Meet Virginia

When I was in my twenties, I read a book where the author explained in the acknowledgments that she had not written the book until she was in her thirties. “Take heart,” she seemed to be saying, because your big break may not happen until you are much older. And “in her thirties” seemed pretty old to me then.

Later, when I was in my thirties, I was raising three children and the idea of doing something really big with my life (aside from raising three children) seemed preposterous. My plate was full and I was fulfilled. I knew I had plenty of time after the calling of motherhood to pursue my own passions. I didn’t mind if I was past the mid-thirties deadline for achieving fame and fortune.

Lately, I have a lot more time to focus on my own career. And although that’s going well, there is a sort of lingering feeling of, “oh, I’m in my forties now.” In other words, I’m doing great work, but I’m “past deadline” on making some great breakthrough. On changing people’s lives.

And that was fine. Until I met Virginia Bell.

I met Virginia on a chilly March morning at her home to conduct an interview for an article I was writing for Kentucky Alumni magazine. The background information given to me by the editor, Linda, told me that Virginia was 94 years old, a graduate of the University of Kentucky and well-known for her ideas on the treatment and care for people with Alzheimer’s. I was expecting the interview to be somewhat interesting, but not overly exciting. I was expecting to write the article and then mostly forget about Virginia Bell the way I mostly forget about all the hundreds of people I interview over the course of any given year.

Instead, I had a profound and life-changing experience.

Right away I knew Virginia was a kindred spirit, of the kind Anne Shirley refers to often in Anne of Green Gables. I was entranced by her perfect manners and storytelling abilities as we sat together at a little table in her living room, surrounded by books and photos of her large family. She made me feel like a friend immediately, and the differences in our ages was a non-issue as we shared intelligent and delightful conversation.

She talked about growing up on a farm outside of Lexington and I could have written a book on that subject alone, I was so taken with her story. Later we talked about how she received her master’s degree at age 60, and then subsequently begin her life’s work changing the way we approach Alzheimer’s care. Today she is the founder of the Best Friends approach to dementia care, author of multiple books on the subject, and world-wide speaker on Alzheimer’s care, among other accomplishments.

And as I listened to her and marveled at all she has done in the last 30 plus years, I realized: my life has barely begun. 

Later, when I was reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, I came across a passage where Cheryl’s mother is contemplating her recent terminal diagnosis and says, “I never got to be in the driver’s seat of my own life…I’ve always been someone’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me.”

And that really hit home. It’s not that I haven’t had a terrific life so far. I went to college, I married my best friend, and I’ve made my own choices–such as starting my own business. But it’s true that I have never just been me. Now that I’m coming out of the mothering fog–my kids less dependent on me and about to fly away to their own lives–I see a delectable, enticing future ahead; one open to a multitude of possibilities.

That turns my thoughts back to Virginia Bell. Rather than a life well lived at 43, I look forward to the possibilities of the next 40 or 50 years. I try to remind myself every day: Virginia did not even BEGIN one of the major chapters of her life until age 60. It’s true she had other, prior, accomplishments. Raising five children is no small feat. But the idea that I could take everything I’ve accomplished so far to date, add 20 more years of accomplishments and living, and THEN begin a 30 year journey of greatness–well, it takes my breath away. And it gives me such hope.

Now instead of thinking, “It’s too late to write a novel,” or “I better hurry if I want to travel the world,” I think of Virginia. And then I think: Maybe I’ll do that now and maybe I’ll do that 20 years from now. There is always time to do great things.  The goal of course is do them with as much class and grace as Virginia.

 

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Holding out in Stars Hollow

stars-hollow-2-850x478largeMy littles and I have this routine in the morning. It used to be PBS cartoons before preschool drop-off, and later it was Good Luck Charlie before grade school. But now, suddenly, five minutes later, we’re watching Gilmore Girls before the middle school bus arrives.

It started back in October, because every woman I know on social media was posting about the “not to be missed” Gilmore Girls reunion episodes that would be released on Netflix in November. I had never seen the Gilmore Girls, wasn’t terribly interested, and don’t really have a time slot in my schedule marked, “Binge watch tv.” (which, understandably, you don’t believe, based on the topics of my last two blog posts)

But then November came along and…well, you are all familiar with the nightmare-inducing, God-less circus act that went down. One day, post-apocalypse, I went looking for something to distract me that did not involve social media in any way. Gilmore Girls to the rescue.

Hank and Bear joined me around episode 3 and soon it became our morning routine. In between John and TP  leaving and the middle school bus arriving, the three of us take a short trip to Stars Hollow, where literary references, light-hearted drama and coffee all flow freely.

I’m not a coffee drinker, but even I can appreciate Lorelai Gilmore’s extreme addiction issue. It’s just one of many aspects of hyperbole her character offers up. Lorelai is obviously my favorite character, and not just because I wish I could rattle off one-line quips as quickly as she does from a memorized script. I can appreciate Rory, too, although I could never be friends with someone that naive and uptight in real life. I would have SO run off with Jess to California faster than Rory could straighten her Chilton knee socks.

Luke, well, he’s growing on me. At first I thought the girls should just look for another coffee shop, preferably one Taylor could not find. But now that we’re around season 5… there’s just something about a man who can appreciate a non-stop talking, handful of a woman like Lorelai. Not that I’d know anything about that.

I could go on and on about the townspeople of Stars Hollow (take Sookie for instance, who I adore, and not just because she’s played by Melissa McCarthy). In Stars Hollow, every day is sunny and full of promise.No one has to explain to their children why a world leader is making fun of disabled people or trying to deport their friends’ parents. No one’s cat repeatedly throws up on the carpet, and no one ever has to pack a cooler in the trunk because the only chance they have to stop at the grocery is between work and ballet drop off. In Stars Hollow, there is a perfect-weather, twinkle-light laden outdoor festival every weekend. But that’s not the point of this essay.

Six years. That’s the point. I’m currently stuck in this world where every day is filled with working and driving and planning meals and driving and volunteering and driving and reminding middle schoolers to take showers and driving. Aside from dreaming about opening an Uber service that caters to preteens, I sometimes fantasize about the day that me and my lover (yes, John) can run off into a California sunset together. And then I realized that day is only six years away.

Suddenly every two hour round trip journey to pick up my kid from high school seems like a gift. Every time I have to decide on a new way to make chicken for dinner exciting seems like an opportunity. And every morning, when I still get to snuggle on the couch with my two Littles and speculate aloud “where in Stars Hollow might Kirk be working in this episode?”–well it’s pure magic. Magic that will end when we finally reach the end of season 7. Magic that will end when my kids grow up and move away.

So for now, at least, I’m holding out in Stars Hollow.

*Side note: at least I’ll know where to find my Littles in 6 years. Thanks to Rory, they both are positive they’ll be going to Yale. Because, you know, that’s how we roll in Stars Hollow.

 

 

 

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Stranger things

Ok, first: No, I haven’t watched the Netflix series yet, but I’ve heard from several people that Stranger Things is worth a look. Last night I pulled it up out of curiosity, but that actually has nothing to do with this post except that when I went to put in the title, it was on my mind and it fit.

What’s so strange? Well, how about the fact that today, for the first time since–oh, probably 4th grade–my oldest child wore something to school that was NOT a knit, polo style short sleeve shirt (we only just graduated from solid colors this summer. For real.)

Today he came down the stairs wearing a short sleeve, plaid, button up shirt. One we purchased earlier this summer at the Gap, and one that I had already resigned myself to never seeing again after he tossed it unceremoniously into his closet. Because let’s face it, he’s not big on “new” or “change.”

Which is why it’s also been strange how easily he has drifted into high school. HIGH SCHOOL. As if it’s no big deal at all. He came home from orientation and announced that he joined three clubs. I tried to disguise the burst of incredulity that came from my throat as the beginnings of a summer cold.

About a week later, when I stumbled blindly into the kitchen looking for my morning cup of tea, he casually mentioned that we were out of milk, but said, “I saved you the last little bit because I know you like it in your tea.” He could not have made a billboard sign covered with lights or taken out a Superbowl ad to convey his message any more clearly. He loves me, I chanted to myself all morning long, my smile about to split my face apart.

And then yesterday, when I suggested he might soon receive notice from the health department based on the state of his room, he stunned me by agreeing. “I’m sorting out all of the papers and things I’ve been saving all these years so I can recycle the ones I don’t need.” This statement will only shock you as much as it did me if you know that he has struggled with throwing ANY item away since somewhere around 2007. (There’s a paragraph in this blog post I wrote in 2010 that describes his longstanding struggle with hoarding.)

So yeah, things are strange. But in the best possible way. It’s not just him, either. Yesterday, Bear announced that she likes school “10 thousand times better” than she ever has (huge sigh of relief) and also that she joined the Show Choir (!!) and needs to sell “at least 99 items” so she can win a prize. Sure, kid. (Side note: I told her she was essentially selling ‘overpriced cookie dough’ so during her first sales pitch, to my Mom, she proudly asserted, “B, would you like to buy some overpriced cookie dough?” She literally makes me cry with laughter on a daily basis.)

As for Hank, fresh off a George Takei documentary (yes, we watch this kind of thing for fun around here), he chose Harvey Milk for his National History Day project topic. I am brimming with pride. Just today I noticed that, despite not having grown more than an inch in the last 3 years, he suddenly seems to have developed a dimple in his chin, just like John. I may have become slightly enthusiastic upon noticing it (in the scary, “Mom, stahhhhp” kind of way).

So that’s the back to school update. All three kids get up on their own, make their own lunches, and leave the house with barely a backward wave now. I alternate between feeling really nostalgic about my rapidly diminishing role in their lives and plotting to make one of those construction paper chains to count down the approximately 8 years until absolute kid freedom (My friend Holli inspired this idea during a conversation earlier today on snapchat).

But I’m not stupid. I know it never ends. Your kids are your kids until the end of time, am I right?

Today on the way home from school, I related to T and his friend that I saw on Twitter that Tim Couch’s nephew is the quarterback for his high school football team. (I try not to be the biggest dork in the car, but awkward is my specialty). The other young adult riding with us followed up by saying she is planning to attend the next (first?) game. So, tomorrow, I predict my new high schooler will ask me to drive him to the Friday night football game so he can meet up with all his friends. In the past he hasn’t been big on crowds, or noise or anything related to sports. And yet, I just have this feeling he may give it a chance.

I mean, stranger things have happened.

 

 

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A series of unfortunate events

Don’t you just love it when people go on a nice vacation and then come home and complain? Of course I have laundry and hundreds of work emails to get to….but I promise, this is not that kind of whining. This is better.

To be perfectly honest, no matter how much I love the ocean, after two weeks I was ready to come home. It could have been because my oldest child was sleeping in a corner of my room the entire vacation (it’s hard to explain, but basically it had to do more with personal space than actual space issues). It could have been because literally from the very first day we arrived at the beach my esophagus felt like it had a hole burned through it and I could barely swallow anything that wasn’t liquid or applesauce. (Don’t worry, I took some meds and by the end of the second week I was eating baked potatoes and pancakes!)

Or it could have been because our (truly wonderful) cat watcher was relaying that, possibly, our cats were missing us a little more than usual. Despite Angie’s best efforts, and her daily visits, our cats had decided to take out their (apparently extreme) rage over our extended disappearance on our completely innocent living room curtains. Do you know what a cat’s litter box smells like? Do you know what that smells like when it’s hanging in your living room? Yeah.

So the first thing we did when we got home was locate the site of destruction, take down the curtains and toss them. Then we cleaned the carpets in the den just to be safe. It could have been worse, I thought, as I tossed a load of beach towels in the laundry. All is well.

(side note: read this article on the value of therapy cats if you are, like me, having a hard time forgiving the cats for destroying my living room curtains and, well, basically the rest of my house over the last 5 years.)

After all the issues with my throat, and the extended slumber party with a remote, slightly hostile teenager, and then the military take-over of our home by the cats, we were exhausted and pretty excited to sleep in our own bed on Friday night. So we did, and it was glorious. Until we woke up.

About noon on Saturday we noticed that anytime we walked upstairs, it felt familiar…almost like we were back outside at the beach in 90 degree temps. Upstairs air conditioning unit = dead.

But that’s no big deal, right? We’ll just call the repair person on Monday.

And in the meantime, we can all sleep in the living room….with the lingering smell of pet carpet cleaner and our beloved cats. And maybe, if we’re lucky, our oldest child will join us and roll out a sleeping bag in the corner.

I mean, it all just seems normal at this point.

….

End Note: I started reading Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed during our drive home Friday and finished it Saturday. If you haven’t read his work, I highly recommend it. Not only because it is wonderful and insightful and brilliant, but also because it will certainly put your first world problems in perspective. For example: stupid cat problems and broken a/c and having to return to work after 2 weeks of vacation….

 

 

 

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Hush Lila

When I originally titled this post it was because I was going to give you the rundown on our encounter with a small girl named Lila and her extremely annoying older brother. It was last July 4th and we were sitting peacefully on a bridge near our house, waiting to watch the fireworks and happy about the lack of noise. Then Lila and her brother (and the incredibly tuned-out, and apparently deaf mother) came along and it was all Boom–pretty firework–Scream (Lila) and then “Hushhhhh Li-LA!” for the next half hour. For a full year afterward, anytime someone in our family was being extremely annoying, all of us would give our best impression of: “Hushhh Li-LA.”

But after I experienced the news this week, including all the reaction on social media and I thought, how can I possibly blog about Hush Lila? Just to make you laugh? To put out a funny, timely, 4th of July blog post? But there’s nothing funny about what’s going on out there in America right now.

I won’t recap the news for you. And I won’t sit here and pretend that a young white woman like myself (hey, I can still claim young) could possibly have anything to say to you about what it’s like to be black in America. Or what’s it like to put your life on the line every day as a police officer. I just can’t.

Angie and I were discussing this yesterday at the pool (pre-Dallas tragedy). Side note: I am forever grateful to have such a rational, intelligent sounding board in a truly awesome friend. Anyway, we talked about how we really needed a better perspective. We also talked about the big dilemma–what to say or not to say on our personal social media. I’m a big proponent of “if you stay silent you are siding with the oppressor” (just see my last blog post), however I also have tried to make a commitment to making my Facebook and Instagram a place of only positive, family type posts. You know, for the grandparents to enjoy.

But even just talking about my struggle on what to say or not say about all this seems so incredibly and stupidly….white. Who the fuck actually cares what I think about this? No one should.

These were the thoughts running through my head when a young African-American male named Joel approached the porch of the coffee shop where I was working this morning. Kathie (my writing pal) and I asked him about his skateboard and he asked us what we were drinking. When he came back out with his drink, we continued to chat with him, and eventually he sat down and we ended up having an hour-long meaningful conversation.

We talked about past mistakes (he gave his mom some trouble, but he’s making it up to her now), and future ideas (he is into video blogging and wants to study business and media in college). And yeah, we talked about what’s going on right now. We talked about fear based reactions, and racism, and how one of the best days we have all three seen was the day Obama was elected.

Then we talked about how he just turned 18, and this next election will be the first he can vote in, and he’s super excited. He is a Bernie fan, but he will throw his support to the candidate that does not fan the flames of fear. He told me that the main thing my kids want to hear right now (after a discussion on the difficulties of being a teenager), is that I love them and I’m there for them.

It reminded me of the famous quote by Mother Teresa: “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” So that’s what I’m going to do. And if my kids act in a way that is not peace-promoting, or say something intolerant—yeah, I’m going to go all “Hush Lila” on them. Because we have to shut that shit down. The next generation is our greatest hope.

Mother Teresa also said: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Thank you, young Joel with the skateboard at the coffee shop, for reminding me how to find peace on a day like this, and for showing me that there is hope in our youth.

 

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Touchy

May 26, 2016, 8:25 am: straightened his tie before school on 8th grade promotion day

June 15, 2015, 2:30 pm: my arm rested against his in the overcrowded car after we bought a new climbing tower for the cats

November 20, 2014, 7:45 pm: our jackets touched when he let me take a ‘selfie’ together at the Catching Fire movie premiere

March 28, 2014, 6:10 am: I moved his hair aside to examine a head wound after he fainted and cut his head open on a door frame

These are the most recent times I have touched my child.

I can’t remember the exact date & time of our last hug, or the last time I kissed his face. I know somewhere in between I gave him a few home haircuts, which meant at least 30 minutes that I could get away with touching his hair. And sometimes, I’d pretend to brush something off his shoulder when he passed me in the kitchen, but he didn’t like that and saw right through my ruse. But I cherished those brief touches.

Sometime around 2010 he started standing as far away as possible from his siblings in pictures. I only know it’s 2010 from looking at the photo albums. We didn’t know why he didn’t want to be touched, but we knew that it caused him great distress. Then about a month ago, when he was patiently helping Bear with her math, he was standing right behind her and she leaned back in her chair. “Stay still!” he admonished her. “It causes me actual physical pain when you do that.” Oh.

Every so often I recall that night in the hospital, when he was 4 days old and dangerously dehydrated because I was producing absolutely zero breast milk. They had him in a closed incubator with a light for the jaundice, and I wasn’t supposed to take him out for any reason. The nurse walked in with a bottle to feed him and my heart leapt–I wanted to hold my newborn baby and this was my chance. But then she walked away with him; took him out of the room even, to feed him; brushed off my requests to feed my own baby.

Now, when this memory pops up, I feel irrational anger as I realize she stole those touches from me. I’m angry at her for not trusting me, but I’m even more angry at myself for not insisting more forcefully. And I feel sadness because I now know just how precious those touches were.

The other day on Facebook, another mother posted a photo of she and her teenage son embracing. I “liked” it, because it was a sweet photo. Then I struggled to tamp down the jealousy I could feel bubbling to the surface.

I only share all of these thoughts because they are inside me and it feels good to let them out. And yet, I am thankful. He is healthy. My arms may ache, but he is here and alive. So many don’t have that luxury.

He has friends. He’s kind and helpful and we have a secret look we share when we think the Littles are being ridiculous. We share a love for literature, and baking, and writing. We have the same hair and the same nose. Sometimes, if I say something funny, I am rewarded with a sideways smile he cannot repress no matter how hard he tries.

And I have hope. I know that holding him in my arms again is…possible. Until then, my other children seem to sense when I need them, and come to my rescue with tight squeezes. “Don’t worry,” said Hank when I was holding on to him for a little too long the other day. “I won’t ever grow out of this.”

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Post-beach snuggles with TP, July 2002

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Silence

I’ve been lying to myself, and you, too.

I talk about not judging anyone, even if I don’t agree with what they do. I talk about being tolerant of every person. And it’s true: I actually don’t care what you look like, what religion you are (if any), or whether or not you are sexually attracted to boys or girls or both. I say things like, “If we were all the same, the world would be a boring place,” and “It takes all kinds of people to make the world go around.”

But actually, I am quite intolerant these days.

I’m intolerant of people who hate other people based on their race, religion or sexual orientation. I 100% can’t endure people who kill other people based on this hate.

I’m intolerant of people who pretend that a ban on selling semi-automatic rifles would somehow affect the hand gun they have locked in their top dresser drawer, because “they have rights.” Don’t we all have the right to gather in public places without the fear of being gunned down by an assault weapon?

I’m intolerant of an “all or nothing” and “black or white” attitude, especially when innocent people’s lives are the currency these types of thoughts are paid with.

I’m intolerant of those who would support a presidential candidate who embodies all of this hatred because they say, “I’m not racist, there just isn’t another option.” There is. There is the option to not be a racist and not vote for a candidate who champions hate.

I’m intolerant of men who rape, and parents who raise kids who don’t know how to respect another person’s body, and a society that still insists that I teach my daughter how to “prevent” this from happening to her.

I’m intolerant of people who blame “satan” when things go wrong and praise God when things go their way, but who refuse to take any personal responsibility for their own actions. Please: do pray. But consider praying and exercising the free will God gave you to take action.

—-

Yesterday, in the news, I saw that Democratic Rep. Katherine Clark, of the state’s 5th congressional district, along with others, is refusing to take part in Congress’s moment of silence in order to make a statement that action is what is needed; not just more of our ‘thoughts and prayers.’

With everything that has happened lately–the Stanford rape case, Orlando, talk of building walls and deporting Americans who aren’t the “right” religion–I’ve been quiet. But my silence has been a lie.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “...to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all…”

more love

 

 

 

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Grapes of Wrath

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“What should our theme be this year?” John asked me on one of the first warm days that we were able to sit outside and have a drink on the porch.

Every year, we have a sort-of theme for the summer. It started out just being a theme for the porch. One year it was Hemingway and we sat outside and read books and wrote down our thoughts and drank whiskey in excess. That was a fun summer, but not so much productive or kid-friendly.

Then the year I started working at the university, John created “Summer Fun” with the kids, taking them on daily adventures and…oh, you’ve seen the Facebook posts. So the two ideas sort of blended together over the years and that’s why when John asked, “What should our theme be this year?” I knew what he meant.

Summer themes aren’t meant to be followed religiously. It’s all in the fun of finding ways to fit everyday life into the theme. And the themes seem to just sort of happen. One day in May, I was researching an article and I came across this old saying from the 1930s: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” About five seconds after I saved a screenshot, Cate announced, “I need my own laptop.” Sure you do. 

“Our theme should be The Great Depression,” I told John, later, back on the porch. “You know, like Grapes of Wrath style.”

John added his idea of visiting every city park in Lexington as our Summer Fun. “And we’ll make lemonade and put cut flowers from the yard all over the house, and sew patches on things and grow our own food. And no one is buying anything new!” I was getting excited. (Just wait until the year I talk him into “Little House on the Prairie” theme.)

Anyway, our theme fit perfectly with my 1930s adage. I promptly wrote it out on construction paper and then trimmed the edges with my great-grandmother’s heavy pinking shears (straight from the 1930s). Then I hung it on the fridge where my kids can spend the next 2 months rolling their eyes at it every time they need a glass of milk.

The next day I took Henry and Cate to Target to buy new swimsuits.

So yeah, the theme is not an absolute. But it’s fun to try to work things into it. It’s also fun to call Cate, “Ma Joad” when she stoically accepts her fate of never getting her fair share of computer time.

On theme: I started buying eggs from a friend who has her own chickens. We’re growing a tiny herb garden on the front porch. Today I added mint from my friend Dorothy’s yard, which her husband first planted in the 1950s and we found by accident when John mowed over it one day. The other morning we scouted yard sales and I was able to get a Vera Bradley bag that Cate has been wanting for a tiny fraction of the online cost. It’s not exactly the color she wanted but she was thrilled to have it.

Today I told Dorothy all about our summer theme and, having lived through the actual Great Depression, she wasn’t all that impressed. “I can think of better ways to have fun,” she said. “But I do like your idea of visiting all the parks.”

Yesterday, Cate carefully packed her new “used” bag with her ballet shoes and hair pins and we headed off to class. In the studio she pointed to a tiny hole forming on her leg and said, “I’m going to need new tights.”

“You can make those last until the end of Summer,” I said, examining the minuscule hole. “Remember–”

“I know, I know,” she quipped, “Use it all up, make it work….” But she was laughing, at least.

So, minimal wrath. But lots of eye rolling. Maybe next year’s theme will be the Industrial Revolution.

 

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thoughts and prayers

Seen on Twitter:

Your “thoughts” should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your “prayers” should be for forgiveness if you do nothing – again.

When I first saw the news on my Twitter feed yesterday about yet another mass shooting, my reaction was probably much like yours. Disbelief that could keep happening over and over. Deep sadness, for the victims, but also for this country and really, this world, which just seems to be drowning in tragedy these days. And of course anger, because it’s senseless.

And then I saw the above tweet. I actually first saw it referenced on Facebook, though that’s irrelevant. But it hit the core of what I feel. I pray; I do. But I’m not under the impression that by merely thinking or praying for change, change will actually occur.

So I went on with my day, this hopelessness seeping in. Because what could I do? I can’t single-handedly re-elect all of congress and install new congresspeople who enact gun control laws. I’m not in California, or Colorado, or Paris so I can’t personally comfort those who are grieving. I not SuperGirl, so I can’t take on every single person who has an agenda of hate.

I went to meet with a group of women, as planned last night; all women who share my faith. At one point in the evening we talked about how the evil in the world might be louder, but that does not make it larger. It’s amplified, sure. But the good is still greater. Think of the quote by Mr. Rogers and look to the helpers. That feels better.

But I needed more. This morning, while driving, I was thinking about the tweet up above and I realized something that brought a genuine smile to my face: all these bad things don’t have to be pointless. Because every time someone in our world shows apathy, or acts in violence, or exhibits a fear-based reaction of self-preservation, someone ELSE is spurred into action. Someone with peace in their heart acts out of love.

I was struck with these specific examples in my own recent experience: Universal healthcare and other aide is threatened :: people donate even more time and money to help the poor. Fearful people shun our world’s refugees :: my friends and I immediately start researching local ways we can assist agencies helping refugees. Another mass shooting is reported :: on Facebook I see multiple people joining groups that advocate for stricter gun laws.

So no: I won’t sit here and pretend that I can think or pray away all the bad things happening in the world. And I won’t lock up my house and hide my kids (hide yo kids, hide yo wife!–sorry, that was begging to come out; just ignore that outburst) out of fear and self-preservation. I don’t turn off the tv in order to protect my kids from what’s happening in our world, either. They are old enough (mine are, yours may not be) to know that not getting the new backpack they wanted is of little concern in the face of our world’s realities. And that they are needed, and will be needed, to carry on the work of changing our world for the better.

——

I say all this, full well knowing that you may be thinking: oh really? what are you actually doing, other than writing this blog post?

It’s true that I could do more. I have friends who have traveled to India and Africa to help build homes for others. Others regularly prepare meals for the local homeless. I freely admit that I am not doing even a fraction of what I would like to be doing to help others. Making donations, volunteering here and there, and writing pro-bono is not exactly front line stuff.

We actually talked about this last night; about how the full schedules and to-do lists in our own lives can sometimes overwhelm any other good intentions. But: it starts with intention. Baby steps. Clear out your house of everything you don’t absolutely need and give it to those who are in need. Make a list of ways you can use your time and talent to make a difference in your community. Spread peace and love by actually taking action to help others, not just saying, “I’m thinking of you.” Teach your children about social responsibility and selflessness. Or check out this list of suggestions, posted by a new friend of mine today on Facebook.

….This morning John said to me, “We need to keep focusing on being mindful.” Yes, we really do.

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Advent

These days, I spend a large part of every afternoon working side by side with Cate as she completes her homework. I never did this with my boys, but she seems to like having me around for questions, and I can work on my laptop at the same time.

Anyway…yesterday she had an assignment in her religion book that asked her to put events in order of the liturgical calendar. She asked for help and watched as I handily put them all in order in under a minute. “How do you know all that?” she asked. I shrugged. I didn’t even know that I knew it. It just comes back to me.

Lately that’s been happening a lot. Little moments from my days as a Catholic school girl (I know it’s hard to imagine) keep sneaking back into the forefront of my mind. This is obviously due to the fact that I’m watching my daughter go through it.

For example, each week I’ve been attending the all-school mass. Last week, I watched as my goddaughter (Audrey) gave the reading, and remembered the excitement (terror?) of being chosen for that task. There’s also something so heartwarming about greeting old classmates in the quiet, barely lit church as we wait for the children to stream in, bringing the church to life (and light!).

On Wednesday mornings I read with second grade students. Aside from learning their individual personalities, my favorite part is being in school for the morning pledges (including “I am a peace builder”) and prayer. This morning the prayer was for patience–perfectly timed to help me deal with a certain precocious student. You would have been so proud of my reaction when he sneezed all over my phone….

And then there’s Advent. When the kids were very small I had an Advent wreath on our kitchen table. We probably lit it a time or two. John recalls that his family always lit the candle each Sunday of Advent and review the corresponding readings. Every year.

At our house, we’ve always been more about “doing the right thing” and less about actual religious traditions. But now, thanks to Cate’s new school, I’m reminded that everything we (the 5 of us) value is actually everything I was taught back in the days when I wore blue and gray plaid jumpers to school.

Several weeks ago, I stumbled upon grand plans on Pinterest for making my own Advent calendar and wreath. My goal: to bring back Advent! Then Sunday came along and we ended up with no calendar and a “wreath” that consisted of mis-matched candles–some orange, some green, and one featuring a rainbow–that I found in the back of the pantry. No one cared; they are really used to my ways by now.

We eat dinner together as a family every night, but John and I were surprised by how different it seemed to be gathered around the same table in the dark, with only our lone candle shining. The kids were receptive–and a thoughtful conversation ensued. We even drew names at the end, in the tradition of Advent Angels (aka secret santas). We explained about doing something a little extra nice for the person all season, and how we would reveal ourselves on Christmas Eve.

About 5 seconds later Cate brought me a beer. (I wonder who has me?) I used it to drown the guilt I was feeling for waiting over a decade to introduce my kids to Advent.

So maybe I haven’t been passing these traditions on to my children exactly the way I once learned them, but it’s all coming back to me now. I’m sharing them as options, whether they want to embrace them or not (because I’m all about free choice when it comes to religion; just be a good person, okay?).

Will it change them? I doubt it; they are already thoughtful and caring (as exhibited when John and I are both running late and the boys start making dinner; or when Thomas patiently helps Cate with her math; or when Henry wants to know how we can help the refugees; or when Cate is kind to a classmate who doesn’t have many friends…I could go on and on).

But whether they grow up to repeat the same traditions or not, it’s the lesson of Advent I hope they embrace: hopeful waiting for coming joy, and the knowledge that we can be part of that joy by giving of ourselves to others.

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Here’s a little Advent reflection that my friend Kristen’s Mom posted on Facebook today, which I thought was nice:

 

And here is the PeaceBuilders Pledge, which I love…

I am a PeaceBuilder.  I pledge:

  • To praise people
  • To give up put downs
  • To seek wise people
  • To notice and speak up about hurts I have caused
  • To right wrongs
  • To help others

I will build peace at home, at school, and in my community each day.

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