Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Then and Now

(written on September 30, 2014)

On the anniversary of the eve of my first son's birth, I recall a startling truth I chose not to absorb at that time:  Two women, one of them my mother, the other an older co-worker from the bank where I was previously employed, stood at the foot of my bed on the maternity floor, looked at each other and solemnly spoke of how quickly children grow up.  I see them clearly, but 27 years gone by have made the one who spoke and the one who agreed interchangeable in my memory.  Their message is ever present at this phase of my life--they uttered the truest thing ever spoken about children.  

Earlier today I was puttering on the front porch and in the front yard, washing bird feeders and watering plants, and though it's been close to six years since I have had any heavy responsibilities for a person other than myself, another truth still startles me:  I. can. take. my. time.  There wasn't a reason in this world to rush because it would be hours before the next thing was expected of me, cooking dinner, and even that is not an expectation--if I asked my husband to pick up dinner, he would gladly.  

 My older son married a good cook and he often proudly tells us what's for dinner at their townhouse in Denver, Colorado.  In an unusual turnabout in sibling adventures, it was my younger son who led the way, first answering the call to go west, young man.  Shortly after he moved away, someone not known for thinking before speaking said, "He may never come back,"  then laughed heartily.  It hurt.  Thoughts ran through my mind like 'what a bitch,' and 'how mean' then the realization of what goes around, comes around reminded me it already had.  The speaker has yet to be assured of the competent and complete independence of her long grown adult children.

My sons, as of tomorrow and the 29th of November, will be 27 and 24.  Those ages jump out at me as I was 24 and 27 when I gave birth to them.  In a whirlwind, they were grown and gone to seek their fortune, and I found myself in a phase of life which feels remarkably similar to how I felt after high school graduation--not knowing what is ahead, realizing the potential for adventure is immense, only now there is that urgency of fewer potential years ahead contrasted with then.  

Confusing things is the fact there is nothing urgently needing to be done at the moment.  Anxiousness about that in our human doing, as opposed to human being, culture is tempting, but I plod along, learning to yield to the sacrament of the present God-given moment, and the Lord has seen fit to give me a long season of rest after a two decade season of the exhausting sandwich generation, heavy responsibilities for generations before and after, 

There is still that jet lag of the mind to contend with, and acclimating myself to the present reality is a journey very unlike the long, straight roads of my roots, the coastal plains of Georgia, and more like the scary hairpin turns of an ascending road of a Rocky mountain my elder son drove up in August, entirely too fast for my comfort!  I was a mere 45 when I was no longer responsible for a minor child and six years later at 51, the evolution to adult friendship and adviser-as-needed-never-unasked-for is still, well, evolving.  

Here, to this point, I have meandered.  I am blown away with pride and joy these boys are in fact men who have stepped up to the plate of life, grabbed every opportunity they could, and set out on an adventure when all too many play it safe, biding time in uneventful existences.  As much as I enjoyed the time they were safely under my wings in my nest, I am delighted to see how well they have flown, in fact, so far, knock wood, neither have boomeranged to the nest from which they launched, a good thing as their bedrooms have been converted to an office/craft room and a library/guest bedroom.  I vowed I would never sit among Legos and K'nex and cry for what was.  I've cried all right, but not in a shrine to what will never again be.

Still, I am fiercely protective of what, for 18 years apiece, I thought was mine, and when someone was trying to give an opinion on the career of one of my sons, I heard myself say, "Back off!"  I felt (and feel) a little bad about the abrupt delivery, but I backpedal not one inch on my sentiment:  The boy is a man, an autonomous being who does not need the insult of a helicopter parent.  He can make his own decisions, and whether they are the absolute best or not, they are a) his to make and b) thrive on or c) learn from.  

That was a moment of opening my mouth and my mother coming out.  I haven't yet met another soul who valued independence as much as she, and she lived without hypocrisy the virtue of not meddling in my life as an adult.  My opinion seems not to be blurred or skewed as my husband affirms gratefully what I have said.  She likely knew she trained me all too well and I would have told her to step back over a line had she crossed one anyway.

It is my turn to give this grace and freedom to my sons.  It is not a one-time and-done gift; it has taken the rehearsal of the half-decade plus of not being a parent of a minor to keep on giving.  I speak as if I had a choice.  I would not and did not try to discourage my sons from following dreams that led them over 1,600 miles from their childhood home.  I am humbled when I think of two dear friends whose children are entering the Army and Navy respectively.  Talk about relinquishment.  Relinquishment implies ownership, though, and that is never the case with our children; we are stewards and only for a few brief years.  

In any case, as I type out words to cement in my mind what is real and now, I think of the labor I went through to bring my first child into the world and I thank God that I don't have to do that again tomorrow!  As it hurt when each of my sons launched from my womb to my arms, it hurt when they launched from their childhood home into the world, but in both instances, the joy of watching their development brings an unending source of pride in their accomplishments, and now I in mine.  There are two handsome, hard-working, adventurous young men in this world I am privileged to hear call me 'Mom'--without all the responsibilities that title once entailed.             

Thursday, September 4, 2014

At Home In My Heart

It was my intention this afternoon to sit down and begin reading a series written twenty years ago when I was too busy to read hardly anything beyond the scriptures from which I drew strength, needed strength.

Laugh if you will at AHIM, At Home in Mitford, but with the publication of the twentieth anniversary edition at a time in my life where I have more of that than anything else in the world, I was finally going to reside for a season in a sweet little town.  

A couple of memories I would have preferred to remain unjogged came tumbling out as I read the first few pages.  

At AHIM's first printing, I and my children were out of our element, parent helper and students at a parochial school.  As far as the Catholic church views children, no one is to be turned away, an admirable Christian stance, but for some parents, it was a non-public school haven in which to turn their noses up at those thought beneath them.  

The Mitford series was recommended to me by one such woman.  She often put forth an image of herself as squeaky clean and wholesome, and if one has to sell their own self in that manner, questions should arise, but I took her at face value though her accompanying snottiness wasn't as veiled as she deluded herself.  

She waited for her kids in a pick-up line with, on any given day, the cars of the affluent, a Mercedes, a Jaguar, a Range Rover, a convertible the driver might have looked good in twenty years prior, and my old Buick, the one which created a smoke cloud when cranked and once had to be pushed out of the way in the direction of the convent.  One of my sons steered while my push yielded not an inch, then an airman from Moody Air Force Base helped me out of my humiliating circumstance.

Maybe I wasn't, but my kids were every bit as good as theirs.  It wasn't about me then.  I brought two beautiful and precociously intelligent little boys into this world, and I intended they'd have the best I could humanly attain for them.  

Uniforms or no uniforms, it wasn't long before it was established who was who, who lived where, and whose father did what.  My kids' father drove them to school in an old beat up truck we called BOB, bucket of bolts.  From the other side of the county where all the right people in the right neighborhoods lived, from the back of a field where chickens were once raised, two uniform clad little guys were brought to town, dropped among the children of the town's elite, and because they didn't know any better, they had the gall to outshine almost all of them academically.

I don't even remember how I came to be president of the Home and School Association, I do know I didn't volunteer for it, but as such, I was to help host a Christmas party for the teachers.  The AHIM recommending mom held the affair at her home, her kitchen and living area easily the size of my entire home.  Perhaps she feared a social humiliation along the lines of the Buick in the pick-up line, so she pulled me aside and told me she had plenty of silver and crystal trays on which to put whatever snack food I would bring.  

The.  Memory.  Still.  Stings.  

Condescension brings out the best in me.  As a child, I had so much going against me, and I'm so over it all I'll not recollect it here, but I'd wager almost all I have, except my dignity, that this woman's mother hadn't taken the time to teach her Latin prefixes and suffixes in order to better decipher the English language.  She sure as hell didn't have a mother who rattled off the letters of her nursing title to a doctor who used his alphabet to try to play the preferential treatment card in the emergency room, a mother who held a kindly farmer she knew in the same esteem as the administrator of the nursing homes where she spent the most years of her nursing career.    

My mother and I weren't remotely the best of friends, but one thing she modeled to me was to hold my head high in every circumstance, especially ones where someone tried to belittle me.  

With my head held high, and clothed entirely unlike everyone else wearing black to a Christmas party, I walked in with a crock pot full of Swedish meatballs and a vintage pink LuRay platter loaded with sausage balls made with Bisquick.  You should have seen how quickly those dishes were emptied, not by a mortified hostess to proper presentation, but by doctors and lawyers whose taste buds cared not whether the goodies originally rested on silver, crystal or cheap dinnerware from the 1940s.

At my humble home, I had pretty dishes on which I could have made a fancier presentation.  I didn't and don't have great wealth as the world regards it, but I had and have a love of beautiful dishes.  Those remained at home on the shelves where they are both displayed and taken down and used.  I was in the most liberated position of having not married a man on whose titled coattails I'd try to ride socially.  If I was cast into the role of idiot bumpkin, I'd play it well.  

The look on her face when I walked in was worth it.  The doctors and lawyers, like my man, were more interested in the contents of the platter and crock than the platter and crock themselves.  

I'll say it again, it was worth it.

Recently I stumbled across an essay by Jose Micard Teixeira entitled "I No Longer."  This passage spoke to me:   "I decided not to coexist anymore with pretense, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise. I do not tolerate selective erudition nor academic arrogance."

I'd been living it for decades, but someone put it into better words for me.  I'd long known I was just as good as and not one bit better than, but his artfully sequenced words resonated in a heart that bears a scar or two from trampling attempts of those who do not understand their worth or mine.  

I wish I could say that was the last time I'd encountered such condescension: it was not; it is not.  And that's OK.  Sometimes it seems my assignment on earth is to try to maintain my dignity while others' much sadder assignment is to try to take it away from me.  

To them I say without words again and again, 'You can't do it.'      

I won't lie, it may sting, but with my LuRay platter, my old crock pot, and my mother's genuinely confident example, I am well equipped to endure such insults.  I would like to say I'm completely impervious, but the sting does come from the heartbreak that one human would attempt such a thing on another.

Or as Mom used to say, "You can't see for lookin'."  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


from their
flying sonnets
cotton dotted
pale blue
erasing clouds
on their way
to the destined
by the Lord.
What will they do?--
by distractions
false weights
burdens, worries
they were never
meant to carry?
They'll eat of
the smorgasbord
already laid out,
confidently peck
a warning
to any
who dare
on The Plan,
then soar!
hailing drafts
in full flight
and not worry
who will lead
the way
to tonight's
will be taken
according to strength
there is no shame
to be the ones
who must be
at the ends
of the vee
for when
they are
they will lead
be content
the strong link
and all
for the good
of the whole
never comprehending
or arrogance
in rank
concerned only
with doing
the will
of God.