Aimless

Lately, I have been aimless, so I have decided to post an aimless, wandering blog post. Perhaps doing so will help to spur something interesting in my brain, something that is so deeply hidden that only wandering over it will help to pull it out of the weeds. In the past week, I have started numerous posts, but none has stuck. I have been entertaining myself with television and surfing the Internet, and my blog has suffered.

In truth, I have not been totally aimless. I have been completing my work—on schedule, I might add—despite the extenuating circumstances of my life. I am grateful that my online summer work allows for a relaxed work environment while still providing a paycheck.

This evening, I eavesdropped on a conversation of my children discussing the boxes in which they receive gifts. “What are those shoes?” one teen asked another, who quickly explained that that was just the box the gift was in.

He replied, “If everything you ever got was what belonged in the box, you’d have a lot of weird stuff.” I had to laugh as he proceeded to list the items my children would receive: Girl Scout Cookies, DHC Skincare products, dance shoes….

And then my cats became fascinated with the summer beetles and moths that were drawn to the outside light by the front door. I could hear the click of their claws as they batted at the bugs through the glass of the storm door. When I went to check on them (and close the door) I found some impressive two inch bugs making their way up the door. It’s good they stayed outside.

And finally, I will report that the message of my message blocks was finally… well … changed. Even though I wrote about changing the message back on May 31, it never happened. Now, I won’t say that the kids left the message completely alone. There were some small changes made to the spelling, the orientation of the letters, etc. There were comments made about the fact that the message remained unchanged, even after I had blogged about changing it. But no one could quite bear to rearrange the letters. In the end, it was appropriate that the cat—who sleeps on the shelf—pushed the message onto the floor. Dad was a fan of cats and would’ve loved this one. She has quite a purr-sonality! Maybe we’ll put the blocks away for awhile… at least until the cat can keep her paws off them.

Or maybe not.

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.

 

Baking Oddities

I had a bunch of bananas that were [well] past their prime, so when the very brief heat wave passed, I decided to use them in a banana bread. Typically, I make banana muffins, but bread seemed more pleasing today, so I turned to the Internet in search of a new recipe. Just for something different.

When I googled “best banana bread recipe,” the first thing that came up was a recipe from Food.com—the directions began, “Remove odd pots and pans from the oven.” Wait… what?

Even though I have never seen a recipe begin like this before, it doesn’t seem like an odd way to start a recipe. When I was growing up, we had a gas stove. Back then, gas stoves had a pilot light that was on all the time, which meant that the oven remained warmish. All the time.

After we washed the dishes or unloaded the dishwasher, anything that was still damp would end up in the oven where it would dry with the help of the heat from the pilot light. Before we baked, we always had to check the oven for “odd pots and pans.” If we forgot… well, things that shouldn’t have been in the oven would melt or burn.

So when I came across this recipe today, I had an unintended a trip down memory lane. But then it occurred to me… we must not have been the only home in which “odd pots and pans” were stored in the oven when it was not in use.

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.

Of Memory and Circuses

In honor of the final show of the of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus that is happening today, May 21, I thought I would reminisce on the circuses of my past. In truth, my life as a single mom is often a bit of a circus, but I will stick to a discussion of circuses in the entertainment sense of the word.

When I was very young, I attended my first circus. I don’t remember how old I was, and I don’t remember where the circus was. I only remember that it was under a tent in a large field. It was a cold, rainy day, and my very scattered memories of that event include the fabric of the tent, the hay that was scattered on the ground to keep the mud under control, and the mingling smells of damp hay, dirt, and animals. I remember Dad’s large, warm hand holding my small one as we made our way to our seats. And that is pretty much my only recollection of that trip to the circus.

My second trip to the circus did not involve a performance under a tent. This one was a performance of The Great Moscow Circus in a large indoor arena about an hour from our home. [Side note: my childhood took place during the Cold War years]. It was a beautiful, sunny day, though I cannot remember the season of the year; I think it may have been somewhat cool outside. We made our way to our seats, and Dad left to visit the men’s room before the show began. A few minutes later, as my sister and I bounced in our seats in anticipation, we heard an announcement that began, “Ladies and Gentlemen….” The announcer continued, letting us know that we needed to evacuate the arena. We had a brief moment of disbelief before Mom gathered us up and headed for the door. As we descended the stairs and began to move toward the exit, we met up with Dad, and we made our way back to the car. We sat in the car, listening to the local radio station, but no news came as to why we had to evacuate. After a time, we were allowed back in the building, and the show went on as if nothing had happened. Later, we would learn there had been a bomb threat which necessitated the evacuation for a thorough search. I don’t remember any of the show that day, only the evacuation.

My third trip to the circus was to celebrate my younger son’s sixth birthday. We went to the Ringling Brothers pre-show first, where we met some of the clowns and saw some of the performers. I’m not sure how much of that experience my children will remember as time marches on. This is the only circus performance I remember—because it was much more recent—and I only remember bits and pieces. I think traditional circuses tend to be far too busy and flashy to appeal to those of us who can only pay attention to one thing at a time.

The moral of my circus story is that parents can spend time with children in all kinds of activities. Ultimately, what children will remember is the time together (and sometimes any occurrences out of the ordinary) rather than the activity, itself.

The Problem with Millennials…

A couple weeks ago, as we were driving home from who knows where, my daughter started a conversation with me about millennials and the unfair treatment they receive in the media and the greater society. The impetus for this discussion was a spot run by the morning radio deejays in which they spent their air time slamming the entire millennial generation. I had heard the radio spot that morning, but as with much of what the morning deejays say, it only registered as background noise.

The truth is, the deejays were not being very kind in their talk about millennials, which seemed odd since this generation likely makes up at least a portion of their listening audience. The gist of their discussion centered on how millennials have become notorious for being lame and useless, lazy and entitled, and living in their parents’ basements. The deejays claimed these young adults don’t want to work; they whine all the time; they expect rewards for showing up; the list goes on…. The deejays even had people calling in to tell their own stories of dealing with this particular group of individuals. To be blunt, the feature was rude, and demonstrated more about the adults who were perpetuating the generational stereotype than it did about millennials.

My daughter then raised an incredibly insightful point. “Mom, it was your generation that made millennials this way. Your generation was the one that raised us and gave out the trophies. You can’t now blame millennials for expecting to be rewarded.” This parenting truth of is one I see played out often as I go about my job, a job that involves working with millennials.

[Let me briefly say, I am not now—nor have I ever been—a helicopter parent. I have increasingly allowed, encouraged, and even required my children to make their own decisions and to take responsibility for those decisions. Have I failed in more ways than I’d like to admit? Absolutely. But I would definitely not be considered a coddler.]

Perhaps my own aversion to coddling is due to the fact that I have been working with young people in one capacity or another for most of my life. I have dealt with more parents than I can count, and I have seen parenting behavior that makes me cringe. Every now and then, I experience parenting that is worth writing about, but I usually keep my thoughts to myself.

But on this day as I drove, my daughter’s words hit me as the raw truth. We cannot expect children or young adults to behave in a way that we have not trained them to behave. If we have done everything for them and constantly protected them as they have moved through the world, of course they are going to wind up back in our homes where they feel protected, comfortable, and … well, at home. And then there’s the fact of the frightening economy into which we are attempting to launch these newly minted adults—many of whom are already drowning under the weight of student debt.

So for a moment, think back to your own youth. Remember when you were a teenager, and your parents—their friend, the world, etc.—complained about you and your friends? When I was a teenager, we (as a group) were supposedly lazy and mooched off our parents. Sound familiar? Maybe young adults haven’t really grown lazier and less motivated, but adults simply need a place to lay blame, and throwing young people into one stereotypically lazy group is easy.

What would happen if we started treating kids as individuals rather than lumping the entire generation into one humongous group? Maybe the fundamental problem with millennials is not millennials, but rather our attitude toward them and our lack of expectation for them. Perhaps, we have forgotten what it is like to be young and floundering as we pursue our dreams. Perhaps we have forgotten that with increased responsibility comes increased independence, and we fail to give kids enough responsibility to facilitate positive growth and development. Most importantly, we have forgotten that when we are senior citizens, today’s young people will be our surgeons, our lawyers, our politicians, and the creative minds that will effect positive change in the society.

So it is my belief that young people need two things: opportunity and mentorship. When I was young and just starting out, someone had faith in me to do a job and to do it well, and they gave me a chance. [As I look back, it was more like a string of someones who recognized that I was good enough, smart enough, skilled enough to do the job.] We owe it to these kids to give them the same chance to prove what they can do.

As a teacher, I have experienced the incredible passion, determination, eagerness, and conviction that millennials possess. Take a chance on a young person; reach out and offer your support. My guess is, they may need some encouragement and guidance along the way (as we all do), but there is little doubt the time you take will be worth it.

{Photo illustration by my amazing daughter}

13 Reasons Challenge

Today, while I was doing my behind-the-scenes blog thing (i.e. reading, following, commenting on other bloggers’ work), I stumbled on an amazing blogging challenge that I could not pass up. This young blogger had seen the TV show “13 Reasons Why,” and she offered this challenge to other bloggers: Write a post on the 13 reasons why you are happy. What a great idea! Many thanks to Steph for putting forth this challenge. Here goes:

1 – Morning. The fact is, I woke up this morning, and that, in and of itself, is something to be happy about. Morning always comes, but as I get older, I realize the chances of not waking up increase just a bit each day. Life is temporary, and I am happy that I am still here on this planet.

2 – My three great kids. Even though sometimes I may complain (as most parents do), they really are amazing—talented, funny, caring, etc. And I am honored to be here to watch them grow in competence, confidence, and independence.

3 – My family. They are the best! In addition to my kids, my mom and my sister are two of my favorite [adult] people in the world. I also have extended family members who are always around to remind me that the tree we all fell from was full of nuts. Really, I’m not the only crazy one.

4 –My wonderful Partner in Everything (PiE), one of my other most favorite adults. Every day, I know he loves me, supports me, challenges me, pushes me to be a better me, even if sometimes he thinks I am crazy (see #3) or I make him tear his hair out. Hey, relationships can’t be all sunshine and roses now, can they?

5 – Being a single mother. For 14 and a half years, I have lived this lifestyle. And I have survived. Really, I have done more than survive. As challenging as it has sometimes been, I love begin a single mother to these three crazy creatives of mine. I believe single parenting was by far the best choice for us, as a family.

6 – My home, which is warm and safe and dry. Even though we might not have as much space as we want at any given moment, our home has served us well. It gave us a bit of space to grow, and we’ve been able to figure it out. With its lack of storage space, it has also limited the amount of “stuff” we can acquire, which is always a good thing.

7 – Amazing neighbors. How many people can say that?

8 – My wonderful church family. It is a small parish and a welcoming community, which has allowed my children to recognize that there are people outside of our family who love and care for them.

9 – I am not going to say I am happy for the hard times. However, I will say, the hard times offer an opportunity to put the good times in perspective. Therefore, I am happy for the resilience that hard times bring.

10 – Spring. It is spring in my geographical area, though there are days it doesn’t feel like it; it has been mostly cold and raw and rainy. Despite the cooler temps, flowers are blooming, trees are sprouting leaves, and the spring peepers are peeping. This time of year makes me happy.

11 – I have three awesome, cuddly cats, and I love them dearly. They make me laugh; they allow me to talk to myself, and if anyone overhears me, I can blame one of them. “Oh, I was just talking to the cat.” And it has been scientifically proven that petting cats will lower my blood pressure. Perfect excuses to have a cat… or three.

12 – Tradition. You know, sometimes I think I don’t have many traditions with my children, but when I really think about it, I realize there are quite a few. Whether it is the manner in which we celebrate Christmas, the simple things eating on the deck in the summer, or our annual trip to Family Camp, we definitely have traditions, and I treasure them.

13 – Creativity. I am so happy that I am able to create something from nothing. Or more likely, create something useful from things like leaves and string and glue and tissue. Creativity is sort of like magic that way.

Can you think of 13 things that make you happy? Maybe you can include one or two in the comments.