We ended up holding an impromptu Scuba-demo last night at our campsite… The same gaggle of youngsters who had gathered around our motorcycle a couple days earlier returned, drawn this time by our clothesline full of wetsuits and dive gear.
They were brimming with questions—what things we’ve seen diving, how we breathe underwater… So Jon pulled one of the air tanks back out of the truck, scooped up his regulator set, and hooked it all up to show the kids how it works. As they took wide-eyed turns breathing from the tank, I chatted with their mom, who had just as many questions as her kids.
In the course of conversation, I shared with her the comment from her son that made me grin the other day—that the reason he has to grow up is so he can get a motorcycle. Her answer gave me great pause. With an uplifted smile, she told me that he’s terminally ill, so she’s grateful for every reason he finds to fight.
What I had taken for a humorous kid-ism was in this case a literal truth. This little guy, all of five, is collecting reasons to grow up, because “growing up” isn’t a given. It’s a poignant reminder that really nothing is a given, even though we make assumptions about our futures… It’s a reminder to pay attention to all the reasons to enjoy today.
A recent Gallup poll asked Americans what they think is “the ideal number of children for a family to have” and found Americans, on average, believe that 2.5 children are ideal. ~ Gallup.com
I’m sure this quote intends to say that the averaged number, gathered from responses, is 2.5, not that people actually believe “2.5 children are ideal.” I mean, kids come in whole-number units, so that’s an ideal no one could achieve. Or could they? Sometimes I feel like fractions should be a part of my answer when I’m asked about my kids…
“How many kids do you have?”
As cut-and-dried as that question seems, I actually find it awkward to answer. I reply with a variety of permutations depending on situation and circumstance.
I’ve given birth to two sons and a daughter. (So I “have” three kids.) One son was adopted by an amazing other mother, and I don’t currently have custody of the other two. (So I don’t “have” any.) My daughter at least sees me (so I “have” relationship with one). And I’m still legally the parent of the two teens, even without custody. (So I still “have” two.) I could answer, with some truth, with any of those numbers, but no numerical answer to the question actually tells my story.
(And that’s not even opening the question of step-kids… Do I have five of those, because I married their dad? One, because he was still a minor during that marriage and I mothered him? None, because their dad passed away and dissolved the link? I do still consider them family, and refer to them as my step-kids if relational explanation is called for—but I’m less likely these days to include them in a kid-count than I did when their dad was alive and I was married to him.)
Despite the hypothetical argument above for “having” no kids, that’s never my answer. I’m still a mom, regardless of current custody. My most frequent answer is that “I have two teenagers.” But then, it’s not unusual for me to include the baby (with an adoption-explanation) as well. Continue reading “Mother’s Day, By the Numbers”→
This one is a painful topic. I lost custody of my kids seventeen months ago.
Having weathered (Sober) the death of a spouse, the infidelity of another, the unplanned arrival (and subsequent adoption) of a late-life baby, and a host of medical problems, I let my guard down when my life finally looked like smooth sailing—and I drank.
Five years previously, I had voluntarily added to my custody agreement that I would relinquish my share of custody if I were to drink again. And then came the day in December of 2015 when I got collared for an excessive DUI. At eight in the morning. After dropping both my kids at their schools. (“Painful” is an entirely inadequate word for those sentences.)
My funny, engaging, wise, sensitive son has not talked to me since. (“Excruciating” is an entirely inadequate word for that sentence.) I still have Faith that there’s healing in our future, though clearly that’s not going to happen (hasn’t happened!) on the timeline I would wish. In God’s time. Meantime, I send him occasional text messages and notes in the mail (and cards for his 15th & 16th birthdays), wanting him to know that haven’t “walked away” from the relationship, or from him.
My daughter stayed silent for a few months, but she and I talk and text regularly now, and I get to see her for an hour or an afternoon here and there.
Of course, this isn’t at all how I envisioned mothering my teens! I’m at least grateful to have an ongoing relationship with Elena Grace, but it can’t properly be called parenting. It’s visiting.
When we were motorcycle-shopping, Jon jokingly threatened to buy me a bike with training wheels—though he then reassured me that he wouldn’t humiliate me like that. I think the issue goes deeper than avoiding humiliation, though—what I need most is to build the gut-level confidence that the bike will, indeed, stay upright even without Jon on the front. And that confidence wouldn’t start growing with training wheels in place.
In a sense, passenger-ing behind Jon has been my “training-wheels” course in motorcycling… I’m SO comfortable when he’s in front of me, and I have absolute confidence in his control of the bike. When I’m his passenger, I’m utterly at ease on a motorcycle.
In my solo parking-lot ventures, it’s that confidence that was wholly lacking the first time I got on the bike by myself. It’s that confidence that I’m building. I’m overcoming my illogical expectation that the bike is somehow going to suddenly fling herself to the ground!
Last week I was pretty much walking her around the parking lot in first gear, working on getting comfortable with the friction-point on the clutch, and with the balance and weight of her being mine to handle. Last night I graduated to wide, slow circles around the parking lot, with my feet mostly picked up—so that’s some serious progress in my comfort-level. (Jon jogged alongside calling encouragement to me, just like my grandpa did when I was learning to ride bicycle.) Continue reading “Taking Off the Training Wheels (in Prayer)”→
Okay, I have to admit my body is not yet accustomed to day-long shifts standing on concrete. Or more accurately, it’s not yet re-adjusted to that… When I owned and ran a restaurant the days were a lot longer, and sure, they wore me out—but they didn’t make my muscles sore like they are this week.
That’s right, I have sore muscles from cashiering—how goofy is that?
Compared to sitting on my couch with laptop and feet up, freelance writing, Home Depot is proving to be a workout. Given the variety (and sometimes size) of the items people are bringing to my register, there’s a little bit of gymnastics involved with my hand-held scanner… And I end the day with dirt under my fingernails and a splinter or two… And that mild ache that tells me I was actually doing something with my day.
I’m actually finding that satisfying—though nowhere near as satisfying as the number of smiles I get to “collect” in a day. Some people prove a challenge, but I like a challenge—can I get a smile out of them? Usually, yes.
When I don’t have a line at the register, I stand out in the aisle to let people know the register is open, smiling at the people walking past. It’s almost amusing to see the faces going by, switching on their smiles one by one as they make eye contact and respond to the smile I’m giving them. I was so intrigued I had to look this up: research says smiles actually are contagious. (Smiling reflexively and responsively to another smile is an involuntary and instinctive reaction stemming from the cingulate cortex, if you wanted to know…)
I find there’s also a scientific explanation for why I get such a charge out of smile-collecting… Seeing someone else smile at you doesn’t only trigger a responsive smile, it also directly triggers the brain’s “reward” center. And then when you smile, your body releases some of those “feel-good” chemicals that give you reason to smile. All in all, it’s a pretty nifty self-perpetuating feel-good system. (God is GOOD at design! I wonder how many more mental-health meds I’d need if I smiled less…)
This is where I think I’m particularly suited for the job of customer service… my face’s “default setting” is a smile—not a big grin, but definitely a smile—so at least that’s one set of muscles that’s not sore from unaccustomed use.
And a default-smile definitely keeps the smile-cycle going for interactions on the job. It’s what I missed in the solitude of freelancing—I literally do sit here with my default smile, sometimes even when I’m writing about something awful (today’s topic: laser vaginal rejuvenation, ick)… but I don’t get the “charge” of return-smiles during a day at the computer. On the other hand, my feet are enjoying a break on the couch-recliner this morning, so it’s all good!
Okay, I’d better get on with that freelance article. We’ll see if the default-smile lasts through that topic!
Regardless of what the retail-store displays would have us believe, Easter really isn’t about chocolate, baskets, or long-eared hopping mammals. Nevertheless, our church chooses to host an “Easter Eggstravaganza” for the neighborhood, staged in the park right behind the church.
It’s part of our mission to reach out to the neighborhood, and be a presence. It’s not intended as a recruiting tool per se (although plenty of new folks also showed up for the church service beforehand)—our focus is on being a part of the neighborhood around us, doing some good where we can, and letting people experience Christianity-in-action.
It’s the same reason we partner with the grade school a couple blocks away, which has one of the highest “free-lunch” populations in the city, and a heavy demographic of refugees. We bring teams of volunteers to help at their events, provide backpacks full of school supplies at the beginning of the year, and adopt needy families with clothing and gifts at Christmas. There’s never any “propaganda” accompanying our volunteer work or giving at the school; it’s purely a program of Christian living, embracing the neighborhood where we’re planted.
Last year we “egged” several hundred nearby homes, leaving plastic Easter eggs on their doorsteps with invitations to the Easter event. The three thousand eggs we stuffed with candy for last year’s egg-hunt proved insufficient, so this year we gathered our forces to stuff candy into ten thousand eggs. We had a bounce-house and face painting and a photo booth and a raffle, and the Easter Bunny arrived on a Harley Davidson (we’re that kind of church) to meet-and-greet and take pictures with kids. Continue reading “Jesus Meets a Harley-Riding Rabbit”→
Pat just had a massive stroke; he’s in a coma on life support and not expected to make it back to us. Knowing that he wouldn’t be talking to me (but who knows, might be able to hear me) I stopped at the hospital today to visit him.
His son, whom I’d heard about but hadn’t met, eagerly accepted my meager offering of stories-about-his dad while I held Pat’s hand and hoped maybe he was enjoying them too. My favorite story about God & Pat & me is one I shared here five years ago (and I’ll say it’s worth a read—not for the writing, but for the wow-factor of a true story).
Another favorite that I shared with Pat’s son was one he used to tell, about his days as a cop. Whenever someone came as a ride-along, the officers would put him in a hat that said “JAFO,” and explain that it meant “Justice Affiliate, Friend of Officer.” It would ensure his safety, they explained, by making sure other cops knew who he was. It actually stood for “Just Another Fucking Observer.” Pat always led to the point that each of us should engage in our own Recovery, rather than being a JAFO in our own life.
I’d say he took his own advice. He survived being shot twice, beat throat cancer, was riding his bright orange Harley Davidson last time I saw him… I’ve often sat in the back row of A.A. meetings between two men who totaled 80 years of Sobriety between them. (I always figured it’s a good seat if I’m book-ended by “old-timers.”) Pat’s daughter committed suicide just weeks after my husband Keoni did, and the two of us sat through a lot of meetings holding hands and crying together. I’ll miss my bookend. And I promise, Pat, to keep LIVING so I don’t merit a JAFO hat.
Post-Script 1/3: Pat passed away shortly after my visit. I’m so glad I went.