When Aliens Move In

I was having a conversation with my neighbor recently, and midway through our discussion, she said, “Was your son home the other day? I said ‘hi’ to him, but then I wasn’t quite sure it was really him. I thought it was, but he’s changed so much….” Her voice trailed off.

I get it. We have lived in our neighborhood for the past 13+ years, and the kids were very, very little when we moved in. Now, they are hovering on adulthood, driving, working. They have grown from knee-high to taller than Mama. Their schedules are busy, and they don’t cross paths with the neighbors as much as they used to. So it doesn’t surprise me that recognizing them might be a challenge.

There is this subtle change that all kids experience on their journey from childhood to adulthood. But then there is the not-so-subtle change when they are suddenly much more adult than they were yesterday; one day—quite suddenly—they almost seem to be different people altogether.

It usually happens after a feeding-frenzy when they have somehow managed to consume every edible morsel in the house. They go to bed and the next day, or the next week, they wake up, come into the kitchen for breakfast, and you think, Is that really my child at the table? As you look at said child, you notice that the face is more angular; the shoulders are a bit broader; the voice is deeper and the vocabulary is more mature; moods and attitudes vary from moment to moment; and wait… my child would never have worn those clothes yesterday. Where did he even get that outfit? You rack your brain trying to remember if you purchased that shirt, or from whom he might have borrowed it.

As you begin to get used to this taller, louder, hungrier being that now inhabits your home, you simultaneously start to wonder what happened to your child. Where is the child who—just yesterday—was climbing trees and catching frogs? Where is the child who cuddled up next to you while you read bedtime stories? Where is the little one would get up from a Lego-building session and come into the kitchen for a hug?

In fact, I will admit that last summer, I dropped my son at camp, as I had every year for several years. A week later, when I went to pick him up, I could not find him in amongst the crowd of boys all dressed alike. I even spotted him at one point, only to continue scanning the crowd because that kid just didn’t look like my kid. Seriously. My own kid.

And then there was the day over the last year when I called home on my commute from work. A man answered the phone and my heartbeat quickened. WHO IS THIS?? I almost screamed, but then I heard a lilt that I recognized in the strange male voice. Oh, wait…. Perhaps this is the new voice of my kid…?

It’s been a process, but I’m beginning to get used to the new kids who share my house with me. Because with these new kids come some unexpected adventures and new idiosyncrasies. These new kids help each other, they work together, they brainstorm solutions to their own problems, they have goals and dreams, and through their daily experiences, they are developing the grit to reach the goals they set for themselves.

And every now and then, I know they are the same children who have always lived here. When I am really lucky, one of them will come into the kitchen and surprise me with a spontaneous hug.

Painting Rainbows

It’s been almost six months without Dad. In those six months, the grief comes and goes in waves, but lately, the waves have been farther apart. I think this perhaps because I am not in the car as much during the summer, not alone as much, and therefore, I don’t have the opportunity to cry. As much. And some days, that creates an illusion that the grief is subsiding.

But on Sunday, I had one of those “sneak attacks” of grief I had been warned about. I was at my daughter’s dance recital, and I was enjoying the show. I had remembered years when Dad had been in this very auditorium watching his only granddaughter perform, but I was able to bury that thought. That is… until the kindergarten class took the stage. The little ones are always the cutest, but then their music came on, a rendition of “Baby Mine” performed by Alison Krauss. And suddenly, feelings I didn’t know I was having came bubbling to the surface in a figurative storm of emotion. It was a whole mixture of Dumbo and circuses and Dad. And sitting there in the dark, I cried.

That afternoon, after a literal storm, there was a rainbow. It was the second that weekend and was followed by two more the next day. These rainbows were gifts that lifted my spirits and filled my heart.

When Dad passed away back in January, I found—tucked in a drawer with some other papers for safe-keeping—an old card that he had sent me when I was living some distance away on the other side of the country. On the front of the card was a picture of two painters on ladders, each painting opposite ends of a rainbow. The card, and the message inside, became the basis for my words at Dad’s service. I talked of the notes and silly poems that he wrote, and I ended with the following:

When we were in college, Mom and Dad would send care packages at exam time, and Dad would write poems to encourage us to study hard, to do our best, but also to let us know he believed in us. Before I returned home this time, I searched through a few old letters I had hanging around. The best of the notes are in storage boxes, but I did find one he sent to me when I was in California. This one was “just because.” After a brief newsy letter, he ended with a poem. It started out, Wish I could… and went on:

Paint you some rainbows

Write you some prose

Find you some fellows

(Even more of those!)

Bake you a cake

Offer you some laughter

Give you a break

Help you get what you’re after

Not many dads take the time to write poetry for their daughters. But my dad—he was the best. So Dad, we send you off with all the love we can muster and a promise to miss you forever. And if you’re listening, paint us some rainbows.

This year, I have seen more rainbows than usual. And for me, every rainbow is a gift—a very special gift—that lets me know Dad is still with us in some way, and he is letting us know he is thinking about us.

 

Messages

I’ve written about my blocks before—my “grown up” alphabet letter blocks. It was the end of December when I wrote a post about how my children often …um, alter the messages I create, changing the words to nonsense or silliness.

But the current message on our blocks has remained unchanged for a while now—almost since that December post. In fact, I think this is the longest running message we’ve had without some sort of interference at the hands of the teenagers in the house. But that’s because this message is special; it was created in a deeply emotional moment—one that we all survived—and no one has the heart to disturb it.

It was the night my dad passed away; the children had gone to bed, and I couldn’t sleep. I was gathering all of the items we would need for an indefinite amount of time away from home, but I was directionless. I sat down on the floor of the living room, and in a mess of tears, I composed the message—Love to Heaven—tracing the letters with my finger.

My children didn’t see the new message until we returned from our time away. “Look what Mrs. L did with our blocks!” they summoned me into the room. Mrs. L is the neighbor who had been feeding our cats and taking in our mail while we were away. I went into the living room and looked to the top of the shelf.

I half smiled to myself. “No,” I told the kids. “I did that. I wrote that message the night before we left, while you were all sleeping.” I turned away and went back to the kitchen, hiding the tears that now flow freely and often.

Those moments, nearly five months ago now, they were a time of deep and pervasive sorrow. And while grief remains with me, it has found pockets in my life where it can emerge safely—when I am alone in the car, in the morning when I get ready for my day, in the evening when I prepare dinner. And there are also the sneak attacks that take me by surprise, and probably always will.

But the message has served its purpose of comfort to all who read it. And now, perhaps maybe we could use these blocks—as we have in the past—to summon the resistant summer weather. With reluctance, I will change this long-standing message. It will take courage to sit on the floor, dismantle the words, and scramble the blocks. I will remember the last time I turned these blocks in my hands to find just the right letters—the moment when creating the perfect message was so very important.

Time’s Apprentice

I am an apprentice of time. This fact was made obvious to me this morning when I turned the calendar and found the words—right across the page all bold and bright—Imagine the Possibilities.

My mind immediately started to do just that. It was as if the suggestion suddenly took on life and moved under its own power. I could see it like roots of a vine digging in and taking hold. So much power in a simple suggestion! Not only did I begin to imagine all that the month of May might hold, I actually noticed the thirty-one blank squares that were arranged beneath the word “May.” Thirty-one days when I can take on new challenges, learn new things, develop my soul, and become a better me.

Imagine the Possibilities! Yes, let’s do that. The possibilities are endless, and when we imagine them, it is as if they expand and grow and become more… well… possible. Imagine!

I am an apprentice to this whole time thing (does anyone ever really master time?). Maybe not, but imagine what could happen if we open ourselves up to time and to all of its possibilities!

 

A spring walk

This evening, my daughter and I went out for a glorious walk. First of all, it is actually (and finally) spring. The days have been so gray recently that a nice day was more than welcome. The temperature was warm, and the trees have begun to bloom. Buds, leaves, flowers, the works. So many people comment on the amazing fall foliage in New England, but I believe the colors of spring rival those of a beautiful fall day.

But it was dark, and our walk didn’t involve seeing the spring trees blooming in bright green, deep red, and the flowers were not visible. It was dark, but on Friday night in spring in a college town, there is much life.

Our first interesting encounter involved a little brown rabbit sitting on the lawn not far from the sidewalk. It was still and waiting, seemingly staring down a female student who was also still and waiting. She looked our way, and I smiled at her, but she did not acknowledge us. She was in deep telepathy with the animal.

We continued our walk. As we approached the chapel, we could hear choral music flowing out through the open door. The stained glass glowed from the light inside the building. “Let’s go check it out!” I said, and I picked up my pace. My daughter held back, thinking I was going to go inside to listen. I only wanted to see if the front door was open and listen for a bit. It was, and we did.

We continued to wander, but nearly wandered into a party. So we turned around and went back in the other direction. We talked about life and college and finding a campus where there is a lot going on rather than one where students go home every weekend. And then we wandered by a second building that was hosting a concert, this one instrumental.

From every building we walked past, we could hear conversation or music or laughter. We passed two men taking a picture of a building that was nearly all glass and fully lit. We wandered into the neighborhoods where there was a family party with men laughing around a fire pit and children playing with light sabers.

It’s spring. Things are coming to life, and it was wonderful to be out walking with one of my favorite people. So far this spring, I filled more than all of my free time with a demanding graduate course, which is winding down. The final presentation is done. After this weekend, I will have only to revise the project and write a paper. I can see the end.

And I can see a bit more free time to enjoy the nice weather with my favorite people. And to blog. I can’t wait to get back to my blog!

A Random Cardinal

These days, there is always some random something lurking around every twist in the road that can flip the switch that allows grief to flood through me like a downpour.

Today, as I drove home from work, it was a cardinal that flew in front of my car as I navigated down the same street I drive every day. In fact, I was enjoying the routine of the drive. I was relishing the late afternoon light brought in by the weekend’s time change. I was enjoying the snow-less ground with its brown grass and scattered leaves left over from autumn, as it seemed it would be only hours before the landscape is once again buried under the heavy weight of winter’s last hurrah. (It’s almost spring, I have to remind myself. It won’t last long.)

But then it appeared—the cardinal. The vivid red bird flew across my path, dipping slightly as it crossed the road and disappeared into a row of bushes. My breath caught as I was simultaneously reminded that spring is near and that Dad is not. He would have noticed that bird before I did. “Look, at that cardinal!” he’d say, pointing. Sometimes it would be an oriole, or a bluebird, or a redwing blackbird. He always had a keen, birds-eye view that spotted them first.

It was that bird that brought the tears today—a random cardinal on a sunny Monday at the end of winter. While spring may bring the promise of new life and increased light, the newness will be intertwined with a million more random somethings just waiting to slip in and spark the grief anew.

{Image credit: FreeImages.com / Mike Munchel}

Memories

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I have a mug that I have been using all winter for my morning coffee. It made its way from the back of the cabinet right after Thanksgiving, and I have been using it ever since. Supposedly, it’s a Christmas mug, but in truth, there isn’t much about it that screams Christmas. Aside from the wreath on the door of the house in the background, it is more of a winter mug. Which is a good thing because I’m having a tough time putting it away this year.

When I was little and winters were snowy, we would spend hours playing outside in the snow. We built snowmen and snow forts and entire houses with room upon room upon room on top of the snow banks in the parking lot across the street. Our fingers and toes would be numb, and it would be dark outside before we finally retreated to the warmth and light of the house. Or we’d wait until Dad got home from work and we had to go in for dinner….

These memories are why this mug has always reminded me of home. But this year, especially, it reminds me. When we were little, Dad would take us sledding on one of several different hills in town. We would load the sleds in the back of the car (or the back of the truck) and off we’d go. Dad built snowmen with us, sometimes adding an extra couple of snowballs for ears and noses and calling them snow bears, families of them, at times, populated our yard.

This year, winter has been a challenge, and I’m not ready to put away my Christmas mug. So I’m calling it a winter mug. This mug, it’s keeping me centered. It’s giving me pause to sigh and remember the good times. Remember Dad.

So if you see me using what looks like a Christmas mug in the middle of the summer, just let it go. I’m reliving some good times. And holding tight to some memories.