I Could Teach Classes in Prison, and Start a Book Group.

Sometimes raising kids is challenging.  No one really trains us how to raise our children; of course there was Dr. Spock, and then someone else and then someone else who disagreed with them.  In the 70’s we didn’t swaddle our babies, much to our mother-in-laws chagrin, and now my grandson is swaddled!  Who knew?!  We learned from our parents, who did the best they could based on their parents.  It was either good, or bad or somewhere in between.  We all do our best and hopefully our children survive the job we do.

If we are really lucky, the prize for surviving parenthood is when you get to be a grandparent.  Could we love any one person any more?  I think it’s because they are our second chance; to soften, to say yes more, to hug more, and for a moment of time  to slip back into silliness.

Grandparents tend to be ferociously protective, because we are older and most likely don’t care as much what others think-or maybe it’s because we are wiser and more aware of the dangers that are out there.  I have made it perfectly clear what would happen if someone tried to hurt a grandchild.  I don’t mean helicopter parent protectiveness, where children aren’t allowed to feel loss, heartbreak, or failure.  I mean if someone is stupid enough to try and hurt them physically.

My oldest grandson was having a bit of anxiety and decided to talk to me about it.  He was probably nine.  His mom was newly divorced and for some reason, he was worried someone would come in to the house and take him.  He said, “Grandma, what would you do if someone kidnapped me?”  I said, “I would take every cent I have to hunt them down; we would get you back and then Grandma would kill them.”

He nodded his head, “That’s what Mom said you would say.”

“Feel better now?”

“Yep,” and off he went to play.

What a great feeling for a child to think his grandma would protect him at any cost.  I don’t know if he thought my comment was metaphorical or literal, but I know and so do you.

I would do fine in prison; I could teach classes, start a book group, discuss feelings……

Peace…

Telling the Truth..

This is a story I wrote for a workshop a few years ago.  It’s a memory that makes me smile, for many reasons.  I raised my children and will still say to the grandchildren, “If you tell the truth, the punishment will be less than if I catch you lying.”  Sometimes it works, sometimes I still get a lie…with a smile…  My parents got it right many times…

I walked into the house, and Mom said, “Are you up to something?”

I looked at her as innocence brushed over my face; “What do you mean?”

“Charlene called me today and said that Brian had taken some paint out of the store and when she confronted him, he wouldn’t say anything. She thinks you’re going to paint on the water tower, “Is that true?”

My mind moved quickly; do I lie; do I tell the truth; how much trouble will I be in? “Yes,” I said defiantly.

“Dad is down summer fallowing on the Blatherwick quarter; you need to go talk to him.”

“Oh my God,” I thought.

“Ok,” and I turned out walked out through the garage, where my yellow Volvo was parked outside. My car, my freedom, was going to take me to talk to Dad, who would imprison me. It was a hot and dusty drive down the gravel road, the three miles south, where Dad was going around in circles, on his big tractor, tilling the earth, with nothing much to think about.. yet.

I turned left off of the road and onto the approach, driving across the freshly tilled field to a place where I could intercept Dad. He saw me and all of my dust coming towards him; stopped the tractor, came down the ladder and stood waiting for me, with his hands on his hips and an expectant look on his face.

“Hi Dad!” I said, with all of the “I just drove down here to say hi friendliness I could muster.”

“What’s up?” he said.

“Umm, Mom just thought I should come down and talk to you about something.”

He waited…

“ Well, four of us decided to go up and paint the water tower tonight and Mom found out, and thought I should come and tell you.”

Painting the year of your high school graduation was a time-honored tradition in my home town. It had been done for years and Marci, Colin, Brian and I had decided it would be us this year.

 I waited; he was thinking and you didn’t want to interrupt him on the wrong side of his thinking. He was going back and forth in his head about what he was going to say, weighing all the possibilities, and how we all would react to his decision. You didn’t want to stop him at the end of the “maybe I should ground her for the rest of the summer” pause in his thoughts (I had learned that one from experience). I was hoping for the “hey, I was a kid once too” place in his thinking.

Finally he said to me, “If I say no, you’re probably just going to do it another night?”

“Yea, probably,” I said honestly.

We were raised to tell the truth. Mom and Dad always told me, if I told the truth the punishment would be less than if I were caught in a lie. It wasn’t the first time, or the last, that I was counting on that being their truth.

He shook his head and thought again, for a while.   “What if we do this; you call me before you go up, and you call me when you come down, so I know you’re safe.” “Can you do that?”

“Yep.” “Thanks Dad.”

“Just be careful up there.”

“We will.”

I picked up Marci and we drove to meet the boys. All of us had last names that ended in H, so we thought it was a great idea for the four of us to take this project upon ourselves. We hadn’t asked anyone else’s opinion on that, but it was going to be our night. We were well prepared. We had silver paint to repaint a huge portion of the water tower to make sure the black H and the 77 would be easily read from the ground below.

I recounted my “visit” with Dad to the rest of them, as we drove up to the water tower. (I had already called the folks from Colin’s house.) The water tower was a typical small town water tower; sitting on four long legs, it was painted silver. There was a cage on the bottom of the ladder, with a lock and chain on it. The boys scouted the tower out ahead of time and had brought along the proper tools to “disengage” the chain from the cage and ladder.

Fortified with a couple of beers to steel our nerves, we one by one, propping, pushing, and pulling, climbed up the ladder to reach the top. There was a small widow’s walk and railing around the perimeter of the storage tank that held the water. We started off by tackling the silver paint first. We deftly covered up the 76 from the year before, about the time we noticed a lot of traffic showing up and driving by. The silver swath widened to cover an area as high up as we could reach and wide enough to give us room for the real artistic work.

We were starting into the black paint, when there were a couple of honks, and hollers from the cars below. The class of 76 hadn’t left for college yet and apparently felt we were usurping their class.

“Fuck them.” One of said and all of us felt.

Word was apparently passing quickly, we hurriedly painted on the 77 and then the H appeared a foot or so away. We looked at it, felt a lot of pride that we were pulling this off, and brazenly decided to paint on our first initials, so a L, M, C, or B appeared in each corner of the H. We stood there and it was decided we needed to celebrate before we went down.

We sat on the walk, our butts on the grate, and our feet swinging in the air. A joint was passed around and we shared a couple of quick beers all the time teasing each other about who had spilled the beans to the others driving around below us, who’s idea was it for me to wear a white sweatshirt, and how cool were we to have pulled this off.

We quickly descended the ladder, jumped in the car and planned what we were going to do next.

“Colin,” I said. “We need to run back to your house quick; I have a call to make.”

“Dad, we are done.”

 

Peace…. 🙂

Quilting Together the Past and the Present

The handprint quilted into the quilt above is mine.  Surrounding it are the handprints of my husband and grandchildren.  Twenty-seven years ago, I was sitting in the passenger seat of a pick-up truck headed to Wyoming.  We were delivering some oilfield supplies.  My children’s father was driving; it was late at night; the marriage was failing and I was thinking about my friend who was dying of cancer.  The idea for the quilt came to me; I don’t know how or why, but it did, and I started it the next week.  Different shapes, of different colors, were hand appliquéd onto a white piece of fabric.  I bought the thread intending to hand quilt it, with the different colors running through the quilt, an alternating triangle border pulling it together.

I often wondered why, when you would hear the stories of quilts, uncompleted, “discovered” in an attic, or box in a closet, they weren’t finished.  I learned, and understand now, life has it’s own plan sometimes, and it might not include finishing a quilt.  I carried the quilt, and it’s thread, from home to home, town to town, from the end of one marriage, through the failing of another, until now.  Children grew up and had children of their own; I found a good marriage, a happy place and decided I was ready to finish it.

The quilt like my life, metamorphised a bit; I needed to find a couple of replacement triangles that almost match; a couple spools of thread disappeared and had to be replaced; the stitches are bigger, and there were stains from the colored fabric bleeding onto the white.  My quilt and I have aged.  The colors match others I have chosen for our house, it will still keep a child, or grandchild warm, and if my husband wants to snuggle under it, while the fireplace warms up the house, it will keep us warm as well, while reminding us of the love of the handprints-the best warmth of all.

Our pasts never really leave us.  We can modify them, redirect them and flat out lie about them, but they are still our pasts.  Bring your past into your future, embrace it and quilt it together with your future.  I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, with many things to be thankful for, both past and present.

Peace…

One Second More……

I had to wait several weeks to write about what I have been incredibly thankful for the past few weeks-my life.  I used to have a bad habit of checking my phone, texting, looking up information, all while I was driving.  I had a couple of things happen, that should have been wake-up calls, but they were like the pain of childbirth; time erases everything.

Driving down the four lane road, I slowed down to 45 as I drove through a small town in ND; actually, it was the town Mom and Dad lived in, before her death and his move to assisted living.  I made it through town, kicked my cruise control on and up to 75 and reached for my phone.  I was taking a few pumpkins to town for the grandchildren and had my sister’s little dog in the back of the Subaru.  Sassy, the dog had actually been Mom and Dad’s at one time.  Mom loved Sassy.

You think you are going to look for a second, but it must have been more than that… I don’t know what made me look up, but directly in front of me was a highway truck, with a flashing arrow.  It was stopped and I was not…  I didn’t even think, just swerved….I got past the truck and pulled off to the side of the road.  Sassy and the pumpkins had gone for a ride and I had to call her a couple of times before she looked around the seat at me.  Her face clearly said, “What in the hell were you doing?”  I held her and cried; I could barely drive the rest of the way to the city.  I called my middle son and he said, “Mom, you’re too old to text and drive.”  “I know,” I said.  I kept seeing the arrow; for days I kept seeing the arrow.  It wasn’t until the next morning, when I woke up and saw the orange cones flying in front of the car.  It had happened so fast; what if my reactions had been slower, what if I had looked up one second later.  My heart rate accelerates, my breath catches, and a tear leaks down my cheek, as I write about it.

All of the things we worry about, that I worry about; controlling my diabetes, having enough money to survive retirement, watching the grandkids graduate and grow in their own lives, writing things that matter in my blog; all of it didn’t matter in that one second.

I put my phone in my glove box now.  I still catch myself reaching for it out of habit.  My phone is an Apple and the new upgrade has an app, which I downloaded, so my phone sends a message out to anyone, who texts me, “I’m driving with Do Not Disturb While Driving turned on.  I’ll see your message when I get where I’m going.”  Surviving sometimes is just living.. keeping yourself alive.  I have news for my son though, “If we want to live, we are all too old to be texting, while driving.”  When I told my youngest daughter-in-law, I said that if Mom had a save in her, I appreciated her using it on me.  Megan said, “She wasn’t saving you, she was probably saving Sassy.”  I laughed because it would be true.

I am so grateful to be alive….I ate a cookie that day and did some shopping.  One second more…..

Peace…

Forgiveness is mine

Thanksgiving is coming up soon and it always gets me to thinking about what I’m truly thankful for:  This week I am thankful for forgiveness.

I’m not a perfect person as my children like to tell me regularly.  They tease me about my foibles, the eccentricities of their mother, and my outright mistakes.  (Only they are allowed to do this though, they would set anyone else straight who criticized me.) I have had to ask for their forgiveness and I am so thankful that they have given it to me.  I can’t imagine living with the guilt for the rest of my life, if they said, “No, we can’t forgive you, you are unforgiveable.”  Their father and I made mistakes in our marriage, ending it in divorce, and today respect each other and have given forgiveness.  Our children have benefitted from that and learned from it.  We are a family who believes in forgiveness.

I had coffee today with a classmate from my high school days.  We talked about forgiveness and how it correlates in today’s society.  I shared with her that it upsets me that our entire society seems to have a chip on their shoulder and is unable to give forgiveness.  What we have is a society of victims who can’t give forgiveness, choose not to move forward, and are unable to be healthy survivors.  Here I am on my high horse, I know.  There are wonderful examples of groups of peoples who were treated horribly in history and have moved on: the Italians, the Irish and the Chinese were treated as slaves, they mined and built our railroads receiving little or nothing for pay.  They were spit on, beat up and called names.   They are survivors.

When you act like a victim; people treat you like a victim; you are perceived as weak and unable to take care of yourself.  Look around you.  Some of you will think I am talking about a particular race, or culture, but I’m not.  You see victims everywhere, regardless of whatever stereotype you want to name.  I’m reading a book right now about coal miners in the Appalachians who were treated horribly..  Many moved on and survived; many didn’t.

I understand forgiveness, because I have had to ask for it and I have given it; both are tough. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you forget, as my children example shows, but forgiveness means you get peace.  The negative energy it takes to not forgive, becomes positive energy, you get to move forward.

My Dad is in assisted living and I stopped up an visited with him the other night for an hour or so.  When I left, I said, “Dad, I’m going to be gone for a couple of weeks, but will see you when I get back.  He said, “Ok, well I will miss you.”  “I love you Dad.”  “I love you too Wanny.”  Our family knows forgiveness.  I know forgiveness.  I wish it for you, with all of my heart.

Peace….

Don’t trust anyone, not even your Papa..

Trust; the way a child feels about their parent, a dog feels about its owner, a child towards a grandparent, a spouse to spouse….. how do we define it or explain how we lose it?

I don’t know what was wrong with me, when I was a kid.  I loved to jump… I was like a  little Mexican Jumping Bean…  My Dad tells the story of standing in front of the barn working on something; I had climbed to the top of the old two story barn; was only about five, and said, “Daddy should I jump?”  He said, “I don’t care.”, never in a million years thinking I would.  He said he saw a shadow come over his shoulder, and he looked and I had landed in the hay pile next to him.  I jumped off of everything…one afternoon I was practicing my jumping bean routine and Dad had tired of it.  He came upstairs, in our old farm house and said, “I’m going to break you of your jumping.”  He proceeded to have me jump off of everything: beds, dressers, chairs, and finally the banister of the stairs.  He caught me every time, until the bannister.  I jumped and he stepped back.  When I landed on the floor, I asked him why he hadn’t caught me.  He said, “Don’t trust anyone, not even your Papa.”  He told me later that his father had said the same thing to him, at some point in his life.  I understood little of trust at that age, and only thought about it retrospectively later.  How sad it is not to be able to trust.

I don’t jump anymore: I’m afraid of heights and would probably break an ankle, or a hip. 🙂  I’m not very good at trusting either.  Do you trust?  Who would you let catch you if you jumped.  I have seen the trust fall demonstrated at conferences.  You fall back into a colleagues arms…. scary!

I do still try…trusting with bits at a time…my husband, our children, (I trust most dogs!) working on it!  Working on trust leads to disappointment sometimes.  My oldest son told me that I always expect people to do the right thing and that’s why I’m disappointed.  I do expect people to do the right thing and I’m tough; I can stand a little disappointment as long as there’s the chance…  Trust!

Peace……

You Would Know Four Things About Mom..

I taught a Freshman Seminar class at a community college a few years back.  One of the ways I had the students introduce themselves, was to tear toilet paper off of a roll, that I passed around the class.  They were to tear off the amount of paper they used, when they went to the bathroom.  They then had to share as many things about themselves, as there were squares of the tissue.  There would be embarrassed laughs and inevitably someone, thinking they were cute would tear off just one, while someone else would tear off 10.  It was a way to break the ice and it worked.  If my mother was in the class, she would have told us four things.

September 10th, 2017 was the third anniversary of Mom’s death.  I always say “my mom”, as if she had only me,  but there were four of us kids.  She had three daughters in a row, while making it perfectly clear, that her goal was a son, as my dad desperately wanted a son to farm with.  We were a conservative farm family, on the brink of poor, raised to love country and the Catholic Church.  Mom wasn’t raised Catholic, but joined when she married Dad.  That is the first thing you should know about her she loved the Catholic Church.

You would think after three years the unexpected jars on my heart would stop.  Days will go by and boom…. some unexpected trigger sends a feeling of loss over me, and I cry.  I cry because I miss what we could have been, friends.  Mom and I shared little until her death, we talked, but nothing from our souls.  We became closest the months before her death because the second thing you should know about her is she was very private.

Mom overcame much in her life by putting things in little compartments, only taking them out when she needed to and could handle them.  Some things never came out, but ate at her anyway.  If Mom ever loved you, she never stopped.  The third thing you should know is she was loyal to everyone she loved, except herself.

Mom’s last days were spent on Hospice.  They gave us books that told us the signs of her impending death and “helpful” hints; darkening of skin, talking to people that weren’t there and that we should make sure and tell her it was ok to go.  All of us did our best, to help her, support her, tell her we loved her, sing to her and recite the rosary.  Even those of us who had abandoned the Catholic Church, or felt like it had abandoned us, could still say the Rosary… She clung on to life, like I can’t imagine.  Everyone had told her it was ok, to go and be with Grandma and Aunty Anne, be she didn’t seem to hear.

I thought about it one night, her last night,  and realized something.  I went in and put my head by hers, told her how much I loved her, and that I would try my best to do what I could, what was expected of me for the family and then I told her, “Mom, you leave when you’re damn good and ready, and not a minute before.  We will be here as long as you need us to be.”    The fourth thing you should know is that Mom was stubborn.

It’s easy to get caught up in what we missed.. She loved me and trusted me, putting her faith in me, when it was her darkest time.  Maybe it doesn’t matter that we weren’t baring our souls, in an earlier time, maybe it just had to be, when she was damn good and ready.  Rest in Peace Mom.

Peace…..