Thursday, November 09, 2006

Trading places

My grandmother ("Nana" to me) wrote a letter prior to my departure this summer to share a message which had been weighing heavily on her mind and heart. Essentially, she wrote that she knew my being away from my family for a time, while painful, would ultimately create the possibility for our success in this new venture of a high-profile working mom, a low-profile working some dad, and two still-fabulous growing kids. Matt previously held the work position of family priority. Sick child? Mom is home. Vacation from school, but work still open? Mom is home. Waking in the middle of the night seeking comfort? Call for Mommy--she'll wake first. Of course our circumstances weren't as pure and divided as this, but I did have the flexible, part-time job. And my grandmother knew we had made a choice to very intentionally change this. She said, "I want you to know that I do not see it as all bad if you have to go to Hartford alone for a few weeks. You are going to have to realize that your relationship with your children must change to a certain degree, and this would offer you and Matt the chance to teach Kyra and Lucas that you are going to have to LEAVE them at certain times--and BE WITH THEM AT CERTAIN TIMES." (I haven't yet asked if she regretted sending the letter as a few weeks expanded into a few months....) The emphasis is hers, and I suspect it was chosen with great intention. She could see that we couldn't change our instincts and our behaviors nearly so quickly as we could change jobs, homes and circumstances. Wise, isn't she?

For my first week in Connecticut, I asked Matt each evening what the kids had eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks.... By my second week in Connecticut, I was handing over birthday party planning responsibilities. Make sure we have a cake, confirm the reservation, who remains to RSVP??? By my third week in Connecticut, I asked more open-ended questions--How was your day? Who did you see at school today? When three months had passed, I was no longer concerned about food intake or sleep cycles, any responsibilities handed over went from Matt to me as he now had full control of the kids' day to day lives, and I managed to completely forget the kids' doctor and dentist appointments. And you know what? They still made it, and Matt handled the scheduling, the remembering and the getting there just fine. He was never incapable; rather, I was inserting myself into the control seat for virtually every choice, decision and event in their lives. More often than not, this is what mothers do. And in mother/father families, this same behavior sometimes translates to criticism of the father's lack of attention, involvement and ability. I've been guilty of the same.

I realized in my time away, these patterns are learned. While biology might influence our gendered behaviors--after all, I did have nine extra months of individualized attention to my growing child's every need--it needn't determine how we function. Of course the feminist in me understood this rationally, but I certainly didn't live the part. I know there are mothers in my circle who would be offended to hear their children cry for "Daddy" with each bruised knee or unusual sound in the night. I continue to delight in this cry. I know their affection for Matt in no way limits their affection for me. Rather, their attachment to him frees me....and this was just the change we were seeking. There are still squeals of delight when a parent walks through the door at the end of the day--but they are now for me. There are still hugs to hold them and hands for brushing away tears--but often these are Matt's hugs and hands. We are a better family for our time apart, and for the new way we have constructed ourselves. I'm certainly a better woman, and I hope Matt and the kids find themselves to be better, too. Again to Nana's letter...."Do not expect to be the same mother you are now--that will never be. But you can become known as a mother who knew how to put it all together." I hope I'm on my way.

Well, Nana, when you're nearly 90 years old, I guess you have ability to look at life with a wide-angle lens. When I couldn't see clearly myself, and I was struggling through the day to day separation, it helped me to know there was this greater perspective supporting me, guiding me and praying for me. Thank you. Later in the letter, you advised me to "put finding a good babysitter high on your priority list." I'm off to work on that....

Friday, November 03, 2006

Home

This was going to be a post of great eloquence or understated simplicity. Perhaps I would post only a picture of our new home, nestled amongst trees beside the Farmington River. Perhaps I would pour out some of the intense emotional struggle I experienced living more away from than with my family for three months. Perhaps I would share some of the humorous remarks from our kids as they make their way into a new home, town and life once again with a family of four.

Instead I will share only this--we dropped our daughter off for kindergarten at her new school five minutes late. (Insert the "we suck" line here, or delete if the word offends you!) Despite setting an alarm, hustling everyone through the house, driving down the street with frosty windows (yes, I know how dangerous it is not to defrost!!!) and skipping breakfast for the adults, we were still late. And like all aspects of this crazy story of jobs and moves and changes, our lateness was somehow just the key. After pulling a reticent five year old through the halls of her new school yesterday, today there was no time to think or hold back or resist. We rushed down the hall to her classroom, hung her coat and backpack on her hook, gave her a pat and pointed her toward her new friends already seated on the rug. No time for tears, last hugs, or even a picture with the camera I had so dutifully carried in. We were late....or just on time.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Progress

When I accepted an out-of-state position, I automatically assumed it would include an in-that-same-state home and school for my children--particularly for Kyra to have the traditional first day of kindergarten send-off. Despite my relative silence in recent months, most any post I've written has referred to the selling of our home....more aptly referred to as the marketing of our home that still refuses to sell. "No worries," we told ourselves earlier in the summer. "It's new to the market, and no one is buying on the 4th of July....or in early August....or in late August....or despite the drop in interest rates." Would I have accepted this role if I had known it would mean a sojourn of yet-to-be determined length away from my best friend and partner, and more gut-wrenching still, my two and five year olds? Could I have accepted this role if I had known how it would feel on Sunday evening to face the prospect of days and nights away from their sticky fingers and slippery soft tub-time skin? It's hard to say....

A colleague and friend at the Women at Work Museum in Attleboro, MA debuted a new documentary in January to honor the 20 year history and legacy of the Challenger mission and tragedy. Centered around the life of Christa McAuliffe, the documentary brought back to life my image of the woman chosen to be the first teacher in space. The image from the documentary that caught my eye and mind, however, was that of Christa McAuliffe as mother. Believing herself to have the opportunity of a lifetime, Christa not only took a year long leave of absence from her school in Concord, NH, she also took leave of her family, moving to Houston and relying on phone calls and too-infrequent visits to connect with her children and husband. Her kids were young--six and nine, I believe--and they were swept along, willingly or not, on their mom's mission and ultimate loss.

I don't for an instant pretend that my pioneering move to Connecticut resembles Christa McAuliffe's move to Houston and eventual goal of space travel, but I suspect seeing her sacrifice, and the sacrifice of her family, created the foundation on which I could make this decision. Though the job I now have wasn't yet crafted, and I wasn't yet certain I would search my way into a new role, the seeds of possibility and progress were planted. Whereas centuries have passed with men leaving their families behind for days, weeks, or months on end, it still feels new to much of the world for mothers to have anything but a part-time role out of the home and in the world. Christa's tragic death can detract from her courageous choice, sometimes bringing me too close to the risk and the "what if?" worries as I pull out of my driveway. More often, though, I am reminded that mothers are mothers both in and out of their homes. I set aside the "what if?" worries, and I drive to a decision I believe will ultimately be right for me and my family both. Along the road, I take comfort in knowing there are many others like me--mothers who are full-time students, mothers employed in full-time plus roles near to home, mothers blazing a trail to a new family destination and opportunity, and mothers serving overseas in lands and circumstances that make my two hour drive home seem like heaven on earth. Last night--that infamous Sunday evening--the progress that brought me the opportunity to work and live away from my children felt like anything but. Today I'm trying to relish in the joy of where I am and what I'm doing, while still sitting with the sadness of the temporary separation.

I was speaking with a new colleague on the phone the other day. Realizing as though for the first time that I spend my weekdays away from my children she asked, "And who is mother while you're here?" Foolishly I answered, "Their father, and aunt, and day care teachers, and friends." I wish now I had paused with the question and answered with confidence, "I am."

Monday, July 31, 2006

First Day

After ten wonderful years with the college I worked at previously, I have arrived at my new job. I'm in full beginner mode--learning all the acronyms that make university life a mystery to any outsider or newcomer, mispronouncing building names left and right, and still attempting to get my computer and phone! And you know what? I'm loving every minute of it. Despite the 5am wake-up from my alarm(Free coffee at McDonalds between 5-7am!), the two hour drive to arrive (I'll be staying in CT during the week with a colleague until our MA home sells.), and the usual mayhem associated with starting a brand new program, I believe we have made a great choice for our lives. Over lunch I retold the story of how I came to see the job posting for this new role. After interviewing at super-duper university, knowing in my gut it would be a poor fit if I were even to be offered the role, I sat at my desk and asked aloud, "Is there ever going to be something for me?" Minutes later, I reviewed the Boston Globe ads, searching under the only words I ever seem to use: women and education. My current position popped up at the top of the list. Seek and ye shall find....all I needed to do was ask. Guess I need to stand outside and ask aloud if anyone will ever "love" our house enough to buy it. (This comment reflecting the flood of adoration we seem to hear for our home without any concrete offers yet to bring about our move!) Ah, it will come.... In the meantime, I've got a work honeymoon to enjoy....

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Summer pleasures

Whether imitating penguins, bathing in the sink, eating a picnic lunch with our dearest friends, sharing a laugh in bed, or "meeting dinner," summer thus far has been filled with joys and pleasures. Here's a first pass at sharing the beautiful moments of our favorite season....





Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Doors and walls

Matt and I have been hard at work on the attic and basement this week, shifting, sorting, tossing, and shifting some more. We are in that painful stage of any move--opening boxes left closed for our five years in this house, and realizing yet again there are treasures with which we can't yet bear to part. (For someone who complained regularly about the lack of documentation of my life, there are more boxes of photographs than my friend and Creative Memories consultant, Melanie, would know what to do with!) Today I was scaling back my college papers. Because I work in the field of my graduate studies, these papers and notes have been with me at work, and I sifted these down to pure essentials a couple of years ago. For some reason, the college work seems a bit more difficult to recycle--it ties me to a time when my mother was alive, and then not, and I want to read every word to see what hints I left of a life with her in it. While many syllabi and professors' notes are quick to the bin, there is one professor--a scholar of poetry, in particular, and my thesis advisor--whose words I have yet again packed for the move. I offer these wise words from the poet and professor himself:

The Trick of the Architect

The difficulty with life is
Not that the doors opening up into things
Are too little to pass through,
But that they're so massive
We think them the walls.

Jene Erick Beardsley

Saturday, July 01, 2006

On the trading floor

As much as I speak of the infinite potential and possibility of my children's future, I suppose deep down I believe they will end up more or less like Matt and me. This is in some ways justified. My sister now teaches elementary school, following closely in the footsteps of our mother, a lifelong teacher. Though I am not engaged in formal ministry like my father, I am very drawn to roles with an emphasis on people and being a public voice for messages I find critical and compelling....the very skills I saw him exercise for years. Of course there are many, many ways our lives have departed our parents' and moved in entirely unanticipated directions, but some core values remain. (I remember my mother happily wearing hand-me-down clothes given to her from my parents' friends. Much as I wished she had nicer, more suited to her clothing, I also am quite happy shopping at a local thrift store to see what I can find.)

Last night we shared the perfect summer evening with our closest friends--chicken off the grill and pizza; homemade ice cream in cones, dripping pink down the chins and shirts of all four of our collective children; shared baths in the tub for extracting bug spray, sunscreen and sand; and hands waving into the deep blue sky as we departed under the stars. Because the kids play so well together, we can sometimes sit back and share adult conversation or indulge in one of my favorite activities--observing our children while they are oblivious to our presence and fully absorbed in being who they are. As the pajama-clad, squeaky-clean big kids sat snuggling on the coach listening to "Hurry Up, Calliou!" Lucas was on Matt's lap, fully engaged in conversation on a play cell phone. In his not-fully-formed enunciation, he rattled off word after word, tossed in a quick "Buh-bye," and then closed the phone. This particular toy is wise to kids, and is rigged to ring automatically whenever it is closed. Each time it did so, Lucas seemed genuinely surprised and obviously compelled to open and answer the phone. Over and over and over--and suddenly I had this image of my little snuggly baby on the trading floor at Wall Street. (This is enough of a stretch for his father or me that I'm not entirely certain "trading floor" is the correct phrase!) The action, the noise, the numbers--all seemed somehow in his reach in that moment of aggressively putting the phone back to his ear for yet another "sell now!" conversation with his clients--and I realized I really don't know who this child will grow to be at all.

I had a similar moment with Kyra recently--Kyra with her short hair, dirty shirts, and "eager to be a boy" attitude. I was putting her to bed when she began to rap a series of song lyrics I had never heard before. (Again, like my mother, I am barely connected to popular culture, so the most familiar of songs are often unknown to me!) In between verses of this "rap" Kyra described how she and her closest day care friend were one day going to be singing on stage....a far cry from how we typically see her, but suddenly within the reaches of my mind. When I went downstairs to search for the lyrics, I discovered my daughter at day care had learned "Wake Up" by Hilary Duff. The scraped knees, baseball bat and trucks were replaced in my mind by blue eyeshadow, red lipstick and low rise jeans....and the awkward reality of a teenaged girl trying to find her voice in the midst of all the madness around and within her. And again, I realized I don't know who either of my children will grow to be.

I am simply grateful to watch and grow myself, caught up in the surprises of their authenticity....still creating my own.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A bit of a stretch

Our house has been on the market for six days, and our realtor hasn't even gotten a call. Short of checking on her phone lines every hour or harassing her to tell me if she has statcounter to determine if anyone is viewing the listing, I must sit and impatiently wait. The only actual sign that our house is for sale is hanging out in front with a giant photograph of our realtor. (Does that honestly sell houses? When did real estate become akin to the Miss America pageant?) This isn't entirely true, though, as the contents of our mailbox seem to indicate an imminent move. Daily we receive postcards from moving companies, mortgage brokers, and competing realtors hoping for a piece of the non-action we are currently experiencing. I'm actually quite fond of our mortgage broker, so I received his postcard today with a smile. When we first bought our home he was relatively patient with my total ignorance of the mortgaging process; he provides door to door service, showing up in our home with only hours notice. I wish, wish, wish he was licensed in Connecticut--but he's not. To remind us of his care and the impending national holiday, however, we received a postcard from him today. Bearing in mind that this is a man I genuinely appreciate, indulge me in a moment here....

The postcard reads: I'm proud to be an American--and I'm equally proud to be your trusted professional. I'd like to wish you a joyous July 4th holiday and extend my continued assistance to you for the future [despite that I'm not licensed where you're moving....]. If you know of anyone who could use my services, please let me know. Much as our freedom adds to the glory of our country, your referrals add to the success of my business.

I don't know about you, but my mind was filled with the image of bewildered Iraqis picking up our "freedom referral plan" postcards just hours before the bombs began. "Consider democracy. I tried it and closed the deal in just days! Call G.W. for details....he's waiting to hear from you!"

I need more sleep....and a buyer....and only one house and job on my mind! Soon enough, I hope.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Transition....

My dear boy, so nearly two years old, you are my gift each and every day. Each year around yours or Kyra's birthdays, I drag down your bins of baby clothes--those few special outfits I saved for this annual birthday ritual. One by one I lift out the hospital shirt with the "paw protectors," the blue and yellow duckie outfit (then so huge!) we dressed you in for your official hospital photo, and the soft bathrobe I just had to buy only days before you arrived. Though you are too young to fully appreciate this time together, I indulge myself in marveling at how you've grown and changed. I hold the shirts up at the shoulders, press them against your chest, all the while talking about how I simply cannot believe you were once so small....how it does not seem possible you were inside of me, swimming your way around, then outside of me, swimming your way around these tiny, tiny clothes.

Your birthday this year is surrounded on all sides by change--a new job for Mommy, the only house you've ever known officially on the market on your birthday (I'm already feeling this is good luck....), and moving boxes beginning to accumulate in the garage. In the madness of these moments, we neglected to bring the requisite "school snack" to day care for your birthday. No matter. We'll celebrate with your friends next week. For your actual birthday, we're visiting Edaville for their "Day Out with Thomas." Tonight Daddy and I carried your new-to-us train table in from the garage, and a nice layout is already set up, waiting for you like Christmas. The transportation theme was hardly intentional, but it seems a fit given how our lives are presently on the move.

Your birth was so unique and different from Kyra's. My water broke during the night, and we casually showered, ate crispy English muffins for breakfast, waited for Auntie's arrival and chatted all the way to the hospital, ecstatic that we would return home with a beautiful baby. (The same drive when Kyra was born was a bit more precarious, with Daddy wondering if she would be born in the half mile to the hospital....) The story of your actual birth has many twists and turns, moments of absolute calm and focus, and moments of concern when it appeared my body was not working on the doctor's clock (hmmmm....seems like it was working just fine with yours....). On the whole, I was the picture of calm, employing all the hypnobirthing techniques we had worked on for months prior to your arrival. After hours of this focus, however, I learned I was only 6 centimeters dilated, when I imagined my body to be closer to 9 centimeters. Panic set in and I began frantically demanding an epidural, announcing to all in the room that the drug-free plan was off! I turned to your father, knowing he was the one person in the room unlikely to refuse me, and pleaded for the anesthesiologist. As the nurses suggested a shot and our doula calmly tried to get me back on track, I rose to go to the bathroom, insistent that an epidural greet me upon my return. Those few moments in the bathroom were terrifying--unexpected blood, waves of contractions bringing me to the brink of my physical capacity to stay in the moment, and my sudden announcement to Matt that I was pushing....then....there....for real.... Transition--the most perplexing stage of all of labor and delivery for me. So near to the goal, but with the highest hills yet to climb. When we returned to the bed, a skeptical nurse checked my cervix once again and delightedly called for the doctor--I had dilated four centimeters in ten minutes. We were going to have a baby. The next few minutes are a blur of medical staff suiting up, our doula and Matt grabbing hold of my legs, and my very vocal wails as I pushed as though I would turn myself inside out. Gone were the blissful moments of visualizing my mother's arms passing your body through me into my arms. Gone was Matt's calm voice reminding me to "release." In place of these earlier clips from the hypnobirthing highlights reel was a fearful, powerful woman roaring her way to a happy, happy arrival. You.

On every one of your birthdays I consider these memories a gift, but this year they were particularly apt. I had a few moments of panic earlier today after considering too closely all the possible glitches in the changes we've undertaken. After the happy calm of the past few days, I hit transition and panicked. No other way to describe it.... Remembering your arrival to my arms brought just the message I needed to hear--we have an incredible, intense stretch ahead of us. At moments it will seem we have no more to give--we will want only to rest. But we will press on, and exceptional, life-defining moments await at the end of our efforts. If our next home brings us even a portion of the pleasure we receive in loving you each and every day, this will be the best decision we've ever made.

You are loved. Absolutely. Completely. Without reservation. Without hesitation. A love beyond all measure.... Happy birthday sweet boy.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Five days for fathers....

When Cape Buffalo Kara came up for air following her school's commencement, she once again tapped her Internet friends, suggesting we honor fathers as we honored mothers in May. Given that June had fallen quickly upon many of us, the two week mother spread was quickly transformed into "five days for fathers." Our lives being in transition as they are, my five days have dwindled to, well, none! But it feels very appropriate that I honor my father on THE day, as I want to write about the special way that he is honoring another father this year on Father's Day.

Whether a God-given gift, a consequence of a life with some significant losses, an occupational hazard (He is a life-long pastor, and carries this persona with him whether actively serving a church or not.), or some rich combination of all of these, my father is incredibly empathic to people who have experienced loss. When other people flee with fear and discomfort in the face of tragedy and grief, my father rushes in. He somehow always seems to find words that soothe, and it is rare that I meet someone who has known my dad without their mentioning some particularly painful time in life when he was present with him or her.

I received an email message this week from my dad sharing that a very young father who lived down the block died suddenly, without warning. The family numbly set about the tasks of planning for a memorial, and when my father visited with them after he heard the news, they asked if he might consider giving up his Father's Day to preside over the funeral. They needn't have asked--I'm certain my dad's mind was made up before the words were even spoken. He is simply that generous. Materially, he has little, and while he gives away most everything he has, it is this gift of presence--this spiritual gift--that matters most to people.

It is a slightly different manifestation of the same gift I received on afternoons after school when we squared off over a chess board, or when he helped me warm my arm for my very brief softball career. While I obviously learned the importance of being present from those moments when he was for me, I am particularly proud of all I learned from watching from afar as he was present for others. I look at my sister and me--our friendships, our commitments, our passion for justice, and our concern for others, particularly in those moments when others might shy away--and I know we gleaned this from our father. We are good people....on our best of days, I feel we are exceptional people....and I know there was a powerful combination of good that emerged from our parents' partnership in raising us. I have had many occasions in writing this blog to express thanks to my mother. How important it is to have this occasion to say thank you to my father.

We love you. Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

Though the fat lady has yet to sing (more on this in a moment), we are feeling highly optimistic about a possible move to Connecticut. The job offer was made in person today (and the woo-ing was ample and wonderful!), the inevitable salary negotiations are underway, and Matt and I are both feeling as though this move has tremendous potential for our family. The only significant moment of pause for me? Logging onto the CT Registry of Motor Vehicles webpage, fearing this might be one of those states....the states that require you to list your weight on your license. I have always vowed not to live in one of those. Though I don't have a final answer on the question, and I can't imagine I would share with the university president that this was my reason for withdrawing, the signs are good that this fat lady will not need to sing! Hooray!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Cruising at the drive-in

My first visit to a drive-in movie theatre was in rural New Hampshire....my sister and I heard on the radio that "The Muppet Movie" was playing near to my grandparents' summer cottage, and we somehow managed to convince my parents to celebrate their anniversary by taking us. Though I have no memories of the actual movie, I do remember the after-effects. I was enthralled enough with the options at the snack bar to eat myself into a night of throwing up in the bathroom. That aspect of the experience I would gladly forget; of course it is the one thing I remember! I'm certain I visited drive-in theatres after this first notorious trip, but again, I can't remember a single one. There's a theatre 30-40 minutes from us in Rhode Island, and Matt and I vow every summer to go; every fall we add it back to our "things to do next summer" list.

While exploring the possibility of purchasing a projector and screen, Matt had the fortune of "inheriting" a projector about to be thrown out by the Media Services department at the college where we work. Though poor in daylight (okay....poor in anything but pitch darkness), we settled right into life with a big screen. We are movie watchers, rather than TV; Matt takes managing his Netflix queue as seriously as most take on-line banking. (We would do well to take that a bit more seriously some months....) Many evenings find us snuggling close on the reclining love seat watching the latest recommendation based on a history of obscure independent films. Last night was no exception (and we're all set up for tonight, too!), and when Matt returned from a late night "must have Frostys from Wendys" run, he said, "You know I've thought this before, but being out tonight just proves it--we're nothing more than a drive-in." Our family room has large windows the width of our projection screen, and the sheer curtains apparently ensure our neighbors have full view of the evening's selection. Given that last night we were watching an episode from the final season of Queer as Folk, the highly-graphic and equally controversial program from Showtime, our eighty-year old neighbor, Margaret, must have gotten quite an eyeful.

Ah, life at the drive-in....

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sympathy cards

A giant box arrived on my front porch a couple of months ago, one of several due to be sent. My father is moving from the modest home he has lived in for more than a decade, and he will have space for little in his next place. What he had kept of my mother’s life and death will now be ours—ours being my sister and me. This particular installment of “This Was Her Life”? Piles of sympathy cards sent upon her illness and death…

My mother and father held occupations—teacher and pastor, respectively—that put them in the public eye in a (quite literally) contained community. Our home was an island, and serving in any sort of public capacity was cause for knowing and being known. News of my mother’s sudden diagnosis with pancreatic cancer spread and metastasized as rapidly as the unstoppable tumor within her. Within days it seemed everyone in our island community and the towns we had previously called home had somehow heard. My young (45), lively, energetic mother was dying, and soon. Florists worked overtime delivering displays that covered any clear surface. Our post office box was crammed daily with cards and letters—some simply signed, and others pages long as the writer attempted “aloud” to make sense of what simply had no sense.

Years ago I read every one of those cards and letters, secretly hoarding those which spoke most deeply to me. (Tonight I read every one of them once again.) When the box arrived recently, it was not so much the well-meaning and sympathetic words that most affected me as I skimmed through, though there were rare exceptions to this. What I somehow wanted to capture for my own memory and for future stories to my children was the sheer volume of all those cards and letters, pouring out of the giant box. It’s irrelevant, I know. To tell Kyra and Lucas that thousands of words were exchanged in their grandmother’s honor—to somehow weigh her worth in the notice given her illness and death—would in no way capture her significance to me. While it is a mark of her life that her loss was seen as significant to so many, the loss would have been no less sharp and complete if she had only been known and loved by me. And for the thousands of words written to her and to us, I have written thousands upon thousands more, sending them off in my heart as the shape of my memories, my grief and my fears came to life on paper. While the notes and cards of remembrance slowed gradually to a trickle and now are more personally exchanged between our immediate family on those resonant anniversary days, my letters to her go on and on and on….I still have so much to say.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

June, a month for celebrating fabulous fathers!

I had the pleasure of printing photos for Friday's scrapbooking extravaganza, and pouring over old pictures has me feeling very nostalgic for the early days of being a tiny little family of three. We're only a little family of four now, but that fourth member came with a lot of spunk! Back in the day, being new parents together was a wonderful opportunity to get to know Kyra, of course, but also to get to know Matt in very new ways. While I could write page upon page of his devotion to his children, the depth of his love for them, and the beauty of standing silently in the kitchen watching as he rolls around on the family room floor with them, I'll let a picture speak for me. This is the incredible man I get to see every single day. I'm blessed.



Friday, June 02, 2006

Descended from the apes....


In this blast from the past, Kyra and Lucas both flash the "inherited from Daddy" nostrils as further proof of the truth of evolution....

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Overlooking the obvious

From our house to Matt's parents' house (and vice versa), "exit 9" outside of Albany is almost always the perfect destination for meals, clean bathrooms, and a much-needed stretch. The Cracker Barrel store and restaurant hosts a favorite set of bathrooms--and their raspberry iced tea is yummy, too. On the way to Matt's parents' home, the restaurant restroom became the site of a "first" for Lucas--peeing on a public potty! Hooray! It was in this same restroom on our way home that I had what I'm certain was not a first or a last for me--the "keep it simple/don't overlook the obvious" answer to a child's very innocent question.

As Kyra and I were leaving to return to our table, we held the restroom door for a group of women--three seemingly together who were African-American, and two seemingly together who might have been Indian. In that a-little-louder-than-normal child's voice, Kyra asked, "Why are all the brown people going to the bathroom?" In the space following her question, my mind raced through a million thoughts. I work predominantly with people of color, and as someone white who was relatively oblivious to my own color for many years of my life, I long ago made a promise to myself that my children would be raised to be color conscious. The old myth of walking through the world color blind does not fit the realities of a world where white continues to extend remarkable unearned privileges. Though my work is in multiculturalism, predominantly around issues of race, I still had that pause. I didn't want to shame my child for her question and observation; I didn't know if the women had heard and whether or not they were comfortable or uncomfortable with her remark. I didn't want to emphasize color in my response--how could I, to a four year old? "Well, Kyra, why is it you didn't comment earlier when a group of white people passed us to go to the cash register?" My sorely inadequate response? "Maybe they are a family and decided to go to the bathroom together." Though it seemed quite obvious that we passed two distinct groups of women, I still choked a bit on my answer, eager to not let my pause bring shame or self-consciousness to Kyra. When I shared the incident with Matt later that evening, he suggested I should have said that if I were a person of color, I, too, would want someone to have my back in the restroom of such a white establishment!

The obvious answer I so clearly overlooked didn't emerge until a day later. What I wish I had said???

"Because they must have to go to the bathroom."

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Fresh Air....priceless

We spent the long weekend in central New York, visiting Matt's parents and enjoying some of our favorite fresh air spots. Often we drive at night so the kids will sleep in the car, and when we step out of the car, legs aching for a stretch, we gasp at the stars. Living downtown in a cityish suburb, Matt and I once drove miles to find a dark enough location to watch a meteorite display. Our kids learn about stars from our college's observatory and planetarium, not from the experience of looking up in their backyard. This trip, we gasped upon arrival because the air smelled so fresh. There was a drizzle, drawing up into the air the scent of newly-mown grass....heaven. Between the bright sun, the acres of room to roam and run, and a stimulating schedule of "down home" events (car show, pig roast and canoe regatta!), Lucas slept straight through the night two nights in a row. I'm not certain this has ever happened. Our home has its charms, but the smoke and soot-filled air of our neighborhood suffers greatly after the three day comparison we've returned from. Oh, how I wish I could bring home that air....

Thursday, May 25, 2006

All that there is....

I've been having one of those days. It rings for me of Frances McDermond's moment in Friends with Money when she asks, "What if this is all there is?" After months of job prospecting, balancing hopes for a new future with reasonable satisfaction with our current reality, I'm simply feeling tired of the quest...and as has been the case throughout my life, concerned I will never find "it"--that elusive "it" that is my calling, my destiny, my purpose. And yet, even as I say, "What if this is all there is?" I realize the answer is a certain "YES!" Isn't every moment really all there is? So what of today's "all" has given me joy, contentment, or peace?

*Lucas's toddler room classmate Jack is a baseball fanatic. Not yet two, he can already swing a plastic bat and connect with a wiffleball pitched in his direction. He fakes a pitch, runs from corner to corner in the outdoor playspace, and slides "safe" onto his right knee. Over and over and over--it is priceless. The teachers were commenting they should get his autograph now; he will certainly find his way to the major leagues.

*Two weeks ago while grocery shopping I came up $6 short in my need to spend $100 in order to use my $10 off coupon. I raced to the nearest display, grabbing six boxes of "buy one, get one free" cereals. I didn't see at the time the boxes contained iTunes coupons. Lucky Charms happily consumed, I "cashed in" my first two coupons on Tuesday night. One was worth not only the original song, but a five song bonus as well. That $6 gap has paid me many times over....and in music--what could be better?

*Matt and I went to our favorite local Mexican restaurant for lunch. One lunch-sized enchilada, taco, rice, chips and salsa later, I was feeling lucky indeed that this needs-to-talk-it-all-through extravert found the ideal happy-to-just-listen-and-take-it-all-in partner. Our differences are not without challenges, but the benefits are plentiful. And the best part of it? He has heard it all before, and he listens as though it is fresh and new. What a gift....

*When our church's youth minister (originally from South Africa) had the fortune of meeting another South African at a local summer camp, our church became the delighted recipient of her thoughtful, articulate, talented now-husband. I have loved his voice since we both first joined the choir, and I recently proposed we together sing a duet. Last night was our first opportunity to practice together, and it was such fun--our voices have a great blend, comparable ranges, and the style of the song I chose was just right. While Matt is an exceptional partner, he is not an exceptional singing partner, so I'm delighted to have found someone to indulge my wish for duets!

When all else fails, I can be grateful for the air I breathe, the flowers that bloom, the boogie-laden smooches which will greet me at day care....even my very capacity to feel and express gratitude.

Is this all there is? Of course it is.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Huh?

While driving home from day care/work this evening, I began preparing Kyra and Lucas for their evening tomorrow. We'll be visiting the family resource center, a phenomenal local service offering play groups, parenting workshops, visits from parent educators, developmental screenings and more. Matt and I are attending a session called "Growing a Girl!" while Kyra and Lucas play in the playgroup area. Kyra has envied the fact that Lucas still occasionally attends playgroups, despite that she has aged out of many of these programs. I was emphasizing the play opportunity to her, but she was clearly more interested in the topic of our workshop. Without knowing exactly how to describe it--when in fact I know little more than the title!--I simply said, "It's a lesson about how to raise great girls, and we certainly have a great girl to raise!" Kyra's response?

"Are you going to sell me?"

I don't know if we've been talking about raising livestock for food, raising the cost of gas to gouge out our wallets or wanting more of a raise in our paycheck, but clearly there has been a raise/sale link for her. Nope, my girl, you are definitely a keeper!

Monday, May 22, 2006

All the blog entries I am not taking time to write!

It was one of those weekends--event after event, insight after insight. There were so many potential blog entries, I literally felt overloaded. As always when this is the case, I wrote nothing! So, here is just a sample list of what I could have written about, but did not....keeps you guessing, wanting for more, at least!

*Commencement at the college on Saturday--and in particular, a special ceremony held for a cohort group of students selected to enter and move through the college experience together. I was struck by the magnification of their contributions and their learning from college, and curious about how we can better provide this to all our students and, in fact, all people.

*Birthday celebration for my friend, Karen--in the process of divorcing, Karen has again proven herself a survivor. She threw herself a 30th birthday party, and we were the delighted beneficiaries of a few hours with eight terribly interesting and different women. Further insight--her soon-to-be ex-husband has done her wrong in ways few women come up for air from, and yet she seemingly manages with some health and humor. In one of those rare moments when we let ourselves stumble into talking about him and what he deserves for how he behaved, I realized he's already gotten what he deserves--he has already lost the very best thing he was ever going to find in life. This will be a forever wound for him. May her wounds heal completely, and in time may we be celebrating under even better circumstances!

*The meaning and power of prayer--whether it is a shift within or the actual intervention of God, I am astounded at how often my requests are met. I have been very casually praying about my desire to feel more appreciative of my kids and more present with them, and have been quite surprised as situations that only days ago were likely the end of my patience, tolerance or good will seem to be quite manageable, and even humorous at times! While I believe in the presence of God, I know not everyone does--perhaps there is simply power for us all in voicing aloud the ways in which we want to shift and change.

*Sacrificial moms--just a few days ago a good friend vocalized her plan for getting her body, her mind and her life back in order. The only problem? This plan is on hold until her youngest child is in preschool, one year away. I thought about Flylady, to whom I am eternally grateful, and her belief in starting where we are, never feeling behind, and doing what we can in the very small increments of time that life provides us. I thought about my wish for all parents, but moms in particular, to feel somehow whole and self-focused despite or perhaps even because of the presence of children. And this non-blog entry would also have talked extensively about a workshop I hosted last week with a speaker on the care parents need to give themselves. But, since I'm not writing about anything today....

*Rent, the show, the movie, the documentary detailing how it all came to be--with three shows in two cities under our belt, Matt and I can hardly be called "Rentheads," but we do know every single word from the soundtrack and consider ourselves to be fans of significance. Remembering via the documentary the tremendous promise, tragedy and full circle nature of the show and its creator Jonathan Larson has filled my mind with longing, dreams and a sense that I need to begin to fulfill those now!

My first longing? A NAP--allergies have kicked in and I'm feeling one step below lousy. Lori McKenna is playing at Brennan's Grille tonight, however, and we have tickets. I suspect I will be feeling terrific by then!

Friday, May 19, 2006

'Twas the day after "yes" day....

Well, technically yesterday wasn't a true yes day, but we're giving ourselves partial credit. What's a yes day, you ask? Years ago, before baby Lucas entered our world, we had "one of those mornings." Kyra was pleading to stay home from day care, Matt jokingly suggested he could be "sick" for the day, and within moments, we called to say we would all be home for the day. We spontaneously dubbed the moment "yes" day and determined to spend our time revisiting all the treats, destinations and indulgences we typically say "no" to on a day to day basis. The highlights from that first yes day? Kyra drank her first Kiddie Size Fruit Coolatta from Dunkin' Donuts (a ritual she associates with all "yes" days since), and she was able to visit a local craft store that always used to put giant stuffed animals outside their door as a lure for young children. We had driven past those stuffed animals for months, and Kyra requested often to stop and give them a pat. The excuses were typical--we're late to work, we're hungry for dinner and want to get home--and the answer previously had always been "no." We stopped, hopped out of the car, and three minutes after greeting the animals, Kyra was done--satisfied--immensely happy. It had been so incredibly simple. The lesson for us? Saying no is a habit, and one that gives us power on days when we're feeling particularly powerless in the face of it all. Saying yes, on the other hand, is just as simple, and gives us a much more authentic sense of power....and goodness, too! And so the yes days continue. Though we weren't able to step out of work/day care yesterday, we had contemplated it, and so we still treated ourselves to some "yes" responses along the way. A delicious sandwich at Panera Bread for lunch....time in the sandbox and on bikes before dinner....an extra story in the evening. Again, extravagence is low, but pleasure is high. What can you say "Yes" to today? We're heading to the mall for some rainy day play time. I might even say "YES" to the kids' requests for DONUTS!

From Massachusetts, declaring every day a "YES DAY!!!"

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Love Covers a Multitude

We live only eight miles from the college campus where we work, but we pass ample numbers of Dunkin' Donuts and church bulletin boards on our way. There are those faith communities like ours that use their bulletin boards for facts: "Church Fair, 10am Saturday." There are other communities that use their boards to provoke, to reach out, to draw in. Though Matt regularly asks, "Do they honestly get anyone through the door because a free pass to heaven was advertised outside?" something about the process seems to be satisfactory or fun for them. And hey, we certainly comment often enough on the clich├ęd messages they post.

In honor of Mother's Day, I suspect, one such bulletin board recently boasted, "Love Covers a Multitude." The words struck me--in part, the phrase sounded incomplete (a multitude of what??? sin??? is that the original phrase?); in part, the phrase struck true somewhere inside me. I felt the truth in motion yesterday when Matt and I both woke tired and, dare I say it? GRUMPY! Our children are in a cycle of very poor sleep, and despite the predictability of their current habits, it just doesn't feel good to go to bed at 12am, wake with Lucas at 2am, settle Kyra in sleeping bags on our floor at 3:30am, wake again with Lucas at 5am, decide to bring him to our bed where we will all wake unhappily at 7am, already about a half hour behind our "what we need to do to get to school/work on time" schedule. Feel free to refer me to Super Nanny or Nanny 911, suggest any number of helpful sleep resources....we know what we can and must do, and we haven't yet mustered the energy or desire to train our kids back to full nights of sleep. We are in coping mode, at least until commencement.

Anyway, I digress....Matt and I are both a bit on the selfish side, by nature, and we are also prone to being a bit negative when we are tired, so these exhausted mornings often leave us grumbling internally and sometimes externally about who got up at what times during the night, who is doing more to get the kids ready and moving, who should stop reading the cereal box and stand up to finish the lunches, who is ultimately at fault/to blame for our being late to work yet again....you can imagine the inner dialogue. Yesterday was no exception, and I could actually feel the friction between us, despite that neither of us had exchanged a word about who actually dared to sit down and eat breakfast as opposed to carrying something on the road, or who was taking the time to look up the address for the after-school program when that letter could easily be mailed from work.

After much coaxing and prodding for kids to get shoes on, coats on, teeth brushed, hair brushed, we were finally ready to depart. Loaded down with laptops and lunchboxes, I spontaneously turned toward Matt, said "Good morning," and gave him the kiss we both deserved to start our days. It was an hour and a half later than it should have been given, and prompted a day's worth of discussion with Kyra about the ways in which two consenting adults can kiss versus parent/child kisses or kid to kid kisses, but that brief moment in time did, indeed, cover a multitude. Ah, how little it takes to choose love, but often we overlook the opportunity.

Choose some love today....get some, give some, feel it deep within. Find all that it can cover in your life.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Remembering sunnier days





Too many consecutive days of indoor play....too much rain washing away flowers and grass seed....too many floods wiping out New England. We are grateful to be in dry shelter, safe from the worst of the storm, and concerned about the many, many people who are trying to save themselves, their homes, and their histories. Soon we know the sun will return (though not soon enough!). In the meantime, we remember what it felt like to be outdoors, hot, and very, very happy!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Where you lead, I will follow

In the liner notes for Carole King's The Living Room Tour, she describes how originally the song "Where you lead, I will follow" was written for an obviously yet-to-be liberated, pre-feminism woman following her man. After abandoning the song for a stretch because of her decreased connection to its meaning in this context, she was invited to rewrite and perform the song as the theme of Gilmore Girls, celebrating the connection between mothers and daughters. This video clip of Carole singing the updated version is a clear reminder why I list Carole King on the very short list of women whose lives I envy, but doesn't match the version on the album that actually is performed as a duet with her daughter, Louise Goffin.

When my own mother was alive, we rarely sang duets, and we certainly would have lacked the "hip" quality of Carole and Louise were we even to have attempted this song. Its meaning wouldn't have fit us then either. I was independent, certain to invest my life in a wider circle of friends and acquaintances....the daughter happy to leave home and ensure no one was following from behind. When my mom died only a month after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I was 20 years old--a girl, in my mind, who had simply left college for the weekend because her mom was sick and heading in for surgery. I wasn't at that moment in a relationship, I had no vision for my future, and it bothered me immensely to think I was going to (hopefully) graduate from college in a year and from that point forward my mother wouldn't have any idea where I was.

Though I knew rationally this wasn't the case, I believed in some magical fantasy world my mom could get in touch with me--she should "know" where I am at all times. When I returned to college for my senior year, I had powerful moments of realizing she might indeed know where I am. One night I returned to my room feeling sad and alone and wanting space, only to discover a crowd of had-been-friends (I had changed too much to really be part of any of my old crowds.) boisterously celebrating and spilling from room to room throughout our house. I retreated to the shower, sensing this was the only place I might truly be alone, and then locked myself inside my room, ensuring I locked the rest of the crowd out. I listened to music, wrote in my journal, and reflected on a conversation with my friend, Amy, whose mom had been sick with cancer longer than any of us cared to remember. She shared with me how she only prayed to God for peace. If she asked for her mom to be well, she was perpetually disappointed; if she asked not to have to go through the suffering any more, she feared her mom would die. Realizing she had no control over the circumstances of her mom's sickness, she could only ask God to somehow heal the unrest and uncertainty that clung tightly inside of her. Feeling just desperate enough to stop asking for my mother back (futile, but I did it nevertheless....), I said only four words as I lay aching in the dark: "God, give me peace."

Hours later I awoke from a dream and saw a grayish figure of my mom looking much as she would have when she was the mother of two very young daughters. The short, salt and pepper hair with which she had died was suddenly long and pure black, lifted from her face with a wide-band headband. I squinted my eyes, uncertain if I was still somewhere in a dream, but the harder I focused on her image, the more distant and blurry it became. If I simply remained still, accepting her presence as real, she was there. Though I didn't hear the words aloud, I received a message: "I will watch over you and your children always." Though I was that same 20 year old girl--grown seemingly years older in a few months time--and had no children or thought of them, I took the words as a gift. They continue to be in so many ways.

While I can count on one hand actual appearances of my mom after her death, the surprising moments of "coincidence" wherein I discover I am following in her footsteps are too numerous to count. Let me share just a few.... After leaving the safe confines of my college and moving our family belongings from the house where she had died, I was set adrift from my mother's knowledge of me. How would she reach me if she needed me? How would she even know where I was? I selected a graduate school that offered a few fabulous benefits--a program I loved, a tuition-granting assistantship, and proximity to the man I was certain I would spend my life with (and for once, I was right!). Though I knew in the back of my mind this university was in the city where my mother was raised, it wasn't a conscious thought for me; I had never known her family to be there, and to my memory had never visited there with her. Imagine my surprise when my father visited my new apartment, exclaiming minutes after his arrival, "Did you know your mom grew up just around the corner from here?" Hmmmm....maybe she could find me.

Two years later it was time for another move. I visited the campus that would become both home and work for Matt and me for the past ten years, certain I had never been there before. But a drive down main street felt oddly familiar. The final summer I had spent with my mother, we had attended a James Taylor concert at an outdoor, ampitheatre-style concert venue. Hoping to avoid the crush of traffic as we departed, we skirted right as the other cars piled up to turn left for the easy entrance to the highway. Where had that right turn taken us? Along a series of roads that ultimately passed the front of that campus....so indeed she might find me once again.

Two years more passed, and tiring of the 24 hour work life that accompanied living on campus, I took a new position at the college and we rented a home just eight miles away. Again, on my dad's first visit, he shared with me that we lived mere blocks from the very first school my mom served as a teacher....and five or so years after that, when we hired a new Administrative Assistant in my office, she discovered one day that she had been a student at this very school in the one and only year my mom taught there. She produced a yearbook and, sure enough, there was beautiful Phyllis. Without intention or knowledge on my part, I seem to keep following her path. She knows where I am; I am certain of it.

Matt and I are once again contemplating a move, hoping there might be a workable offer (or any offer at all!) after a fabulous campus visit yesterday. As I drove home, contemplating all the changes that would accompany this move were it to happen--new job, new state, new home, new community, new schools for the kids (eek--need to move quickly as kindergarten is bearing down on us....), I couldn't help but pause and think of my mom. Never before have I moved with the knowledge of her sojourns years before, so I can't expect I will now, but what if this time there aren't any? What if this is the move that takes me beyond her life, out of her reach?

Perhaps it is now my time to lead, trusting she will follow....

On Motherless Daughters Day and every day, I remember. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

I am Jennifer, daughter of Phyllis Eileen Cash Sanborn (1947-1993).

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Pain of Perfectionism

Author and columnist Anna Quindlen describes one of those unforgiveable but inevitable parenting moments when her daughter walked out of her school and shared the news that she had received a 97% on an exam. Her mother's first comment? "What did you get wrong?"

My parents never demanded perfection, thank goodness, but they always challenged my sister and me to "do our best" or "work to our potential." Time and time again we demonstrated that we were capable of perfection--or at least working/learning to the test in order to earn top marks--and gradually it came to feel as though being a lifetime valedictorian was a must, simply because I could. I've had more than my share of momentary knock-downs, instilling a sense of humility and reality. One such moment I get to share often, as it took place during my graduation from college, and I happen to work presently with college students. Throughout college I had held a 3.9 or higher grade point average, the GPA required to graduate Summa Cum Laude. I couldn't have told you what the words meant, but I knew it was what I had to be. Imagine my surprise as I was walking across the graduation platform listening to the words, "Jennifer _______, Magna Cum Laude." I'm amazed the photo doesn't show my jaw on the ground as I'm shaking hands with our college president. I was convinced they had announced it wrong, offended that I wasn't getting my just recognition, until I opened my diploma folder and received one of those oh-so-tacky notes indicating my diploma was being held for new printing with the proper graduation honors and would be sent in the mail. My final GPA, all thanks to a B+ on my senior thesis? 3.895--I had missed my anticipated honors by five thousandsth of a point. And you know what? Not a thing changed. I was still me, I was still loved by the same people, my graduate school acceptance wasn't rescinded, and so on. I was glad I had missed it by such a miniscule, ridiculous amount, as it drove the point home--landing on either side of that 3.9 mark was meaningless. What had I actually LEARNED along the way? Hmmmm....much better question.

Perfection in my present life takes different forms. I felt like a very natural mother before becoming pregnant with my second child. I had never raised my voice, I felt creative and stimulated by being with my child, I felt fairly able to balance my part-time work with my full-time mothering. Then, I learned I was pregnant only days after my in-laws were in a near-fatal car accident on their way to visit us. My mother-in-law lived in our home for seven weeks while my father-in-law was hospitalized in various area hospitals. Day after day as I swallowed the continuous bile floating around my motion sick mouth, we were shuttling between home, work, the hospital, and a dreadful sense came over us that our previous parenting confidence was rapidly diminishing. Truth be told, it's been diminishing ever since! No, I have long since let go of parenting perfection. And perfection as a partner? I'm wise enough not to strive for this either. There are too many apologies exchanged in any given week in our house to presume I have such an unrealistic sense of myself or my relationship.

I could actually sometimes argue that perfection has all but been scoured from my soul, but then it rears its ugly head again. In February, soon after starting this blog, I shared that I had been contacted by super-duper university to interview for a high profile position. After a long, long day of interviews I returned home only to burst into tears within minutes of walking through the door. Though every paper aspect of this job was right, the heart aspect was simply not--I was not prepared to make the personal and familial sacrifices required to take it on. Day after day passed and I wasn't contacted, and I became more and more relieved that I was not likely the final candidate for the job. I knew in my gut that it wasn't right, but I was worried that the rightness of how it sounded and looked would be more of a temptation than I could resist.

Any remaining worry was finally put to rest last night when I received an email indicating an internal candidate had been chosen for and had accepted the position. Along with the email came some words of feedback I had requested, as I have an upcoming interview for a similar position with another university. The words of praise were strong and many, and there were only a handful of comments reflecting areas where I was not as strong. Interestingly, all the areas of concern were out of my control--I haven't yet directed my own program/office/center (true--no way to make the case another way), I don't have recent experience at a large, complex institution (true--I've worked at a small liberal arts college for ten years, can't alter how that looks), and so on. To simply recap, I was learning that a job I did not want had been offered to a candidate I had met and really enjoyed, I received heaps of praise on my experiences and how I presented myself, I learned a few key facts that shut me out of the process and knew they were beyond my control, and yet, I still felt discouraged and had a little nagging "What could I have done differently?" thought all evening. Perfectionism--it's ugly and dehumanizing and manages to always keep me from feeling I am simply enough as I am.

What is uglier for me now is seeing the same perfectionism in Kyra at such a young age. She has a voracious appetite for books and letters and words, and we go through reams of paper (environmentalists, forgive us--we attempt to use recycled as often as we can!) with this budding young author/artist. Often she will request that we spell for her words she wants to write and include with her pictures. Recently for teacher appreciation week she was writing the word "TEACHER" and had reached the "R" with ease. For some reason, though, the look of the "R" just set her off. She burst into tears, dragged the marker with a heavy hand across all the letters, ripped the paper and said, "NOW I HAVE TO START ALL OVER!" Neither Matt nor I had seen a thing wrong with the letter. It's as though she has this genetic wiring to expect the impossible of herself and to sometimes give up trying at all when she can't reach her aim. A few nights later she was writing once again and stumbled across a couple of letters. She corrected herself quietly and looked up at me saying, "I didn't get upset at all, Mommy. Look at how nicely I fixed those." Improvement? Maybe. But I suspect she had just shifted her expectations from the perfection of letters to the perfection of pleasing her mother. She knew I was bothered by her earlier reaction, and she was simply trying to meet my expectations.

How on earth can I let my children know they are enough, just as they are, when there is a nagging sense I still carry that I must justify my existence with achievement??? One of those imponderable questions I'll be thinking on for a long, long time....

Monday, May 08, 2006

By the skin of my teeth

Kyra lost her third tooth last night--this one aided along by a gentle tug from Mommy. I hadn't intended to pull it out, but it was clearly hanging by the slightest of roots and gave way with a minimum of effort. Immediately after she seemed disappointed she hadn't fully pulled it herself. "We did it together, didn't we?" followed by, "Did I really pull it out?" (wish, wish, hope, hope....) Matt had managed to miss both of the first two coming out, so we were delighted to celebrate as a family. Pull out the camera, smiles all around, grab Auntie from the front room so she can see, etc. We need little cause for a party around this house!

I think we do celebrate the loss of her teeth with such enthusiasm because it sets Kyra apart. She is an introverted child, and her reserved personality makes her hesitant to intentionally choose to stand out. And yet, she is human and a child, so she craves attention; if it comes to her in doses she can appreciate, she just laps it up. Because she is the only child in both her schools to have lost teeth, she is very unique in this way and seems to enjoy being the "only one." And so we celebrate--including a special trip to her favorite Dunkin' Donuts this morning. How a lost tooth equates to a donut is beyond me, but she made a strong case and they were already running behind with little time to sit down for breakfast....so a donut it was.

Without initiating extensive conversation because I know this is an act of great controversy (gosh, is it any wonder we can't achieve world peace when we squabble over meaningless choices.....), I will simply share that we have Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy in our lives only as wonderful stories and imagined versions of what is real. It is a choice that feels good for us and works for our family, so no need to worry that my kids are being robbed of their true childhood! Anyway, all this is to say that Kyra makes choices about how the imaginary Tooth Fairy visits. Her vision was that Daddy would come in and take away the tooth and Mommy would come in and leave some money. We hustled her off to bed with promises that indeed we as the Tooth Fairies would visit, and then promptly forgot. Oh, not entirely--it did occur to me at about 10:30pm before I took a dive into blogs and email and all the distractions that the Internet brings. I then strolled up to bed at 11:30pm not even stopping for my customary kiss good night--not even seeing the tooth pillow peeking out at me as a not-so-subtle reminder.

I awoke with a start at 7:30am (the kids have been going to bed late, late, late and actually sleeping in....this could work for me!), ignoring the insistent Lucas next to me seeking a book or toy or parental attention of any sort. "Matt...." I hissed. "Did you put in any money?" Without nearly my level of panic and worry he replied, "No, I thought you came up and did that last night." Kyra is a light sleeper anyway, but she was also due to wake at any moment. I grabbed five quarters off Matt's dresser, ignoring that we typically put a one dollar bill and quarter in there to introduce her to the green stuff, and tiptoed my way across our creaky 1910 floor. I slowly opened the door, reached around the corner, grabbed the pillow and made my exchange. I escaped to the bedroom, dropping the tooth in my jewelry box, and climbed quickly into bed before she could roll over and realize what had just taken place. Within minutes we heard the customary rolls around the bed and the jingling of coins. Though we had nearly forgotten, she clearly had not--that pillow was her first stop. Phew.... Until next time....

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Ode to Mud and Baths and Spring's Dirty Pleasures

We just returned from Ward's Berry Farm, an agricultural paradise offering endless berry fields, a "farm stand" (grown large enough to function as a small grocery store, deli and smoothie shop), old rusty horse-shaped swings with squeaks loud enough to scare off any hungry wildlife visitors, a giant sandbox where both of my kids learned to either take turns or stand their ground depending on the day, and barns full of rabbits, goats, sheep, and cows. It is one of our favorite destinations, particularly this time of year when the baby animals are still small and sucking voraciously for momma's milk. I remember once watching a mother sheep literally kick one of her lambs off her udder; I admired her, as I only wished to have the courage to do the same to my ten month old who was still nursing around the clock! We had been at Ward's only a half hour or so when Lucas took a dive into a deep, thick mud puddle created by the tractor ruts and a recent rain.

In honor of the very dirty kids I just removed from the bathtub, I offer below a piece about an earlier spring mud bath. One of the pleasures of my daytime work has been the creation of a writer's workshop featuring staff and faculty facilitators and a small but talented group of writers who are put through their paces every month or so. The piece below was one of our ten minute pieces--ten open minutes to write on whatever prompt the facilitator presents. In mid-March we were asked to write about our most vivid recent memory. Here's what I shared:

The warm "spring will arrive" day beckoned to Lucas and Kyra, and they pleaded with me to go outdoors. The sprawling grassy yard and surrounding hay fields at Grandma and Grandpa's house were calling. From the bay window above the always-filled sink I could see the birds on the rows of feeders springing up and down from the red maple and the free-standing clothes line in the back yard. A woodpecker rattled away on the trunk of the maple as a brilliant red cardinal swooped in to the feeder.

We dressed for the mud--boots, winter coats, hats and gloves--and trudged down the splintering wood steps toward the shed out back. Our feet were swallowed up as we walked in the reddish-brown mud hidden beneath a surface of brilliant green--early grass. I was leading the kids toward the pond but they were quick to discover the patch of snow protected by the shade of the old shop. Dipping in one toe and then stomping in with the next, Kyra shrieked with delight at the splash as her foot thrust the snow into the puddle just below. Looking up for permission, she searched visually for my approval. No question was asked, however, so no answer was given. I was waiting to see how quickly the delight would fade.

Lucas came running around the lean-to-like back corner of the shop where Grandpa keeps his fishing boat, and he marched into his sister's discovered puddle without hesitation. The dirty brown water flew through the air with his insistent marching in his now soaked and heavy purple boots. I called out warnings about an impending bath, all the while trying to sell them on the wonders of the awaiting pond. I turned and walked, hopeful they would follow but certain they would not. With a sudden trip, Lucas was kneeling in the muck-filled water, cold and growing ever colder as the slushy water quickly dampened his pants. The shrieks of laughter turned quickly to angry cries of surprise and betrayal. It was time to draw that bath.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Monsters on my mind

Kyra has been waking during the night, first coming into our room to join us in our seemingly giant king-sized bed, and now, at our insistence, to sleep in her puffy cloud sleeping bag on our floor. Despite the warmth and size of our bed, it already feels crowded with two large adults, the now-grown-to-two collection of body pillows that began when I was pregnant, and the occasional arrival of Lucas during the night as well. Though we previously acquiesced to Kyra's room anxieties by providing both a CD (Mommy singing!) and the closet light all through the night for comfort, her worry about "monsters" seems only to grow. I'm not entirely certain what to credit or blame--the likely culprit is "Monsters, Inc. on Ice," a spontaneous trip provided by a day care teacher who happened to have some extra tickets. The show was months ago, though, and didn't seem to bother Kyra after we initially saw it. The monster worry is in full swing, though.

It begins with the bedtime routine. After bath, pjs, teeth brushed, hair brushed and occasionally chap stick and lotion, Kyra picks out her clothes, selects some stories and climbs into bed as we turn out the overhead light and switch to the more subtle and shaded light in her headboard shelves. With stories and prayers completed, we turn off the headboard light and lie in the dark together--if you can call it that, with the cracks of light from folding closet doors illuminating much of the room. We typically stay for two songs on the CD, decide whether or not to give in to the request for a bonus song, and slowly extricate ourselves from the room with a backrub, a return for an extra hug and kiss, or, on difficult nights, a stormy departure in which we insist we have already stayed long enough! (I should point out that "we" merely means Matt and I take turns--it is rare that we are both with either of the kids together at bedtime. We usually split up, or we are on our own while the other person is on the requisite "night out" that week or working.) When the monster fears kick in, Kyra clings to me, arms wrapped tightly around my neck, begging to sleep in our room because, "I'm afraid of my room. I'm afraid of the monsters." In theory with calm and reassuarance, in actuality with annoyance and frustration, I remind Kyra that she is very creative with a very, very active imagination, and that this gives her the power to believe in things that aren't real. "There aren't monsters, honey, " I tell her, while my own worrisome mind scrolls through large color images of the three registered sex offenders near our street or licks of flame slowly devouring our home, drawing ever more near to Kyra's room where I have expressly forbidden her to leave "unless it's an emergency." Will she remember fire is an emergency? Will she be afraid to come in?

My words tell her monsters aren't real, but what I really mean is that her monsters aren't real. The ones I imagine--the monster of fear that lives within my daughter (likely inherited from her worry-filled momma or auntie), the predatorial monsters that lurk on our streets, the family history of sexual inappropriateness that sometimes positions the most dangerous characters in our memories or even as occasional visitors to our home--these monsters feel very real indeed. So I tuck her in with reassurances that feel like half-truths, uncertain whether I am more guilty about being less than honest or about unconsciously transferring to her this sense that life is something to approach with caution and apprehension rather than abandon and glee.

Last night Kyra appeared on my side of the bed at 2am, stage-whispering stories of a picture in her room that was talking to her. I tucked her into her sleeping bag, deciding wisely to not mention that she will have no television or videos until she again sleeps in her room all night (our current "logical consequence" to keep the imagination at least turned down if not turned off at night), and wondered about this supposed picture. Her story by morning remained the same, and at Matt's prompting, she even drew for us the picture that was to have floated in the air of her room as the four colorful subjects spoke noisily to one another and to her. I briefly thought about describing the few times I have had the privilege of witnessing visually the spirit of my mother, but wasn't certain these visitors to her room felt friendly in the way that my mother was in my encounters. I wasn't feeling certain of much of anything at all.

Monsters are definitely on our minds....

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

And the tributes continue....

Today, check out my friend Kristen and her brother bantering playfully and lovingly about their mom at Home on the Fringe.

Their post reminds me of a conversation I had with Matt the other night. After a particularly tough round with Kyra at dinner and bedtime I said sarcastically to Matt, "Let's hope I die while my children still like me." (I was amazed at Kyra's loving resilience yet again--how quickly she returns to affection after being seriously angry with me.) Matt's response? "You'd better get working on that. You're running out of time."

Ah, mothering is the hardest and best role of my life....

Afternoon edit: More phenomenal tributes to phenomenal women at Mr. Big Dubya and Cheeky's Hideaway. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

May is for Mothers

With my thanks to Kara at Cape Buffalo, I'm participating in a monthlong blogfest honoring all those who mother. I will post links to all of the phenomenal tributes I manage to find and get my hands on. Today, treat yourself to Misfit Hausfrau and bring along a tissue. The images and words of her "Mom" post are powerful and heartfelt.

I have had the fortune of writing about and to my mom for many years--13 to be exact. After her death in 1993, I began a project writing letters--some private, some shared--that either speak to her or about her. Inspired by Misfit Hausfrau's garden images and a fresh shower of rain currently dousing our newly planted grass seed, I offer this recent letter about spring flowers.

Dear Mom,

We planted bulbs last fall, a long-considered project but one we never managed to make the time for. I would look with envy at the neighbors’ yards in springtime as spotty patches of green would appear, working their way toward the sun, blossoms closed tight one morning and the next in colorful bloom. To plant in the fall, the end result always seemed too distant. To plant in the spring, the time always seemed to have passed. And of course my perfectionism would get in the way—if I don’t have the whole yard planned, flower by flower, why bother to plant at all? Then, there was the uncertainty of it all. Each fall we would return to work at the college, wondering yet again if we were in the right place, serving our purpose, engaging in meaningful work. What if we moved from the house and never saw the bulbs blossom at all?

This fall, however, was different. We were getting a little bit of sleep (something new since Lucas’s arrival, as you know!), and we happened to be in the Home Depot on a night in late fall when they were practically giving bulbs away in thanks for our removing them from the store. We planted late, late one night under cover of darkness (so much for perfection!) as frost and Thanksgiving both seemed to threaten their arrival. And the uncertainty? Well, our lives are no less stable. We knew we might be too late or never see the results of our late night escapade, but we decided to hope for the best and await some spring surprises.

Those surprises are appearing, day after day. First to arrive were the daffodil stems, still tightly closed leaves around the yellow flowers due soon. Some tiger-striped crocuses were peeping up as we drove home from nursery school on Monday. What will I see today as I round the corner onto our street?

The earth comes to life with such ease and grace, year after year after year. As Kyra and Lucas run and toddle to the front lawn each day to see the minute changes, I realize this is a lesson about far more than some simple flowers. They are learning the truth of life—the cycles of birth, growth, death, decay, and rebirth. I wrote in my journal when you were dying that I didn’t know whether to dance in delight or stomp on the flowers bursting forth from our lawn as you lay dying inside the house. The force of life is relentless. We resist futilely, or we let the sheer power, uncertainty and beauty of it all wash over us. This year, I am letting the waters flow….

Jennifer

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Riding the April Wave

Working at a college or university in September is demanding; working at a college or university in April is out of control. Every student, staff or faculty member with any remaining budgetary dollars hosts a significant speaker, complete with the requisite pre-talk dinner, post-talk reception, and ample cheesecake and coffee to go along. Despite lots of cries about the early run-down of most of the campus-wide funding sources, April is keeping true to its reputation. It is the cruelest month.

In the midst of the intellectual marathon at work, we went once again to Auntie's house for the Boston Marathon. Though she has been in two different apartments in recent years, both have offered easy walking access to the marathon route. (The first year we went, Kyra had learned to clap just the day before. She was just in time, as true fans take seriously the charge to cheer on the strongholds and the stragglers alike--hours worth of clapping!) After too little sleep of late, I was dragging as I drove up for the marathon. Despite that the kids had been with my sister overnight, I hadn't slept enough (again!), and I found myself grumbling and asking why I really go to the marathon. All I could see was the hassle--the traffic, the closed down streets keeping us locked into place for hours longer than comfortable, the occasional vomiting runner coming a bit too close for my puke phobic self (too close being within a mile or two). At the end of the day, all I could remember was the triumph of watching people stretch themselves to physical, mental and emotional capacity not previously thought possible. It is the perfect space to talk about human diversity with the kids--it's rare to find such a colorful display of diverse national identities, skin colors, and physical abilities. I tear up each year when I see Dick and Rick Hoyt, a father/son pair running now for 25 plus years. When Rick was asked via facilitated communication what he would do if he had the ability to run and walk (he is profoundly disabled), he said that he would push his dad. Mere words cannot capture the emotion of the moment. The roar of applause as Dick comes running through, hours and hours into pushing his child in his wheelchair, is palpable. They are both actively engaged in the competition--the pursuit of the finish line--and every heart surges toward that line with them. (As a side note, the Hoyts also participate in triathlons. Try telling yourself you can't squeeze in that half hour walk when you look at their achievements!)

My sister's latest apartment is near a college, and a mere handful of miles from the finish line. Students in off-campus apartments line the street near her home, and their energy is palpable. (Her previous apartment was about 7 miles further back; the race had a completely different feel from the mid-point.) One brave crowd set large speakers in their open windows and set the CD player to repeat Eye of the Tiger by Survivor....for six hours....with the only interruption being brief forays into "Another One Bites the Dust" and "We are the Champions." You can guess which of those was better received! There was something to the driving Rocky III beat that had runners looking skyward, lifting their arms, pressing on despite the pain of the hills just behind them. I will always feel that beat when I think of this year's marathon run. I loved it--every minute of it. Made me want to run again....sort of....maybe....or at least remember how much I enjoyed when I briefly did so.

Other April ventures? I attended the Power of Dialogue training offered by the Public Conversations Project, and was again reminded why this is an organization I someday hope to work for and with. Their thoughtful, considered approach to crafting dialogues across polarizing differences gave me hope again. Part of the three day training is participation in a simulated dialogue around a constructed case study. This particular case was a church divided over homosexuality, and I had the fortune of playing a character role in the simulation. I have strong personal feelings based on how I identify and my wish for my faith community, and was able to channel some of these feelings to really play my character. Though my role was different enough from my own life to stretch me in new directions, there were some shared core beliefs. I found myself not so much acting, but dwelling within my character, listening with her ears, and speaking so others with very different views might be able to hear her voice. Loved every minute of it. No matter your views, get to know PCP. The exposure is life-changing.

Who said anything about March Madness? Around here it's April, and we're rounding the corner toward the much-desired May. I've been invited by Kara over at Cape Buffalo to participate in a collaborative blogging tribute to mothers and mothering throughout the month of May. Look for more coming soon. I love the ways blogs open new doors, conversations and friendships.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Elton Junior?


Am I the only one who sees the resemblance between our fabulous rocker and Sir Elton John? LOVE this child!

Monday, April 17, 2006

A lifetime ago

Our wonderful children stayed with their even-more-wonderful "auntie" last night, and Matt and I had our first night alone in our home in 2-3 years. We had arrived late for our evening Easter dinner and by the time the kids were even close to settling, it was already well into the evening we had imagined for ourselves, but there was still something oddly "light" about walking out to a car without kids and carry-alls. We barely spoke on the ride home--Matt's style, but not typically mine--and I think we were both just stunned by the silence. No "But I'm not tired!" or "Lucas is kicking me!" We returned to the house at around 10:30pm. Did we rush to the movies? Order late-night pizza? Snuggle in alone on the couch? Nope--in part because we're pretty good about doing these when the kids are around. Instead we folded and put away laundry, without "help" and without worry about waking one child or another. There is almost always a half-full basket of laundry in our room, waiting for someone to be awake or out of their room or ready to help. Last night we went to bed with empty laundry baskets and it was pure bliss.

The challenges of being alone? Hearing the rumble of the train in the night without the kids' CDs and noisemakers to drown it out....Waking at all the usual "Lucas is up--can you get him?" times because my body is conditioned for that....and one of the oddest, proving the power of behavioral condition, leaving the gate at the top of our steep staircase unlatched because there was no child here to inadvertently tumble their way into an ER visit. How did we indulge in our morning? We stayed in bed until 7:50am (unheard of!), and again, changed the laundry. Ah....who knew the freedom of movement we've been missing these last five years? The clothes we could have washed and put away!

I'm bound for auntie's house now and looking forward to the smiles, hugs and voices so missing from our house this morning....but I'll take another night like this when I get it!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Promises made real

Our church published a book of devotionals for Lent; today's Easter Sunday devotional is below. (Matt and I joke that I am now the devotional "closer" for our church as my selection for the Advent book was printed for Christmas Eve and this Lenten piece was chosen for Easter!)

But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay." (Matthew 28: 5-6)

In March 1993 we learned without any true anticipation that my mother was sick with pancreatic cancer and dying rapidly. Life changed overnight, in more ways than I could ever recount in a few simple sentences. I withdrew from college to live at home, and the members of my family took turns spending time with my mother, soaking up her presence while she was still with us. We sought her forgiveness for past mistakes, asked for advice for the too-long future we would face without her, and expressed our love for the woman she had become. This time was deeply spiritual, and I expressed to God the full range of emotions I was feeling—the anger, the sense of betrayal, the surprising moments of peace and clarity, and inexplicable gratitude in the midst of agonizing sadness. It seemed fitting that my mother entered the final days of her life on the eve of Palm Sunday, asking us to pray with her, awaiting her own triumphal entry into the heavenly city. She died on Tuesday of Holy Week, and we moved through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday feeling as never before Jesus’ pleas to his friends and to God, and the tremendous grief enveloping Mary, Mary Magdalene and the disciples.

My mother’s memorial service was held the day before Easter, and we were gifted with tremendous music in her honor. She had been a music teacher at the local high school, and the school choirs were joined in performance by a community chorus and soloists. When a dear family friend and renowned Gospel singer filled the crowded church with the strains of “Rise Again,” the sound and message both reverberated through the air:

’Cause I’ll rise again.
Ain’t no power on earth can tie me down.
Yes I’ll rise again.
Death can’t keep me in the ground.

Yes, indeed, he had risen…and so, too, will we. I believed it then, in my moments of greatest loss, and I believe it still today.

God, thank you for the promises made real for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Toileting troubles

Is it our almost two year old with potty paranoia? No, no, no! Quite sadly, it is the almost five year old who has been reasonably happy peeing, pooping and flushing since she was 2 1/2 years old who has now decided she hates toilets. Kyra has had occasional panic about flushing--an overflowing toilet at her day care once set her to avoiding beverages and holding her pee long enough to make any camel mama quite proud (and her human mama quite concerned). She has never been a fan of public toilets and those awful automatic flushers that threaten the too-slow bum with a whirlpool bath. This hasn't been of great concern to me, however, because her father still doesn't use public toilets unless it is absolutely unavoidable. He seems relatively well-adjusted, this fact notwithstanding, so I have simply assumed a mild toilet aversion is genetic to his side of the family. What has been a mild aversion has become quite major, however, with shrieks, tears and cries heard around southeastern Massachusetts as we attempt to simply have Kyra try to pee. She has taken to waking us in the middle of the night when she needs to use the bathroom because "the water level is rising." Prophetic words from Noah, calling all the animals to the ark? Not quite--simply concern that the unflushed pee from one of her parents trying to quietly exit the bathroom without waking two light sleepers will suddenly wash over the side and....what? Wash away the lower part of her body? Slowly burn the skin off the soles of her feet like spilled acid in a lab? Turn her into the potty monster, haunting the dreams of similarly afflicted kids? We have no idea! Matt thought he had cured her of the fear through an evening of strategizing. He splashed some toilet water on the floor (his idea, not mine!) and showed her there was nothing there but water. He helped her to consider where she could climb to if the toilet did overflow--perhaps a stool, or in the tub, or run squealing from the bathroom. Toss a towel down if you're feeling extra brave! Information seems not to have been the cure, however, as the fretful tears continue when we ask the seemingly benign question, "Did you flush?"

My sister tells me that phobias are simply a random receptacle for all your fears, anxieties and worries. I considered this and shared this possibility with Kyra, asking, "Is there something else you are really afraid of? Are you worried about Mommy or Daddy or something scary happening?" Without hesitation she said, "No, I just hate toilets." Hmmm....any suggestions anyone?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

When Jesus is your neighbor

We love our 1910 Victorian home--each room is filled with personality, and there is tremendous potential for the future. Our yard, though very, very small, also reflects the years of work Matt, in particular, has put into it. Living downtown in an up and coming suburban Boston commuter town has its advantages. We can travel on foot to the commuter rail, the YMCA, the local zoo, and a series of parks are in easy walking distance. Given that we are in southeastern Massachusetts, I should also note that we can comfortably walk to three Dunkin' Donuts. City government continues to threaten that new life will come to town, and we are hopeful that if we sit tight, our home will soon be the place to live!

So what's not to like? Why do we wonder some days if we will live in our home for another month, much less another 5-10 years? Our neighborhood.... We have few connections and relationships, and the transient renter population that occupies most of our street doesn't help for commitment to community life. Though our yard is small (1/10 of an acre), it is 1/10 of an acre more than any of the neighboring apartment buildings; kids play regularly on the street, eliciting varied states of annoyance depending on the day/night and the neighbor throwing glares out toward the street corner. Drug sales seem to be down--a plus, given that we were regular callers to the local police department in our first two years in the house. Most troublesome, though? Three known sex offenders live within a half a mile of our home. If you are family and know our address, you can visit this website to get their color photographs. We will soon be posting them for the benefit of babysitters, and perhaps we will again be known to the local 911, though we certainly hope not.... We console ourselves by saying, "Better to know who they are than to live in a supposedly safe cul de sac, unaware of the upper middle class neighbor who is silently molesting the neighborhood children," but it is unnerving to teach your four year old daughter she must ride her bike to the back of the house when person X is walking down the street. (It goes without saying that neither child is ever outdoors on their own; grown-up chaperones are required at every turn!)

We have considered at length what it means to live in this neighborhood, where obviously a larger number of the fringe element of society can find affordable housing. As much as we love being able to live a walkers' life, there are many who must walk of necessity. If you can't afford car or bus transportation, our street is a great place to live. Just over the fence from us is a large apartment building that seems, for the most part, well-maintained, and the building seems to draw friendly, responsible neighbors. The couple with whom we essentially share a yard (both patches of grass are small enough that the fence is a mere formality implying privacy where there is none) have rented this particular apartment for a couple of years. They have two cats and a dog whom our children adore. We appreciate getting pets without the responsibility. One of them has a grandson just a bit older than Lucas, so we occasionally have him over to play when he is visiting. Our relationship is cordial, and though our conversation rarely extends past the weather, I feel as though they look out for us and we for them. Though their space is small, they often host friends seemingly down on their luck. Some days there is a steady stream of new faces stopping in to get under a roof for the night, escape a drunken significant other, or take a hot shower. I get nervous sometimes, knowing both the potential for risk with unknown people just over the chain link fence, and of course I am perpetually uncomfortable with everyone standing outside smoking. (We estimate 90% of our neighbors smoke; this is not an exaggeration. Imagine trying to convince your child that this is not an okay possibility for her future when she is surrounded by the act as normal and prevalent.) Matt and I often wish we could pick our house up from the foundation and drive it to a more predictable, middle class neighborhood; we feel like the cigarettes, the sex offenders and the shifty neighborhood visitors are a potential danger to our kids, and our responsibility, first and foremost, is to keep them safe.

When I separate the question of our young, impressionable children, however, our neighborhood intrigues me. On multiple occasions I have carelessly left the minivan unlocked in the driveway with a portable DVD player sitting just inside. I have sometimes left my keys stuck in the lock when trying to get myself, two snowpants-clad kids and a load of groceries in through the back door. I have even been known to drop my wallet unknowingly just outside the car, only to go out hours later and make the surprise discovery. (I'm knocking on wood as I say this and voicing many a silent prayer....) We have never experienced any sort of break-in or threat, despite that we live in just the sort of neighborhood where this would likely happen. Sure, the drug dealer across the street was stabbed once, but it was far down the street near Dunkin' Donuts #1, and the police have responded quickly on those rare occasions when we have felt the need to call. When I think about where Jesus might live if he came to our town tomorrow, I'm quite certain he would stop first at our neighbors just over the fence. While Matt and I like to imagine ourselves among the faithful, I suspect we would be the pious members of established religions that Jesus would be calling out. From all I've read of Jesus, he would feel most at home with the workers next door, drinking a few too many beers before heading home on a Friday evening. (I don't know that Jesus would partake; these guys just seem like his crowd.) He might rent a room at the boarding house down the block serving presently as a safe haven for one of the known sex offenders. Occasionally he might wander into one of those safe cul de sacs, calling out warnings and urging a change in direction, but I suspect he would be picked up quickly by our city's finest and carted back downtown. Despite my daily consideration of how I might live as Jesus did, and my regular admiration of his inclusivity, I suspect he actually made a pretty annoying neighbor....always hanging with that fringe element and making himself at home with those neighbors who make us most uncomfortable. Though I still believe my call to keep my children safe is my first priority, and I'll make future choices in accordance with this call, this neighborhood is a living example of the radical Jesus I believe walked the earth. And if he really is to come again, I suspect we're living with a front row seat for some of the houses he would be first to visit.