Sunday, December 19, 2010

Birthday Musings

I am 60! It is incredible to me, but I am.  It has been a birthday to remember and cherish for the rest of my life.  It started the day before, when I received a package in the mail from Jessica.  She made me a beautiful plaque, with a handwritten poem about my hands that moved me deeply.  She is a gifted writer and I treasure each of the many poems from her. It was sad for both Jess and I that she couldn’t be here to celebrate, due to her work schedule, and the distance. We had a nice long chat in the morning, while Kailyn and David were buying out CostCo!

Kailyn gifted me literally all week with her presence.  She was here to help decorate and put in many, many uncomplaining hours to help me prepare for the party.  She set up the Snow Village houses, cleaned, baked cookies and creatively managed to take a huge stack of pictures and design an eye-catching display on the frig.  I loved it and appreciated her every day for being here.  Her final gift of the day was when she and Nick told me they would be my clean up crew!  They worked quickly and the kitchen was restored to sparkling while I sat with my feet up and read my wonderful birthday cards!

The party itself exceeded my wildest imagination.  It was an eclectic group of family, long time friends from childhood, friends made through my children’s connections, and through church.  There were friends formed through book group and those I’ve worked with and exercised with.  It was crowded and noisy and I loved it!  There were times when I was literally overwhelmed by the sheer crush of bodies in this small house, and deeply touched by the people who came, whether for minutes or hours, to celebrate with me. As I listened to the laughter and the buzz of conversation, I realized my dream when I first thought about having a party had come true. I had gathered friends and family together and no matter what the connections were to me, my friends and family made new connections amongst themselves.  While it was an open house, the joy of seeing that many stayed over several hours was reassurance of the rightness of the day . . . people wanted to be here, and wanted to stay.  I loved that!

Another bonus for the day was that I had asked people to bring donations for Open House Ministries, a homeless shelter downtown, and the generosity was heartwarming. People came with bags of clothing, food, personal toiletries, cash and checks.  Just for fun, I weighed the food and it came to over 136 pounds! It will feel so good to me when we deliver these items on Monday.  

This was the first time I ever planned a birthday party for myself, and while it seemed a little self centered, it was the right thing for me to do and the right time.  I looked forward to it during the planning and preparation stage, and I will look back forever with precious memories of those who who able to  share my day with me.  There were many sweet surprises and it felt good to bask in the love of those I have loved and cared about over my 60 years of living here in Vancouver.  

My heart and soul feel satisfied, and it is good.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

December 16

December 16, 2010 ~ Five years ago today, I was at the hospital with David, watching my son breathe with the help of machines, being told there is no brain activity.  I was numb, disbelieving, in shock, so we came home and told the girls and we all got ready to go to work and school.

I had the foresight to secure a sub for the afternoon, thinking I would be able to go on as usual for the morning. On my way to work, Chris came to me, I don’t know how to explain it, or understand it, but he verbally came to me, out loud, and told me, “Mom, I love you.  I didn’t mean to do it. I’m sorry.” I heard his voice, and he was crying, I could tell he was crying, and I drove to school sobbing so hard I could hardly see to drive. Luckily, Judi came to my room, set me straight, sent me home.

I called Pam and said I wanted to go back to the hospital, could she come get me?  She could and did.  Thank God for Pam. Kelli met us somewhere, I don’t remember where and we went back to the hospital and waited for organ recipients to be found, and signed paperwork and watched Chris breathe, with the help of machines. 

Dozens of people showed up all day.  Many close friends and family members came to honor Chris and say their good-byes.  His forever friends, Cory and Bill, hugged me and we cried together for the loss of someone we loved so much. They thanked me for giving them their best friend, and I thanked them for always being there. 

I stood by my beloved son's side, holding his hand, kissing his face, marveling at the little tiny bullet hole he inflicted in just the right place, to take his pain away.  I understood him wanting to get away from his pain, but in doing so, he left us all inconsolable in our pain.  I rubbed his feet, kissed his feet and sobbed at the loss of my only son, reminded of the story in the bible of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.

As I sit here now, writing and crying, I think I should get out pictures, but then realize, I don’t need pictures.  My son’s face is imbedded in my memory and I can sit here and watch his face, from birth to death, in my mind, as clear as if I was with him. And, should I forget, I can just look up at the Christmas tree, and see his charming smile over the years, as there are ornaments hanging with his sweet face.

In two days I will be 60.  For the past five years I've hated my birthday, as it just reminds me of my loss. I’ve outlived my mom by 30 years, and I find it disconcerting that she died at 30 and her oldest grandson died at 30, also.  

But, I’m having a party.  I’m surrounding myself with people I love, and who love me.  I am celebrating that I choose life, that I choose to go on, that I am a survivor, on so many different levels.  And I am humbled by the fact that God has a plan for my life, in spite of my own poor choices. I have miraculously survived two horrible car accidents; I slipped off a dock and inexplicably came back up between two walkways, instead of knocking myself out and drowning. I have survived the loss of my mother as a child, and the loss of my son. I realized a life long dream of becoming a teacher at the crowning age of 51, and love my job (most of the time J).  I am a miracle, I am loved, and I am worthy of celebration.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Thoughts on Celebrating Life . . . Even When it’s Gone

Today would have been Chris’ 35th birthday.  I woke up this morning first around 2 am, remembering labor, and fear, and excitement at being on the brink of bringing my first child into this world.  Eventually, I fell back asleep and woke again just after 6 am, right about the time Chris was born, via emergency c-section.  My first thoughts when I saw him were, “oh my God, I have a deformed child.”  He was bent backwards like a fishhook, with his head touching his rear end.  I fell asleep finally, exhausted from 24 hours of labor, worrying about this little boy who would be forever looking up, if he ever managed to walk.

Of course, he didn’t stay that way, and by the time the hospital let me go home with him five days later, he was mostly straightened out, although he could lift his head from birth!  Oh how I loved that baby boy!  I wouldn’t let anyone do anything; I wanted to be the diaper changer, and the clothes changer and the bottle sterilizer and the bottle holder.  I held him throughout his naps, marveling at the miracle of his precious life and how his birth had changed mine forever.

I wasn’t the best mother, because I spoiled him rotten.  Truly, I was a lousy disciplinarian, and I gave into every wish and desire.  Only with time did I come to realize what huge mistakes I had made in loving him in ways that didn’t help him grow and mature the way I should have.  Despite my worst efforts, he managed to become a young man who had a heart as big as all outdoors, and would give anyone, stranger or friend, his last dollar if they needed it.

As Chris was growing up, he was my best buddy.  We spent our days together, riding bikes, playing, taking drives.  When he was a little older, and it was just he and I, we often went to the beach to visit our grandparents. He loved to explore as much as I did, and we spent hours and hours on the beach at Seaview, and Beard’s Hollow, crawling around on the rocks and searching for sea treasures.  Coming home, we’d take all kinds of back roads arriving home long after dark. No matter where we traveled, if we’d see a road we hadn’t driven before, both would say at the same time, “I wonder where that road goes?” and we’d be off. 

The year he was in second grade, we lived in a fantastic little house on the Columbia River one winter, near Stevenson, and had acres and acres to hike around in.  One night when it snowed we stayed up and built an igloo, using a dishpan to build the blocks.  Later, we sat together in a chair and watched the headlights of cars spinning out over on 84, the Oregon side of the river. That year we couldn’t get out of our driveway for a week as the little Honda was practically buried.  Carson didn’t close the schools, and we’d hike the ¼ mile to the highway and catch a ride with the principal to school!

 I miss my little boy today.  I miss his smile, and his laugh, and his bear hugs. I miss him telling me “I love you, mom.”  I miss his sweet poems he wrote as an adult to me. I just miss him something awful. 

Today marks five years since I had my last hug from Chris, at his 30th birthday party.  In 12 days, it will be the anniversary of his death, and while that memory is the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, I am grateful for the precious memories of times spent with my son. 

Wherever my boy is right now, and I chose to believe he is with God, I know in my heart he is at peace.  That thought gives me peace and helps me get through another day without him.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What I Am Doing at Four AM

I can't sleep! It is distressing when I can't seem to sleep.  I am so wide awake at 4:00 AM, and have been over an hour.  So, I fiddle around on the computer looking for a format for the "Where I Am From" poem, and discover a "fill in the blank" I Am format. My 4 AM efforts are honest, not very interesting, but who I am at the moment!

I Am

I am sleepy, but awake
I wonder why I am not snuggled in bed
I hear the leaves falling
I see ghostly shapes in the backyard
I want to be sleeping
I am sleepy, but awake

I pretend I am ok with this
I feel like I should be resting
I touch my keyboard
I worry that I will be really tired later
I cry when I think of other sleepless nights
I am sleepy, but awake

I understand that rest is important
I say to my students, "Get enough sleep!"
I dream that I will sleep through til morning
I try drinking sleepytime tea with honey
I hope I will sleep better tonight
I am sleepy, but awake!

Originally, I got up to let Nikki out, as she was milling around in the bedroom, acting restless.  I was awake anyway, and thought I'd just wait til she wants back in.  But, I've checked twice and she must be having trouble getting sleepy again, too, as she hasn't appeared yet at the back door to tell me she's ready.

Earlier, I remembered getting the phone call about my son, Chris, at around 3:00 AM.  It seems most nights that I'm not sleeping, I am remembering him.  Perhaps it's just that between times, between going to bed and time to get up, is a time when thoughts weigh heavy and sleep evades. Memories of that night are another story, not now.

Sometimes I think that maybe I just don't need as much sleep as I used to, especially since I secretly love being awake and alone in the early moments before the day becomes official.  Then I think about facing a room full of students in a few hours, and think, uhm, I should be sleeping and fortifying myself for the challenges ahead!

I'm not sure sleeping now will be much help, but I'm going to go try . . .

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On Being Thankful

Thanksgiving is coming up, and this weekend Jessica sort of re-announced that she wants us to come to Bellingham for dinner.  Originally, I thought it would be a good idea, especially if she was working. But, now it's what she wants, even if she isn't working.  And I'm filled with all kinds of mixed emotions about the venture.

I've always had Thanksgiving at my house, for nearly every one of the past 40+ years! Here and there, we would go to someone else's house, but rarely.  I like getting up early, preparing the stuffing, baking pies and rolls; the steamy kitchen.  I love the smells, and the gathering of those I love around the groaning table, and the moments before we eat when I look at each face and am overwhelmed with thankfulness.

And last year was one of the best.  Both girls were home, and there was arguing over who would bake the pies, and make the rolls, and it was so chaos in the kitchen Babbittville. Amazingly, both helped with cleanup, and it was a very good day. I was so thankful for my beautiful, talented, creative daughters.

So, I'm thinking about the girls, growing up, being college students, both following in their mother's floury footsteps.  It is right that Jess wants to hostess Thanksgiving.  She's loves to cook, and I think she likes the idea of being in charge for a change. I've no doubt Kailyn will contribute by bringing one of her  yummy pies, or delicious homemade rolls.

Home for Thanksgiving doesn't need to be within the four walls where we've raised the family.  Home is where the family happens to be.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Daughters Bring Me to My Knees


Is there any short phrase that has had the instant impact on my life more than, “It’s a beautiful baby girl!”  I don’t think so.  If ever I was moved to my knees, figuratively and frequently, it was due to having daughters.  I prayed for the usual, good health, happiness, safety and relationships. But, more often than not, my prayers are simply for gratefulness.  Thanks to God for the blessings of daughters.

I would have been content with one daughter, but God knew I needed two, and He, in His infinite wisdom, was right of course.  There are mom lessons to be learned from all of our children, and our children are so different, it would be impossible to learn enough from only one, at least for this mom.

Daughters do more for moms than mere words can express.  They soften our hearts, sometimes into pure puddles of grief, and we go onto our knees to plead for grace, for patience, for discernment, and always for wisdom.  They build endurance, and we find we can do more, and be more, than we ever thought humanly possible.  We can sew wardrobes, from Barbie size to prom dresses, mostly well, with a few near disasters, and we hold in our hearts that unspeakable pride when a daughter wears to prom a dress that turned out badly, probably because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings.  And I am moved by her generosity more than I was ever moved before. The disaster dress becomes a fairy costume later in theatre, and if memory serves, a Halloween costume, so it has served well, though not in the form it was intended.

Daughters make us brave, and strong, and capable of murder. We double-dog dare (under our breath of course) that anyone hurt our girls. This includes their sisters on occasion! We lose friendships over slights, real or imagined, determining that our daughters are probably more valuable than anything else we can ever think of or dream of.  We forgive them any and all transgressions, including the “I HATE you!” delivered with such honesty that it rips a hole in our heart.  

We listen to them, eventually, perhaps while held hostage behind the wheel, driving interminable carpools, to soccer, gymnastics, friends homes, the mall, and eventually, to college. We listen and we cry, over hurts that went right over us, words in anger that we can’t believe we actually spoke, and miracle of miracles, discover that our daughters forgive us, too.  Thank God.

To be continued . . .

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Where I Am From

I am from the Mayflower,
surveyor's chains,
printing press ink,
a ditch diggers shovel,
a treadle sewing machine.

I am from tuna sandwiches
with pickles and potato chips
From grandma's flower garden
of snapdragons, hen and chicks
From Hide and Go Seek, and
Kick the Can, and Red Rover, Red Rover
From laurel bush forts
and baseball in the street.

I'm from a hundred year old beach house,
the old Sid's Market,
the ferry to Astoria,
and Grays River stories

I am from Willie and Alta,
the big barn on the hill
Imogene and Ed,
the house on Maple
Ethel and Kenneth,
Sunday dinners and Sunday drives
Pepper and Carmelita,
beginning and too soon end.

I am from VW bug, and classic cars,
50 Plymouth, Studebaker Starliner,
Honda, Harley, Camry
to a Sienna???

I am from berry and bean fields,
apple and pear orchards,
hiking the Grand Canyon.

I am from moving every couple years,
to staying put over twenty,
how did that happen?

I am from always running, never still,
to never running, always still
from doing to watching
from wishing to being
from dreams to reality

I am from the depths of despair
to the heights of recovery
from sorrow and grief
to faith and belief
from knowing it all
to realizing how little I know
from wanting more
to being grateful

I am from laughter and love
goodness and grace
passion and perseverance
honor and honesty

I am from a mother and son
who die at thirty
to a woman who has doubled
both of their lives.

I am from all who have gone before me
preparing the way for those who follow
weaving myself into the
living breathing tapestry
of those I love

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Lorry Avenue Reunion

I attended a funeral this morning for a woman who was somewhat like a mother to me at one time.  When I first read the obituary in the paper I didn't cry . . . until I began writing in the online guest book.  Then, I couldn't stop and was nearly late for work, and unsure how I would make it through the day.  I remembered a million times spent at her home, her daughter being my closest friend from first through fourth grade.  Doris was good friends with my mom, and she kind of picked up the slack when my mom died suddenly when I was nine and my mom just turned 30.  I remembered Doris' arms around me in her kitchen, and memories rushed back of our families and the connections families made growing up in the Leave it to Beaver 50's, when moms stayed home with their kids, and chatted with the neighbors over coffee every morning.  We kids played kickball in the street, and baseball in the vacant field behind our houses.  I remembered our famous Lorry Avenue bike path so creatively called, "Up, Down and Around" which consisted of a vacant lot on the corner that was worn down from 30 kids pedaling their bikes furiously  through it.  So many, many memories.

Not all my tears were for Doris, although many of them were.  They also were for my mom, and the step mom that replaced her for nearly 35 years, until her death, and my son who shouldn't have died at age 30, but did. I sobbed while writing, then sobbed through my shower, and nixed contacts and eye makeup for the day.  I felt huge loss.

Today, I wept through the service, laughed at the video, and embraced neighbors from over 50 years ago, who were as happy to see my sister and I as we were to see them.  It was healing, and I felt God's grace.  We thanked Doris for bringing us together, for renewing ancient friendships, while sharing laughter over growing up craziness.  Later, my sister and I drove down Lorry Avenue, pointing out who lived where; most of the time our memories felt right, but a couple of them we're not so sure of.  We marveled at the changes, and also what has stayed somewhat the same.  We sat in front of our old house, and wished for the "good old days" despite the fact that the worst horror of our young lives also happened on that street when our beautiful young mother died.

This morning, I dreaded going to the funeral.  I knew I would be seeing many people who would remember our family tragedy and I knew I'd weep buckets. And, I was right about all of that.  Yet, I was also glad that I went, and that my sister was with me, and that we were welcomed back into the fold with open arms.  It felt right to be there, to allow myself to be cared about and hugged and we all made promises to not wait for the next funeral to make our connections again. We all need a Lorry Avenue Reunion.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oh Knees, Don't Fail Me Now!

Oh knees, don’t fail me now! was my silent plea as Kailyn and I descended the steep switchbacks to view Elowah Falls last Friday morning.  After pouring over the “Take a Hike Portland” book, we had decided to try a less popular, and supposedly less strenuous, hike a few miles past Multnomah Falls just off 84 east. The hike was only 3 miles, with 600’ elevation changes, and was considered “easy”.

The day dawned beautiful, sunny and clear, promising to be a good morning for a hike.  We arrived at the trailhead by 9:30 and after a short, gently sloping trek, came to the crossroads of either going up to Upper McCord Creek Falls or down to Elowah Falls.  We chose the high road first and enjoyed the shady journey to our destination. The trail up was pretty rock strewn and root crossed, so I carefully kept my eyes on the ground to protect myself from falling, something I tend to manage every time I go on a hike! We made frequent stops for photos along the way, as always.

We could hear the falls as we approached, and the excited calls of children reveling in nature’s playground.  Two women and four kids preceded us.  The oldest boy was having the time of his life, scrambling over rocks and fallen logs, exploring skinny pathways around huge boulders that were strewn haphazardly throughout the area. The falls were gorgeous, as was the incredible rock formations, many clothed in thick, green moss.  Kailyn climbed a huge rock, to see what she could see, while I sat, watching the kids, gulping in the beauty close by and fortifying my energy use with a healthy snack! 

After returning to the cross road, we started down to Elowah Falls, and it wasn’t long before my poor old knees were crying out, STOP! But, of course, I didn’t stop, because I didn’t want to miss the falls or the remainder of the hike we had planned.  Once at the bottom, we oohed and aahed the sweet falls and captured the view on film.  I was a bit leery of the trek back up, but worried needlessly, as it was much easier going up than coming down.

Still had some scary moments, when I wasn’t sure I would make it back out of the woods and to the car.  It was the first time this summer that my knees gave me grief and it surprised me.  I felt I was in pretty good shape, especially after the Ramona Falls hike, which was more than twice the distance and more elevation!  I think the problem was the steepness of the grade going down, and fortunately, I found it much easier coming back up to the “Y” trail marker.

As we made the final descent to the car I found that at any point where the trail pointed downhill, I found myself with achy knees.  Kailyn had the good idea of having me descend sideways, and that worked well to protect my knees.  Ironically, once I was on level ground again, my knees didn’t hurt at all, so we enjoyed the rest of the day by stopping at Multnomah Falls to use the restrooms, and purchase a bag of pretty rocks for my students this year. We then continued on old Highway 30 and stopped at Vista House before reconnecting to 84.

I am treasuring these last moments of summer, in the company of my daughter.  It is good to be healthier than I was two years ago, when I couldn’t have attempted a hike of any duration.  However, this hike reminded me forcefully of the wear and tear that excess weight has put on my body over the past several years.  It crept on so insidiously, and became all-encompassing, overtaking every moment of my life.  The weight and inactivity came close to destroying my knees, and this hike was a painful reminder of where I was. It was also a clear reminder of where I want to be.

I want to be healthy, and able to hike and explore this vast and marvelous world.  My goals are pretty simple ~ spend time on this earth appreciating what nature has to offer, on my own power, as long as humanly possible.  Instead of regretting the “lost decades” I want to look forward and make the best of what I have.  And, one step at a time, that is what I intend to do.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Let there be Light

These days it seems I spend more of my time browbeating myself for all I'm not doing right, instead of celebrating the good things.  I chose these photos because they invoke  good feeling about myself as a person on so many different levels.  

My youngest and I decided we would attempt to get in a few mother/daughter hikes this summer, while she is home from college.  This is big due to the fact that until recently, whenever we would attempt to hike any distance I would be huffing and puffing and we'd turn around, usually within 10-15 minutes. Over the course of the last couple years, I've managed to lose some of the excess weight I've packed around for the last decade or so, and begun a regular exercise program.  This summer I felt I would be able to hike again, something I relished when I was younger and BC (before children). 

We heard about a trail in the Mt. Hood area called Ramona Falls and after a bit of research decided this was on our "For Sure" list.  About three weeks ago we made the drive, stopping at ZigZag Ranger Station for what we hoped would be an accurate trail map and a chat with them about the trail, which was actually a 7.2 mile loop, with an elevation of 1,100 feet. As the rangers didn't look at me and exclaim that I looked like I was too old or too fat, (a genuine fear of mine) we thanked them and drove to the trailhead.

We had the ten essentials in our backpack, with several frozen bottles of water included.  We were ready for my first serious hike of any elevation since the 1970's!

Somehow we missed the "loop" part of the trail that we planned to take, which would have given a different view and was unprotected from the hot sun on the way up, and ended up going up and back on the same trail that meandered along Ramona Creek.  It was take-your-breath-away stunning much of the way and photos barely do it justice.  Still, we stopped repeatedly to snap photos of the mini falls along this creek. 

I was pleased that although I found it challenging to climb what others consider "gentle" slopes, I only came to a complete stop a few times to catch my breath.  My daughter was a perfect hiking companion, as she kept to a pace that was doable for her mom, and fortunately is a shutter bug, so there were many photo ops which were appreciated for more than just the beauty of our surroundings!

After about three hours of hiking, we arrived at Ramona Falls and it was everything the books and websites said it would be.  We eagerly devoured our PB & J sandwiches and rested briefly before heading back the way we had come.  While it was almost cool at the falls, we knew it was above 90 and decided to hike back the way we came to keep out of the hot sun.  

In the end, it took us about six hours to hike what the books said should be 3.5, and even taking into consideration the multiple photo stops, I don't think I could have done it in less than 4.5, as I'm still packing a good 50 pounds of excess weight more than I would like.  Still, it was exhilarating to complete the hike, and spend time with my daughter.

I loved the fact that I could hike over seven miles and live to tell the story!  The day was a highlight of the summer for me, and a taste of even better things to come.  The struggle with weight is overwhelmingly so much a part of my life that I hang onto these moments of "flying into the light" with a death grip.  Somehow, some way, I dream of flying away from the burden of the weight that keeps me on the ground.  Perhaps I will become "that fat hiker gal" that despite the weight, embraces the challenges of elevation in order to seek the beauty that feeds my soul. Because the beauty of backcountry and all nature truly does feed my soul, and makes me glad to be alive.  Tomorrow, another mother/daughter hike, another opportunity to seek the light.