of how much I miss my sister who was taken from us over seven years ago. I still struggle to reconcile her absence with so much joy and fullness around me and I feel like this year maybe it’s just my problem and somewhere out there she is fine, just fine in the unknowable world of angels and mysteries and stories mixed with humanity and its realities. I just can’t seem to get around or through or beyond or over the loss very much today.
I finally accepted that I would choose to live my day within the loss, within its truth and within the real and dark place that is the death of my young and younger sister so many holiday seasons ago.
And I hate it. But I am learning to live with it.
At home we are teaching Miles about the power of words like “hate” and “thank you” and “please” and “love”.
I hate it. I hate that she died, and I hate that she is gone. I own the power of those words, and yet I am a person who feels really uncomfortable using the word “hate”.
We spent three bustling, kid-centric and kid-happy days in a peace-inducing place over the Thanksgiving holiday. An occasional boom from the horn of a cargo boat sounded, but aside from our own voices, it was a very quiet experience.
From my home office today I heard the siren of an ambulance and the clinking of a shopping cart being pushed down the sidewalk toward the store on the corner where collectors can make a buck for their recyclables. Cars sped by and the MAX train zoomed to the station not far from our house. Our urban home is wonderful for many reasons, but I missed the tranquility of a rural community today.
In the car I listened to holiday music that felt too beautiful with its timeless messages of friendship, love, and blessings. In the next few days I need to sing along to “I saw Mama kissing Santa Claus” and stay away from “We are the World” for a few days… I’m just too sensitive. Forget about “Blue Christmas” right now (sorry, Elvis).
While away for a few days this past weekend, I ran twice. On Thanksgiving Day, I headed out for a 5K on a rural community road under blue skies. A gentle breeze kept me cool. Suddenly to my right appeared a doe. Focused on the doe, a large buck startled me by crossing the road just before me to meet his partner. A second doe waited quietly on my left. I kept going, and they watched me run down the road. The next day, headlamp in place, I tucked into a 3.5 mile run at dusk. It was a bit eerie running beneath towering pines that create a shadowy tunnel in which to travel. But the peace and quiet were worth the tiny fear I felt when I couldn’t quite see what was too far ahead of me, nor could I identify which eyes may have been watching me from beneath the brush at the side of the road. I wondered if coyotes attacked humans, and later was assured they most certainly did not.
Back in my usual space today, I made time this afternoon for a few quiet deep breaths, before waking child # 2 to go pick up child # 1. They hugged each other upon sight, which turned my mood right around (though the tears threatened) and we got busy being a family tonight.
It is such a secret place, the land of tears. - Antoine De Saint-Exupery.
Flooded with love, missing, and the power of sibling relationships. Knowing just how powerful they are is priceless, inspiring, threatening, heartbreaking.
Yesterday I crashed momentarily under a wave of big emotion that arrived on the shores of my humanity unexpectedly and it’s just too much and suddenly I was drowning without water. My head spun and parted and collapsed angrily and heavily into two opposing sides. They yelled at each other for a while.
I’m working on consolidating the Teams to bring about collaboration and good dialog. This sounds rather vague, but know that I am taking steps to make it true. I am working toward helping Memory and Sadness co-exist with Truth and Today in a positive and beautiful way.
Today has been another thing altogether. Today was completely different from Yesterday.
Walking my son to school on a foggy morning was quiet and lovely. Mid-day I relaxed as I listened to the voice of a friend on the other end of the phone, and a few hours later I received an unexpected gift from this friend that will allow me to spend three (THREE!) nights away from my family with women without whom life would be much less entertaining, compassionate, interesting and appealing.
I am filled with the power of friendship love for the women in my life who are held in my heart from beginning to forever. Together we share our experiences – some common, others not -of family, work, food and fitness, parents and parenting, and those troublesome and tricky issues that sound a lot like sex, money and politics.
Sometimes we just drink margaritas. Or drink just one more half full glass of wine. And we talk about nothing, and everything.
Yesterday I collapsed inward while shaking with the memory of sister love because notes of brother love sunk into my soul and inspired me to write the words I scribbled above, trying to capture what it means when someone for whom you cared deeply and yet took for granted despite madly loving her and she is taken away.
Today I regrouped, spoke to a clinical neuropsychologist about an emerging personal research opportunity, and worked on an interesting assignment on behalf of a talented colleague. The hours passed rapidly and well.
At four o’clock daycare called to let me know my littlest guy had a fever of 101 and I switched gears again. I will sleep tonight at the mercy of children’s ibuprofen and space heaters after just the right mix of good night stories and hugs. With my husband away at a nice business hotel and I in my
cap yoga pants, we will all settle down for a long winter’s nap.
And as we begin again, tomorrow, I wonder if both unexpected soul-bearing sadness and joyful surprises may present a trend this season.
Either way, I expect uncertainty. I attempt to embrace the unknown. I welcome the reality that is my experience, knowing that it always brings the thinking and the wondering and the healing and the writing.
The candles in my living room cast a gentle light, creating sweet shadows that linger as twilight sinks into darkness and children fall asleep.
Tonight Miles said sweetly, “Mama, I’m sure glad President Obama gets four more weeks!”
Well, he’s getting it, sort of. I’m sure glad, too, sweetie. Four weeks plus three years plus 48 more weeks. YAY! (understatement of the year)
It got me thinking, though, what if I had to design and accomplish literally mountains of work and play in just four weeks? Two weeks from yesterday will be Thanksgiving, for goodness sake. How did that happen?
Two weeks after a pumpkin-pie and cranberry-scented holiday, we will be deep into the season. Me encanta la temporada navideña. The sun sets too early, but twinkling lights guide one’s way home.
***I interrupt this post to tell you that my eldest just announced he is breaking apart his Lego gun because he wants me to be happy and that he prefers to wait until he grows up and becomes a soldier or a police officer and gets a real gun in order to protect the people. He has decided to stop building Lego guns. I genuinely applauded his decision.***
Now back to four more weeks.
In four weeks, I can:
- Write 1,000 words a day in a novel-writing experiment.
- Purchase, wrap and deliver holiday gifts to niece and nephews well in advance of 25 December.
- Clean out the freezer.
- Go for a dozen or more runs.
- Get three pairs of too long pants hemmed, finally, by someone other than me.
- Examine the 2012 bucket list, and sort out what I’ve accomplished, what’s coming up, and what’s just not gonna happen this year.
- Lose seven pounds.
- Decide how to spend the 16-day public school winter break with two kids under age six in the rain.
- Visit the Grotto by myself to talk to myself, my sister and her angel friends.
This list sounds pretty good to me tonight. It’s been quite a week! I get to break out the Christmas music on November 23rd, but here’s a teaser of a song I love. I know it’s premature, but I also can’t resist sharing this version of my very favorite Christmas carol by Jennifer Hudson. I listen quietly to these timeless lyrics that affect me, an agnostic, deeply as I consider moving emotionally and physically into the season that represents giving, sharing, and celebration.
There’s been tough times this year for our family. Earlier my eldest (the self-declared non-Lego-builder-of-guns-until-he-gets-a-real-one) mentioned that the reason he likes Christmas is “because he gets lots of toys”.
His words are true (thank you to my most amazing parents and parents-in-law and family and friends – we do enjoy a beautiful and generous Christmas morning). Of course, I immediately launched into a Christmas-is-for-giving-and-sharing-and-love and he heard it coming, agreeing with me, yeah, Mom, ok, and so on.
I have much to be thankful for this year. And I’m going to figure out a way in the next four weeks to share that gratitude with the people I love best.
I’m feeling it, too, you know. Waking, working, and sleeping with the anxiety that accompanies an election, particularly this election that reflects a time in history when decisions will be made and unmade and people’s truths are being shaken. I crave the confidence and commitment that comes with knowing I’ve got the back of the person and his family who will be President of the United States. I guess we’ll know more soon about what our families and friends and neighbors and community leaders and coworkers and moms and dads and young people and students and immigrants and grandparents and first responders are thinking. I just hope it’s enough.
Losing isn’t fun, but it can be inspiring.
Several years ago I coached a soccer team comprised of about 20 six, seven and eight-year-old girls. At practice we ran, jumped, dribbled and kicked. Scrimmages were a jumble of twirling, running, skipping girls that got down and scrappy when they needed to do so. A few of these girls displayed real talent, while most were sheer fun-loving, soccer-playing kids out to have some fun and run around outside for an hour.
We didn’t win a single game, two seasons running. If my co-coach is reading, she may correct me, but I honestly don’t recall winning even one match. And we had a blast anyway.
I remember attempting to inspire confidence in these kids by highlighting a special skill displayed by every child. Alicia was good at running, Jennifer was good at kicking, Margaret was good at passing the ball, etc, etc. We encouraged the girls to call out skills of their teammates and share the praise.
As we described all of the different physical skills, a young heavyset girl raised her hand. She was one of the slower, clumsier girls, and yet got out there on the field every week and did her best.
I want to share my skill! she raised her hand.
Ok, what is your skill? we leaned in.
I am really good at math! she beamed.
Ahh. Well, we were talking about soccer skills, but nevertheless, everyone cheered.
I learned something from the team that day about support and love and honor. They were little kids, not superstars in the traditional sense. I believe that many continued to play soccer, and I know that they had a lot of fun spending a few seasons with young coaches who cared about them. They rarely displayed that meanness or frustrated spirit that too often accompanies competitive sport when thing don’t go right, and games are lost, and mornings spent running around chasing a ball don’t seem worth it. Instead, they smiled and laughed and yelled. They hugged us at the end of the year and gave us hand-painted coffee mugs and autographed tote bags. The girls raised their trophies and grinned for photos at the season’s last game.
They played so well, and yet they couldn’t get the ball into the goal.