It was 1958 or Nine

I grew up in a beautiful America.  Dad was Dad, and Mom was Mom and every home had those two individuals.  Kids were either boys or girls, and very generic after that.  When our mom and dad made friends with other moms and dads, we always demanded to know about their children, eager for playmates of our own age and gender.  When two families got together, it was an instant party, a house full of laughing people, with food the mother of the house had grown in her garden, baked in her oven, or “fixed for us” in her brand new kitchen.

It was an era when each American felt freshly vindicated by having conquered the Nazis who tried to murder millions of innocent civilians simply for being Jewish, or having Jewish “sympathies.”  We were born several years after the end of World War II, and knew no suffering, no lack, no fear.  Our parents were children of the Depression who had known hunger, lack, and bone-chilling cold in winters that seemed endless.  By contrast, our homes were heated in winter, and Union Gas showed up monthly to refill the fuel supply in our basement.  As a child I would watch out the window and call out to my mom, “The Onion Man is here!”  When she asked why I called him the onion man, I said, “That’s what it says on the truck.”  (I was a Phonics kid. For me, the word “Union” did not start with a “Y” but with a “U” so UNION man it was.

Our parents would never discuss the war, but the Depression was frequently mentioned.  The tone was unanimously informative and cautionary from parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  It was as if they had barely survived total immolation, but for God’s hand, and if we were not careful, we would suffer the same.  This awareness of God’s grace, and their relief at His providential solutions to poverty,  genocide, and starvation was real, and no small thing, nothing to take for granted.  We were occasionally warned that our days of careless play and full bellies could well be numbered.  We laughed behind their backs, certain the stories were only fables meant to teach us manners and godly behavior.

Freshly laundered clothing flapped in the sunshine outside, and long white diapers and sheets caught breezes as my grandmother bent to the heavy basket and pinned up even more.  She would raise a cranky voice and tell us something in Norwegian as we chased each other through the wet billows in an effort to run without being caught in them.  We knew what she was saying, even though we spoke nothing but English.  In those days, children listened for tone, more than the words themselves.  Adults spoke “grown up” and we spoke “child” and it seemed two separate things.  We listened for “angry” or “inviting” or “pay attention” or “stop it.”  Other than these simple tones, we ran freely past them, paying no attention.

50s

We were so confident of their love and provision we took them completely for granted, and when they told us of their impoverished childhoods, they spoke in hushed and embarrassed tones.  They spoke of their memories in shame, and it humiliated us that our own parents had known that kind of lack. We would edge away from their sad narrative, scared and suspicious it might be congenital in nature.  It was not in keeping with the sunshine of our own experience, and we knew they were speaking truth, but we had no place in our hearts and minds to file these stories.  It was important to them.  It marked them.  It was our heritage and they wanted us to have it, but we were not willing to receive it.

to be continued…

Alone Time

Arkansas River Valley

Arkansas River Valley (Photo credit: Pierce Presley)

My mom told my soon to be husband, “Be sure to allow her plenty of alone time, plenty of privacy.  She needs it,” which mystified me at the time.  I had never been aware my parents knew this, or allowed it.  I was one of six children!  We were seldom “alone”.

We were not just an insular FAMBLY.  At most times, we had grandmothers, uncles, stray cousins, and “shirt tail relatives” living under our roof.  Most of my childhood consisted of various combinations of adults and children coming and going, eating and working, and going to school under my Mom‘s watchful eye.  Everyone contributed and behaved themselves, or they did not stay long.  Those who did not pass the test found themselves packing to leave within a short time.   Not many failed the test, and we all benefitted by those who remained.

So where in the world did I get noticed for needing “privacy”?  I was in the middle of the pack.  I was third daughter, with three younger brothers.  I was not the prettiest, smartest, or most athletic, but I say with no arrogance whatsoever I was the most treasured.  The mystery of my life is why.  I got noticed among the crowd and not just by my parents, but by everyone.  I did nothing whatsoever to deserve special attention, but I will admit, I loved EVERYONE, and considered myself an observer of good in others.  I believe this ability to recognize the good in others is what it was that drew people to me.

But the “need for privacy” was a something I did not know I had enjoyed until my mother said so, and by then I was grown, engaged, and nearly out of the house!  Still, when she said it, I felt understood, loved, and accepted.  I was aware for the first time what I was leaving behind.  I left laughing, and with optimism in my soul.

The years that followed left me breathless with public and private demands that sapped my strength, leaving me empty, despairing, grieving for unspeakable losses, and knowing I had never been visible to the family I produced on my own.  I had failed to exist at all, losing myself in the process of attempting to be a good wife and mother.

One day I approached the electric doors at the grocery store, and they failed to open.  I knew they were operable, as I had seen others going in before me, and they were opening as expected.  BUT THEY DID NOT OPEN FOR ME.  I stood before them, and at that moment I knew I had lost myself, and I was not visible even to an electric eye, whose opinion had been universally accepting moments before.  It was real.  I was transparent.  I did not have any substance whatsoever, and it was not my imagination as I had hoped.  I will never forget the day I knew I had ceased to exist.  As suddenly as they had blocked me, the doors opened, and I stepped in, and relief replaced despair.

My parents had died, my sister was gone, and I was living a life far from my parents’ dreams and my own.  I had no one to talk to.  I had left all familiar friends and family in places many hours from Arkansas, and I did not matter anymore, to those closest to me, to those I had invested in most heavily, my husband and half grown children.

It was “alone time”.  I am not able to describe that day with any kind of clarity, but I can say I was keenly aware something had gone very wrong, and it would be up to me to set things right.  This much I knew:  Nobody else could see me, and if I were to become visible, I had to change my life.

I took my groceries home, put them away and made supper, acting out my role the same as always.  Even my closest child noticed nothing.  But I knew, deep inside, that I existed. That I was visible.  That God made me, sent me, and valued me, and would take me home someday.  I knew I mattered, and I realized it was pointless to be “perfect” anymore.  I had given all my goodness away to those who did not even care.

Oddly, this was not the end, but the beginning.

Think What You Want

A strongly held opinion is not something we arrive at lightly.  Normally it is born of life experience, and grows over time to be reinforced, eventually becoming crystallized into a foundational structure for every action we take on a daily basis.  The belief has become so ingrained we operate within it, without even understanding why.

We arrive at adulthood early in life, but from the day we leave our parents until the day we die, we operate within the life structure provided to us during our formative years.  For this reason, the study of early childhood development has always fascinated me.  When I observe a “dysfunctional” adult, I immediately see a child who has had some kind of early childhood life trauma.  One can only imagine.

I  had to stop trying to do interventions on these people.  They are already lost.  Though this seems a harsh stance, it has saved me from disaster more than a few times.  I am now using my personal energy and resources to assist young families with the arduous task of rearing healthy adults who will eventually do the same when their turns come.  As a mother who has completed the cycle of launching three daughters, I have enjoyed observing them “getting it right” even among huge piles of laundry, and supper boiling over on the stove.  Their children absolutely glow.  And they have friends with kids just like them, which gives me great optimism about the future of this world.

Mom was a school teacher, one of those very gifted and energetic individuals who could bring talent from nearly any child.  When she retired she said sadly, “Give me a child five years old, and I will tell you whether he will succeed or fail in life.”  WHAT?!!  She went on to explain her opinion.  “By age five, the foundation for the rest of his life has been set.  His love of learning, his courage, his willingness to cooperate within a group, and many other things are already in place.  When he arrives in the classroom devoid of good experiences it is nearly impossible to reverse the damage.”

Wow.  This was a very heavy thought for me as a young mother.  I played devil’s advocate, sounding the depths of her position to be sure she had said something she could defend, because if it were true, it meant parents play a critical role in the general health of our entire society.  Before we finished she had explained it has nothing much to do with religion, political views, or even the public schools.  Great kids and bad come from homes.  HOMES.

Now I am a “wisdom carrier” myself, one of the “elders” who observe from the sidelines, watching  young families struggle with decisions that could break a heart, yet still must be made.  They consult me daily, looking for some hint, a clue, some guidance in the process.

A little known secret of the elders is never spoken.  I will take the risk here.  The secret is simply this:  There is no escape.  None.  You must do the work of LOVE, and it takes a lifetime to understand all that this implies.  Ironically, it is what any newborn knows from its first moments.  We are born with every tool, every willingness to learn, every good intention, and too much trust.

All we can do as parents is preserve this or mess it up.  By age five, the windows are closed.  The child enters the larger world with the evidence of our choices.  The most important work we can do in life is to rear children with their tools, their willingness to learn, and their love and trust intact.  If we get even close to right, we have made an impact on the world at large.

When you have time, watch a large group of young children at play, and without a doubt, you will be able to spot a child who glows and a child whose light has been diminished.  One will graduate with honors, and the other one will have a criminal record later in life.  Sound extreme?  Think what you want to.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are  created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable  rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Thomas Jefferson was referring to men all over the world.  For us to return to sanity in America, we must, MUST extend these tenets to include our children at the earliest formative stages.

Be a light carrier, for the days are dark ahead.  We must martial ever resource, and this includes our foundation, the children.  They are the real wisdom carriers. If you doubt it, sit down and talk to one of them.

Good Bye Speech to Vermont Studio Center Fellowes

August 29, 2012

Cumulative wisdom of many lifetimes flows from one generation to another in waves of bloodline and breath, yet none of us arrive with full knowledge of how to get along in the world.  Even after many years experience we feel a certain humility about the tasks of autonomy and integration.  We wear an adult’s body, but never finish growing.  We never finish learning, and we never finish…at all.

Crescent Dragonwagon commented during a recent workshop, “We pass the anniversary of our death date once a year, but do not recognize the actual date as it passes.”  This gave me pause, and well it should!

We need goals, plans, and a strategy for our lives on this planet as vibrant and whole human beings.  Certain questions should occur in our minds, even if we cannot find the answers.  Spending time in nature, pondering the order of the insects, thr grasses, the mosses, and the birds aloft raises some questions that seem to be answered with  no words at all.  Indeed, some of our questions cannot be formed into words!

The essential thing about being a human being, to me, is retaining the child within.  We must hang on to a certain curiosity, a sense of wonder in the tiniest of events.  I know this is why I love to spend time with children.  The synergistic effect of pairing the young with the old is magic itself.  It is not illusion.  It is the very stuff of life.  There is not one guide, but two.  Not only one student, but a pair.

I was making up a song for my six year old grandson to encourage him to get out the door to kindergarten.  The first rhyming word was “start” and then “heart” and it deteriorated from there.  His reluctant and shocked giggles were my reward for taking a risk with his barely budding worldliness.  As he stood there with an enormous backpack above his spindly legs, his eyes widened I would use a naughty word in front of his mom.  It lifted both our hearts just before he faced the day.  For just that moment we were both six years old and in rebellion against the “BORING” world outside the door.

After school he joined us for a trip to the doctor’s office where his four week old sister was to receive a well baby exam, followed by an injection.  We told him about it, and as his mom undressed her, she began to fuss.  All at once big brother “lost it” and began to cry inconsolably because he had a keen awareness and deep empathy for what was coming.  I pulled him to my lap, and he sobbed into my chest for a few minutes.  I was stunned by his tenderness toward his sibling!  As for me, I was dry inside about the idea of a shot on my barely born grandchild.  Over the years I have built up a defense against caring about the pain, in my awareness of the prevention of illness.  But this safe position on my part does not ameliorate the great shock of pain coming to her for the very first time.  Brother James knew this was going to be rough and he allowed his feelings to surface.  I was so proud of him, and especially of the mother who reared such a loving boy.

Empathy for the other is one of the treasures we must never lose, never compromise.  If our children do not learn it, we will have losses in the grand scheme, I guarantee it.  We must keep ever green our capacity for the love, joy, fear, pain of others.  Without it we are empty husks.

I declare to you here and now, we should hold a coronation for every single baby born among us.  Each holds fresh surprises for a small world threatening to go dark.

Those qualified to say so urge us to stay on fire, to protect this inner child, to nourish the freshness.  A friend of mine cautioned me, “Never get angry when someone is rude to you.  It is just an empty boat.”  I asked her to explain.  She said, “if you were out on a pond in a boat, and an empty boat bumped into you, would you be angry?  No, you wouldn’t.  There are all kinds of people in the world, and many are ’empty boats’.  These are the children who have already flat-lined.  Once you see them for what they are, you will lose the anger, the ego.”

We can peer into the womb via the miracle of ultrasound, but not until the child is born and gazes curiously back at us will we fully understand the questions without words.  Astonished at our bounty, we exclaim silently, “Come stay with us.  let us comfort you, love you, and keep you safe.”

The child within you is ageless, sexless, and eternal.  You are absolutely unique and will never be replicated.  You ARE the miracle!  I am grateful we have spent this time together.

You Made Me a Grandma!

You Made Me a Grandma!  will take you to a story book I wrote for my granddaughter, Emma.

Storybird is an online collaboration between artists and writers.  You choose from ready to use art work, and compile pages of creative writing to go with it.  Once complete, you may order (very afford-ably) a single book to give as a gift, or even multiple copies.

I wrote one for each grandchild one Christmas, and they loved them.  Now I have had two more grandchildren, and need to do two more!

It is fun to play with the art, and come up with story lines.  Go there yourself and have some fun!

http://storybird.com/Create a book