Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Step into trust



I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!


Step into trust
(poetic thoughts about trust)

It begins with self.
Can I?
Will I?
Should I?
Do I?
Yes, I.
My toddler granddaughter takes tentative steps, 
just one, then two, 
now about six,
before she's back on her knees and crawling,
not entirely convinced that she can walk. 
She's learning to trust herself, 
her body, 
her abilities.
Trust.
Often,
perhaps most typically,
trust is intertwined with others.
I remember vividly
my early lessons
of broken trust. 
Best friends, 
until, one day, in that bathroom stall,  
overhearing her unkind words about me,
to another so-called friend,
and trust
was broken.
Or,
first love,
until, one day, my brother saw him 
loving on another girl,
and trust
was broken.
Me. Them.
It feels, for awhile, impossible to trust,
impossible to know how.
Is this, mutual?
Trust, myself and them.
Trust takes courage,
a blind move towards something more.
Trust is essential
amongst groups of people,
in families,
communities,
organizations,
with colleagues,
as citizens in this nation,
inhabitants of this planet.
Trusting,
sharing,
bonds, goals, mission, rights,
system.
The more the circle of people widens,
the slower, more complicated, more difficult it is
to keep trust,
to move towards a common goal.
Trust grows with
hope,
conviction,
dreams,
together.
I know people who've given up trust.
Given up trying.
Now, locked within.
I feel lucky that
so much of the time
trust has been good for me.
Over time,
I've come to see,
it can feel that trust is dependent on others,
certainly it is a leap of faith,
a step to the unknown,
but,
I wonder,
if it is still
all about self.
finding the courage within.
Can I?
Will I?
Should I?
Do I?
Yes, I.
Step.



Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Word play



I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!


In recent days, there have been several moments where I have found myself puzzling over words, and I decided the mini-stories behind the words would make for today's slice. I'm not sure that these snippets have any real connection, except for the word play involved. Just a fun write!

1. Daughter-in-law's parents

I puzzle over what to call my daughter's in law's parents. There really is no word in the English language. There is something about these long phrases -
daughter-in-law's parents,
relative by marriage,
co-parents-in-law,
that seems distant, formal, keeping someone at arm's length. They all feel stilted. Funny, I don't think I wondered about this at all for the first years of my son and daughter-in-law's marriage...I mean, we were all new to one another, and I found the terminology fine, normal. However, something has changed with the grandbaby - she has brought us closer. I don't feel any distance to the 'other grandparents,' except for the fact that I have to say OTHER grandparents. I mean, whoa - a grandchild - we are forever connected to one another now. We equally love her. We are equally devoted to her. We need a better term for one another, something shorter and kinder, something that is easy to say. My Google search revealed that other languages have a term for this relationship:
Spanish "consuegros,"
French "belle mere,"
Malay "besan,"
Yiddish "machatunim."
There are probably many others. Isn't it funny that English doesn't have one? Could I make one?
I started playing around with possibities - how about "mamadil" (mother of daughter-in-law), and correspondingly, of course, mamasil (mother of son-in-law), daddydil (father of daughter-in-law), and daddysil (father of son-in-law). Or maybe you could follow the same pattern in reverse: dilma, silma, dildad, sildad.
I was sharing this wacky train of thought with my son and daughter-in-law at brunch one morning over winter break, at a restaurant, when my daughter-in-law exclaimed "pecan roll!" I looked at her with great surprise and delight - yes, that's a silly and unique suggestion for the word! But, a mere moment later, I realized, she was simply nudging my son to order these for the table. We all had a good laugh at my confusion.
So, now, I find myself thinking of her mother as pecan roll.

2. Evening.

I was reading some inconsequential article in the newspaper about a cooking recipe, which noted the need for 'evening the ingredients.' This got me musing about how rarely I say 'evening' in this way - how I almost always think of evening as that time after my long school day, that time when the sky darkens, that time before bed. However, to 'even' things is to make balanced or leveled or same...I think of a teeter-totter, how it goes up and down, and there's this lovely, rare balance in the middle, when the seats are evening. Evening. What if I thought of my evenings as a time of balance? That is the magic of the very best evenings, isn't it? When we regroup, catch our breath, reflect on the day, put our feet up - ah, the great evening. Tony and I have taken a step towards 'evening' with a new year's resolution to sit together at dinner with the television off. There is no TV news blaring at us. For too long now, I have felt as if I needed to 'catch up' on the news when I got home from teaching. [Ha, 'evening news' - there's a contradiction in terms...I am by no means calm and balanced after watching.] Now, instead, we light candles and sit together at one end of our table, and talk. Or, go quiet together. Connecting, after our long day apart. Evening. This is a very nice, inspiring way to look at this time of day in this new year.
Evening.

3. Uh-oh.

Frog is fourteen months old now and has discovered the word/sound/utterance "uh-oh." She notices when things drop or bump, when we struggle to get a diaper on her, or a tight shirt over her head, and she and we will say "uh-oh!" Now she has claimed it for herself as she eats. When she is full and no longer wants to eat, she starts flinging extra pieces of food or the spoon down onto the floor with a rowdy "UH-OH!" Her parents had warned us about this new 'trick' of hers. It did not take long to see it in action. One night recently, Tony and I were eating dinner with her, alongside her, taking turns feeding her and feeding ourselves. She seemed to be slowing down in her eating, and I was slowing down in giving her food, trying to avoid the "uh oh" show. She gave an insistent "mmm-mmm!" which I took to mean "I do want more," so I put a couple chunks of sweet potato on her high chair tray. Immediately, she grabbed one, threw it to the floor with vigor, and exclaimed "UH OH!" Tony and I looked at each other and then looked right at her and said, practically in unison, "It's not 'uh-oh' if you do it on purpose." Poor Frog! She didn't like that - her eyes watered and her jaw quivered. When had her grandparents ever reprimanded her? Then she grabbed the other chunk of sweet potato and threw it to the floor.
No 'uh oh,' though.

4. Patient.

Whenever I visit Dad (age 90) in his nursing home, I take stock of his decline. He has Parkinson's, and this means a whole host of other things - weakening muscles and increasing immobility (he is confined to a wheelchair now), dementia (his is mild, but growing), depression, and ever increasing inability to talk or to recall specific words. It's a pretty horrid disease, the way it ravages a once strong body and mind. On my most recent visit, I was there for his lunch time, and assisting with his meal. We were nestled in the back of the dining room, at a window that looked out onto some beautiful trees. It is my favorite place to sit when I visit him - it cheers me, and, hopefully, cheers him a bit. That's my minimum goal, typically - to cheer Dad a bit. He can be very quiet and sad these days. There he was with that lunch, wrestling with his fork, trying to 'catch' a bite of chicken (and I had cut up this chicken into small, manageable bites - much like I do with Frog. Yeah, it's depressing). As he played 'cat and mouse' with his fork and food, I noticed and (inadvertently) said aloud - "Oh, you don't have anything to drink...I guess they haven't brought drinks around yet." I scanned the room to see if other residents had been served. He stopped eating and said - "You can get up and take care of that yourself." (That was SO one of his parenting lines - 'quit your complaining and just do it'.) I teased him back, with a big smile - "Oh no, I am very PATIENT. I learned that from my Dad - he's a very, very patient guy." He stared right at me for a moment, we locked eyes, and he said "THAT was NEVER said about me. No way. No one ever called me patient." And he chuckled.
Patient.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Happy New Year, 2020!



I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!


Every year, for several years now, Tony's brother boxes up a big big box of pecans that he collects from a friend's backyard trees. A huge box. Pecans, still in their shells. He even sent us a fancy nutcracker - almost a small machine - to make the work of breaking them open much easier. May I admit to you, honestly, how I enjoyed this box at first and how much I have resented it in subsequent years? How is it possible to use up all these pecans? How patient must I be to crack open pecan after pecan? Hear me on this - it is such abundance, we simply cannot get through the pecans in a single year, and here comes more! The pecans themselves are hit and miss - some years very good, some years not so much. We give pecans to neighbors and friends, and still the box doesn't empty. I said to my husband...are we allowed to throw some out? can we at least get rid of the large cardboard box? I cheered myself up by getting a pretty glass cookie jar, and filling it to the brim with pecans - only to realize I needed two or three of these jars. I filled a pretty bowl. I became annoyed. I am so tired of looking at containers of pecans.
This Christmas, Tony cracked open pecans and declared - "These are a little dried out. I don't think we've really got any good ones left."
Silence.
You see, my brother-in-law died last summer. We didn't get a big box of pecans this year. We only have the dwindling number from last year's box. 
How sad I feel that I got so frustrated about those darn nuts.
Wouldn't we have loved another box of them this year?

Why did I waste time with frustration and annoyance? 

Soften.

As well you know, it's that time of year when one thinks about New Year resolutions. I've been going back and forth as to what should be my one little word this year...what one word describes my focus, my goal, my hope? 

Soften.

There's a beautiful meditation that I read in a book by Steven Levine, called the 'Soft-belly Meditation,' with these phrases that jumped out at me:

Take a few deep breaths...
Soften the muscles that have held the fear for so long...
Let the awareness be gentle and allowing...
Have mercy on yourself...
In soft body, in soft mind, just letting it be there...
Let thoughts come and let them go...
Let the healing in...

Soften.

When my children were young, I used to love to read parenting advice from Marguerite Kelly. I remember her suggesting a litmus test for things to get aggravated about  - Will it matter in 100 years? If not, let it go. If yes, do something about it.

Soften.

I'm tired of getting myself into knots during my teaching day, due to a zillion different "adult-initiated problems" - lack of subs, lack of planning for required meetings that end up feeling like a waste of precious time, lack of clarity about certain mandatory to do's, etc. (I don't typically get frustrated by young children - it's adults that make me crazy ;-) I think it is high time I realized that things rarely go as expected! I'm going to try my best not to take offense.

Soften.

This morning's sunrise seemed to cheer on this word choice - no bright colors, just muted, gorgeous streaks across the early morning grey sky. 

Soften.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

O Christmas tree



I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!


Tony and I went out to buy a Christmas tree, heading to the lot that we have gone to for the past couple of years. This tree lot is a 'pop up' sale on the fringe of a strip mall, run by Latino immigrants. The main road was congested, so we took a side road, thinking it would be a short cut around all the traffic, but it was not to be...we drove around and around, encountering one way streets and blocked access roads, and we ended up wandering through a neighborhood that was all new to us, laughing about how our supposed short cut had ended up being the longest journey possible. We were in no particular hurry, with no other goals or appointments; it was nice to have time to waste, and we stayed in good humor. Finally, after our circuitous adventure, we arrived at the parking lot - only to find that there was no sign of any Christmas tree sale. It was empty. GONE. 

My mind spiraled in fearful directions - why was the Christmas tree lot gone? Where had it gone to? Where were the immigrants? What was their year like? Where are these people now? Are they safe and warm? Are they okay? Why are they not selling Christmas trees, as they have for several years now? 

Surprised and wondering, we continue to drive around, meandering, looking for another lot. Some ten minutes later, we found another pop up lot, at another strip mall, in the same part of town, maybe two miles away from the earlier place. There was a big pit fire in the middle, where the workers were burning excess pine pieces, keeping themselves warm. Everyone was speaking in Spanish. We walked about the lot, looking things over, pointing at trees, whispering together, reading the price signs handwritten on rough boards in dark marker. Then, this adorable boy appeared, maybe 8 or 9 years old, and he began talking and negotiating with us, selling the trees - "What kind of a tree are you looking for? How big a tree do you need?," he asked in perfect English. Finding out what we needed, he led us to one section of trees and we selected one we liked. Throughout the conversation with us, the boy called out in Spanish with another man (his father? the owner?), conferring about our purchase. What a remarkable child he was - so at ease, confident, able, and helpful...so gregarious and pleasant...and fluent in two languages! He made our tree-buying such a happy and easy experience.

I have found myself thinking about this young immigrant many times over the past few days since we bought the tree, wondering  - Where does he go to school? I bet his teachers and classmates adore him. What is his daily life like? Does he work at the lot every day, or only that Saturday, when we were there? Is his family stressed? Does he feel welcomed and nurtured, here, in this wonderful country of ours?

He is, truly, a beautiful citizen.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Determined to write



I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!



Whenever possible, I squeeze in a visit to see my Dad, who is 90 years old, and lives in a nursing home in Maine. I stay with my brother and sister-in-law, both retired, and I am filled with envy of their life together. Their home is tranquil, clean, beautiful, and simple, with lovely views of backyard woods. We sit and chat and relax. Last time I was there, gorgeous sunshine radiated through the windows and skylight, across my face and lap, as I curled up on their comfy sofa. I thought - give me DAYS like this, on my own, in a quiet, calm, cozy home, and I will write and write and write.

My daily reality is so different. Oh, my. This school year. Truly, I have never had such a tough start to a year...and here, a third of the way through the year, I have found a balance, but it is a fragile, walking-on-eggshell balance, where the slightest change in routine or plan or expectations, and, whoa, everything goes nutty again. There are too many children with many big needs, and a cast of adults that constantly changes. I no longer anticipate anything approximating calm, which makes those rare, surprise moments of quiet such a gift. I come home fatigued, worn, frazzled, with so many strands of thoughts - he said that, she did that, I need to do that, they want that, I have to remember that, we had that, what about that, why not that?! Voices of need ring in my ear...there is simply no end to the needs. I forget to take care of myself, eating the wrong things, moving too little, not taking time for me. I squeeze in writing that is superficial and tiny and brief...I do not have time or opportunity to write out the stories in my head.

I wonder...when the day finally comes that I have the time...when I have DAYS on my own, in a quiet, calm, cozy home...will I have any stories to write? Will I be able to grab the threads that I let go, during so many unending days? Will these still be stories I want to tell?

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Leaving the metro





I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Early morning commute. The train operator announces that the next stop is mine, so I get out of my seat and stand at the door, right next to the guy who is first in line. He's a young, fit, good-looking man. I don't stand too close; I am a big believer in giving strangers adequate physical space. Yet, the guy looks at me and jumps a little bit...it's almost imperceptible, but I can tell he is surprised by me standing behind him. Something about his body language, his cursory glance at me, screams he is uncomfortable. What the heck? He inches a little away from me, as we wait for the metro doors to open. This is really peculiar. I don't believe I am crowding him, yet it's clear he is ill at ease with me. He has nothing to fear of a harried, gray-haired lady commuting to her teaching job. I freeze, and soften my bearing, unsure what has made this moment so awkward. Finally, the metro doors open - ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TRAIN.

I repeat:
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TRAIN.

Aack!

I am standing to depart from the wrong side of the train.

Ha! No wonder this guy is freaked out! He's wondering why I'm creeping up on him, on a morning commute. He's found this quiet corner near the door that won't open, and up comes this old lady, crowding him, right at his elbow.

I quickly scooted across the train car and out the door, onto the platform...and laughed out loud. This was SO funny to me. I chuckled all the way out of the station.

What a good reminder to myself to give others' grace.
We simply do not know what is on others' minds, what is going on in their lives.

How did I make such a mistake on my daily commute? I take this train most days of the week. It is so strange that I would mix up the exit door of the train.

I am reminded of advice by Atul Gawande in Being Mortal, about the need to focus on one thing at a time...I had been sitting on the train, wildly texting my colleagues about things that were planned fro the day ahead...I was in 'two places at once.' I don't have Atul Gawande's exact quote, but it was something about the need to eschew multitasking as one ages, and instead focus on one thing at a time...the brain isn't as elastic...or was his advice something to do with tripping and falling? Ah, well, the mind is foggy...at least I got a good belly laugh to start my day.





Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Such love for me



I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!



The photograph of Mom fell off the piano.

Yes, it really did. Without any obvious provocation or antecedent. No one bumped it. No one stomped through the room. Nothing fell over and knocked into it. It was a quiet, early morning, and Tony and I were moving peacefully and ordinarily through our get-ready-for-the-day routine, when we heard it crash to the floor.

What was that?! I asked, and scurried into the living room, tracking the sound, only to find the picture of my Mom on the floor.

Turns out, that same early morning, my Aunt Louise died. My Mom's best friend.

Coincidence?

My friend Sarah says - when you think coincidence, think God.

I am so thankful for this dear woman. I am so thankful for my Aunt Louise. What an amazing woman. She was my Mom's very best friend, since they were young girls. When I was born, she became my godmother and we called her "Aunt." She showered me with love and affection all my life.  

She wrote me a letter every birthday. EVERY BIRTHDAY! I am not exaggerating. I was well into adulthood before I realized what a treasure this was, and I began saving these. How I wish I had kept every single one. 

Over the years, we became regular correspondents. I always looked forward to her letters, pouring myself a cup of tea and sitting down to savor her words. 

When Aunt Louise's daughter went through her mother's writing desk, one last time, after her death, she found an envelope marked "Maureen," filled with photos of me and my family, and my own mother's obituary. Who would've believed that anyone would be so organized, as to have photos and mementos ready to be handed out at their death? 

Who would've doubted that Aunt Louise would be?

In the days since her death, I have tried to slow down and reflect. My dear Aunt Louise is gone, less than one year after my mother, and I am all alone, truly alone, to mother myself.

I must try again today, and every day, to be loving of me.