When the Bootstrap Breaks

We have really, truly come to the end of our rope.  And not for lack of trying.  In an unfortunate series of events dating back 8 years, bad has gotten worse.  I am helping my daughter right now with a math problem.  We did mental math, and double checked by “carrying” the numbers.  We missed a step with the mental math.  She got a different answer.  When I pointed out that she found our “missed” step, she offered to write my name over the correct answer, patting me sympathetically on the elbow.  “I know how it feels to lose mommy; I usually do.”  What insight and tenderness from a little person.  How well she has summarized the mood in our house.

We are American, she and I.  I grew up middle class, hearing commentaries from other middle class people about those who are not middle class.  Urban legends, really, about how “anyone can be anything, if they just WORK hard enough, and TRY hard enough.”

And now, having spent the last 7 years watching my husband try to work hard enough, and try hard enough in three different countries, I can only conclude that either a) the fairy tale is true only in America, for those lucky enough to be born there, or b) the fairy tale is a fairy tale.  I am leaning toward b.

Probably the most recently celebrated American “fairy tale” was the docu-drama “the pursuit of happy-ness.”  Aptly named, for something so obviously capitalizing on our American fondness for stories of triumph in the face of odds. The problem is when we turn these stories into touchstones of what’s normal and achievable, instead of calling them what they are: lottery winners.

I recently read an article written about the poor financial decisions poor people make from the point of view of a woman who views herself in that category.  In the article, she tries to explain why poor people make the decisions they do. Depending on who you are, you may find the article full of excuses or explanations.  I think it’s a combination of the two. But the woman writing it writes from the perspective of someone who didn’t start with anything.  I think it’s important to contribute a perspective from someone who started with a lot.  I did.

bootstraps-300x269

And yet, in spite of both my husband and I having master’s degrees, and letters of recommendation from former employers, we find ourselves falling through an endless rabbit hole of despair.  My husband has pulled and pulled and pulled on his bootstraps.  He has been one of “those” people you hear of being accosted crossing the mexican desert to enter the US illegally.  Why?  Because he was waiting for his greencard application to process for an indefinite period of time, prohibiting him from the leaving the US, when his mother had a stoke.

Ask yourself; if you were in that situation, what would you do?  Would you sit tight for months or years, waiting for an allusive piece of paper, while your mother struggled to live on a different continent?  I might, because I am a rule follower.  Does that make me a better person, or a bigger coward, than him? I hope I wouldn’t.  I hope I would be brave enough to break every rule and run home to mine. It’s easy to sit smugly in a your house with the rent paid on time and food in the fridge, hot water in the tap and a car outside, opining about all “those” people crossing the border and breaking “laws”.

If you have never been in the dire straights that drives people to risk drowning, having their legs hacked off by moving trains, death, or rape, just to have enough to take care of your family or a future, I have to pose the question to you.  Are you are better person than those people who take the risk?  Do you have any idea what desperation drives them?  If you want a small window into that world, I recommend that you watch the mexican/american collaboration “Sin Nombre.” Or the Fifth Estate documentary “Run for Your Life,” about Honduran immigration.  You don’t have to agree with the choices people make, but you should try and understand.

After what we’ll call immigration “difficulties” in the US, my husband was lucky enough to get a visitor visa to Canada. And then, “lucky” enough to get a work visa.  Which involved a few months of sleeping in a car and showering on the beach.  This little episode involved getting his window broken, so he had the additional stress of worrying about where to store his tools while working.  And one day, he didn’t realize the streets were being cleared for a holiday, and his “home”/auto were towed-his wallet inside.

Try and imagine living alone in a city, with no place to sleep, starting out with about $50. to your name, and no one to call when things go south.  In a slow process of “pulling” himself up by his bootstraps, my husband found a job, saved enough money for a little basement apartment, and we joined him.  We slept on an air mattress for about 5 months, until a tiny hole sunk the middle, and we woke up in the night rolled into each other.  We saved for months to buy a couch.  Slowly, step by step, things get better.  We had an immigration consultant who suggested to me that I try asking AGAIN at the border if I could have a work visa.  He said I should be eligible.  For arbitrary reasons known only the ding dongs at the border, they decided a year later, at second glance that yes, I could have a work visa.

I got a job, we found a school for our ‘special’ needs daughter that was not composed entirely of Chinese students who would just as soon ignore her as look at her.  My husband began to work double shifts for what was going to be a season, so we could visit his family.  It became the routine, as the only way to replace our ailing car was with additional income. My husband, so you know, was so well respected at his job working with high needs children that he was promoted to a supervisor, and was told by the provincial providers that he should think about running his own house.  He was not taking anything, or feeling entitled to anything.  He contributed, a lot.

There was just one small glitch.  We had been temporary residents for 3 years, and were waiting for the outcome of our permanent residency.  To make sure we didn’t make ANY mistakes, we paid a consultant, endorsed by Canadian Immigration, to review and prepare our application.  As newly marrieds, we paid for paperwork instead of plates and furniture.  For 2 years running, we spent our anniversary stuck at our consultant’s house, going over paperwork.

3 years into our Canadian life, we tried renewing our work visas, a standard procedure.  I was denied at the border 2 times.  Once by a large officer who spent 10 minutes prior to attending me crowded around a co-worker’s computer, chuckling at some hilarous e-humor.  This was pre Canadian olympics time, and I kid you not when I say I was the ONLY person in the building, and there were 10 officers, not terribly interested in attending.

Even though it said on the Canadian Immigration website that I was ELIGIBLE to apply at the border, this giant genius informed me that if they attended every one looking to do what I was doing-after about 3 attempts of making him understand just exactly WHAT I wanted to do-the office would be backed up with people.  I repeat: 1 customer=me, 10 officers=them.  Excusem?

Thus began the insanity that is Canadian Immigration.  The rest went like this: I went to a local office to ask how I could be “pre-approved” for a work visa, as I was instructed to do by the genius at the border.  At the local office, they looked it up on their computers. (Thanks for that professional advice,  ’cause I couldn’t do that.)  I rounded up all the paperwork, sent it over, and a few weeks later, got my paperwork back with a note that “that” office doesn’t do “that” service.  So silly of me.  Just trusted the 2 DIFFERENT immigration officers I spoke with.  We then received a letter from immigration (located, btw, in Buffalo NEW YORK, wtf?) that because we marked a no on our application where we should have marked a yes (per advice from our paid consultant per consultation with a thick volume of canadian laws) we now had to fill out a different application.  An application requiring the acquisition of paperwork from three different countries, some of which needed to be translated.  So we saw another attorney, a few times, who told us I was LEGALLY eligible at the border for the work visa I’d already inquired about.  We filled out the second application-got all the paperwork and translations-and sent it in.  I went back to the border, and this time had the pleasure of dealing with 2 militant female officers, intent on proving they were every bit as serious as the fellows.  And clueless about the laws around my request.  So I was denied, again.  I missed my best friend’s wedding.  I missed a niece’s birth. And we waited for that 2nd application to be approved.

And waited.  Waited for Juan to start his own residential home, which would give us enough income to finally *adopt.* The dream, after we found out we are unable to have our “own” babies.  Enough income to become home owners.  Small dreams it seems, relative to what most middle class people I know wish for.  A baby and a house.  We waited.

And then the letter came, but not the letter we were waiting for.  The government asked us to send in Y in order to process X.  And then they processed X without ever looking at Y.  They gave us a month to leave.  My husband’s employer said they would get him an attorney to “fix” it.  This attorney cost as much as I have made in some years of working.  She looked at our paperwork and said NO PROBLEM.  She has done an application for many people that will remedy it.  So she put together some papers and sent them in.  And not long after, received a letter from Canadian immigration that we were not eligible for said application.  That she should never have sent it.  Even though she has done it MANY times before and they always approved it.  She has done it for people caught at the border with drugs, within the year previous to filing.  And they went through.  My husband worked with highly disturbed autistic children, that few people but he could manage.  I teach English.  But for some reason, we were left out of a system that worked for everybody else.  It is like falling into an episode of the twilight zone.

The month we were getting ready to go, my husband’s mother had a final, massive episode, and died a week before he made it home.  This time, he didn’t follow his heart.  He was practical, working as many hours as he could, so he could support us wherever we landed.  But in the end, his wages were garnished for the attorney that didn’t do anything for us.

I would like to say that at this point in our family saga, things get better.  Like Will Smith, I would like to pause our life, and say “this is the part we call happy-ness.” But I can’t.  Life is filled with little pleasures, if you look for them.  I won’t deny it. Hanging out the laundry on a balmy night, seeing the moon pulled down to earth like Gru actually stole it.  Adopting a kitten that sleeps on your face.  But life is also filled with big griefs and enormous disappointment.  Imagine that part in the movie when the rich guy asks Will Smith to borrow his last buck.  That feeling of being SO outside of some else’s easy existence, and that’s where we live.  If I could tell you how I want to scream every time someone suggests we just take this trip or do that activity, or enroll our child in X.  As if the money actually does grow on trees.

In her article about poverty, Lind Tirado writes this:

“Nobody gives enough thought to depression. You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation. Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn’t give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don’t apply for jobs because we know we can’t afford to look nice enough to hold them. I would make a super legal secretary, but I’ve been turned down more than once because I “don’t fit the image of the firm,” which is a nice way of saying “gtfo, pov.”

And I have to say, I get it. If you are going to stand on a particular stair, people expect you to look a certain way, and it goes the other way.  If you look a certain way, people assume you stand on a particular stair.  The idea of health care is like the idea of Disneyland.  As in, yeah sure, some day we’ll go there. When someone tells me I just have to go visit so and so ruins in Peru, I want to punch them.  Sorry (kind of) but I do!  I know they are being perfectly cordial, and oblivious, but it feels about the same as when some friendly person asks me why we don’t have more kids.  I beg you, don’t ever ask near perfect strangers this question, or recommend that they visit some exotic local.  Because some day, they just….might….. punch you.

I invite you back into our movie: The train wreck kept on rolling.  Now transplanted to a new, garbage strewn and desert destination, we struggled to look for jobs.  I hopped around in a few schools, and took on a job as the director of a little school, where I discovered later, they paid me half of what my MALE and less educated predecessor received.  That ended up being an awful experience, where all the warnings from my husband and co workers that a certain someone was “sawing the floor under me” being true.  The ways in which it went wrong would really need a catalogue, but the aftermath meant that my daughter, enrolled there, needed to transition to yet another school. And this school was a whole new hell, eventually “suggesting” a change of “pedogological” environment for our daughter.  After my husband spent a whole year fighting for her fair treatment.  Everyone told him, don’t do it.  In the end, they’ll kick her out.  His answer?  It is the RIGHT thing to do.  They need to be accountable for proper treatment of children.  And guess what.  Year end, they kicked her out.  Code for: you parents are a giant pain in the ass.  There is no recourse in a city where we live.  If you complain to the ministry of education (which we did), they do nothing to protect you from retribution.  Everyone knows it, and no one fights it.  But my husband.  (Can you tell yet that he’s like a dad superhero?!)

All this time, my husband was hustling to try and make a living.  Just imagine that you went to school for A, worked doing B for 10 years, and then moved to a country where B doesn’t exist as a profession.  What’s a grown man do?  Pulls up his man pants and tries to beg, borrow, and steal a living.  Without, of course, stealing.  It has not gone well.  And not for lack of trying.  We have been at the doorstep of sooo many “almost” opportunities.  Through an almost overt system of bribery, my husband has lost multiple contracts for services he could provide cheaper and better.  But here, the “pituto” is king, and fat chance of a coup.  This week brought the hardest fall.  And all I can think is-sometimes you pull so hard on those bootstraps, they have to break.  And sometimes, you FOLLOW the rules, and get screwed anyways.  I’m here to tell you a little bit about the psychology of those rules.  If you know they only apply to some people, are un- evenly applied, or interpreted by human beings with the IQ of a rabbit, you start to have a certain disregard for the rules.  So when I hear people saying that all “those Mexicans” should just follow the rules, I’m here to tell you, the rules are not for them.  I once spoke with an attorney for 40 minutes who thought my husband was Mexican (he’s not); and he basically told me to FORGET trying to submit any applications for him, because they would never been seen.  I believe him.  Canada’s most recent response to a backlog of permanent residency applications was to shred them, and start over. CANADA.  This is a 1st world response.

Each of those applications represented lost money, time, and the dreams of the people who submitted them, FOLLOWING the rules.  So what is the message?

The bible says time and chance happen to us all.  And for some reason I cannot explain, some people get most of the chances, and some get nada, or nada and a half.  And it is a fallacy to assume that people who fail, fail for lack of trying.  It is very possible they tried so hard, their bootstraps broke.  My husband said to me last night “I feel hurt.”  Not a small thing to say for a man of few words.  It hurts to fall down, down, down and down again.  It is humiliating to look up a steep well of stairs, and know you probably will never get back to the middle.  Especially when so many people you know are up there, looking down at you.  It is a fairytale to believe it can be done through sheer force.  If it is true that time and chance happen to us all, it is also true that money makes money.  You can’t make something from nothing, and until you’ve tried, you can’t really know how true it is.  Sure you can take your lemons and turn it into lemon-aid, but try taking your nothing and turn it into something aid. You’ll end up with nothing aid, which about sums it all up.

Sometimes people are broke or homeless because they tried, and things went south.  There is no rainbow at the end.  We have work histories and educations, and it happened to us.  A series of decisions, system failures and bad luck knocked us right down one stair, and then another, until we seem to have hit the bottom.  And it sucks down here.  It isn’t just “poor people” or “uneducated people” who land on the bottom.  It can happen to anyone.  It could happen to you.  One gift of the bottom is the new view it affords.  It’s ugly, but you could never see it standing at the top. I watched a marvelous video yesterday about this.  If you have a minute, it’s worth a watch.

Empathy

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The Plan

I am getting excited about the holidays.  I love the well placed sequence of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas.  In America, anyway.  I love my Canadians, but Thanksgiving just isn’t the same pre-November.  It steals all the thunder from Halloween, and leaves us drifting through November, with nothing to distract us from the wait to December.  As far as I’m concerned, the first of October is the home stretch in a long year of waiting, waiting to go home again.  And our kick off is Halloween, a holiday I love a little more every year, because it is the domino that tips all the rest over.  Halloween, Thanksgiving; Thanksgiving, Christmas; Christmas, trip home;  Trip home, New Year’s among friends, again. Sigh.  New Years, January-still home (in the states).  It is the first in a 4 month cycle, that helps us slog through the other 8 months, until we’re home again.  February, back to Chile.  Put the dominoes away until next year.

So, speaking of cycles, back to Halloween, the first holiday.  It’s got me thinking of the joker.  More specifically, Heath Ledger’s Joker, in the brilliantly done “Dark Knight.” And what is one of the two most memorable movie lines I have heard in 10 years.  It goes like this:

The Joker

You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go “according to plan.” Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all “part of the plan”.  But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!

Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!

Why does this quote resonate so?  This observation about “the plan” is so astute.  It is not the chaos of the world around us that surprises.  It is the disruption of our expectations that we generally find so horrifying.  This can take many forms.  It occurred to me today that there is a grammar analogy hiding in our expectations.  In linguistics, there is a concept of diagramming sentences.  Sounds sexy, right?  Diagramming sentences is a way of showing the “deep” grammar that undergirds surface grammar.  Like, for example, if I say to you “wanna go?” you know I REALLY mean, “DO YOU want to go?”  If you are a native speaker, this is obvious to you.  You know who the subject is, you know it’s a question.  But maybe you never thought about what is down there, under the waterline, past that ill spoken ice-burg.  Maybe, you never realized that the ‘do’ and the ‘you’ were sitting down there, pushing the rest above surface.

Expectations are like that.  I had some expectations above the water line for years.  I knew they were there.  For one, I used to love Barbara Kingsolver-in particular, in my early 20’s, I loved the character she’d imagined in the Bean Trees, who unexpectedly falls in love with an abandoned baby she calls “Turtle;” a baby she ends up keeping.  I wanted Turtle.  I loved her too.  And one day, I met her, in my real life.  And fall in love I did.  My expectations cut a wide swath for such a marvelous marriage of circumstance and blessing, that when it happened to me, I met it gratefully.  However, getting married was never really on my ice-burg.  But Turtle and I crashed into a ship, we’ll call him my husband, and it set us off-course.  Oops-see that there.  That’s the evidence.

The deep grammar, the underwater expectations I had went something like this:

  1. Have a house
  2. Have some babies, free and easy
  3. Live with those babies in that house right down the street from sister.  Just like when we were kids….
  4. Sister has babies, free and easy, and she lives right down the street from me, just like when we were kids….
  5. Have a car
  6. Have health insurance, house insurance, car insurance, life insurance.
  7. Somewhere, hovering in the background, must be a lucrative job, or well heeled man.  It seemed as necessary and unfamiliar to me as the family piano.  Something that must be in the living room, but I have no idea how to play it.

Guess what.  After the Turtle miracle, nothing went “according to the plan.” And believe me when I say nothing, nothing. We have the pain and privilege of experiencing the world through a new set of eyes.  The eyes of “them.” And by them, I mean, everyone who’s expectations are necessarily less than mine, based a life experience and place of birth.  Granted, mine weren’t obvious to me until they weren’t met, but how scandalous it feels when things do not go according to the plan.  And I am met by another realization, something I could only recognize in the mirror of my sister.  We were set up to expect so much!  We had a house, a green lawn, regular dental visits and cross country trips to see grandma; summer and winter resort vacations; bicycles and health care and team sports.  Visits to the hair dresser, and packed lunches, courtesy mom.  We had new Easter dresses, and school clothes shopping; regular visits to the mall and the movie theatre, and annual Christmas “girl’s weekends”  to Seattle.  What a set up!  I didn’t realize until very recently how wired I am to expect my life to look like my parents.  I wonder how true that is for other people.

I can be a slow learner, so certainly it is silly to be 35, having the aha moment that my life doesn’t have to, and won’t, resemble my parent’s life.  When I was a child, I was convinced that when I was an adult, I would be able to play the piano.  Not because I practiced, but because my mother knew how.  It seemed a rite of adulthood: grow up, have 2 kids, a backyard, and the magical ability to play the piano.  Isn’t that what everyone has?  I didn’t know too many people who didn’t.  That was the set up.  And then I grew up.  I don’t play the piano.  I don’t have 2 kids.  I don’t own a house or have a backyard, health insurance, life insurance, car insurance or fire insurance.  And suddenly, that much insurance seems a little ridiculous.

Suddenly, paper towels and razors are luxury items.  The internet and hot water are available on the good days.  When my daughter gets the wind knocked out of her, and a few bruises falling out of a tree, or off a see saw, my first thought is to pray she doesn’t have to go to the hospital.  Because how will we pay for it, and even if we could, who want to go to THAT hospital?  It’s a little like chaos.  It is, as the joker noted, fair.  More than fair, because it’s about time we experience a taste of what passes for normal in most countries.  It is less than fair, because it’s about time we experience what passes for normal, and we still haven’t even gotten there.  We feel safe, we eat, we have a few bedrooms, and most months, we can come up with the money for Turtle’s sport.  Someone buys us tickets home, when the dominoes start tipping.  But the deep grammar is there, causing a sea quake, robbing our small island of peace.  If I could just forget all those expectations, it would be so much easier to enjoy the view.

There is an image circulating the internet (our should I say Pinterest?) that has resonated with me for the last year.  It says “Don’t let comparison steal your joy.”   I realized awhile ago that social media sites like Facebook and Instagram can have a   numbing effect, when you see all the shiny happy parts of other people’s lives, and feel like you somehow missed the boat.  I have learned to take them with a bucket of salt, and realized that a major factor for curating the appearance of a happy life is a great camera and some photographic talent (I have neither).  I wouldn’t mind if a few people posted status updates that said things like “electricity got cut again,” and “screaming match with 10 year old again.  Isn’t it a little early for puberty?”  But the internet is not REAL.  So of course, the things we put on the internet are not real.

I recently read “The Hole in our Gospel,” written by the founder of World Vision, and I was struck when I reached a chapter about a man who travels abroad, and while staying in a home as a border, does his host a favor by emptying her bathtub of the still water collected there.  When he lets her know about the “favor” he did her, she begins to cry, because the tub had been full of the only clean water she would have for a month.  What a good illustration of people who have no idea about want meeting those who do.  We grow up with this 1950’s maxim about eating everything on our plate, because people “in Africa” have nothing to eat.  And somehow, that to has a numbing effect on us.  Of course people in Africa have nothing to eat, because they live IN AFRICA.  That’s somehow part of the plan, so it doesn’t seem so horrifying.

I follow a blogger who works with midwives, helping foment rural health care in Zambia.  One of  her recent posts is about trying to offer solace to a mother who lost her fifth baby.  FIFTH baby.  And in her post, she says:  “I have heard of hospital staff withholding medication or giving lethal doses to patients whose lives they deemed worthless.”  (Every Minute of Every Day) And I can’t help but  think of the Joker, and “the plan.”  Lately, I have been thinking and reading a lot about abortion, primarily in America, and was rocked when I was diverted to a page about the enforcement of the single child policy in China, and the many abuses and murders that have been committed against Chinese families to enforce it.

It took my breath away a little, to realize that in all my years of grieving over an inability to have a second child, I NEVER thought about the fact that there is an entire enormous COUNTRY where EVERYONE is only allowed ONE child-because that is the PLAN.  And if you breach it, your family members will be detained and tortured, some murdered.  Your nearly full term babies will be ripped from your womb, and as a woman, you will be forced to undergo a process of sterilization

(http://www.marieclaire.com/world-reports/news/chinas-one-child-law).  Why don’t we hear more about this?  Why isn’t it all over the news?  Why don’t we hear a whole lot more about a whole lot more things?  I am guessing because they are all part of the “plan.”    Of course, ironically, this year there have been 964,340 babies aborted in the US (http://www.numberofabortions.com/) to date, because they are NOT part of the plan.  This is a big difference between the US and Chile.  Abortion is still illegal here.  And it changes the culture.  Everything is not dominated by a PLAN.  We don’t go to parties at X time (of course everyone is late here!), we don’t leave parties at X time, we don’t go to bed at X time, and if you get knocked up, you are going to have that baby.  Which means no man is going to pressure you to get “rid” of your baby, because it’s not convenient to him.  No parent is going to push a child towards an abortion clinic, because it gets in the way of college (the plan).  People adapt.  Children are CHERISHED.  Because they are not the fruit of a plan.  They are gifts.  They are adventures.  They are what life is ABOUT.

My daughter is anti-type A.  I think, on a scale, she’s about a Z.  I hover somewhere around G.  Which means there is a rub. We have endeavored to take morning walks before we start our school day, so she can exercise her anger, which has lead to the untimely deaths of a few bugs.  It’s our new plan to avoid a bug holocaust.  But, I am ever mindful of the hour, because we have to get other things done, besides the walk.  So mindful, that many mornings sound like this:

“Mommy, look at the flower!”

“Yes Turtle, that’s great.  Keep marching.”

“Mommy, look at the ladybug.”

“*Sigh* Amazing.  Please keep walking.”

“Mommy, look at the Hummingbird!”

“Ack!  I don’t CARE about the hummingbird.  We have to get HOME.  Puh-LEASE WALK!”

(By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, we repeat this scene OFTEN).  We recently had one of these interactions, and I had a temporary moment of sanity, and thought “what? I don’t CARE about a hummingbird?  My daughter’s great passion? One of God’s greatest works of art?”  But it wasn’t part of the plan!   So we stopped, and it happened.  A small crescendo of joy, as I stood in a dilapidated park with my very unplanned child, and watching a tiny jeweled miracle dart around, on a beautiful warm day,  under a lovely tree.

I know some of us are type A, and we need a plan.  A plan is not bad!  I’m not saying it is.  But slavery to a plan, happiness built on the realization of that plan ROBS our JOY.  So my halloween wish for all of us (can I have a halloween wish?) is that we all embrace a little chaos; that we relinquish our dependence on the plan, and that we are more aware of our brother’s and sister’s around the world that are suffering, and don’t accept is as part of any plan.  My new maxim is “Don’t let the PLAN steal your joy, or anyone else’s.”

The Road Less Travelled and the Well Loved Wall

 

“I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a yellow road, and I-

I took the road less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

 

My dad loves Robert Frost.  I grew up hearing this poem all the time.  Little did I know how true it would be of my life one day.  Two roads diverged, and I took the one less traveled by.  I stood at that fork, and looked down a road that wandered into a dark wood, and another, familiar path. I agonized over it.  I was following someone into that wood, while I held a smaller someone’s hand.  I would have lost the first someone into a tangle of trees.  I took a deep breath and pulled the smaller someone in with me. I knew there were shadows lurking in that forest, but hoped it would open into a field of flowers. I romanticized it.  It hasn’t; not yet.  We’re at mile marker 7, if you call a year a mile.  Still hoping for a field of flowers. 

ImageThe smaller someone has grown a lot.  She has seen lots of things other children her age haven’t.  The journey has wounded and shaped her.  It is impossible not to contemplate how much easier that other, flatter, smoother path would have been for her.  Some days, it seems she has a particularly suitable disposition for the path we took.  But on rare days, she stumbles, and a small sorrow flies out, a bird released from her strong little ribcage.

We took a late afternoon walk this week, strolling past the casually strewn litter that dots our dirty landscape like stomped on confetti.  Dog poop is as ubiquitous as the birds, and almost inoffensive, it bakes so quickly into dessicated mounds of earth, like liberally placed piles of homemade sidewalk chalk.  The houses we pass are a box of crayons faded into exhausted pastels.  Peeling paint and the tattered “mayas” used to provide economical shade over patios and courtyards are no improvement.  Neither are the excess of peeling and fading promotional posters left over from political campaigns now 6 months forgotten, or circuses that left town a season ago.  It is not a wonder that, against such an indifferent backdrop, teenagers regularly spray paint their love to each other, and misspell punk mottos about “skeyt”ing and “heyt”ing. 

The last thing I expect on our routine walk is for my little traveler to brake to a complete stop in front of an unexpected space where one such wall previously stood, now absent as a pulled tooth.  She is uncharacteristically still.  Puzzled, I circle back to her and slide an arm around her shoulders.  We have been passing evidence of new construction.  This seems no different.  She says in a tiny voice, “where is the wall?”

“Honey,” I assure her, “I am sure they are just doing a little improvement.  They’ll put in a new, better wall.”

“But it was my FAVORITE wall,” she squeaks, the tears beginning to vibrate against her vocal chords. 

“But Honey, what was on it?” I ask, trying to remember what could possibly have made it her favorite. 

“Words,” she tells me, “and I didn’t even get to finish reading it.  No one even TOLD me they were going to take it away.”

“Oh honey,” I empathize, realizing the symbolism of the wall.  It was the wall that greeted her on the way to tennis.  It was the wall that pointed the way to her favorite park.  It was the wall that anchored the corner we turned to get home.  It was so SOLID.  It should have been there a long time.  Everything else has changed. And changed again, and then again, again.  But the WALL.  It should have been reliable.  She trusted it.  She trusted she would eventually have time to read it all. 

“Why does everything have to change?” she asks me, heart broken.  She lists the things that have changed, and they are not the most important things on my list.  But they are on hers.  And the deal breaker, the straw that broke the camel’s back, is her wall.  We stand in a parking lot for a long time, while I rub her back and let her cry.  “It’s too much for a little girl like me,” she tells me.  I don’t disagree.  Two roads diverged in a yellow road, and I took the road less traveled, and dragged her after.  It’s a lot for one little munchkin.  Sorry munchkin.  Someday, you will realize that you received some gifts along the way.  Courage, heart, a brain.  I hope, very soon, we get a pair of ruby slippers.  Maybe we won’t.  In which case, I hope you can find another wall to love.  You appear to have a pair of ruby glasses, because all I ever saw was an ugly old wall.  Don’t lose those glasses!

I shall be telling this with a sigh,

somewhere ages and ages from today:

You saw a wall differently than I-

you saw the world in a different way,

and that will make all the difference.

Imagefrom: Avalanche Software Art Blog

 

What Girls Are Good For

Today, a 10 year old boy in one of my English classes got called out by my 26 year old aid, God bless her.  I still do not have  a good handle on the slippery slang and particular pronunciation of my elementary school students, and have been able to take particular glee in her ability to translate for me the contents of all their covert conversation.  Today it was about “manzas”-which apparently is slang for what we’d call “big jugs”.  She was offended, and made sure he knew it, which is a credit to her.  He blushed, which is a credit to him.  What is my point?  It gives me a step right onto one of my favorite soap boxes.

This boy is 10.  It is a good age for him to learn what girls are good for.  An attachment to large breasts should not be on his list.  Sadly, it may already be number 1.  Why do I care?  My daughter is 10.  It gets me thinking about what world waits for her, and if we are inoculating her properly.  We live in a city where asses are in our face.  On beach towels doubling as wall decorations, on billboards and Keno machines, on walls and the weather section of the paper, on mainstream television, and most obviously, at the beach.  She has already asked me “why does everyone show their bum at the beach mommy?”  What answer can I give her?  What conclusion will she draw, no matter what my answer.

That this is what girls are good for.  To be a pair of breasts and an ass to admire.  To be consumed.  We live in the era of a porn for all. There are no limits, there is no shame.  And yet we pretend to value women and women’s rights.  I would greatly appreciate the right to live in a time and place when I would hold my daughter’s hand and walk her anywhere, without the not so subliminal message being advertised that THIS is what girls are good for.  Imagine a world where in the place of every half or 3/4 naked girl, there was a poster or picture of a healthy, happy, normal sized fully clothed girl doing something that brought her pleasure.  Not as the giver, but the taker.  Not a product, but a producer.  I would like the right to live in a world where I didn’t wonder what obscene private movie reel plays through the head of every man I meet.  A world where woman are valued for the content of their heads, not the packaging.  Every sexually graphic magazine, naked billboard, strip club and porn video steals a piece of that world from women everywhere.  In a great post particular to the theme of porn, BJ Stockman quotes a researcher from Texas A & M, who said:

‘Softcore pornography has a very negative effect on men as well. The problem with softcore pornography is that it’s voyeurism teaches men to view women as objects rather than to be in relationships with women as human beings.’ According to Brooks, pornography gives men the false impression that sex and pleasure are entirely divorced from relationships. In other words, pornography is inherently self-centered–something a man does by himself, for himself–by using another women as the means to pleasure, as yet another product to consume.’

(To read the rest of the article, follow this link:

http://theresurgence.com/2011/11/19/7-negative-effects-of-porn

In a postscript to this commentary, Pamela Paul, the author who originally quoted this researcher, made an additional observation about the power of porn.  She discovered that men and women who had been exposed to large amounts of porn were less likely to want daughters of their own.  There are so many conclusions you can draw from this observation alone, that I’ll just leave you the thought to ponder.

I was a social worker for years, and one of my jobs was working with kids coming through the juveline system for “first offences.”  This included shop lifting, possession of a controlled substance, and underage drinking.  You may think, as many people do, that the latter is no big deal.  This is something we call “normalization.”  Studies have been done about teenage alcohol use, particulary on college campuses, where binging is “normed.”  The idea of norming is that if someone believes “everyone else” is doing something, whether they are or not, they are much more likely to do it themselves.  Of course, the obvious conclusion is that this doesn’t just pertain to alcohol.  It pertains to dieting, sexual behaviors, our own eating habits, the shows we watch, the way we cut our hair and the clothing we wear; in a word-everything.  Case in point, a teenage boy I know wants a pair of pink tennis shoes.  When I asked his friend if Justin Beiber has a pair, the friend grinned, and it was all so clear.  As silly and immitated as hammer pants, which, in fact, Beiber seems to be reviving. How can you fight against the consumption of girls, when “everyone is doing it?”  That it is wrong is no defence.  Try explaining that to the kid who wants pink tennis shoes. Monkey see, monkey do.  More powerful than logic and morality are the pervasive images of our time.

In a small fiction book called “The Screwtape Letters,” written by C.S. Lewis in 1942, he imagines a correspondance between a senior and junior demon, in which the former gives the latter ideas for complicating a human life.  In one of these marvelous letters, he makes an observation that is still relevant today.

Thus we have now for many centuries triumphed over nature to the extent of making certain secondary characteristics of the male (such as the beard) disagreeable to nearly all the females-and there is more in that than you might suppose. As regards the male taste we have varied a good deal. At one time we have directed it to the statuesque and aristocratic type of beauty, mixing men’s vanity with their desires and encouraging the race to breed chiefly from the most arrogant and prodigal women. At another, we have selected an exaggeratedly feminine type, faint and languishing, so that folly and cowardice, and all the general falseness and littleness of mind which go with them, shall be at a premium. At present we are on the opposite tack. The age of jazz has succeeded the age of the waltz, and we now teach men to like women whose bodies are scarcely distinguishable from those of boys. Since this is a kind of beauty even more transitory than most, we thus aggravate the female’s chronic horror of growing old (with many excellent results) and render her less willing and less able to bear children. And that is not all. We have engineered a great increase in the license which society allows to the representation of the apparent nude (not the real nude) in art, and its exhibition on the stage or the bathing beach. It is all a fake, of course; the figures in the popular art are falsely drawn; the real women in bathing suits or tights are actually pinched in and propped up to make them appear firmer and more slender and more boyish than nature allows a full-grown woman to be. Yet at the same time, the modern world is taught to believe that it is being “frank” and “healthy” and getting back to nature. As a result we are more and more directing the desires of men to something which does not exist-making the role of the eye in sexuality more and more important and at the same time making its demands more and more impossible. What follows you can easily forecast!

Indeed, what has followed?  *Sigh* What hasn’t is perhaps a better question.  All his observations, true 70 years ago, are truer today.  Men of course are conditioned to want girls that don’t exist, and girls are conditioned to achieve impossible measurements and airbrushed beauty.  And, just as Lewis observed 70 years ago, attitudes toward the exhibition of these fantasy women are liberal; heaven forbid you do not embrace the “frank” and “healthy” nature of making these dream girls as available and ubiquitous as cars.

But back to that first question; what are girls good for?  They are good for hunting and fishing, writing and drawing, hiking and sitting on the roof at night, considering the stars.  They’re good for bike rides and belly laughs, for jam kisses and games of chess, for dinosaur bone excavation and bug examination.  They are good for telling stories and keeping secrets, tea parties and wrestling matches.  They are good for so many things, that there should be no room on their list left for dieting and worrying about the shape of their hips or the size of their breasts.  And if there is, turn off the tv, close the magazine, and take that girl outside.  Whatever you do, do NOT talk about your weight, or hers.  Tell her she’s beautiful, or smart, or you love her at least once a day.  By the time she’s 18, she’ll have heard it at least 6, 570 times, and maybe it will be enough that no one can convince her otherwise.

IMG_0281Ask any woman that likes herself why she does, and there’s a very good chance her dad spent time talking to her.  Ask any woman who hates her body why she does, and there’s a very good chance her mother spent time talking about her own.  Be careful with your words; little ears are listening.  I have one good friend who suffered for years with an eating disorder that she would describe as a voice, telling her all kinds of nasty things about her own self worth.  She was never skinny enough to feel “good enough”. The size of her body became a math equation.  Skinny = valuable.  How many girls suffer under the burden of this equation?  I have another friend who is a long distance runner.  She has far stricter eating patterns than I would even like to think about, and yet, she continually worries about her weight, because she spent her childhood watching her mother take pills and starve herself, worrying about her own.  I wish she would have grown up instead with the simple, inspired words of Mary Schmich in her memorialized column “Advice, like youth, is probably wasted on the young.”

And they are:

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Tell your girls that.  How powerful it is for a girl to use her body in ways that celebrate strength and resistance, not silicone and dimensions.  Dance with her in the living room.  Race with her in the streets.  My sister and I have two running jokes.  One is that our dad did a really good job with us, because we have bullet proof self esteem. He told us at least 6, 570 times that we were loved and beautiful before we hit 18, and almost that many times after.  Even now that we are adults, he sometimes he calls up for no other reason than to say these words. “Do you know I love you?  You’re the best.  You’re such a great person.”  When you have spent your whole life hearing someone near and dear say these things over and over, you start to believe them.  They are like reflective shields for the soul.  Anything anyone else might say to the contrary just bounces off those decades of words. Give them to your daughter, like a vaccine.  It’s like Julia Roberts said in My Best Friends Wedding, when she was feeling low;  “The bad stuff is easier to believe. You ever notice that?” It’s true, I’m not sure why.  It’s why girls need to hear the good stuff so many times.  Enough that they’ll start to believe it. There are some funny studies out about the difference between men and women and their body image.  Not surprisingly, men have a much easier time believing the good stuff.  It’s girls that are prone to believing the bad.

The second joke my sister and I share is that, no matter if we are 5 or 10 pounds over the norm, feeling lumpy and bumpy, all we need is a jog to suddenly feel like we’re the bomb.  No matter what the mirror says.  The endorphins have their way with us, and there is no backlog of self loathing to disagree.  We know what we’re good for, and it’s not our big jugs.  This is in agreement with the research.  There’s actually such a thing as exercise “therapy” for people suffering from psychological problems regarding body image.  I’m not surprised.  It’s why it’s so important for girls to do sports.  It changes their paradigm of what their body is for; an instrument for getting things done, not for carving into submission for someone else’s pleasure.

In a very disheartening summary of the research on body image, Kate Fox observes that men are able to look in a mirror, and not even see “faults”, while women look in the mirror, and see faults that don’t exist.  It’s not just people suffering from anorexia that have body dysmorphic disorder. Woman without actual eating disorders commonly perceive themselves in a mirror as larger than they are in life.  And it’s no wonder, considering how the “ideal” body has changed over the century. Kate Fox puts it this way:

In 1917, the physically perfect woman was about 5ft 4in tall and weighed nearly 10 stone (140 lbs.). Even 25 years ago, top models and beauty queens weighed only 8% less than the average woman, now they weigh 23% less. The current media ideal for women is achievable by less than 5% of the female population – and that’s just in terms of weight and size. If you want the ideal shape, face etc., it’s probably more like 1%.

(Mirror, mirror http://www.sirc.org/publik/mirror.html)

There’s good reason to worry about our girls, and how they’ll see themselves in relation to the world.  It’s why it’s so crucial to reframe for them what they are good for.  Girls need to be convinced that it is not their job to look like someone else’s ideal.  They are fearfully and wonderfully made.  But they will only know if we tell them. And if the men they will someday fall in love with can see them through the same lens.

So please please, if you have sons, raise them well.  Make sure they too know what girls are good for.  Raise them to see a person when they look at a girl, not a product.  Start now.  My kidlink already has her fella picked out.  He will, she tells me, be funny like daddy, gentle like her uncle, and loving, like her grandpa.  I really hope he’s out there, when she’s old enough to find him.  I worry that he isn’t.  Mommy’s list has one extra condition.  That he will think she’s the bomb, EXACTLY like she is.

I leave you with Stewart Smalley’s words of inspiration (Saturday Night Live, c. 1990):
You’re good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like you!

And the Baz Lurman classic, that you really can’t hear too many times!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTJ7AzBIJoI

Two drops of water

My daughter is, at this very moment, making a friend.  It was a rough start, with some hurt feelings, and many weeks between invites, but the bloom seems to be on the flower today.  She is, unfortunately, better with plants than people. When she has success with the latter, it is cause to celebrate.  

My husband mentioned today that, perhaps she has problems with hearing, after I shared a little commentary about observing her less than graceful people skills.  “Why?” I asked him, waiting for a sarcastic response.  “Because, she always talks so loud,” he says.  Simple enough.  Maybe we should get her checked.  I tend to think of her yell talking as an extension of her extraverted personality.  I can hear her, 2 houses away.  I tend to think of it as showing off, and cringe, as I am by nature allergic to such extraverted shows of personality.  She often seems to be my looking glass Alice, all my personality -isms turned on their head and looking back at me from a familiar face.

Her new friend watched her careening down a hill today on her orange bike, in fierce competition with a freckled boy two years her senior. Her friend, a sanguine child with a bit of a tummy and Modigliani face, stood by me where I sat on the stoop, and we watched them together.  I was surprised when she asked me a little question. “What was she like when she was little?”

I thought a moment, wondered what loaded the question.  “She was wiggly, didn’t sleep well.  Never stopped.  She was into things. Like now.” 

“She looks just like you,” she said to me, alluding to some previous knowledge that it should be a surprise.  I imagine that she overheard some conversation between her mother and me, that perhaps led to a later conversation.  Somehow, she was possessed of the knowledge that my child looked surprisingly like me, the surprise being our lack of shared dna.

“Yep,” I told her, sharing a story I don’t tell everyone.  “The first time I knew about her was when a friend she was living with called me and said ‘Oh my goodness! There’s a child here that looks exactly like you!”

“And then she came to you?” her new friend asked.  “Yep.” That was the outcome, in a nutshell.

She thought a moment, as we both watched said child peddle back up the street. “She looks like me” I elaborated, “in the face.  But she has her dad’s color.” The friend nodded her wise little head.

“Su hija perdida.” 

“Um-hm. Our lost child,” I agreed. Rescued from Neverland.  The new friend turned her clear hazel eyes on me.

“But she is yours,” she confirmed, with an astute confidence.  Agreed.  She is mine. 

And her dad’s.  Who also came to me, on the very same weekend my “lost” child did.  I guess that means he was my lost husband, right?  As my own father would say, i’n it great? Or bigger than that, isn’t it the best fairy tale ever?

Let me tell you a little story I don’t tell everyone.  One day, out of the blue, when I least expected it, I met my daughter.  She had enormous brown eyes, and a million watt smile, and didn’t sleep at all.  She was a baby, and after a series of events you don’t need to know, she came to live with me.  And on the very same weekend, this fella I knew called me up.  And that week, we met for dinner at his house.  He was supposed to cook, but showed up late.  She was supposed to sleep, but stayed up late.  He lived in a 70’s style apartment complex, and we turned the same movie on 3 times, because we never got around to watching it.  When I went to get “the baby,” and walked her into the kitchen, the fella said some famous last words.  Ask the baby, because she knows them well.

Image

“What did your dad say the first time he saw you?”

She will roll her eyes, and exhale a little, and say in a sing song smarty pants voice, “I know, I know.  He said-you didn’t tell me she was so beautiful.”

After introducing the beautiful baby, we sat around watching her.  We watched her toddle after the cat’s toy, and at some point, the fella scooped her up, and held her in front of a sliding glass door, so she could see the pool below, shimmering in the moonlight and reflecting it’s blue beauty back onto us.  And it was, come to think of it, the very beginning of July.  Just a few weeks from today.  Those must be the important details, because that’s what I remember.  And that’s it.  The end.  But really, the beginning, because that’s where all true fairy tales end. 

We say in Spanish, when two people look just alike, that they are “dos gotas de agua.” What are the chances that, out of the whole world, I’d find my own little raindrop? Or the right fish in the sea, for that matter. 

In the christian tradition, we sometimes say that God is the “Father of Lights.” That every good and perfect gift comes from him.  What gift, really, is better than a father? In our little world, it seems someone sent him just in time.  Image

When my daughter was about 5, she went through a stage of what I will call now “daddy downer syndrome,” in which she couldn’t seem to find a positive thing to say about dear old dad.  (She is currently going through this stage with me, but it seems to be longer lasting.  I am calling the current phase pre-preteenageritis;) I will never forget the confluence of two events which a, show her lack of tact in social situations, and b, show her strength of imagination.

We were driving through Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC, and she was moaning about something dad related, and I just stopped her.

“You realize daughter that not everyone on the planet is lucky enough to have a dad? That, in fact, some children start out with dads, but those dads don’t don’t stick around?  Other kids have dads, but those dads don’t spend much time with them. To have a dad, a dad who loves you and spends time with you, is a gift.  Children without wish they had one.  So I don’t want to hear anymore about it.”

Tick-tock.  The wheels turned, and what came out was a version of this:

“I know mom; I’ll get on a unicorn, and fly around the world, and find all the dads who went away, and pick them up, and fly them back to their families.

Prob  lem   solved!

Er, or something.  Pretty sure I smiled with amusement and nodded in agreement.  GREAT plan child. That was wrong move number #258. (You can ask me about wrong moves 1-257 at a later date.)

Soooo, one day we were in a Gap, and I see Hookie scowling at a little boy, repeating words she often hears from my mouth, but in this case, with 2nd person affront. (I usually mutter it in 3rd person). “WHERE” she demanded, “are your parents?”

The little boy gestured faintly in a direction, and explained “My mother’s over there.  I don’t have a dad.”

Uh-oh.  “Don’t worry,” Hookie said, not really making eye contact and ramping up with skipping enthusiasm around a clothing rack. “I’ll go find him with my unicorn, and fly him back here, and…” and then I grabbed her.  Pulled her, actually, dragged her out of the store as she shouted the rest of her plan behind her.

“HOOKIE,” I said with exasperation.  “When a child tells you he or she doesn’t have a dad, STOP TALKING!”

“But mommy,” she said, indignant, “I was just going to go find his dad for him.” With a unicorn, apparently.  Probably a uni-pegasus, to be exact. If only it were that easy.  Some of us get the gift.  Some of you are the gift. 

Happy Father’s Day dads, from your little raindrops, however they came by you!

As our friend Dr. Seuss said (and I suspect he would have been pro the uni-pegasus plan):

“To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world.”

-Dr. Seuss

Keeping it Real

Tomorrow is Mother’s day in the US; yesterday it was Mother’s day in Chile.  We are right in the middle in more ways than one.  I just read an article from the Huffington Post that I think says something every mom can relate to; it’s called “Pinterest Stress,” and states that nearly half of the mothers addicted to this particular drug;), and other social media outlets, like Facebook and Instragram, are stressed by them:(.  Can you guess why?

Pinterest is to the modern housewife what Sex in the City is to modern singles.  Fuel to the fire and (almost) absolute fantasy.  If you didn’t already have a complex about not being tall enough or thin enough, with a toned booty and fabulous hair, clear skin, shaved legs, and rocking abs, along comes Pinterest, to hold a mirror up to your kitchen table and your child’s birthday party.  Some bee-atch out there made perfectly fluffed pink cupcakes and cake shaped like a pirate boat for her children’s birthdays; what about you?  Are you good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, crafty?  Or will your next creation end up as a contribution to Pinstrocity?  If you don’t already know about this wonderful contribution to keeping it real, I highly suggest you go have a laugh right this minute at the same pics that are making me laugh out loud, even as I write.

Image

(to download this lovely reminder, click on the image).

I happen to be one of the weak souls who is particularly susceptible to over planning.  I actually like the idea of executing perfect cupcakes and pirate shaped cakes-but over the years, I have finally learned that often, while I am working so hard to make the magic moment, I miss it.  For my daughter’s fifth birthday, I was so excited she finally had some friends to borrow (through a scam we took great advantage of over the years called “a joint birthday party;)”) that I missed most of it, obsessing over some last minute details in an elaborate Peter Pan themed party.  I cringe to actually try and add how many “moments” I have missed in my life, obsessing over details.  One of the great strokes of luck in my life was having a half assed, pint sized wedding.  My sister picked my dress out while I was doing battle with the final copy of my thesis.  One of my best friend’s volunteered the musical track I wouldn’t have had without her.  My aunt brought beautiful bouquets of flowers with zero input from me about color or quantity or kind.  The day of my wedding, we did not go to the salon and get polished and buffed.  My sister and I wandered around downtown BC looking for an open salon, wondering if it was a national holiday, because NOTHING was open, and I hadn’t planned ahead.  In the end, she painted my nails.  I remember it well. Another dear friend invented a hairstyle for me the day before the ceremony-with no input from a bridal magazine of any kind.  What is my point? I remember everything-because I didn’t have time to even begin obsessing over the details.

My new goal in life is to let things be imperfect.  My daughter has now had 2 birthdays at a horribly tacky amusement park in our small Chilean town, including one ride I particularly despise, that she calls the “barbie” ride.  It is the torso of a badly airbrushed fiberglass blonde (no legs of course), and it embodies everything that Martha Stewart does NOT approve of.  I don’t either, but I am learning to tolerate it.  And to take pleasure in the moment-the sound of her glee as she crashes her bumper car into mine, the look of her face as she is swooped up in the air, under the wing of her dad, not sure if she should laugh or cry.  The summer magic of fiber optic wands she begs for-their nylon ends glittering with the ephemeral magic of fireflies, because we know that by tomorrow, their batteries will be dead, the feathery nylon tips chewed and bent.

It is easy to begin viewing every moment in life through an Instagram lense. Harder to forget about it, and be present in the moment.  This is the danger of modern life-wanting to package every sweet moment into an airbrushed momento.  But that puts us behind the camera, and turns our family lives into an episode of the Truman show, which by extension, makes us as plastic and false as Laura Linney’s character, posing whenever she can with a product in hand and a Crest smile.  We should not be concerned with air brushing our lives, but enjoying the sweet spots, when they come. If that includes some browsing fun on Pinterest, so be it, but just remember, not enough Martha Stewart is Martha enough to do it alone, and we definitely aren’t, and you ARE good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, people LIKE you! (especially your kids):)

Love at First Sight

Paper Cranes

My daughter was adopted.  Once.  I say this to make a little point that it is not a chronic disease, or present tense verb.  She knows all about it, and at funny, unexpected moments, likes to mention it to strangers and friends alike.  I overheard her very recently taking to a friend about babies.  I think they were playing dolls.  Somehow, it seemed relevant to her to mention to her friend that I (as in “my mom”) had never ‘had’ a baby.  Her friend scoffed and said, “what about you, silly?” H mentioned very casually “I have another mother.  I was a baby in her tummy, and then I was my mom’s.”  Her poor little friend, who had never hear a word of this story before, wasn’t sure at all how to take it,  and so they picked a new subject.  Just as it should be.  The sky is blue, dinosaurs rock, I was adopted once.  But, just to put a little parenthesis on it, H ended the story the way she always does. “My mom always wanted me.”  And if you’re at all confused, by mom, she means me.

This week will be Mother’s Day, and I can’t ever let it pass without a little hail Mary and a shout out to the good Lord who sent her my way, and let me keep her after all.  I DID always want her-every curly haired, cleft chinned, brown eyed, yell-talking, funky toed inch of her.  And the minute I saw her, I knew.  You may call it revisionist history, but I was there.  She is as right as she knows.  We are a pearl and a pea in a pod. We chafe against each other sometimes because we’re made of different material, but from even a very small distance, you would never guess it.  And we fit together just the same.

She likes to hear stories about when I was a child.  It surprises me sometimes how interested she is in them, and how bored by stories about herself.  “Let me tell you about the first time your father saw you” I’ll offer, and she’ll roll her eyes and sigh, and say with bored intonation “I know, I KNOW.  He said you never told him how pretty I was” she says in a sing song voice, as though it’s too tired for comment.  And then she requests a new story about old times.  “Tell me a story about when you were a kid,” she insists.

Someday, I hope she knows how spectacular and miraculous our life as a family is.  Sometimes, I’m ashamed to admit, I forget.  Our big anniversary is the 4th of July, but even that frequently passes without comment, as often happens in our sing song lives.  The miraculous becomes mundane, and we look for a new story to tell.  But sometimes, the old ones are best.

In biblical times, it was practice to build an alter out of a pile of rocks each time God did something worth remembering, a kindness, to his people.  I often reflect on this practice, and think about the wisdom there is in it, because we are all so human.  And to be human is to forget.  It is to be swept away by the latest and greatest worry or desire, and to forget all the moments of grace and redemption that have come before.  It is so easy to forget about the near misses and  last minute resolutions that we experience; to be consumed by worries about the future.  I think this is why God once commanded his people to build alters.  He knew they’d wander past them  every once in awhile in the literal desert of their despair, and remember their blessings.  Sometimes, we need rocks to remember.  We need a reminder, so we can tell ourselves and our children the stories of what went right.

My sister posted a picture of my niece today, a three year old mini-her, getting ready for a CT scan, for her one year check up after a major surgery that corrected a condition that, in another country, another decade, or even on another health plan, could have left her blind and retarded.  Instead, she is a healthy, happy, spunky, naughty, delicious 2 year old, with white blond hair, a Samantha Mortenson overbite,  and a penchant for charming the pants off anything that moves.  These healthy, happy girls, hers and mine, are not small miracles.  They are our personal Illiads.  And I think we are equally grateful for our happy endings.  I know they don’t happen to everyone; that’s what makes happy endings remarkable.

I saw an image today that was too terrible for inclusion, but to give a context, it was in reference to the atrocities committed by Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia “doctor” who essentially murdered hundreds of babies in what is euphemistically called “late term abortion.” I can’t read about this without thinking that each of the children murdered by the practice may have been the child another woman, like me, “always wanted,” as my Bean likes to say.  Every fairy tale is built around a nightmare-if you don’t believe, pick up an original copy of Pinnochio or Sleeping Beauty-and this is no different.  As we think about the gifts of motherhood, they are framed in stark contrast against the losses.  My daughter’s birth relative (mother) didn’t know she was pregnant until she was 3 months along; apparently, Philadelphia allows abortion until 24 weeks.  Think about that-that’s 6 months.

ImageMy child very easily could have been scraped out of someone’s womb, like so much unwanted baggage.  So I also think, on this holiday, of the person who chose life.  Who gave her to me.

Holidays are like alters; they sit there on the calender, waiting until we come around again, to remind us of different important truths.  May your mother’s day be as blessed as a pile of rocks, whether it is with stories you mother told you, or stories you have told your children;  Happy Mother’s Day mommies everywhere, and 100 cranes for those who dream of the child they have always wanted; a toast to your first rock.