Rebuilding

I like the fall. I like the mountains with their red, orange and yellow colors. I like how the days get cold and force you to wear sweaters. I even like those lingering gray days that last until spring when you see mostly branches, and it feels almost lonely as it begs you to stay inside.  But that’s not why we started to have a Halloween party. Four years ago when I looked excessively pregnant and was truly about to deliver we held our fall party on the end unit town house on the last edge of Old Town. I think we realized it was likely the last time our home would be clean and definitely the last time we’d enjoy socializing.

Every year we go through this process of will we or won’t we hold something. One year we skipped it, twice I was pregnant, and on the third I was sure it would be fun. This year we debated. I’m learning with kids how fast the scenery changes from play dates to preschool and even who is around in this transient town. This year we wondered who would come. We changed our perspective a little as we debated the will we or won’t we make it a tradition and began referring to it as our service. We’d laugh as we said it because even from the beginning we knew no one got more from it than us. Still it’s nice to feel like you can do something. It’s easier to take on the hard work when the hard serves more than just you.

So we invited everyone the way my husband does: the neighbors, the old play group, someone who just had their second child and could probably use some warm food, new school friends and someone we saw at church after a long time. I worried the way I do: the floor could be cleaner, the decorations were never unpacked, I botched the caramel apples, I should have made more food.

We bought this house not long after that first party and since then we’ve been rebuilding. We’ve taken out all of the floors, the dining room and kitchen walls and a corner of the basement along with most of the front yard. We have replaced every window and door. We still need a new stove, backsplash in the kitchen, an accent wall in the living room and a functioning master bath. All of these are good reasons to buckle down, work harder, and not welcome in anyone.

Every year I wonder if there’s enough room, but we make the best of our space. We’ve squeeze into corners. We’ve gathered blankets to make space for entertainment outdoors. Somehow we make it work in whatever state the house is in because it isn’t about that. There is something about Halloween. It’s never been my favorite. It’s about death and pretending to be someone you aren’t. That’s not really my thing. I’ve always thought it was a bit creepy. But in this neighborhood it’s this fun evening when everyone is walking around. So in our second year we caught on to the vibe. Sure we put out the candy and we walk around, but we also open the door.

Whether it’s warm or cold, the lights are on and the door is open. There is some soup on the stove. There’s a place to go for people who need one; the ones who find it convenient, the ones who come for us. Every year since we started Halloween has become a reminder of what hard work is for. We aren’t in it alone. We welcome new preschool classmates; old friends from play groups; the neighbor who comes when I call and say, “toddler tells me his chest hurts”, the same ones who once delivered Christmas dinner; the neighbor who has fixed the HVAC and replaced our water heater, the ones who are funny and caring and a whole bunch we want to know more. These people are amazing.  I love this quirky modern, old-fashioned town.

It’s December, two weeks till Christmas, and yet here I am thinking about Halloween. Because I know this next year is a time for rebuilding. It’s going to be immensely hard. This was a week of sickness in our house: a root canal, another ear infection and someone just puked (three times). It’s easy to get overwhelmed. There will be less cookie trays this year. I will be less thoughtful about presents. But we will focus on the right things. This was also the week where the stories from Aleppo threatened to break us. It has been a week or so since the Standing Rock pipeline stalled, not yet answering the question of whether people are worth more in America than oil. The tally is still running in the surge in hate crimes which just inched passed 1,000 in the month since the election.

I’m not an expert in construction, but I’ve been in places like this before. It will hurt; this finding common goals. The tasks will feel endless. There will always be more work to do. When we walk this Earth we must remember to treat every place as our home.  We have the power to rebuild it and we are called to especially when it feels scary or broken.  Details will matter like who we let in the front door, if we leave it open, put something on the stove, find space for all the people, try and ready even the darkest corner. It will matter.  This year amid all the coming deconstruction and all the pain that it can bring, I’ll be thinking about Halloween and the hope that can find us in unexpected places.

Because hope is still the most powerful thing.

An open letter to my gay and Muslim friends in light of Orlando:

For once I had a post ready for this week. I even thought I had a photo. Reflecting on Orlando is more important. I want you to know I’m thinking of you and I’m thinking of why I’m thinking about you.

When I was taking one of my writing composition courses in college I remember one of my professors teaching. She said to root your writing in details. In communicating specifics of our own experience we allow others with different experiences to connect with us. I remember thinking for heaven sakes no one cares what type of tea I was drinking, or what color dress I was wearing, or even what year it was when I wrote this. Then I read other people’s work. Time and time again I cared about the details. I still remember stories I thought were of no interest to me. A person so unlike me, a writing style I didn’t particularly care for, a subject I didn’t think I wanted to know about. Time and time again when they showed me their world I always fell in. I started to know them. I started to appreciate what they cared about.  There are days when I don’t remember breakfast, but 13 maybe 15 years later I remember their stories: A boy’s vacation to Barefoot Landing ruined by a fire alarm, a girl’s mathematical learning disorder the college dean dismissed… I carry their stories in me.

I encourage you: tell your stories. Throughout all of time in the human existence that is all that has ever mattered.  When you think about the bones of the story of human life they are always the same: we are born, we grow, we die. That’s it. That’s all there ever is. The rest is just details. The heart of us is details.

I am a broad strokes kind of girl, which I supposed it is why I am thinking of you all. Though it’s your story, the bones of it are like mine. It’s not ok to me that either of you feel unsafe to be gay or to be Muslim. Like many Americans I come from immigrants. They were Germans in America during the world wars, how unfortunate I suppose. There was hate for them too I know.

I admit, I ask myself why there was a shooting in Orlando.  You already know you are not the first to be persecuted in mass shootings or public distrust. Maybe the fact that it happened (s) after all of the suffering humans have already seen makes it feel crueler. I worry about the questions you’re asking yourself.  How could it still happen? Why to you, to someone like you? Do you deserve it?

I don’t know the details of why.  I believe if it could happen to someone like you it could also happen to someone like me.  You don’t deserve it. No one deserves it.

In our time, we focus on the wrong details.  We identify differences and we evaluate the threat they pose us.  We concentrate on how to catch, punish, or shame someone who has done, or might do, something we perceive to be wrong.

You might want to withdraw from this crazy world- let it work itself out- I know I sometimes do. I want to remove myself from the world’s dysfunction. Focus on something small, something beautiful: my kids, a flower, the way the sun sets, a bowl of ice cream. Please don’t. Focus out. Live your story and tell it.

I believe we can shift what’s out of focus. We can change the experiences that created someone with so much hate. Our interactions with others; our choice for kindness; our search to understand, to hear, to honor others, our example is a victory and a protection. It’s the world we can leave even if it isn’t the one we live in.

I Stand Small

Shadows

I started this blog shortly after having my son. My first year as a mother was challenging, humbling, humorous… human. So I wrote to remember it, I wrote to focus on it, I wrote to be inspired by it, I wrote to connect with it. It was a year to focus inward.

This last year has been the year of my daughter. My first year of a mother of two has been challenging, humbling, humorous and human. I have barely written, I still attempt to shower, feed little people a lot, clean the big things a little, and I constantly try to sleep. Yet, this has been a year of looking out.

I was happy giving my son all of my attention, focusing on how to support him becoming the person he‘ll eventually want to be, as well as figuring out how to have a rewarding trip to the store (Losing our Chicken). There were days where I’d roam the trails behind our house (Leaves) and watch my son. Time would pass in ways that made me smile: with sticks and leaves as brooms and rakes. Nap times were times for sitting, grocery lists, cooking and cleaning.  There was space for needs and time to think.

I would also be happy giving my daughter all of my attention, focusing on how to support her becoming the person she’ll eventually want to be, as well as figuring out how to have a rewarding trip to the store. There are still days out back when toddlers play chase on tennis courts. Sticks are swords and wands and pointers. The birds are cheerful. The wind is cool, and there is peace in joy. But it is fleeting.

There are chores to do. Inevitably, when one wants to play the other needs sleep. Here, time gets lost in the business of caretaking and masks beauty of life. There is less opportunity for impromptu anything. Looking at what chubby hands point to or following their eager feet. A momma must master the tasks and also the information so who has time to play after that?

My son’s first was my year to rebuild my foundation (Laying Stones); and my daughter’s first has been a year of realizations… also emotions, a good deal of frustration, but mostly a sobering knowing that I am not enough.

So I look out. I lean on a new preschool, on a gym, on old friends who’ve weathered time, on the family that still catch us, and on kindness whenever it lands.

This year many have called the America of this almost election a stranger. But I have felt you creep through a steady hum of frustration from tasks lists so long and choices whose ripples vibrate deep. On the surface, the progress toward inclusion and prosperity we’re making…

But quietly under the surface we are pressed against the tide. Americans, like new parents, are entangled with the business of providing. Endless choices meet limited impact; expectations crush us when inevitably with actuality, they clash.

Are We Worse off than our Parents?

A recent study by Fortune magazine (Most Millennials Think They’ll be Worse off than their Parents) found that 76% of all employees surveyed and 80% of millennials (largest percent of working population) believe they will be worse of then their parents. Are Millennials Really the First Generation to do Worse than their Parents? described the economic forces working against millennials.

  • Cost of attending collage rose 54% from 1998 to 2008
  • Median household incomes from 2000-2010 fell for the first time since WWII

This rise in cost coupled with decreased income produced record breaking debt for each graduate, who graduated during an economic recession. This unfortunate timing will likely mean unemployment for many. Studies have shown that previous generations who faced this dilemma earned less than older and younger counter parts for 20 years. That doesn’t mean that young workers, who hold debt and are paid less are working less.

  • Worker productivity is up 37.6 percent since 1995, but median real wages only rose 9.6 percent
  • A 30-year-old in 2013 is worth 21 percent less than a 30-year-old in 1983.
  • Meanwhile the net worth of the average 60-year-old today is more than twice as high as 1983

According to the article Are Millennials Really the First Generation to do Worse than their Parents? they are doing more work and receiving less compensation.

How did we get here?

It’s not just millennials who are making do with less. Most households are impacted and it has to do with our health and our health care. Which begs the question, how healthy are we?

How Much Does Health Care Cost (Pre-affordable Health care)

We are feeling dizziness from being our and our families the case managers. We choose whether or not to take the advice of medical experts and health insurance decides whether or not to help us pay.  We feel pinch of our choices. The premiums slightly hidden in pay checks, but the co-pays are often an unpredictable surprise.  They arrive uninvited after the party of office visits, specialists, procedures, emergency rooms , and medication.

According to an article in Forbes: (Annual Healthcare Cost for Family of Four Now at $24,671)

  • The average cost of health care for a family of four with PPO coverage more than doubled since 2002. There was an 8% increase to employees (overall) and a 5% increase to employers in 2015. The primary reason given for this high spending is the increasing cost of prescription drugs.

Express scripts detailed and commented on the increase in prescription drugs in Super Spending: U.S. Trends in High-Cost Medication Use :

An estimated 576,000 Americans spent more than the median household income on prescription medications in 2014. This population of patients grew an astounding 63% from 2013. Further, the population of patients with costs of $100,000 or more nearly tripled during the same time period, to nearly 140,000 people. The total cost impact to payers from both patient populations is an unsustainable $52 billion a year.” 

According to an Article in Health Affairs: (A Decade of Health Care Cost Growth has Wiped Out Real Income Gains for an Average US Family)

  • Between 1999 and 2009 inflation grew 29% while wages grew by 30%, a typical family’s monthly premium for private health insurance grew by 128%, out-of-pocket spending grew 78%, copays grew from 3-6 times what they were 10 years earlier and new fees (hospital visits) were added. The government also spent 140 percent at the federal level and 76 percent at the state level more in the same time period. So despite the fact that gross national income increased from 1999 and 2009, individuals are likely in a deficit as a result of health care expense.

Not surprisingly experts have concluded that health care costs may be widening inequality and reducing take home pay. (Do Health Care Costs Fuel Economic Inequality in the United States?)

The Case of the Epi Pen

It happens in our house. A raise, a bonus, a tax return bring about a discussion of all of the exciting things on which to spend our money. A trip, we think. A home improvement, we envision. A business we had thought to start… No, despite our valiant war against eggs, the most egregious allergen in our house, the health care costs have won the pot. We and the vegan mayonnaise, baking powder pancakes, flaxseed meatloaf and avocado cupcakes are losing the war.

Our most recent battle wound egg was the $1180.25 trip to the ER, the $448.29 epi pen. The allergist recommended getting 3 packages of epi pens. We got one. I will escort it to all of my son’s activities.

Threats to World Health

In the U.S. as the debate for universal health care raged most people became vaguely aware of just how expensive our health care is. Many of us justified this cost with our reputation for cutting edge healthcare. But cutting edge health procedures don’t address the issues that The World Health Organization (WHO) discusses when they talk about the global public health threats for the 21st Century. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) World Health Report Overview infectious diseases are spreading faster and appearing more quickly than ever before:

  • 1 new disease per year
  • 40 diseases unknown a generation ago
  • 1100 verified epidemics in the last 5 years
  • Diseases are showing antimicrobial resistance makes them epidemic prone.

WebMD published an article (World’s Population Is Getting Sicker, Study Shows) in 2015 which contends that as a result of lack of impact on disease worldwide people are actually sicker now than they were in the 1990s. Likely the cutting edge healthcare that we were counting on to justify our health care expenses and our resulting quality of life is not benefiting us because they do not address the risks that we actually face.

The Case of Ebola in the U.S.

In October 2014 I was 7 months pregnant and a toddler mom. Few things existed other than doctors’ appointments and play dates, but even I was aware of the fear and non-stop coverage when a Texas hospital worker contracted Ebola in the U.S. Living in Northern Virginia means we have the advantage of being a short distance from D.C. and all of its national treasures. But we knew what else was near Northern Virginia:

  • leading medical treatment centers, which were among the earliest prepared to treat Ebola
  • international airports, which carry passengers from countries with Ebola epidemics like Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea

Yes, it was scary. It is scary to realize how close we are to any illness. It can be scary to be reminded how intertwined we are. It was scarier to witness the lists of lawmakers who believed they could control an epidemic by relocating it, as if we all didn’t breathe the same air. (List: Lawmakers Backing Travel Ban, Smells like Quarantine Spirit: Governors Push for Stronger Ebola Policies than the CDC) The Ebola transmission on American soil reminded everyone that our health care system’s capacity for global public health threats matter.

Who Invests in Health Care?

OK, you might think, I still don’t think I need to worry about the global threats that WHO outlined. I’m much more worried about cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. I’d be willing to spend an incredible amount of money and have an increasing number of expenses passed on to me as an individual, if it means that I or someone in my family receive a better health outcome in the U.S. than in other countries.

Unfortunately, I think we’re becoming aware that that isn’t actually what we’re seeing. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology article describes the status of NIH spending. In the 2016 budget proposed by the President the NIH would receive a 3.3% increase over the FY2015 spending, which is good news. However it is only the third time since FY2003 that the NIH budget has increased more than the cost of research. Not only has the government chosen to make lower investments in health care research, but rising costs mean the government’s buying power is reduced. Meanwhile a 2014 article in U.S. News and World Report (U.S. Medical Research Spending Drops while Asia Makes Gains) drew attention to the reduced NIH funding as well as reduced corporate funding for health research.  We have become invested in our reputation for cutting edge health, but who will invest in health research if corporations and government are cutting spending?

The Case of Genetic Disease

Nathan Harney was born on March 23, 2010 and died on June 18, 2014. Every day in between he blessed us on Earth. He remains his parents’ beloved son and my beautiful nephew.

He was perfect, but his body would not stay that way. A defect in a gene on chromosome 15 meant that he would live briefly and die of Tay-Sachs disease.  A blood test could have informed Nathan’s parents that they were carriers of Tay-sachs disease, but they weren’t identified as individuals who were at risk. They never knew that they could have prevented a disease that could not be treated.

Nathan’s Legacy is one of grace and inspiration, as well as education and fundraising. We can’t choose our diseases. We aren’t given a key to our genes, but we can choose to prioritize improving health.

Tay-Sach’s is rare. About 16 people a year are diagnosed with it in the U.S. according to Kids Health.  Not surprisingly it is not a priority of NIH. It is a priority to Nathan’s parents, friends and community as well as all families of Tay-Sachs children.  The Cure Tay-Sachs Foundation (CTSF) was started by the father of a Tay-Sachs child in June 2007. Since then CTSF has done what NIH could not do. It has raised $3,916,891 and issued $1,989,504 in research grants (http://www.curetay-sachs.org/ ). Research improves treatment and cures diseases. The value of investment in research is immeasurable.

Can U.S. Health Care Compete?

Not surprisingly numerous articles confirm what Americans have suspected: the quality of our healthcare system lags behind that of other countries. In a 2014 article in Forbes.com (U.S. Healthcare Ranked Dead Last Compared to 10 Other Countries) the Commonwealth Fund’s survey on overall health care concluded that the U.S. performed poorly with regard to administrative costs and hassles, unnecessary emergency room use and duplicative medical testing.

A subsequent brief from the Commonwealth Fund (U.S. Health Care from a Global Perspective) comparing the U.S. to 13 other high income countries between the period of 1980-2013 concluded the following disturbing facts about U.S. healthcare relative to the other countries:

Quality of life:

  • has the LOWEST life expectancy, the HIGHEST mortality.
  • has the highest prevalence of chronic disease (highest obesity rates…obesity has been linked to numerous chronic diseases)
  • has the highest rates of adverse outcomes from diabetes.

Spending:

  • Devotes at least 50 percent MORE of our economy to health care than do other countries.
  • has the HIGHEST health care spending as a % of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  • has the HIGHEST PRIVATE(personal) spending on health care
  • invests the smallest share of our economy(%GDP) on social spending.
  • ranks a very close second highest for PUBLIC spending on healthcare. (And we are only covering about 34% of residents (Medicare, Medicade) even though all other countries studies have universal health care.)

Utilization:

  • has fewer practicing physicians, doctor visits and hospital beds
  • has some of the highest rates of medical technology, and pharmaceutical use.

Our health and well-being along with that of our friends and family takes an extraordinary physical, emotional, social and financial impact on us. It impacts our abilities, productivity, perspective and pocket book.

The Case of the $1493 Juice Box

This was our “I know you said not to touch it but it looked like jelly so I ate it” trip to the ER. Though he assured me while spitting in the garbage can that he could fix it, the poison control line assure me that he could not; and did in fact need emergency medical attention. The ER doctors, who prescribed no treatment, presumably monitored the $1493 juice box drinking, the mind-blowingly expensive daddy/son bonding time.   I meanwhile, had sympathy heart palpitations, which I did not seek medical attention for because I knew we couldn’t afford it.

How Healthy is America?

In America we believe in outliers, in anything is possible, in the power of social mobility. We love to cheer on the underdog and when as they say, “push comes to shove” we have never failed to come together. But we build society on the backs of individuals -individuals who have less money, worse health care and more responsibility- so we must ask ourselves how healthy is this American we have building?

Bankruptcy on the Rise

Not surprisingly, these high cost health expenses result in what you might imagine: bankruptcies. Debt.org points out that the number of bankruptcy filings has been increasing- especially between 1980-2005.  In 1980 there were more corporations filing for bankruptcy and today the majority of the filings are by individuals.  According to a study of a sample population in the American Journal of Medicine Medical Bankruptcy in the United States, 2007: Results of a National Study  and an article in The Commonwealth Fund  (Do Health Care Costs Fuel Economic Inequality in the United States?) most bankruptcies filed were as a result of a medical illness or expenses. Both articles found the debtors to be middle class and have health insurance. Debt.org estimated that the number of bankruptcies due to medical bills were slightly less than 50% and that the debtors were typically lower income, less educated individuals who were unable to deal with medical bills or job loss.

But our culture has other less obvious costs.

Losing our Faith

Our faith in organized religion is eroding. A 2015 article in Business Insider (Religion in America is on the Decline) reports on a Gallup poll highlighting the lack of trust in organized religion is part of a decades long trend. In the 1970s 68% of Americans reported “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in organized religion or the Church, but in the most recent poll only 42% of Americans responded in a similar manner.  The Washington Post published an article (Christianity Faces Sharp Decline as Americans are Becoming Even Less Affiliated with Religion ) based on a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, which arrived at similar conclusion. The number of individuals who described themselves as Christian has dropped sharply over the last 7 years. There are more adults who describe themselves as “religiously unaffiliated” than Catholics or mainline Protestants. The country is becoming less religiously affiliated as a whole and particularly among millennials, who are remaining less religiously affiliated as they age. It is striking is that individuals who do not identifying as an organized religion, also report that they don’t value religion. There is also evidence that older generations are disavowing organized religion in larger numbers as well. Slowly but surely, we are losing our faith.

Controlling the Experience

Religious affiliation is often accompanied by a sense of community, a prioritization of values and an aspiration for a utopian experience. Along with the documentation of a decline in the importance of religion and in some cases the actual religious population, there are a number of secular movements popping up that seek to produce control over aspects of people’s lives.

  • Mindfulness: a way of thinking intended to shift ones internal thinking patterns and allow for more control over one’s experiences. Mindfulness focuses on reflection, allowing space to process thoughts.
  • Minimalism: a lifestyle that enables the practitioner more physical, emotional and financial freedom by encouraging him to consciously choose what to include or exclude in his life.
  • Tiny house movement: way of living that can enable better control of finances, less impact on the environment and result in a feeling of increased autonomy

These movements all focus on the self not the community and the ways in which individuals can change their experience with American culture.

Under Attack

Data is the cruelest of mirrors. It hides no wrinkles and, when fully examined, holds no flattering light. During contentious political times such as this we often ask if all is really as bad as it appears. How we relate to each other is a powerful view into the psyche of a culture.

We question what the rise in police shooting videos and headlines mean. An article on CNN.com (We’re Not Seeing More Police Shootings, Just More News Coverage) asks if we are seeing a rise in shootings or just coverage. We wonder if we’re racist. We wonder why we don’t know how many police shootings there are. We wonder if the police are looking to intentionally hurt some of us. We wonder if the police feel under attack.

We fear attack: some of by police, some by terrorists, some by neighbors.

The number of mass shootings has risen dramatically (F.B.I. Confirms a Sharp Rise in Mass Shootings Since 2000; Mass Shootings Have Become More Common in the U.S.: But overall gun homicides have declined). In one article (Rate of Mass Shootings Has Tripled Since 2011, Harvard Research Shows) on MotherJones.com even estimates that mass shootings tripled between 2011 and 2014. We increasingly relate to each other as strangers, react to each other as potential threats and feel burdened by responsibilities for the individual who lacks the resources and hope to make their lives better.

So when they say:

Yes, I have heard them creep… followers of this politician who builds solidarity by exploiting frustration, isolating feelings of hate and fear, and finding blame where there is none.

At Home

My feet are planted firmly on the tennis court we love.  My eyes are clouding past the vision of my kids, who still run free and call to me, but there’s so much in my head. There are bills and facts and thank you cards. There’s a dinner list and a little dread that what’s left to do will be hard for me. So I breathe. I look at the trees, so strong and sure and comforting. Not like me, I feel weak.

I once heard Dr. Phil say the three most expensive words in the English language are, “might as well.” “Could you just” cost me the most this year. Could you just be quiet, could you just put your clothes on first, could you just wait, could you just eat this, could you just listen, could you just give me a break.  Every time I honored the “me” instead of the “we” this year it cost me the most. I got lost in what HAD to happen and missed what WAS happening. I made space for blame and it held on to me.

There’s  not enough of me. The court is wide and the day is long. I stand small. I refocus me. On this court an Indian neighbor invited my shy toddler to join his children in a game without knowing me.   In this town a college aged girl’s momma, who caught me in a “could you just” moment held my baby and spoke kindly to me as she parted the sea of had to happen and happening.  At a picnic in a nearby town my husband interrupted an extended community gathering and asked what they were cooking.  A kind and gentle man responded with skewers of Afghany barbeque to share with our family. On this year when my son could choose how to spend his birthday he asked for a small party.  So it was that old friends, new friends, friends like family joined us at the museum of Natural History. On that day after the attacks in Paris those who gathered just so happened to be four families:  Catholic, Episcopalian, Muslim and Mormon. They were all good people; their religion meant nothing bad to me.

These will be the stereotypes for me. I am weak when it seems that all that stands between my kids and hate is me. I am not enough. I stand small. No matter how softly they creep I can’t let any politician rewrite that for me. It isn’t right. It isn’t healthy.

I am but a tributary. Whether we stay strong like the Mississippi River and flow toward the sea or end in muddy ruin like the Colorado River (Not All Rivers Reach the Sea; The Colorado River Runs Dry: Dams, irrigation and now climate change have drastically reduced the once-mighty river. Is it a sign of things to come?) is yet to be seen.  Even for the mighty Colorado there is hope it seems (A Sacred Reunion: The Colorado River Returns to the Sea).

I hope for the same for me. I stand small, but I hope not alone for long.

Image

Leaves

leaves slide

As I work to finish a new post for this blog I am reminded of another essay I wrote 2 years ago, but never published. I suppose it was more negative than I wanted to focus on, but it feels like it was laying the groundwork for the essay I’m working on now. A TBT post from March 2014:

It’s one of those beautiful Virginia days- teasing me that Spring is a breath away despite the fact that just last week 15-18 inches of snow kept my little man and I house bound. An early morning rain and the 54 degree temperature has the snow melting fast and the confused and hungry birds who thought they migrated South fervently picking at the now exposed patches of soggy grass. Before I head outside to enjoy my faux-Spring I watch a segment on the Today show where NBC’s Chief Medical Editor, Nancy Snyderman, stated in the segment How Loneliness Can Be Bad for Your Health that “We are herd animals and we need each other”. Darn straight Nancy. As a self-proclaimed sensitive soul and former health professional I am fascinated by the interplay of psychological and social aspects and how they affect people, but I’ve never been as sensitive to the lasting impact of our American culture’s self-imposed spurning of actual human contact as I am now that I’m a mother.

I woke my little one up and coaxed him into a good mood with promises of an adventure. We’d been mostly house bound for the last week, because as all Virginian’s know our best asset is not how we prepare the roads after or drive in snow. I chased him around the couch giggling. I folded the bed sheets over his head. After a week inside I had only these few indoor games that held his attention so I dressed him for the snow adventure. I slid him from hip to hip as I fumbled to find which pocket I had hidden the key to lock the house door. We admired the Blue Jay on the tree my son was facing as I finally clicked the lock. We listened to the Blue Jay’s song. I never noticed how different its song was from the bird songs familiar to me growing up in the mountains of western Pennsylvania.

When my son and I are outside like this I talk about how beautiful a bird’s song is, or how striking the blue sky is, how amazing the leaves are when they turn green to yellow to red or orange in the autumn, and what the birds or the squirrels are doing. I provide words for the amazing world we live in as he learns language. Before he was born I learned not to hope for any outcome in his life, still I hope to pass on a wonder of nature and a love of life.

I carry him down the path that leads to miles of wooded trails behind our house. The snow is heavy. Like most people, it has a thin layer of crust over a thick blanket, softly melting. The asphalt of the path has melted most of the snow except for the steep winding section near our house. It’s slick so I insist on carrying him. He doesn’t object. I feel the delicate balance slipping as I walk down the snow covered stairs and head toward the bridge over the stream. I wonder if I made the wrong decision to carry him. As the incline steadies, I feel firmly footed once again. Then he’s off. It’s like he somehow knows that it’s safe to walk. This child of mine, this great adventurer has a fierce sense of calculated risks. He is so physically smart it blows me away. He was walking at nine months. Now at 15 he can run down hills, around obstacles, seemingly able to stop on a stone, slow himself when he’s feeling reckless. That’s what’s amazing to me.  While he seems to have no fear he is also so conscious to avoid life challenging recklessness.

He loves leaves- so easy to pick up, so interesting in the breeze, so made for little hands to clean up imaginary messes on sidewalks and street pavements. I can’t now remember the first time he picked one up. I can remember the last. We were walking along the path I dug where the sidewalk used to be in front of our house. The 15 inch snow was then half way up his proud little belly. He looked and shuffled. Eventually grabbed what I couldn’t see, a leaf under the snow, a sign that life can lie hidden under the heavy blanket of suffocating white.

My hope finder, again with his leaf, looked up to find a man slowly jogging past. “Dada” he called. Because, while a genius who knows many words, like other 15 month old geniuses words have a looser connotation for them than they do for us.  So by “Dada”, he meant not my Dada, but man that I want. While that man ran off without even a smile, foot heavy to crush the crunchy snow which he missed while crushing the hope of a small child who ran eagerly after him. I silently raged behind the hugs and kisses and poor explanations I used to cover over our unnatural social norm of ignoring life. He stood slightly confused; watching the hope of an encounter pass as the man jogged down a hill on which I hoped he’d fall. By the time we strolled down two hills and over “second bridge,” my pain for my son still raw, but his glee restored by several sticks. I placed hope in an old lady walking her dog in the distance. When she walked closer my son giggled and clapped, walked toward her with a bouncy kind of march. I knew he was hoping to meet her and pet her dog. I knew, as she appeared to not be talking on the phone she held to her ear, as she started to hold tightly to her leash, that she had no intention of stopping. Inspired by my extrovert’s innate desire to connect with another I asked, “Could he pet the dog?” While she nodded yes, she also walked away without the hesitation that my son held onto as his quick brain learned not to engage or to stop and admire life in all of its forms. I, meanwhile, barely contained a, “where the HECK are you Nancy? Speak your truth about our nature as herd animals! What is wrong with these people who don’t stop to look at the wonder of life?” I let him run after her because I won’t hold him back from trying to reach another. I do slow him down. I try to synchronize our experience; ask myself if he should conform so the imprint on his heart is lighter each time he’s ignored. I wonder how quickly people are made by the choices we so often unknowingly make.

Inside I also connect with my fingers, but to people in faraway places, visible only through a screen. Once classmates, coworkers and friends existed in my daily life, but now they drift into a safe distance where we no longer need to acknowledge the actions of the other. In passive interactions I sift through status updates and newsfeeds. Many old friends fall by the wayside, and in exchange I find my leaves. Families of Tay-Sach’s babies holding out for the hope that I cling to, so hard to hold onto as they weather the storm of scientific impossibilities while they fight for the lives of babies born and unborn. Without a step, without a word, even with every skill lost they still make the smallest breath hopeful, brighten even the darkest day. In the face of an unthinkable fate, they bring out people’s kindness with each one of their needs. Thank you chromosome 15, but for the genes of my husband my son would also be one of those leaves.

Two days after my last outing the sun is stronger, the snow and ice nearly fully thawed. My son started to climb up the hill the man didn’t fall down with his heavy tread. I watched as my son again looked for leaves. Neither of us turned when we heard someone approaching from behind. A gray haired woman in a long black trench coat and soft soled slip on black momma shoes stopped. My son looked up into kind eyes. She began to speak.  With a slower smile he offered his leaf. Wanting to encourage this follower of Nancy I began to explain how much it meant to me that she stopped. My son mastered the difficult task of actually sharing his leaf with our cloaked friend who explained she had three once young children. Turning her attention to my son, but with words for me, she offered the leaf back explaining that she understood a child’s love of giving and how it seemed wrong to then just toss the leaf away. He, having happily given it, did not take it back. I accepted it.  The meaning of which, not lost on me.

Daddy on Duty Y’all

Daddy on Duty

And I am not saying a thing because:

  1. While daddy dressed baby I was free to work on my business. No matter what fashion writers tell you no outfit is worth more than a little freedom.
  2. She’s dressed.
  3. Daddy will get bonus points for mentioning that he read this post.

Shout out:  Red and gray sock (righty) thank you for giving up your freedom to entertain said baby while daddy took toddler to get his hair cut with all the other toddlers in this fine state of VA who seemed to be out getting their hair cut. I hope you meet some nice lefty about your size in the local mall lost and found because I don’t intend to come looking for you. This mom’s a survivor.

 

Reflection

Snow day number seven.  It’s been 15 days since last day of preschool. This causes a momma to do some deep deep reflecting…

  • I’ve decided that preschool IS an essential service. Balance is necessary. Without you preschool I have lost mine.
  • Red sauce should be a controlled substance. The damage it can do to table cloths, furniture and carpeting is uncanny. We should consider an age limit for this.

Zombie Apocalypse

stream

If you know my husband you know that it’s a form of endearment if he wants you around for the Zombie Apocalypse. He’ll say things like, ” That new neighbor looks like a piece of work. He’s got a pick up truck with fishing and gun stickers on it. Not really sure what I think about my neighbor having a gun, but I bet he’ll be helpful during the Zombie Apocalypse…I better go meet him.” I’m not sure if he really thinks the Zombie Apocalypse will come to pass, but he sure does talk about it a lot. For example according to him, I will be really valuable during the zombie apocalypse because of my stealthiness. When he appreciates this quality in me he calls me a ninja; when he doesn’t, he asks if I’m an assassin. “I’ll never tell.” I say.

We got snowed in for the blizzard of 2016 and I have yet to be accused of being an assassin, which I think is evidence of things going well. Given my need for exercise, nature, and quiet we agreed I’d trek through the paths to the store while he manned the fort.

There’s something about the woods I love. Unlike the roads already covered in ash, the tree lined paths glisten with snow in the days after the storm. Today, the grey clouds gave way to blue sunny skies. The patted down paths twisting and turning through neighborhoods and shopping plazas feel more personal than the roadways somehow. I bump into a mommy friend with her daughter. They are thoroughly cold and worn out from sledding which makes me smile.

Then I arrive at the grocery store and looked around,

no milk

again

no veggie 1

and again.

no veggie 2

 

With just an image or two, the quickly setting sun, and a suggestion of an inevitable outcome repeated a few thousand times utopia quickly turns to dystopia.

I ran into two mommies at the checkout that I knew, but, I noted,  the beauty of interconnectedness is lost in fear. The impromptu rescue party of husband and kiddos seemed equal suspicious, given my explicit directions to hold down the fort.

I couldn’t help but feel heavier on the way home: four grocery bags, a toddler, a husband and a baby. We made our way through unlit paths and focused on not tripping on now crunchy snow. The sled was broken, toddler’s gloves were sokin’, the kids were cold.I worried about dropping the baby in the carrier as the toddler and grocery bags alternated falling from the sled into the snow.

We try to laugh in our house. I don’t really think I need to worry about zombies chasing me through the snow. But when I got home I did allow myself a hearty minute to focus on the power of suggestion and the subtle pervasiveness of hate and fear.

Several years ago my husband and I started on a journey to lighten the load of what weighs us down. Sometimes that’s been things, and sometimes it’s been people. Either way it has been hard to seek hope rather than fortify against fear.  But in light of living in the shadow of the Zombie Apocalypse-I’m so glad we have.