Thursday, May 29, 2014

Talking and Listening Long by Andrea

My Granny Sis

I remember the day I first realized that my grandmother was “old”.  She was turning 60 as I was going on 10.  Being old meant she could die.  Dying meant we would not be together as we had been every day of my life it seemed. I worked myself into a frenzy of fears and tears as I contemplated this truth.  I cried so much my eyes were raw.  Just a hazy, incomplete thought of her leaving me could send me over the edge- well into adulthood.  It was that day, I’m sure, that I began to pray that God would be gracious enough to allow me to die before her.  I envisioned us having many, many years together, but that I would never have to live without her. I was completely unable to imagine a life without her unconditional love, devotion and friendship.  Only now, can the realizations that she is getting older and as she says, “her time on this earth may not be long more” come to me without me being filled despair and dread. 

My grandmother has been one of my very best friends for my entire life.  As a child, I lived to spend my days with her: raking the yard, pulling weeds from her flowerbeds, going fishing, tying the strings on her rag quilts, roasting sweet potatoes and shucking corn. In all those times, I talked and she listened.  I talked about the important things of my little life, my wonderings, and my dreams.  She talked and I listened. I knew stories of her childhood and life as though they were my own.

Even as a boy-crazy, freedom- chasing, know-it-all teenager, I loved getting to spend nights at my grandparents’ house while my mother worked.  We would stay up late and watch her shows, eating sweets and shelling peas or beans.  I talked and she listened.  She talked and I listened.  At a time in life when there can be distance and secrets, I knew her and she knew me.

I went a way to college, but I called her all the time- to get my fill of her colloquialisms and the neighborhood happenings.  I talked and she listened.  She talked and I listened. She knew how to wait to hear not only my highs, but also my lows. I knew she would always have time and wise, guiding words for me.

As a young wife and mother, I would drop my son off at school, drive the two hours to my hometown just to spend a couple of hours with her before heading back to pick up my son at the end of school day.  I would talk and she would listen.  She would talk and I would listen.  She seemed to always know what I needed and she freely gave.  What she knew, I knew.

Always joyful and laughing!
Up to this day, when I go back home for a visit, I go to my granny’s house first.  When I make my weekly calls, I call her first.  My mother does not feel shunned or slighted.  She is a grandmother.  She gets the devotion and the connection. 
Here's my granny sleeping at my house in TX.

My granny is old now but still vibrant and full of life.  She is in good health and sound mind. When I phone her, she talks and I listen.  I talk and she listens. I can only visit two or three times a year since moving over 1300 miles away. The absolute highlight of my life happened last year when, at almost a century old, my grandmother got onto an airplane for the FIRST.TIME.EVER to surprise me with a visit.  In my home, in Texas, my granny talked and I listened.  I talked and she listened.  As we have done my whole life. 

There is not one day that goes by that I do not pray for, speak of or quote my grandmother.  Our connection has been built over a lifetime, with many words, fierce love and treasured devotion.  It does not matter which of us gets to go to heaven first.  I just hope that there will be a place for us to talk and listen long.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Short Story...Let's have some fun with fiction

A Fiction Short Story…

I want to be like the beautiful robin that visits our house every morning at 5:00 a.m. while I am getting breakfast ready.  I want to be free to come and go and have no expectations to fulfill.  I want to be the me I used to be, before the mortgage, before the kids, before the fighting.  I glance at the pile of dishes stained with yesterday’s lasagna waiting for me to pay them some attention.  I look past them and at my balding husband sprawled out on his leather couch, completely absorbed with March Madness, although I seem to be going mad every month of the the year, not just March.  Not even then constant inquiries from our 4-year-old daughter can snap him back to attention.  The longing in my daughter’s eyes cuts a hole in my soul and it takes every ounce of my being not to get up and slap that lazy bum for not noticing.  For not being aware of the world outside of the 60-inch TV he got himself for his birthday last month.  My princess lowers her head in exasperation and finally bows out of the competition for her father’s heart.  She gently slides into a small space near the edge of the footrest without a sound so as to not disturb her hero. I raise my arm holding the spatula I am using to make tonight’s companion for our chicken dinner, macaroni and cheese, my husband’s favorite, and aim it directly for the bulls eye forming on his head, but stop short.  My 2 year old’s wailing sounds like burglar alarm and I a feel guilty for being caught.  A good wife doesn’t do these things.  A good wife doesn’t event think these things.  I spin around to the gagging noise my dog is making, just as he upchucks his dinner with a button along for the ride.  I grab a wet rag to clean up the mess.  My daughter clings to my arm like Velcro screaming in my ear for dinner. The smell of burnt pasta and milk keeps me from losing my patience.  Scooping my daughter in my arms, I race to the stovetop to salvage what’s left. 

Over the shouts of the commentator and Lily’s screams I hear faintly “Honey, I hope you aren’t making dinner for me.  I am going to go watch the rest of the game with Tim and the guys, and I will just pick something up on the way.”

My stomach turns and the corners of my eyes moisten.  A half a second later the river of tears flows.  I gently pry off my daughter and head for the back door.  Safely outside, my inhibitions are lost.  A scream creeps up my chest through the sobs and travels to my throat making its way to the outside world.  I don’t care who hears, I just need to get it to before it engulfs me and I drown.  I let the tension and stress melt away, and soak in the last of the sun’s rays before it tucks itself in. A knock on the back door interrupts my peaceful meditation, and there stands my daughter like a warden waiting impatiently for me to come inside.  I wipe the evidence from my face. Take a moment to catch my breath, and step inside to the chaos that is my life. 


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Problems I Have Caused Myself by Carolyn

When troubles occur in our lives, as they inevitably must, we moan and cry and carry on, wondering why this (whatever it is) has happened to us. It has been my considered opinion for quite a while now that there are four sources of our troubles in this world.

One, which I think is responsible for only a small portion of the trouble in each of our lives, is that sometimes God places us in positions or sends us circumstances that He has purposely designed to refine and develop us in some way. I don't presume to understand the details of all that, but my Bible assures me that it does happen, and is the result of His fatherly love for us.

The second cause of our trials, in my humble opinion, is that we live in a world full of imperfect people. Not only are our own bodies and minds and souls imperfect, but so are those of every single human being with whom we inhabit the Earth. I believe that this imperfection is the cause of a lot of our troubles. Car wrecks, disease, robberies, hangnails, financial scams - everything from genocide to someone going through the express checkout with too many groceries can be attributed to the "fallen-ness" of the bodies we inhabit and the people we share our world with. I don't think it does much good at all to obsess about this kind of trouble. Worrying about things outside your control only gives you wrinkles, a headache, and a grouchy outlook on life.

Third, I would name the natural world as the source of some of our problems. It seems you can't go a day without hearing about a flood, tornado, tsunami, earthquake, wildfire, or other natural disaster. I'm not sure if these natural disasters are becoming more common, or if we just hear about them more often in this era of global communication, but it is impossible to deny that we humans are almost totally at the mercy of Mother Nature. We like to think we are mighty, powerful, indestructible; but we are clearly no match for the excesses of wind, rain, snow, heat (or whatever) that the natural forces of our planet can conjure up to throw at us (literally and figuratively).

Lastly, and the real subject of of my rambling thoughts, is the fourth cause of the problems we encounter in our daily lives. Ourselves. I have come to believe, albeit reluctantly, that I am the cause of most of my own trials and tribulations. I have been pondering this for quite a while (I was recently accused of pondering rather too much), but it was brought home forcibly to me while I was taking a road trip a few weekends ago. I had set my GPS to lead me to the home address of a friend from many years ago (I didn't want to say an "old" friend!), even though I knew in general how to get to the area in which she lived. It was really just the last few miles of the trip for which I needed directions. As I drove, the computer-generated (male with a British accent) GPS voice kept insisting that I should take a route that I didn't want to take. He believed that he knew better than I did which way would be the best. Mile after mile he droned on, "Make a U-turn when possible." I declined to follow his instructions. As the trip went on, I became more and more irritated with him. I am embarrassed to admit that I even began arguing with him. "I will not make a U-turn! I don't want to go that way!" Finally it dawned on me that this irritation could have been avoided if I had gone as far as I could without setting the GPS, and then turned it on only as I got close to my destination. Idiot! (Sadly, this is not the first time I have done exactly this same thing.)

So, as that realization hit me, I began thinking that perhaps there were other instances in my life where my problems or troubles or irritations were of my own creation. As I drove, I began naming those situations aloud (it kept me awake as I drove, at least). The list grew quite lengthy. Undoubtedly, I could have driven cross-country and not have run out of examples of this phenomenon in my own life. Here are a few of the ones that came to mind as I drove (in no particular order):

  • having no air conditioning in my car (still)
  • running out of my prescriptions without refills available
  • having a house full of chewed-on furniture, pillows, baseboards, shoes, eyeglasses, etc.
  • needing to rake the discarded leaves from 40 trees in my backyard
  • wearing shoes which I have forgotten give me blisters
  • often having less in the bank than I should
  • running out of clean underwear
  • having to squeeze past all the junk in my garage to get into my car

I could go on . . . and on . . . and on, but that would just be depressing. I am especially sorry to say that I am apparently incapable of learning from my previous mistakes - some of my self-initiated problems have occurred more than once.

I would like to promise that my propensity for causing myself trouble will end forthwith. I would like to believe that. I live in the constant hope that at some point in my life I will become a real grownup - one who is capable and thoughtful and thorough. Unfortunately, it is looking less and less likely as I continue to grow older without becoming noticeably wiser.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Comrades in Mothering

Mother’s Day is coming up and I am missing my comadres.  I am talking about my three best friends who shared in the first eleven years of parenting with me.  The first one was Nicola.  She was a German girl who had come on vacation to Venezuela, met a Venezuelan doctor, married and stayed. I saw her first at my Lamaze class but kept running into her at different places around the small town where we both lived.  One day I went to pick up a friend who needed a ride to the grocery store.  She lived in a fourteen story high-rise where neither the elevator nor the call buttons worked regularly.  I honked my horn from the parking lot and when someone waved from the balcony of what seemed like the floor where my friend lived, I waved back.  But instead of my friend Helene, it was Nicola who came down.  Surprised, she asked how I knew where she lived.  I told her I didn’t.  It turned out that her apartment was one floor below Helene’s.  Soon we began taking our toddlers to swim lessons and spending time together as friends.

About the same time, the couple that owned the stationary store next to our computer business, who were expecting their first baby, started inviting us over for dinner.  When Margarita was born, our daughter Miranda became her first and best friend.  

For several years I maintained separate friendships with Nicola and Edi.  When Margarita was in preschool, she met a little girl whose family had just moved from Caracas.  Edi brought Estela over one day and we instantly connected with her.  She was funny and a free spirit.  The three girls loved playing together, although every once in a while one or the other would come crying that she was not given the right accessory in their dress-up game or was not allowed to be the right princess in the Disney story that was being acted out.  But all and all, they played well together and by now Edi had a little boy who became best friends with my son Safaa. 

Then came time to make that crucial, life-altering decision that every parent must face: Which school should I choose for my precious first born.  As the mother of the oldest child in the group the heavy responsibility was on my shoulders to find the best school in town and then recommend it to my friends.  A brand new, air-conditioned private school with a swimming pool opened right behind the building where I lived.  I enrolled Miranda in first grade.  The owner should have given me a commission.  Edi and Estela signed up their girls for kindergarten and Nicola, who by now had three boys, registered the older two as well.  And that’s how all four families became connected. 

We spent almost every weekend together.  We helped each other with transportation and baby-sitting. We were present at each birthday party and school performance.  The girls all did ballet. The boys learned to play instruments.  I became the official cake baker and costume sewer of the “family”.  

At some point we started celebrating Mother’s Day together.  Edi’s husband, Ziegler, took this picture of the four us. 

We all framed it and displayed it somewhere in our homes.  Visitors always asked if we were sisters.  And without any hesitation we would reply yes.  For me, who had always wanted a sister, they are the closest thing to one, even though I had to travel through two continents to find them.

Once a week us mothers would get together for coffee and bare our souls.  We would reassure one another that none of our children were permanently damaged by the mistakes we were making and that our husbands were perfectly human, despite their flaws. Estela and I became pregnant at the same time; third one for me, second for her.  Of all four of us, I was the only one who went on to have a fourth baby.  Edi and Estela stayed with two. 

Others would try to penetrate our little circle and we were a welcoming group, but there was something special about the four of us.  We were our true selves with each other.  Each one of us was unique in her own way.  We had different interests and different temperaments but like true sisters we loved each other despite these differences.  I think what united us was motherhood.  We were comrades in the trenches of child rearing.  We learned from each other, supported one another and comforted whoever was feeling doubt at the moment.  There is a kinship that is created among people who raise children together.  It transcends blood and familial relationships.  Young mothers need other young mothers to reassure them that really none of knows what she is doing.  We can’t really admit that to our mothers or mother in laws.  We walk this rocky path together and try to be as much help to each other as we can. 

The day I left Venezuela, everyone showed up at the airport.  As tearfully I said goodbye to Edi, Estela and Nicola I knew that my life would never be the same without them. 

And every Mother’s Day I am reminded of that. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Digital Courage by Andrea

cour-age (noun): the ability to do something that frightens one, especially in the face of opposition or adversity

Recently, I listened to a well-known radio host decrying what he calls “digital courage”- one’s ability to “say” things online that he or she would never say face- to -face or in polite company. There are many trolls  (as they are called) who camp out, waiting for opportunities to berate and belittle news reports, blogs and social media postings.  They look for any opportunity to pounce on someone’s pain or vulnerability.  And there are those who over-share, make unwise personal declarations or bully others because they feel “empowered” by the digital distance. 

As I listened, it hit me.  This is NOT courage.  Spewing hateful, condemning or personally offensive messages online anonymously or behind the veil of a ‘handle’ is the opposite of courage.  A more apt description, I think, is “digital cowardice.”

A digital coward is just like a 3D, walking-around coward: one who lacks the courage to do or endure unpleasant or difficult things.  The perceived digital wall makes people like this bolder.  Real-world cowards say nothing yet snicker and criticize behind one’s back. Virtual ones say as many hurtful things as possible for all to see.  But they do it from a hiding place.

The term digital courage belongs to all the brave out there vulnerably sharing their gifts, thoughts, and wonderings with all of us.  How many of us read blogs regularly (raise your hand… you’re reading one right now)?  I read them almost daily.  Blogs are a large part of the online, global community. We get to experience life with people we may never meet because of the prevalence of blogs today.  The same is true with social media sites as well.

Someone pressed ‘Post’ and decided to share some of their innermost thoughts, feelings and opinions all in an effort to make a connection, on some level, with readers.  The braves decide that it is important for the message, the art, the music, the innovation to be “out there” in spite of the fact that they may be opening themselves up to challenge and criticism.  This is true digital courage.  And we are better for it!

Courage does not mean the absence of fear.  It is pressing forward in spite of fear.  It is deciding that it would be far worse to keep one’s creation to self than to share it and endure the discomfort of negative critique and judgment.  And each time, courage presses ‘Post’, someone’s life is impacted.  Someone thinks.  Someone questions. Someone creates.

All art, especially writing, serves as either a window or a mirror for the observer.  Looking through the window, we get a glimpse of the heart and life of the one who shares. This enables us to relate to people, to connect rather than distance ourselves.  And when connection happens, empathy is conceived.  Then empathy gives birth to compassion.  Each time someone exercises digital courage, the viewer may get a clearer image of self, as with a mirror. We get to see ourselves in someone else’s story. And we learn to be kinder to ourselves or at times to push a little harder as not to give up.  Too many times to count, I have found my voice, the vocabulary to express myself, because of the words of someone courageous enough to press the button.  

This I know for sure: when we are courageous online, as well as off, we give someone else the courage to say “I will share my (fill in the blank), too.”  We are here to elevate- first ourselves, then each other. 

I vow never to use the screen as a hiding place, but as a place to encourage: to give active help or to raise confidence to the point where one dares to do what is difficult.