Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas Babies

My son, Chris, was probably the best Christmas gift I ever received, as December babies often seem to be.

Christmas 1975
I stumbled upon this photo today, taken from one of those old albums that often destroyed the photos when you attempted to remove them, as evidenced by the torn sections at the bottom!  I must have taken a photo of this photo with my phone at some point, though I don't remember doing so. A flood of happy memories returned. 

In December 1975, I was a new mom and step-mom, with three little boys to love and attempt to raise.  Fortunately, I'd had plenty of experience having step-moms, so I had a good idea of how to be a good one, and how to not be a good one.  I was pretty young myself, just 25, and learning to parent boys who were seven, five, and three weeks old. 

My Dad and step-mom opened their arms and their hearts to these little boys, the first of several step-grandchildren to come, and the boys called them Grandma and Grandpa, spent weekends with them, and knew love from not just my parents, but both sets of my grandparents as well.  Time passed, kids grew up, I got divorced, eventually losing contact with my step-sons, who went on to have pretty hard lives.

The baby in this photo, also grew up, and sort of followed in his mother's footsteps, falling in love with a woman who was a bit older, with three fatherless children.  I've posted that photo before, but I really like it so I'll post it again here.
Chris, Shari, Kenny, Emily and Arik - 1996
Chris became an instant Daddy, to kids that were stairsteps with his little sisters: Kenny was 8, sister Jessica 7, Arik 6, sister Kailyn 5, Emily 4 . . . and we became instant grandparents! 

Grandparenting, while we were also parenting the girls, was often a challenge, and I felt bad that I wasn't the grandparent to Kenny, Arik and Emily that my parents were to Chris, his brothers, and his multitude of cousins. However, there was lots of love and laughter when we managed to gather together.

All families experience tragedies, and ours was no exception.  Chris left us on December 16, 2005. That anniversary has been difficult for me the past few years, although this year, while I am sad he is no longer with us, I am seeing the many gifts he has given me more clearly.  I seem to have overcome the grief I am typically wallowing in this time of year, and instead feel only the blessings.  

What has changed? Certain circumstances, for sure.  Both step-sons have contacted me in the past year, and there is a tenuous relationship building with one of them. I'm reading "The Book of Joy" slowly, savoring it, making notations and know I will return to the inspired wisdom being revealed to me, over and over. I've embarked on a program of recovery from a long time battle with compulsive overeating, and seeing real results from this life choice. And of course, time passes - it just has a habit of doing that - life goes on.
Emily, Shari holding birthday girl Jailee, me
November 19, 2015
Above is Emily - all grown up, Shari - my amazing daughter-in-law, holding Jailee, her first granddaughter/my first great-granddaughter.  Bountiful blessings, all thanks to my son Chris, falling in love with Shari all those years ago.
Christmas baby Scarlett with great grandma Sandi
Yesterday, I held great-granddaughter number two, my first Christmas baby since 1975.  Yes, I shed a few tears, as I am right now, when I saw Emily holding her second daughter.  But, they were tears of joy, not sorrow.  Chris loved Emily as his own, and would be busting his buttons with pride as a grandpa.  Through my tears, I told her and her husband, Jason, what a blessing they were, and it was all because Chris fell in love with her mom, that I was given this abundant gift of grandchildren and great-grandchildren - despite the fact that I'm not nearly old enough to be a great grandma!  Jason has a son who is 8, so Emily is a step-mom also. I guess maybe that makes me a step-step-great grandma to Jaydin!

Shari married Tim a few years ago.  He's a wonderful guy, who loves his instant family as much as his predecessor did a few years ago. Tim has become a sort of adopted son-in-law, which probably sounds a little strange, but doesn't feel strange at all. As I said before, life goes on.

This Christmas I am feeling so blessed. Christmas babies are living gifts of the very best kind.

Friday, December 2, 2016


For the second morning in a row, I've woke up happy to be alive - looking forward to the day ahead.  I've been reading "The Book of Joy", a little bit each night before I fall asleep. If you haven't heard of it, the book is co-written by Douglas Abrams, through interviews and hanging out with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, during a weeklong birthday celebration/gathering. It isn't religious, but spiritual.  The chapters are very short, powerful, and lead me to contemplate what my purpose is here on earth. I've felt a subtle shift in my attitude toward life that is mostly unexplained, unless I give this book some of the credit. I didn't realize I had been looking for joy, until it found me.

December has been my most dreaded month for the past ten years.  I've fought depression, relived the saddest year of my life and frankly felt pretty darn sorry for myself. (You can read about some of that year here) Each December brought with it the promise of plenty of sweet treats to feed my weepy spirit and I alternated between compulsively eating sugar laden goodies and hating myself throughout - especially when my current favorite jeans refused to zip, despite laying on my back on the bed, struggling. I bought progressively larger sizes of cheerful holiday tops to hide my sad sugar addiction.

No more.

The joy I feel at the beginning of this December lies partially in a trimmer body, not thin, but 30 pounds lighter than last December. Having to buy new jeans that actually stay up - instead of falling off - makes me joyful in a way that I can see.  Being able to bend over, from a standing position, to tie and untie my shoes gives me pleasure. Purging my closet and dresser of dozens of items too large, and donating to a homeless shelter, increased my joy. At the bank I was waited on by a former student who exclaimed as she literally ran around the counter to give me a hug, "Mrs. Babbitt!  I didn't recognize you!  You look ten years younger than you did when I was in your class!" I'm not lying - Maddie gave this old gal some real joy!

I am also taking steps toward giving up a life long dream of buying and selling antiques and treasures, after finding out that the workload exceeds the benefits! I wrote briefly about the beginnings of that adventure here. I'm now working to move as much from my garage to my space downtown as possible, with hopes of great sales.  I will move what is left back to my garage on December 31. I'll either sell or donate whatever I decide not to keep. Just knowing I have an end date makes me happy.  It was fun, at times, but not quite enough fun, or profit, to want to continue.

Yet the greatest joy lies inside me this morning - writing and awaiting my daily 7 AM brisk walk with my neighbor and her dog, looking forward to the fresh air, the mostly sleepy and sullen middle schoolers we pass each morning, waiting for their bus. There's a smile on my face, leftover from the couple hours I spent yesterday with several retired teachers at the nearby IHOP, as we joyously ate  from the senior menu, laughingly shared our adventures during the previous month, and attempted to fix the current political chaos. 

In all areas of my life - spiritually, physically, emotionally - I am grateful that joy has found me. Retirement is the best, and due to strategic financial planning, we are comfortably living much the same as we did while working. In the past year we have crossed eleven National Parks off our bucket list, with spring plans to visit a few more. Both daughters are doing well, enjoying their teaching assignments, and their significant others, and their cats. Chris' family continues to grow, and there will be another great-granddaughter around December 13th. 

I set a goal in October to return to blogging and post at least once per month. These posts will mostly be picture prompts from my childhood, and fictionalized responses - with what truth I can remember woven in. Here is October, and November posts. It is my hope that I will move toward publishing some of the writing I do each morning in my journal, which is where today's post came from. 

I have been found by joy, and life is good.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Summer 1960

Carmelita in her backyard - June 1960
          Carmelita, or Carmel to family and friends, had been hurriedly pulling the last of the laundry off the clothesline and on her way into the house to start dinner when she noticed a spent bloom that needed plucking. 
She was a mostly contented woman, married nearly eleven years to a man who could still make her smile, and was affectionately called, “Momma” by two daughters and a son.  They owned their own home, and, since she had recently, finally, earned a driver’s license for the first time, had just purchased a second car.  She was slowly getting over her nervousness to drive, and had been proud to drive all three of her kids to the brand new outdoor pool for swimming lessons.  The only unnerving part was Davy’s constant screams of terror this first week.  The girls, Sandy and Pamy, who had no fear of the water, were thrilled with the daily lessons, and already clamoring to go the river to swim.   Pepper would be all for it; he had grown up swimming in Grays River from early childhood. She hoped Davy would settle in eventually, but, as she herself was deathly afraid of the water, perhaps he sensed that.  She hoped not.

Something had pushed her to finally let Pepper teach her to drive.  Maybe it was the difficulty of getting all three kids ready and onto the lumbering old city bus, not to mention the long ride, that had finally made her realize a driver’s license would be a nice thing to have. She had to admit, being able to just get in the car and drive had opened up a world of possibilities, one of them being swimming lessons. Besides, she would be 30 years old in August – it was time to put some of those childhood fears behind her.

Sandy holding a black cat; neighbor Lisa watching

Sandy loves cats!  She wants to keep this one, as her other cat, Muffy, was recently run over in front of the house.  Momma and Daddy said "No. No more cats for right now." Her friend, Carol, has just received her very own camera, and has been taking pictures all over the neighborhood.  She took the above picture of Sandy's momma, and her momma didn't even know she was taking the picture! 
Summertime on Lorry Avenue - playing cops and robbers with the neighbor kids, Lisa's older sister, Nyla, and her brother, Ike.  Building a makeshift jail on the far side of their house, of folding chairs and stolen bedsheets.  Their parents both worked, so it was a good place to play.
At the end of Lorry, just before it curved around and became Sherley Avenue, was what seemed to Sandy a huge vacant lot, affectionately dubbed "Up, Down and Around," which described to a T what all the neighborhood kids did there on their bikes. Swarms of kids would be tearing down the street on two wheels if they were old enough, or with the creaky sound of training wheels if they weren't quite so steady yet.  Up they'd go, climbing a short hill onto the well worn bike path, scrambling around the lot, the slight thrill of the bumpy downgrade, back onto the street and around the corner, only to repeat the route over and over until a chain fell off, or someone's mom called them home for meals.
Lemonade stands dotted the street, vying for customers, when the days got hot and sultry. The neighbor kids would get together at the house where the road curved and put on plays and performances, charging a nickel if they could get it. The spectators were mostly stay at home moms, with toddlers and babies on hips.  

This was the summer that Sandy quit smiling, not because of her grandpa dying, although that may have been part of it, but due to a broken front tooth.  At nine Sandy loved tetherball, the ring bars at school, riding her bike, playing marbles and Girl Scouts. While crossing on the rings one afternoon, one swung back to smack her in the mouth.  The school must have called home, because her mom met Sandy at the front door that day, with tears and a look of distress when she saw the broken tooth.  Her Momma cried, "Oh honey! Your beautiful tooth!" From that day on Sandy, intentionally or not, doesn't smile with her teeth showing.  
Neighbor Lisa, Sandy still holding that black cat, Davy and Pamy - July 1960
Sandy hates her new "pixie" haircut!  Her momma decided, probably due to those two weeks of swimming lessons in June, that Sandy's long hair was a pain to deal with, so her hair is chopped off.  No one looks too happy in this picture, taken by neighbor Carol, who is still having fun with her very own camera.  Sandy wishes Daddy and Momma would relent regarding the cat, but it's not going to happen. 
In August, Carmel will celebrate her 30th birthday.  She'll receive a cute card from her neighbors, with an "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" that will make her blush. Pepper will tease her about it.
The whole family will go to the local drive in movie to watch "The Shaggy Dog".  Sandy and Pamy will go camping with their babysitter, Kay, and Kay's parents to Mt. Rainier National Park. School will start in September, and all will seem normal.  Then, on September 15, 1960, Sandy will go kiss her momma good-bye before she leaves for school.  Her momma is still in bed, because she has a bad headache.  She's wearing her turquoise chiffon nightgown, Sandy's favorite.
When Sandy returns home that afternoon, the house will be silent.  She'll walk through, calling for her momma and she'll get a funny feeling.  She will remember later that it felt like her momma's presence was absent.  A few minutes later, Mrs. Moss, the neighbor across the street, will walk in the front door and tell Sandy that she needs to go to her house, that Pamy and Davy are already there.  Mrs. Moss will tell her that her momma and daddy are at the hospital.
Life changes in the blink of an eye.