Lolo

Today is the third anniversary of my Grandmother’s death. July 25th, surrounded by her family, Quinn in her arms, she died. Below are the excerpts from my earlier blog and the words I spoke at her funeral. I miss her a lot, especially now, with Quinn. She would really like him. Today, William and I are walking to La Tarte to buy cream puffs because I would bring these to her each summer, once she got too old for the State Fair. The baker at La Tarte makes the best cream puffs in the universe, better than the fair anyway. We are toasting to you, Lolo, with whipped cream and powdered sugar mustaches and are hoping that somewhere you can see us and know that we haven’t forgotten this day: 

Goodbye at 2:12

My grandma died yesterday.

The loloINK grandma.

No one called her Lolo until Luke was born and he couldn’t say Grandma Lois. It’s weird how that caught on. I can’t imagine calling her anything else now, but most of my life she was Grandma Lois.

She died at 2:12pm, which is the exact same time that I was born. That was a full circle moment for me and having her close our intimate connection in such a symbolic way was a very fine and sneaky and fun gesture. Three of my four children were holding her as she died. Luke, though, the one who named her Lolo, was camping ten hours north of her nursing home bed, in Ashland, which is where my Grandma grew up. Fitting, I suppose, that he, the child of mine with the longest link to her, the most time spent with her, would be honoring her on her old stomping grounds.

In fact, one of my favorite stories about Lolo is from her time in Ashland. She gave birth to my aunt Janice there, at home, on the floor. Worried about the mess she was creating, she asked her older sister to please hand her some newspapers. Her sister, mistaking the request for another kind, said, “You want to read? Now?!”

I have had the honor of being with both of my grandmothers when they passed away. Yesterday, I was struck by how similar their deaths were. My reaction to their dying though, has not been the same. When my grandma Jean died, I immediately wanted to celebrate her life, to tell stories, to talk at her funeral, but when Lolo died, well, I guess I just felt sad.

I did not expect to feel sad because she has been slowly dying for almost a year now. It was a beautiful death, a death I have been praying for. So I am surprised that I am sad and even more surprised that I don’t really want to talk about it. 

Lolo is the entire reason why I wanted a big family. Her Christmas Eve is the reason I’ve worked so hard on my marriage and with my children. I want to grow up to be an old woman, with piles of presents on my lap. I want to grow up and cook a giant meal in anticipation of all of my children and grandchildren coming home.

Her influence on me has been enormous and subtle. My love of glasses, dishes, bathrooms lined with cute soaps…towels, nighties, coats, and beer, all link to her. She told me never to use the word hate or the phrase “pissed off.” She taught me how to love.

Last night I could not sleep. That is not unusual in the summer, because Sean turns our air conditioner off (because it is noisy) and then tosses and turns until the down comforter is twisted around me like rope. Last night though, I really, really couldn’t sleep. At four AM I walked downstairs in my underwear and spent the next three hours scrubbing the kitchen clean.  I despise cleaning and never use it as a means to alleviate stress. I needed to not think, though, needed for my head to stop hurting, needed to sweat, needed not to wonder… and in some very weird and unexplainable way, needed my grandma to feel proud of me.

It felt like I was preparing the kitchen for a homecoming. 

Lois’s Mass, Saturday, July 30, 2011.

My grandmother never went to high school, though she would have liked to, it was not an option. In fact, when it came time for her middle school graduation, no one even showed up. When I asked her why she eloped instead of having a wedding, she answered, “Well, you know, there wasn’t money, but anyway, who would have come? No one would have come.” So I hope she is watching over this church right now and she sees how many, many people are gathered together. Several of you have traveled from long distances to be here. You negotiated with co-workers to cover your shifts so that you could be here today. You gave up other plans. You showed up, honoring her in a way that she would never have expected or demanded, but in a way that would just delight her.

Windmill cookies, fig newtons, liver dumplings, pickled herring, martinis, sauerkraut and pork, beef with gravy, corn candy, circus peanuts, concord grapes, waffles with strawberries and extra whipped cream.

There are so many foods that always make me think about my Grandma. When we were going through photos for today’s service, I came across one of her grinning, wearing a red and white polka dot dress, in front of the oven, her immaculate kitchen behind her. It is the only photo that I have asked my family to let me keep.

There are certainly more lovely pictures of her . . . photos from way back where she is simply gorgeous, but to me the heart of my grandmother lies in that kitchen photo. She loved cooking for all of you. The finest days of her life, she would tell me, are when her kids were little and the neighborhood ladies all wore housedresses and would pop in for afternoon visits to swap recipes or stories or coupons.

I still dream of that house on 72nd street and in my dream I am almost always in the kitchen. Even now, I can smell that dish soap and feel the clatter of the pile mismatched old utensils in the spoon drawer. I can smell the cabinets that held all of her fancy glasses, and the cabinet below that one, which had candy in it . . . peppermint leaves, usually.

Walking into her house on Christmas Eve was pure magic to me . . . not because of the prepared meal or the tree, but because of the energy in that kitchen, where many of you would be . . . making drinks or egging one another on to try the herring. And always a kid or two, in the kitchen hallway, playing with the clothes chute.

The thing about dying slowly though, is that many of us said goodbye to that house years ago. We watched my grandma transition to Deer Creek village where she made a whole new host of friends. She always made friends easily and quickly and though she was never the leader of the pack, she was always sitting quietly among the group, always gently present, always open to all points of view. Even there, at Deer Creek, well into her nineties, my grandma made dinners for my entire family. She always burnt the rolls and there was a lot more salt than there was from the 72nd street kitchen, but still, it was lovely.

Lois spent the last several months of her life at St. Anne’s. She watched a lot of Martha Stewart. One of her hospice nurses told me that she’d always look at whatever Martha was cooking and say, “I used to make that, but I did it this way . . . I’m sure Martha’s is good though.” When the reality of being in a nursing home would set in, she’d beg my mother or me to take her home. Once I asked her what she wanted to do at home and she looked at me, a sad stare, and said, “I miss cooking.”

I don’t think it’s the cooking she missed so much, as it was the idea of being surrounded by all of you, sharing a meal, breaking bread, laughing. My grandma was not a woman of many words. She was occasionally shy. She was quiet, but she was also strong and brave. For a woman who was raised without a mother, she ended up setting the bar pretty high for the rest of us.

And though she had strong opinions, they were about simple things, like her insisting my mother make my brother and I wear undershirts. “It’s winter, Pat. They will catch cold. Where is her undershirt?” Or her insisting that I take Capitol Drive for my route home. I could have been in Racine and she’d tell me to take Capitol. She definitely had a stubborn streak and as far as the little things went, she liked it her way.

About the big things, well, I’m sure she had opinions, but those she kept to herself and in doing that she gave her children the greatest gift. She let you be who you are. She may have disagreed with you, but she let love win, every time. I have never met anyone with children so diverse. She let you find yourself in your own skin and then she loved you some more. And if you complained, she’d tell you it could be worse. And if you were really complaining, she’d tell you to “think positive.”

I think in the end, one of the saddest things to witness was her letting go of those two catch phrases. It was hard to watch her live in a situation where even she had a difficult time finding the positive. Even she didn’t imagine it could get much worse. It’s why in many ways, letting go of her now is easier than it might have been. She is free of that body and free of pain and we are free of witnessing it, which allows us to then really reflect on and celebrate the life she lead. I know she would want you to think positively about her.

She would want us to play cards or Yahtzee or bingo. She’d want us to gather. Months from now, she’d hope that you’d see a peony bush bloom and that the site of those big, pink blossoms, would fill your heart with happy memories of her. She wouldn’t want us to dwell on the little details of her life, but to celebrate her spirit, which, lucky for us, runs through each of our veins, gracefully, delicately, without a trace of bitterness.

 

 

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Grey is My Favorite Color

Mrs.Fleege IMG_1023-Recovered Slide186

I got totally distracted sitting here at this old computer, searching for the perfect photo to include with your birthday letter. Originally, I was searching for this one of me, holding your new five pound self with your one year old sister on my lap. I love this photo. I remember Grandma bringing Elizabeth in for a hospital visit and thinking that Lizzie looked huge, bloated, as if she had had some sort of allergic reaction in her twenty four hour absence from me. Lolo is holding you in this picture and,man, did she love you. You had her heart in the palm of your preemie hand from the get go.

When I looked for the photograph though, this drawing popped up. It’s one that I created of you and Mrs. Fleege, when you were Quinn’s age, and in her classroom. I owe everything to Mrs. Fleege because you were a really hard toddler … or at least that is what I thought. Looking back, I think I was just a really hard mother. Still, Mrs. Fleege saved both our spirits during those years. You must have drawn a million pictures in her room and I saved them all. I really did. They were amazing.

It’s funny that this particular drawing showed up on my screen because today Quinn and I went to meet his new teacher, as we will be out of town on the official meet and greet day. New teacher, same room. To be honest, when I walked into the room, I did not feel excited or nostalgic. I kind of felt like “oh holy shit, this again.” She said the words, “snack calendar” and a piece of me died inside.  I don’t know … maybe the drawing confirms that once Quinn walks through those doors, lightning speed takes over.

As I continued to hunt for photos of your birthday, I saw head shots (the one seen here was shot by Kris Lou and Erik Robert), taken just under a year ago. Yesterday, when you ran into the house, handsome, tan, smiling and soaking wet from a hose that the neighbor boy attacked you with, I just could not stop staring at you. I remember reading a magazine interview with Brad Pitt’s mom about ten years ago and the interviewer asked his mom if she could understand why he was the sexiest man alive and she said it was hard to see it. Bullshit. If you are ever on the cover of People magazine, I will not deny your magnetism.

Boy, it took a long time to get to this, but happy thirteenth birthday, sweet William. One day you will meet  a girl and she will have a crush on you and she will insist that you are a Cancer. She will flip to the horoscope section of a magazine or find an app for that and say, “SEE! I told you that you are a Cancer.” I am telling you right now though that this is not true. I have had your chart done a million times. You are a Leo, by three minutes. A DOUBLE Leo, with both your moon and your sun lighting your fire. You were five weeks early and your labor was long and well, laborious, but you waited until it was time to be a Leo.

Born on the cusp, right in-between things, it seems fitting that your middle name is Grey. You are the best of both signs, and probably the best of both dad and myself. Grey always was my favorite color.

When I took you for a casting call last week for a national skateboard ad, you told me you really wanted it, enough so that you were nervous. When the creative team called your name, you walked in, three skateboards piled in your arms like a tiered cake. You told me later that you were shaking, but were happy that no one could tell. They shut the door behind you and within sixty seconds, I heard them all laughing deep belly laughs. When we got in the car, I asked you what you said to make them laugh and you replied,”I don’t know, Mom. I am fucking hilarious.”

You are, indeed. Your voice is changing and your are eating so much that I feel like I am living with a human tapeworm. By your next birthday, you will be taller than me. No matter what changes or what thirteen brings, I just want you to know that when I look at you, I can feel the enormity of what life has to offer. I can feel that the life you carve out for yourself with be rich and deep, complex and beautiful (and fucking hilarious, of course). Now that I am a mom to a toddler again, I know that I made a million mistakes as your mom and I wish that I understood how to be a better mom when you were little. I hope that you will forgive me those mistakes and know that despite them, I am madly in love with you.

There is a joy in being the third kid, you know, because the Xbox game that I bought you for your present, is one that I never would have allowed Luke to even look at when he was your age. The man at the checkout counter asked if I was aware of the violence and nudity in the game and I shrugged and nodded. You’re welcome.

One of my favorite William stories is from the time I was packing up clothing for Goodwill, getting rid of all of the things you had outgrown. You sat on the floor, crying, insisting, “But I AM A GOOD WILL.” You are such a good one. May this year continue to bring you the light you deserve. I love you.

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A Rock, a Shovel, or a Box

rabbit

I was drawing at the dining room table and Quinn was in the backyard playing in his sandbox. He pushed the backdoor open and said, “Um, Mommy? Greta is biting a bird.”

I went out to see the destruction Greta-the-dog created and thought about how ironic it was that Quinn and I had just been watching a show about predators (cheetahs vs gazelles). I could see from the deck that if G had caught a bird, it was a big one, but when I got closer I could see that it was this very sweet, dear baby bunny, old enough to leave the nest, but not old enough to escape the jaws of a German Shorthaired Pointer.  

He was breathing and I could not see an injury. I knew that he probably wouldn’t make it and I knew that he was scared and struggling and that the humane thing to do would probably just be to put him out of his misery. I went to the garage to get a shovel and on my way I grabbed a giant patio rock. I stood above the dying bunny and he stared back at giant me. His eyes were gentle and teary and Quinn asked what we should do. Birds were chirping loudly above me, circling, as if they were scolding me for losing control of my dog. 

The bunny was larger than Quinn was when he was born. Something about the way he just laid there, staring up at me, reminded me of micro preemie Quinn in the incubator.l.zNZcSvHppbJpzqKi 

The eyes were exactly the same. Maybe that rabbit’s brain was the size of a pebble, but his soul was bigger than the Pacific. I just could not bonk him. I could not take that rock and smash his skull or chop it off with the shovel. It just was not the same thing as squashing a spider that lurks in the basement. 

I put the weapons of mass destruction down and went up to my closet, Quinn at my heels, full of a million questions (“Why did Greta DO THAT? What will happen NOW? Where is that bunny’s momma?”) and grabbed a heavy box with a lid, a good one that I had been saving to wrap a future gift. I jabbed holes in the top with a pencil and lined it with paper towels. The bunny continued to breathe, to suffer, to shake. 

I used the shovel to lift the baby into the box and I kept apologizing to him and wishing that Greta had just finished him off. I noticed blood on the paper towel, evidence that he was not just in shock, but definitely hurt. Quinn commented that it was nice, how gently I set him down and he told me, “Good job, Momma. That was so nice of you.”

We drove, not in silence, but to the sound of Quinn’s non-stop line of questioning, five minutes to the humane society, which must have been having some sort of pitbull party  because the parking lot was littered with them. Quinn and I wove our way through the terriers, though the glass doors to the wildlife rescue section and Quinn told the woman behind the counter the entire story. He was breathless when he finished with a loud, “AND THAT IS THE STORY OF THE BUNNY.” The worker thanked us for bringing him in and asked us if we wanted the box back (Really? Whose Christmas gift goes in there now?).

I imagine some nice doctor with a silky voice, scooping the bunny up and giving it an iv full of sweet poison and that it was all painless. Quinn just said, “Those doctors are going to take care of him and I think he will be just fine. Just fine,” he kept repeating. In reality, they probably just chucked him in the trash or something … I am glad I don’t know. It’s kind of like pretending beef at the supermarket just “comes like that.” 

When we got home, Quinn looked at me and then looked away. He sighed and said, “I can’t even THINK OF PLAYING NOW. I can only think about the bunny Greta bited.” I know bud, I know. 

When Quinn stayed behind in the hospital, all 104 days of it, he looked at me with those bunny eyes, and he was all I could think about … that fragile beauty when life walks the line between survival and death. It’s haunting, magical, and infinitely beautiful. Maybe that bunny showed up to remind me that we are always, always choosing, and maybe it always does boil down to choosing between a rock, a shovel, or a box. 

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43 Forever

Note to self:

Remember that when buying underwear, Victoria’s Secret runs large and Gap Body runs small. Mixed those up this week and when I gambled at Potowatomi, my underwear fell to my knees. I won $400 and now those panties are officially “lucky” so I am kind of screwed.
I love that it is summer and that my level of anxiety rarely rises above “panty dilemma.”
This is the first summer since I started teaching that I have a summer job too. I am realizing how much less stress is involved in illustration vs. teaching and it makes leaving teaching seem pretty inviting, except that last week I received two of the most beautiful, hand-bound books in the mail from a student I taught in 2004, with a handwritten note about the impact our years together had on her and I was reminded, yet again, of what important work good teaching is.
It has been a really beautiful summer so far, with pretty weather, but it is all going too fast. Quinn has fallen in love with the local swimming pool, which I go to, reluctantly, as it is filled with current and former students who are lifeguarding or nannying and who I officially apologize to for having to see me in a swimsuit.
My cousin joined me there yesterday and we sat in chairs while Quinn splashed around and Noel and I played “nanny or the mom,” by guessing which ladies were which. Anyone who rocked a bikini and was also clearly the mom made me sigh with envy and hatred. Still, pretty sure, no one passed the “not the nanny test,” who was evenly tan all over.
In a few weeks, I will be the mother of three teenagers, and something about that chokes me all up and makes me keenly aware that in five years they will all be off living their lives and I will just be here. Me and Quinn and Sean. Five years is not long at all and it makes me think about how my grandma used to say the best years of her life were when her kids were growing up.
Today, Elizabeth told me that she wishes she could be fourteen forever. “Maybe up to 21, but that is even too old.” I told her that I hated being fourteen and that I would not return to my twenties for a million dollars, but if I were to freeze time, it would be now (now with way more cash) because I love my life right now.
I love the chaos and the loudness. I love the age gap of the kids and that they are all still home. Luke was gone for the last two weeks and he only texted twice, once to tell me to log off Netflix, and the other to ask for cash.
I wonder what that will be like, when they all live in different places from me and if they will call me ever, just to hear my voice, or of they will think about me during their day.
The older my kids get, the more that I understand motherhood, not as the ultimate job or service or sacrifice, but as the ultimate act of falling in love.

I did rock a bikini when I was twenty three. I was evenly tan all over. I had great hair and eyebrows, to boot.
Still, I did not know how deeply I could love and be loved back, and somehow that has made all of the difference. I guess a full heart trumps a flat belly and at least I know that someone out there makes underwear for folks with bigger hips than mine. Pretty sure that is not how Victoria’s Secret hopes to make women feel sexy, but whatever, it works. Anyway, I got carded today at Trader Joe’s, so there.
When I told Lizzie that I would freeze forty three, she replied, “Yeah? This is the peak?” I told her that I hoped that lots and lots of great things happened from here on out and that I don’t like to think of it as the peak, just as a really exciting chapter, a page turner that I just cannot put down.
She gazed at me as I drove and said, “You look cute, Mom. You got some sun.”
It’s an inside light.

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Nominated is a Heavy Word

I guess it dates me, but I just cannot hear the words nomination and award without thinking of Sally Field. “You like me. You really, really like me.” When I was little people always told me that I looked like her and then I put on about five hundred pounds and folks would say I looked like Kathleen Turner. Tonight, though, a mom I met while watching Elizabeth play her first pick up game with girls at her new high school, told me that I looked like Luke, so perhaps I am on an up-swing. Regardless, THANK YOU, Valarie Kinney (check out her cool self at http://organizingchaosandothermisadventures.wordpress.com), for nominating me for the LIEBSTER AWARD. Yay, ME. Let’s get started!

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The rules (eh, I am so not a rules person, but I am gonna try):

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Eleven random facts. Eleven? I think I might be more about even numbers. Okay, wait, rules. I think I can, I think I can:

1. My secret bad for you food is a filet o’ fish sandwich from McDonalds. I swear I ate those everyday when I was pregnant… that and grape juice over crushed ice in a tall, thin glass, with a straw. I could eat a filet o’ fish every day of my life and be content to never eat anything else.

2. I had Luke at 25 and Quinn at 39. If you are wondering if there is a difference, there is. For example, no one laughed out loud when I told them I was pregnant with Luke.

3. When I was in Florida last week, my husband custom built and installed three new doors upstairs and painted our bedroom a deep, deep plum so that when I walk into it I am reminded of summer and nighttime all at once (until I step on any myriad of toys that are on the ground and then I remember that we are living in a shit hole).

4. The worst thing that has happened to me in a very long while is that we left Quinn’s teddybear at the Tuscana Resort in Florida. I could not sleep last night, sick about it, so sick that this morning when I took Elizabeth to work, I pulled over the car and puked all over the parkway. It might have just been the vodka from the night before, but I told the two men who watched me from their porch that I was pregnant. Pregnant sounds better than hungover.

5. The best thing that has happened in quite sometime is that an anonymous Facebook friend read about poor Teddy and when we walked out onto our porch this afternoon, there was a red cardboard box there, addressed to Quinn and inside of it was a note from a new bear, a lost Wisconsin bear, needing a new boy to love him.

6. I do not paint my fingernails. My nail beds are too short and nail polish just makes my hands look like I am ninety. Plus, in high school, a hot German exchange student told me that German girls never do such an ugly thing. Pretty sure that might have been false.

7. My dream “it’s never gonna happen career” would be to sing the hell out of things. For this lifetime, I am content to just sing out loud in my car.

8. I love pie. Homemade by my mom or brother or aunt Shirley pie. Fake pie is a crime. Store bought pie, ick. Real pie? Heaven. I learned this week that Haley’s favorite pie is her grandmother’s butterscotch pie, which I will now have to try.

9. I stopped eating sugar and yeast for a year and when we drove to Florida I ate sugar again. It started with a diet coke cave in about a month ago, so now that I am home I will have to start all over again. I have mixed emotions about this, mostly because of pie and rhubarb is in season and well, I really love toast.

10. I started to write a novel, but then I stopped. I wonder if it is still in me, hiding under some crevice, scared and waiting.

11. It has taken me a long time to not feel guilty about creating art and stories about such things as lost teddybears, when there are much more serious “save the world” kinds of things to be doing.

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Rule #2, my turn. Okay, peeps, I am nominating you. Less than 200 followers? You too? Aw, we gotta spread the word, people:

Um, wait. What? All of you have over 500 followers? I am shit. I am going to be disqualified because I follow only the popular people. Damn. I am sorry. #fail. Moving on.

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Questions asked to me by Valarie. Valarie with an A:

1. What is your favorite genre to read?

I am kind of in love with Gary Soto’s poetry and I reading Richard Brautigan makes me really happy. Poetry it is!

2. Have you ever gotten so angry with a book you’ve read, you quit reading that author entirely? (I have.)
I have only done this with movies, not books. My dad always insisted that I give any book at least 100 pages of my attention. I have left, bored, after that, but never angry. Though I will say that I just purchased an audio version of The Poisonwood Bible because Luke has to read that this summer for AP Lit and I thought it would be good to listen to on the road trip. I learned that I hate books on audio because I cannot visualize characters and drive simultaneously, and what fun is that?

3. When is your favorite time to write?

It doesn’t matter. I write when I need to find stillness and I guess that usually happens late at night. I am not a good “day” person and would be perfectly content to lose the hours between 2 and 6pm. I have never written anything then.

4. Have you always wanted to write, or did you happen upon it accidentally?

I have always, always, always, wanted to write. I kept my first illustrated journal when I was five and I always kept a diary of our family road trips, right down to the details of what everyone ordered for lunch. I am a born story teller, even if under 200 of you know that, it’s the God’s honest truth. Writing is no accident.

5. Do you write more often when you are angry, or happy?

Neither. Both. I write when what I have to say cannot be said with art. I write when I feel like I need a giant hug or a release on another level.

6. Give yourself a pirate name. What is it?

Jack.

7. Does your family know about your blog? Why or why not?

I am deeply connected to family. They pretty much all know how many times I sneezed today, so yes, YES, they know. In fact, it’s a big family. Aside from Valarie, they probably make up the majority of my followers. I am not sure if that is sad or fantastic.

8. Do you have a favorite author? Who is it?

I really do love Anne Lamott, but my all time favorite novel is Ordinary People.

9. Is there anything particular you consistently eat while reading or writing?

No, no … can’t mix two loves. Though, vodka does make an occasional showing.

10. Have you ever dressed up as your favorite book character? Who was it?

I hadn’t recalled this until you asked, but yes. In fourth grade, I dressed up as Willy Wonka for our school book fair. That is super embarrassing, but not as embarrassing as the time I sent Luke to school dressed as a giant black spider (a costume that took my husband all night long to fabricate) on the WRONG DAY. I did redeem myself four years later by creating Mary’s little lamb cupcakes for Elizabeth. I stayed up until four in the morning, rolling up miniature marshmallows to look like sheep fur.

11. Have you a horn to toot? Let us hear your song! Leave us your links!

Aw, you know ‘em all. I am everywhere from Behance to Instagram to Etsy.

Tag, YOU ARE IT. If you are a small time blogger, send me your link and I will become your biggest fan.

XOXOXO K

liebster2

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Both Sides of Perfection

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I’m not so sure the universe is as mysterious as it is playful.

It is Sunday night and finally, after hitting the ground running with Lizzie’s eighth grade graduation and then mazing through two days of tournaments and two graduation parties, I can pause and be here with you … which really just feels like being here with me, and that is long overdue.

Sean and I both took Elizabeth to her tournament in Crystal Lake yesterday. We never do that and it struck me that it was the first time since Christmas that I spent the entire day with my husband. The weather was beautiful and in-between matches, we sat on the grass and stared at the blue sky and that felt like a luxury. It felt luxurious just to be with two people I love at the same time without an agenda, with nothing but time to kill. The girls ended the day undefeated and each time Lizzie made a kill, she glanced over at us to see if we saw it, which was kind of darling.

Today, just Lizzie and I made the drive. The girls played three matches, eight games, and won seven of them. The gold bracket, championship round was so intense that I had to walk away and just pace the floor. 9-9. 10-10, 11-11, and so on. We lost by two, and just like the last game of her eighth grade school season, the final mistake that ended the game was Lizzie’s, and once again, she fell flat on the floor in heartbreak.

So it goes, I suppose. We left to eat and to let her sob and swear for a bit, until the hurt was out of her and I got her to laugh. Like my friend Julie said, “Give her ten minutes, feed her, and she’ll be fine.” Lizzie plays for a pretty la-dee-dah club … pretty sure that is not how they refer to themselves, but I just call it la-dee-dah. They will tell you they are the best in the state. I have always hated their motto, “Strive for perfection. Attain excellence.” These words have made me cringe for years, but today, on our ride home, it clicked and I got it, and now I feel stupid for not getting it earlier.

I am someone who is constantly getting my students to understand the dangers of perfectionism. As someone who literally, daily quotes Anne Lamott on the pitfalls of perfectionism (“I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”), the club motto has always put a bug up my ass.

After stuffing ourselves with pasta, the two of us started the long drive home, but between the heat and the long day inside of a gym that smelled like dirty knee pads and nachos, I could hardly keep my eyes open. I used an app to locate a Starbucks before we left the parking lot, but it kept glitching out on me, so I just kept driving. As luck or fate would have it, a Starbucks showed up anyway, but they did not have a drive thru. Too tired to care, I  parked, left the air-conditioned van running with Lizzie in it and went to wait in a forever long line of other folks in need of a caffeine fix. As I waited for our drinks, I noticed that these green coffee sleeves were piled in a giant basket and they all had Oprah quotes on them, advertising her new chai tea latte. I reached into the stack and randomly pulled out one for my coffee. It read, “Know what sparks the light in you and then use that light to illuminate the world.” I will have to save how random and amazing that was for another blog post, because right now this is about Lizzie and perfectionism. I pulled out a sleeve for her chai. It read, “Live from the heart of yourself. Strive to be whole, not perfect.”

For a second, I felt like God was producing an episode of Candid Camera. I looked to see if anyone else was looking at me. When I got back to the car, I showed it to Elizabeth and she smiled and sighed and said it was perfect (ha). She put the seat back and soon slept and I drove through green hilly landscape, dotted with farms and antique garden shops.

When I was very young my parents had a general motors blue Hornet with a front seat that went all the way across. I would put my head in my mom’s lap and my feet in my dad’s and I would fall asleep, listening to music and the sound of the wheels wiping pavement. I felt nostalgic, taking that sunny drive today, watching my girl sleep, and I played music loudly, hoping that it might filter into her consciousness and one day be the kind of music that makes her think about me. I played Bridge Over Troubled Water, cause I want to be her bridge for sure, and I played Judy Collins and Joan Baez and anything else I could think of that reminded me of sleeping in that blue Hornet.

Right in the middle of Both Sides Now, I was reflecting on match two and about how brilliantly the girls were playing. It was, as they say, like clock work. They were practically dancing, the rhythm was so beautiful. It was, surely, a glimmer of perfection. Right when Judy Collins sang, “I’ve looked at life from both sides now,from win and lose, and still somehow it’s life’s illusions I recall” it hit me. The volleyball motto does not mean one needs to be perfect to attain excellence. THE MOTTO IS NOT SEQUENTIAL. Experience perfection. Float like that butterfly and sting like that bee, but to attain excellence means to live from the heart of oneself and that if you can experience that, you will begin to know what it means to be whole.

As a non-athlete, I am always surprised when I learn lessons about life from my volleyball loving daughter, even if this time, Oprah had to give me a nudge. Here we come, Orlando. I am officially ready for nationals.

 

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Fourteen Years and I Love You

 

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Aw, Lizzie Girl. Happy Birthday, my blue eyed girl.

It is one in the morning and the house is just settling down. I wonder how you will remember your early teenage years and the energy of this house. I wonder if you will remember the eve of your fourteenth year, when your dad took Luke and Elijah to a Slayer concert and returned to join William, Haley, You, and me at the dining room table … if you will remember laughter and that at the stroke of midnight, I said happy birthday. Will these memories fade and be replaced with more relevant ones?

When I look at that picture of us, I can hardly recall it being taken. You and I are sitting in Lolo’s house, the house that I dream about often, the house that you never really knew beyond that cuddle. I drove past that house two weeks ago. All of her gardening has died away, long forgotten, and the iron rod fence is still wrapped around the back porch. I was struck by how small the house seemed and how much I ached to go inside. I just want to open those kitchen cabinets one more time and see all of her pretty glasses. I just want to see her peonies and pick up apples from the ground in her backyard. I wonder what, if anything, will make you feel nostalgic about this house. I wonder if you will ever pull up to this house, sit in an idling car, and cry.

This is not a very cheery birthday letter, is it? I guess that is what happens when you are the daughter of a teacher and you have a birthday in May. May, for me, feels like I am racing with a gun to my head … AP exams, art shows, final projects, and now, silly me, a freelance job too. I am sorry that life has been so chaotic. The best thing about this chaos is that your volleyball tournaments allow us some much needed one on one time. Last weekend, Mother’s Day, you waited until I fell asleep in the hotel bed and then tied a letter to the bathroom door handle so that I would see it right away when I woke up. I love that letter writing has become a family tradition of ours. How lucky am I that you are such an amazing writer?

I am so proud of you, so envious of the courage you find to sing in front of the entire junior high, so impressed with the remarkable way you handle all of the challenges and setbacks of being an athlete. I just can’t believe your mine.

Whenever your birthday comes around, I think back to the three months of bed rest I was on prior to your birth. It was such a quiet time. The days were so long and so peaceful. I read books and Kim came over to teach me to knit. I made you the smallest sweater in the land. Right now I would give anything to have a long, sweet day like that, but I do love that the days that I did have were with you.

May fourteen be filled with light and love, and as you begin your high school years, may you continue to be the brave and fierce, witty and kind, girl that you are. Wait until the rest of the world sees what I see, kiddo. You are pure magic and I love you in a way that I could describe to you a thousand times over and you would still not quite understand it. It is a huge, deep love that makes my heart feel like the moon. It is a love that feels like home, that feels like heaven must, and that, at the thought of you growing up so quickly, does stomach flips. I am full of joy for the life you have ahead of you and so grateful to be part of your story.

xoxo

Mom

 

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On Mother’s Day, Anne Lamott, You are Mistaken

Image1971. My parents bring me home from the hospital. 3 months before her first mother’s day. My momma is small. My dad has hair. My dad looks like Luke.

This week three things happened that got me thinking about Mother’s Day. I am writing this from a filthy table at yet another volleyball tournament in Aurora, Illinois. I am sitting next to a bandaid, a dirty, abandoned sock, and a braces rubber band. It is black and there is food on it. I am plugged into headphones, which I put on over an hour ago to block out the uber tan and blond mom who would not stop shouting, “SIDE OUT SIDE OUT NOW,” at the top of her lungs every time our girls served. I put headphones on so that I would not punch her in her face-lifted jaw.

Anyway, three things. Over a week ago I walked out of a department store and overheard a dad talking to his son, who must have been about eight. He said, “Well, your mom is expecting breakfast in bed on Sunday, so we will definitely have to plan on that.” This did not sit well with me. First, it made me roll my eyes, because no way in hell has my husband given Mother’s Day the slightest thought and he certainly has not planned a breakfast a week in advance. I did not marry that man (which is totally cool with me). Secondly, the words, “your mother is expecting breakfast,” irritated me. Mother’s Day, it seems, should not be a day to demand special treatment. It seems to be more about honoring the ginormous and bittersweet task of being one.

That brings me to nubmer two, which is that one of my former students re-posted Anne Lamott’s 2010 bitter rant about Mother’s Day (http://www.salon.com/2010/05/08/hate_mothers_day_anne_lamott/) and as much as I love Lamott (and I do … so, so much), her words here saddened me. Trust me, I have witnessed my share of lousy mothers. I have held sobbing girls in my arms at school … because their mothers have abandoned them or abused them or kicked them out or called them whores, or who simply stopped caring because of an addiction or a should or a new love of the week. I have seen a lot and I guess that if you were “that girl,” maybe Mother’s Day feels like a lie to you too. A mother, we all know, can do a lot of damage, but I don’t think that because there is truth in that, or that because Mother’s Day is a “Hallmark holiday,” that we should abandon its underlying intent.

Thing three: A second former student’s mother died unexpectedly this week, at fifty-three.

Lamott writes, “… Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path.” I am pretty sure that is not what Hallmark intended.

I have known, always, that I wanted to be a mom. Always. Even though I hated babysitting and I never played with dolls, “motherhood,” for me has been a natural and expected and wanted fit. I do not want breakfast in bed for that. I will be in a shit hotel in Aurora anyway. All I want for mother’s day is the gift of still getting to be one. I don’t think that makes me superior, nor does it make me a victim. Sitting here, full of empathy for my grieving student, that is all I really want.

It is not a crime to take one day a year to reflect upon and honor what it means to be a mother, to have a mother, or to have lost a mother. So, like Lamott, I do not want my children to ever feel pressured to have to buy flowers and take me to brunch, but I do hope that they will grow to honor my choice and appreciate who I am as a person. I do hope, in fact, that one day they will actually want to brunch with me. Telling someone that you love that you appreciate them (even if the gesture is prompted by a Hallmark commercial) is an okay thing to do,and it does not make Mother’s Day the martyr of all holidays.

At this point in my life I am the mother of a boy who likes to listen to musical theater in the car. The mother of a girl who plays volleyball, writes stories, and makes friends easier than Oprah does. The mother of a boy who is anxious about my ignored medical bills, piling up on the dining room mirror, because one of them “has his name on it and it has lot of late fees on it.” At twelve, he is worried that I am ruining his credit. I am the mother of a soft, sweet, little toddler who loves to cuddle and is an expert dirt digger, who thinks that I am the best thing ever. I am a mother who worries about how it might feel when they are all out of the house and concerned that the sound of silence might be paralyzing.

I am not asking that anyone honor me on Sunday. I am asking to be allowed to feel grateful and to bask in the generosity that motherhood has shown me, and I am asking to honor these moms:

The mom’s in the NICU who just lost their child, the mom’s who are in the hospital watching their child fight to survive, the mothers who were brave enough to hold their stillborn child, the hundreds of mothers whose girls were just stolen, sleepless mothers, full of worry and panic and fear.  Mother’s who go to every game, the mother’s who can’t make even one, the mother, who just last night, broke into tears because she got up for water in the middle of the night and stepped on a lego and it was just her last goddamned straw. I would like to honor the mother’s who are struggling to breastfeed, who are distraught over homework, who are not yet confidant to say “no” to volunteer work. Honor the mother’s who have had to give their children up for another mother to raise, honor the mother’s who accepted the gift. Honor the momma’s whose children are fighting wars, literally and imagined. I would like to honor the ones who have the flu, but are caring for three kids with the flu, while their husband sleeps. Honor the step-mothers who are feeling unsure of themselves and “new at this,” as well as the ones who have it down pat. I would like to honor the mom who is stuck in traffic and still has no idea what to make for dinner. Honor the mothers who don’t know whether or not they should still say they are a mother because their child has died.

I would like to honor my own mother, who has showed me how to make the perfect apple pie and is the only person in the world that I can call after I have done something dumb, who will actually make me feel better. I honor my husband’s mother, who created such a beautiful and talented man. My second mother-in-law, who sent me a lovely note and flowers that reminded her of my wedding, and who has never, ever missed a birthday and has driven thousands of miles, just to watch Luke on stage and Elizabeth on the court. My grandmothers, who I miss, and who I think of often, especially now, with Quinn, who will never know them. My aunt Shirley, whom Q calls Shuggy, who steps in for me, while I am at work, and who loves my son like he is her own. For someone that was raised without a mother of her own, she sure hasn’t missed a beat on how to do it flawlessly.

I do not think anyone of these women are superior to those who are spending their mother’s day childless. I do not think by naming their work that I am putting them on any sort of pedestal, and even if I am, who cares? I do think that their tasks carry with them insurmountable energy and commitment, and as I close this laptop to head out to the parking lot, I am aware of the previously mentioned items that are still lingering here on my table. Happy Mother’s Day to the mom who remembered to bring bandaids, to the mom who paid the orthodontist, and to the one who will now have to buy another sock. Your wonderful, coveted work is endless and you are a treasure.

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Lopsided Firecracker

Some weeks are shitty and this one has not ended yet. When I went to sleep last Monday night (a Monday that was supposed to be my one and only, much coveted personal day, but was instead wasted with a cancelled appointment and the flu), Quinn crawled in next to me, threw up on me, and then said, “Momma? I am sorry that I puked on your arm. And your hair. And your pillow,” and I said that it was fine and whatever and just sleep and he chatted for another forty minutes about how bodies must make throw up.
I have made several calls to doctors this week … A dermatologist for Lizzie, and orthodontist for Lizzie, the pediatrician for Quinn (an urgent after hours call once I googled the words “giant white poop” and fretted that his liver might be exploding). Today I called my own doctor because, well, because of this:
Last night, for the first time since July, I went to get my haircut and colored by my lovely Sarah. My hair was supposed to look like this one Pinterest shot of Felicity and even though Sarah did all the right things, my head started to burn and feel funny and then turned out completely red, which is fine, but unexpected, and also minor compared to what happened next. Sarah brushed out my wet hair and gasped a little bit. Apparently, the left side of my hair stopped growing in July. In fact, the left side has about half the amount of hair as the right. It was three inches shorter on one side.
This is concerning on several levels. First of all, what? Do I have a brain tumor or skin cancer? Is my thyroid all messed up again? Am I nuclear? Second of all, how does a person not notice this? How do I live with five other people, none of whom mentioned that I am lopsided?
My doctor’s nurse returned my call and did not have any answers. She did, however, scold me for not leaving my full last two names on her answering machine.
So here I am, Friday eve, sitting in bed with my red, lopsided hair, freshly bathed and feeling dejected.
It was kind of a crappy day at work because anytime I go to all day meetings about grading policies, I end up feeling deflated and sad instead of invigorated, mostly because of Luke and because I have watched first hand how tragic the wrong teaching can be and unless that has happened to somebody you truly love, then you have no idea what I mean. You might get it in your head, but not your heart strings… So, well, I get emotional about it all and I end up feeling like William Wallace, ready for battle, except that today three colleagues in a row dismissed my ideas as irrelevant because I “only teach an elective” and it took everything in me to not to say something snotty.
At lunch I went to a coffee shop, drew for an hour (met the deadline) and on my way back to work saw a sign that read, “Don’t take everything so seriously,” which should have just made me laugh and shrug, buy instead, pissed me off further.
I am trying to let it all go, but there is a walnut sized lump in my soul urging me to scream and shout and explain myself. Cue the Avett Brothers (“I’ve got something to say, but it’s all vanity”).

So before I can actually sleep, I just need to say this. Elliot Eisner said that the arts are one of the many ways in which we remake ourselves. They are not trivial. Creating is one of the most important things that any human can do. I am teaching because I am good at teaching. I would be good at teaching English or math or gym or how to pepper a steak. I am teaching because I am heavily invested in helping students create a life for themselves and to realize that they matter. I don’t teach art because it’s easy. And know what else, all of you who think that your teaching job is so much harder than mine is? Harder is not better.
So yes, vanity, I know. But consider that it’s coming from somebody who hasn’t looked in a mirror long enough to realize that half of herself is missing. Maybe my hair turned red to remind me to “be the spark that lights the candle.” A firecracker.

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Welcome to Adulthood

Happy Eighteen, Luke.

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I am only twenty-five in this picture, holding your two pound self. I was eighteen when I met your dad. That is incredible to me. How can that be?

You have been a bit apprehensive about turning eighteen … worried that perhaps it implies some sort of rule that you are not yet familiar with or ready for. Last night, you and Haley Girl celebrated one of two proms you will attend this season. She made you a candle lit birthday dinner and surprised you with presents. Last week, you worked, obsessively, on editing videos of pinecones turning into ballerinas for hitRECORd and did the most beautiful job. Last month, you played, flawlessly and with so much heart, the lead role of Jimmy in Thoroughly Modern Mille

All I can tell you for sure is that you are ready. Ready for a life full of love and possibility. You have already created that for yourself. You are, indeed, just a magically happy boy (man, I guess, right?). As I was driving home yesterday I was listening to Phillip Phillips sing Home. If I had a better voice and if it wouldn’t mortify you, I would just stand on the highest platform I could find today and sing those lyrics to you, but for now, just know this:

We don’t know where you’ll land, but you are so ready to leap. Play and work hard. Continue to bring joy to everything that you do. And bottom line, know that you have a home and even when you venture off to create your own, I hope that the kernel of love that we have created here is the seed that is at its pulse.

One of the things I have enjoyed most this past year is being your teacher and staying up with you until the wee hours of the morning, sitting at the dining room table, everyone else asleep, and drawing together in silence, only interrupted by the occasional, “How does this look?” question from one of us. I don’t really understand parents who say that they aren’t there to “be a friend, but to be a parent.” I think they are lying because you are one of my best friends.

I am off to your party now, where thirty or more of us will celebrate this milestone with you, cheering you on, loving you.

Happy, happy birthday (and thanks, Evan, for the prom pics).

prom

 

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