What The World Needs Now

Note to readers: I wrote this post last fall. I find I cannot talk as much about right now as I would like to unless I fill in a little about the past. Rest in peace, Edward Marion James. Jr.

Sometimes the most unlikely events align.Over the past year and a half my sisters and I had been following reports of our cousin Mike’s ill health. Mike is the son of my mother’s brother, Edward. And Eddie and my mother also shared two more sisters and two more brothers each. Most of those siblings lived in Memphis, so on Christmas and Thanksgiving  the grandparents, parents and grandchildren filled every speck of space at my grandparents’ home, so packed in that it seemed that if Grandaddy stirred in his chair in the living room, a domino effect occurred, one person bumping another, until someone spilled out onto the front porch.

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Our grandparents,

We seemed to be one collective person, yet we were individuals. I had girl cousins my age, so on holidays I made a beeline for them, while my sister Ellen often played with Mike who was about her age. And like most families, family dynamics played a part in the amount of time cousins spent with one another. Our oldest two uncles moved in and out of Memphis, and as the three sisters were very close, we tended to see more of our aunt’s children than our uncle’s children.

Time marched on. The children became adults and scattered. Mike moved to the Chicago area, and I never saw him except at funerals. Thanks to Facebook,  I was able to connect with Mike as well as with other cousins. We learned Mike’s health was not good, and in time he got the diagnosis we feared he would receive: ALS.  Among the sisters we wondered what we could do for him other than offer prayers and positive thoughts. My sister Carla and I live in Memphis and Ellen lives in North Carolina, so casseroles were out of the question. What if…. would it work if all three of us were to go up and see him?

The three of us had somehow never traveled together. Carla has a busy career,  and spends her vacation  time  traveling  with her large family, an entourage, really,  visiting destinations outside the United States. In recent years I have spent more of my free  time visiting my grandchildren, or being visited by them. I have managed to travel some with Ellen, but not with Carla. Ellen, who lives 650 miles away from us has had to concentrate most recently on her graduate studies and had just recently gotten her first job as a professional librarian.

Still, what if we did run up and see Mike , even though we never travel together and neither has seen Mike for at least fifteen years? Naw, that couldn’t work. Because jobs. Because children. Because grandchildren. But guess what? It did work out one weekend this fall. We each left town on Friday afternoon for Chicago. Carla and I arrived at almost the same time, as her flight was delayed, but Ellen wouldn’t  arrive until later. I met Carla in the luggage area in order to hitch a ride in the Town Car she had ordered.

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From across the luggage area I decided this nice man looked just like my sister. I waved frantically but thankfully he didn’t see me.

Once checked in to our suburban Chicago hotel, Carla and I ventured out with Uber to a restaurant that unbeknownst to me was about a thirty minute drive from the hotel. The ambience was nice at the restaurant but we were on a deadline – to return to the hotel with food and wine for Ellen, whose plane did not get in until after 9:00. So we Ubered thirty minutes back to the hotel, stashed the gyros we brought back for her and scouted out where we could purchase some wine.

Friends, our best choice was the 7-11 across the parking lot. We elbowed our way through the parked semi cabs to view their tiny wine collection. Oh well. Beggars couldn’t be choosers. With our wine bottles lined up on the counter I asked where I could find a corkscrew. “We don’t sell them,” the clerk replied without a shred of compassion. Who ever heard of a 7-11 that didn’t sell a corkscrew? Sighing,  I slid my husband’s  credit card into the chip reader for our $37.oo purchase. “Declined,” replied our clerk with even less compassion then before. Perhaps lots of people get declined at the 7-11 at 10:00 P.M. buying $37.00 worth of wine they can’t open. But I had another card, so all was not lost.

Back we went with our brown paper bags back to the hotel. Once inside I texted Ellen this urgent message, “Please say you have a corkscrew.” She did not, but promised to ask HER Uber driver to stop somewhere. And if needed, she offered her knitting needles as possible cork screwing implements.

At last our third party arrived, tired, hungry, and thirsty. We girls had a lovely reunion in our pajamas until I as the oldest had to go to bed.

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Wine in a paper cup, in our pajamas at the hotel. That’s living!

The next morning we reviewed our largely non existent plans. All we knew was that we were to see our cousin Mike and his son, our second cousin Kevin, and Mike’s friend Leo at 5:00 P.M. We were on our own in Aurora, Illinois for the day. Since the three of us had never traveled together we also had no ready templates for what we might all want to do together in absence of museums and book stores. I already was loving the fact that everything we did together was a first.

In case you’re wondering, Aurora massage parlors are pretty booked on a Saturday. But after some searching I was able to get an appointment at noon for three at a foot massage place.

At the appointed time we Ubered away to the location. The suite number didn’t seem right, but it said “foot massage” right on the sign. We three went in and were instructed to wait. So we waited and waited through several “People” magazines.Eventually the masseuse came in and asked, “Um… who did you speak with when you made your appointment?” I was assuring the lady that I did have an appointment when I noticed a voice mail on my phone, from the very nice man who had taken my call that morning…at another foot massage place down the street. Uh oh. Could we come now? We could not, because he was booked, but he gave us another appointment at 3:00 P.M.

What to do now? We didn’t want to eat a big lunch before our massage, so we called yet another Uber to the Savers Thrift Store several miles away. And oh. Nirvana. It is large. It is neat. It is clean, and only slightly overpriced.

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Ellen quickly made friends in the ladies’ shirt section

 

I do wish I had more pictures, but ladies, we scored at that store. Ellen found Carla some darling orange platform sandals. Carla found herself a Burberry clutch. Ellen and I threw so many clothes in our basket that we actually had to try them on, while Carla, the willowy one, made her selections outside the dressing room.Finally we were getting too hungry to shop any more. In the checkout line Carla suddenly realized ALL THESE sweaters were NEVER going to fit in her suitcase. But the bargains…. “Oh well,” she announced decisively. “I’ll just get another bag. I need one anyway.”

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Uh, yeah. She’d need another bag alright. Sweaters take up a lot of room.

So. We had about thirty minutes until our massage. We were hungry and one of us needed a suitcase. And in the same way that things had been falling into place for us, we went next door to a Marshall’s where we could buy snacks AND another suitcase. Plus the suitcase was on clearance.

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Here’s what to do when you just can’t give up those sweaters!

In our next Uber car, we told the driver we were going not quite as far as he thought, because we had gone to the wrong foot massage place earlier. We all gulped down a few snacks as our driver searched for the place. When we pulled up I realized that earlier in the day I told our driver to take up to the “Happy Foot”. Oops. I saw now that our appointment had been the the “Lucky Foot.” No wonder our driver had let us out at the wrong place!

But finally we were at the right place at the right time. We were led to a room where we each had a rejuvenating foot massage, a necessity after vigorous thrifting on a cement floor. This was a first for Carla and Ellen, and another fun memory for us to share.

After the massage we waited outside in the sun for the Uber driver, who could not at first find us.

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At  least they were relaxed after their massage.

And we surely couldn’t give him any directions. That put us a little late getting back to the hotel but we were soon ready to go to Mike’s. Except when I called for Uber it wouldn’t take any of my payment methods. Sigh. After re and re entering my information it finally let me schedule a ride. I’m sure it was because I had called Uber about 6 times in 24 hours, and it tripped some kind of security alert.

Finally we arrived at Mike’s. We were greeted by our second cousin and ushered into the living room where Mike sat up in a chair. Each of us hugged him before introducing ourselves to and hugging, Kevin, and Mike’s dear friend of 16 years, Leo. Immediately I felt enveloped in such a sense of love and peace in Mike’s home.

Mike solved the problem of how to converse with a terminally ill person by asking us each what we thought of hospice care.  The three sisters’ responses led to our experiences before the death of our parents, and onto memories ranging from hilarious to disastrous situations. We were all aware of the rifts that may have existed among our respective parents, but they didn’t matter now. We were all at peace with those who had gone before us.

We each gave an accounting of our lives and families. I already knew about my sisters’ families, but knew little of Mike’s adult life. He had married young and moved to Chicago, where he divorced and then remarried and had a son. Along the way Mike obtained a higher education even though he dealt with many emotional stressors. The second marriage did not last, but Mike made his relationship with Kevin his highest priority. As I watched them together, I knew that Mike considered the raising of Kevin to be his greatest achievement in life. Now Mike was stricken with the fatal disease which would take him before he would see his son fully launched as an adult.

Our cousin Kevin had never met us and knew few details of his Memphis family. I had brought a few photos with me, including a picture of our grandparents right after they married. Kevin pored over the pictures with interest, and was entertained by our stories of “the good old days ” in the South. We grieved that this young man  would soon lose his father, and loved him for the way he loved his Dad.

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The four cousins with Mike and Leo.

At Mike’s suggestion we ordered Chinese and ate it in the living room, continuing our easy conversation. After so many years it was the most natural thing in the world for us all to spend an evening together. We left soon after dinner because Mike was clearly tiring.

No words could describe how meaningful it was to all three of us to be able to see Mike one last time, and to do it together. We hoped our visit would bring Mike the enjoyment of sharing mutual memories. There is something quite special about being in the company of people who have shared memories, who remember sitting at the children’s table on holidays, who  liked to buy a Buried Treasure from the popsicle man, who  liked to slide on their bottom down our grandmother’s wooden staircase.

The next morning the three sisters went their separate ways. Back in Memphis I messaged Mike to ask his permission to write a blog post about our visit. He readily gave it.

Five days after our visit Mike passed away peacefully in his home.

We did not expect to reconnect with Mike but then to lose him so quickly. We did not expect his illness to allow three sisters to realign their adult relationships in such a meaningful way. We did not expect him to remind us that the power of love must never be underestimated, especially in times of great tribulation. When we drop our defenses and stop trying to manufacture differences amongst ourselves, we are more similar than we are different, and all that remains is love.

It’s what the world needs now.

Seize The Day

This is the third or fourth post I’ve written, but not published, trying to illustrate some aspect of my life that is NOT about being a grandmother. For one thing, I can only describe that giant comfy chenille pastel cloud of a world so many times, and for another, there IS some aspect of my life that not about grandmothering, right? Right, I ask you? In other words, if a woman becomes a grandmother out in the woods and drops all her other creative pursuits, can anyone hear it?

And while I ponder this oh so first world dilemma of mine, life is moving on. Mornings which used to be for quiet reflection are now for face timing with an exuberant two year old.  Days off, when I used to fool around with my camera and cook a couple of new recipes at once are now for going to The Children’s Museum with another little darling. The Memphis darling’s parents are both in school so naturally when I return from the Children’s Museum I do a couple of loads of laundry, not mine, and do a few dishes, also not mine. And pick up 4,000 toys. Also not mine.

Bliss. Except that on the inside there’s been this slow inner burn  to paint, to get my hands in something and become gloriously lost and found in the process. With the wisdom that comes with being almost sixty years old I realized I would have to do something different or nothing different would happen. It felt similar of course to my years of raising children, during which I clumsily, erratically and guiltily tried to steal moments for myself while at the same time wondering why and how all these other mothers seemed so serene and content. Or why their children would agree to quietly color for hours while their Mommy painted or sewed. Sigh.

Without further ado I made plans to paint. First I needed some inspiration. For that I chose to visit The Dixon Gallery two weeks ago with some friends. We wanted to see the exhibit Fold by local artist  Mary Jo Karimnia. This artists’s work is largely in fabrics and beads, juxtaposing domestic arts with that of costumes, largely influenced by her work in Bolivia.  Surely Ms.Karimnia’s work

Summer 2016-3.jpg would have something to say to a grandmother, who while scraping dried oatmeal off her travertine floor, longs to experiment with extravagant color.

I was not disappointed, except when telling myself I could probably never afford any of her work. To make it easier on myself I relied just on my phone for a few snaps.

 

Ah, the shiny beads. Ah, the lovely stitches, the printed fabric. I think we all kept our hands behind our backs like second graders, lest we run our hands all over the work in a state of sensory bliss. I nearly swooned with a combination of adulation and regret that I did not own any of her work. Because we all need to be able to admire these in the privacy of our own homes.

Upon leaving that exhibit we went to the other current exhibit, Henri Guérard and the Phenomenon of the Artist’s Fan in France, 1875 –1900.  During these years, Japanese art and decor were very popular in France. Artists painted on actual fans but also on fan shaped paper.

Having seen beaded finery in the first exhibit and artful fans in the second, we felt obliged to model some ourselves.

I know what you’re thinking: they were born too late. It’s true. I can really rock a white wig.

No visit to the Dixon is complete without a stroll through the lovely grounds.

On this day, in addition the blooming seasonal flowers, there was an exhibit of cotton plants. Our male companion grew up on a farm, so we two city girls were able to learn a bit about the cultivation of cotton from him. The pink bud in the pictures above is actually cotton. Who knew?

My mind swirled with colorful images as I left the museum on Sunday. On Monday morning I ran up the stairs in my pajamas, clutching my first cup of coffee, ready to seize the day. Before long I was making marks on an old canvas, thinking of orange flowers, blue beads, and golden shiny things. Then came a familiar trilling ring. It was time for my daily face time with Cameron and Micah.

 

Angling my laptop so that they could see, I went right on painting. I pretended I had my own painting show, which allowed me to entertain Micah the whole time his Mommy was preparing  his breakfast. You just never know what you will see when you call your Mimi first thing in the morning.

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Micah watched intently, but I’m not sure he knew what to make of my show. But no matter. After our phone call I mucked around a little more in the paint, and decided that was enough for the day. I was so pleased to get to scratch the ” HAVE TO PAINT” itch, and even more pleased that I didn’t have to paint all day long in order to have a pleasurable experience. As I washed my paint brushes and put them  away, I marveled that it was still only 10:00 A.M. There would be lots of time to accomplish other things. “See?” I said to myself. “I’m a grandmother, but not ONLY a grandmother.”

And just then my phone rang. It was Lily’s Dad. “Mom, Lily’s school called me to come get her. She has pink eye. Can you keep her after I take her to the Doctor? I really need to do some school work.”

“Certainly. I’ll be right there!”

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Mimi and Lily holding hands on the porch swing.

Gratitude And The Children’s Hour

I’ve been having a secret contest with myself, waiting to see how long it will take me to write a blog post that is NOT about being a grandmother. Today we pause the contest for a short post that while, yes, does have some grandmothering in it, also is about my daughter. So I’m sort of breaking my rules, but since I told my daughter I wanted to write it, and she is expecting it, here it is.

Before she became a mother two years ago, my daughter Cameron  blogged   from her home in Pasadena almost daily at http://krugthethinker.com. She was kind enough to have her Pacific time zone posts published early enough so that I could read them while I drank my coffee in Central time zone. By 8:00 most mornings I could know what my daughter had recently sewn, cooked, read, or photographed.Reading her blog was a part of my morning routine, along with journaling, meditating, wasting time on Facebook and thinking only of myself.

Our grandson Micah was born in the middle of the night, so I did not learn of his birth until his parents face timed me the next morning.We had lots of phone calls and face times for the first three weeks until my husband and I were able to go out and meet our new angel. When we returned to Memphis, my daughter kept face timing me in the mornings. After all, who else could she call when her baby woke up at 5:00 A.M?

Before long, he wasn’t a teeny tiny anymore. He was smiling and talking to his mobile. I would talk to the baby while she went and made her own coffee. While she was out of the room I would whisper to my husband who was in the next room getting ready for work,”It’s Cameron again… Would you bring me some coffee?” Of course I loved to get to talk to her, especially since she was no longer writing five blog posts a week.

We went on like this for some time. I saw Micah  kicking at his toys in the activity gym. I made suggestions about his feeding. I listened to the story of how well he did or did not sleep the night before. This was all fine, but I was puzzled. WHY was she calling me every single day, even on the weekends? I hoped it was not because of a blog post I had written about how my only experience of grandmothers was that they were available to the grandchildren on a daily basis.

I can assure you that when I had small babies I was not concerned about their grandparents first thing in the morning. Rather, I was strictly concerned with my own survival. Would I be able to get out of my pajamas before my husband left the house? Would I be fortunate enough to wolf down a bowl of cereal before high pitched squeals pierced the air with the precision of a dentist’s drill? Or, luxury of all luxuries, could I actually take a shower?

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Somehow I didn’t have time to fool with my mother.

Oddly, I thought, my daughter seemed to have no sense of urgency about these things. She would sit placidly in the rocking chair, feeding her baby a bottle as though she hadn’t a care in the world. We would talk until I had to get ready for work. Then I would tell my husband in the evenings, “Well, Cameron called again this morning, and I got to see the baby. I don’t know why she keeps calling every day.” I hated to think of her feeling obligated to call me each morning during time when she might have been able to throw a load of clothes in the laundry or make up some bottles. How could I let her know she didn’t need to worry about calling me without sounding as though I didn’t want to talk?

We went on in this awkward (for me) fashion until one day Cameron, not having reached me earlier, called me about midmorning. I’ll never forget her little face on the screen, while she held Micah on her shoulder. I don’t remember her exact words but I think I remember is her saying,” Oh good. I’m glad I got you. I don’t seem to have as good a day with Micah when I don’t get to talk to you in the morning.”

DOH!!!! This wasn’t just a grandmother and grandson thing. It was a mother/daughter thing. I’m just slow on the uptake sometimes. My own mother and I made a good team when my children were born. She was endlessly helpful and often funny, but our phone calls were about business. Could she watch so and so while while I took so and so to the dentist? How did one cook a rump roast? Ok, over and out.

Well alrighty then. If the face timing was helping her, who was I to  complain about getting to see my grandson every single day of the year? Time rushed on. I was able to see every milestone and to hear every new word. Seeing Micah every day allowed me to do some grandmotherly things, like point out that his nose was running, or that I saw him put some contraband in his mouth. For a time Micah  believed that the iPad was named,”Call Mimi.” From watching his Mommy and Mimi drink coffee every morning, some of his first words, by necessity were “Hot coffee.” Though we usually talk in the morning, I sometimes get an extra call if Micah demands to speak to Mimi.

Almost two years have gone by. The other day Cameron asked apologetically if she called me too often, and I was overcome with gratitude. Too much??? Was she kidding?? She has called me every day because it was helping her, but she had no idea what the daily calls have meant to me. First, how big does a Mama’s head swell when she knows her daughter WANTS to talk to her every day? Second, how lucky am I that she not only wants to talk to me but that since she does not work outside of the home, she is able to make this time for me every day? I don’t have words for what  a wonderful gift it is to get to face time daily. I’m convinced that not many people are so blessed.

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Here  we are when we get to drink coffee together in person.

I realized I had never thanked her for all of this.  So thank you, sweetheart, from the bottom of my heart. I know what you’re already giving to your family. No one is more giving of their time than mothers. No one postpones their own needs as regularly as do mothers. No one works longer hours than mothers. I know every bit of this, but here I am , expectant, every morning,  coffee poured, waiting for my text asking, “Is Mimi awake?” To which I reply, “Oh, yes!” The computer trills, I press the answer button, and the Children’s Hour begins.

Right For The Job

Mom, what did you used to do?

Used to do about what, I asked.

What did you used to do all day when we were little?

I was in Pasadena to spend a few days with my daughter, son in law and 15 month old grandson. It was a spur of the moment trip, planned after I just had that feeling that I needed to be out there. We talk daily, and my daughter never  complains about her lot as a stay at home Mom, but lately she had seemed a little burdened. I decided that Mimi needed to come to town and assess the situation.

We didn’t have  many plans. I knew I wanted to be of help but didn’t exactly know what kind of help she might need. Not long after I arrived she asked what I used to do all day back when I used to stay at home all day with small children. Good question.

What DID I used to do all day? I didn’t remember, and privately, I figured it was probably irrelevant. That was so long ago, and I was a completely different person then. Besides, our situations were different. My daughter and her husband are in their thirties and completed their respective educations before Micah was born. On the other hand, by the time I had been married for three years, I had two babies under the age of two, a husband who drove our only car to work all day and attended graduate school at night. While my daughter and son in law are two of the most capable people I know, when I had small children I was scared to death.

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What did I know about raising children? Nothing!

The question receded to the back of my mind as I focused myself on the issues at hand. This visit was about what my daughter, not I,  was doing all day. What could I do to help?

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I got the impression that the days were long for my daughter, especially as they have no family where they live.

Well, my daughter DID ask me to share any ideas I might have about how her home could run more efficiently and more smoothly. Since I would be there all day maybe I would come up with some suggestions. I already knew one reason her days were long; my grandson is a wave of pure delightful genius and therefore hard to contain in an apartment. (Spoiler: My daughter just needed me to come out and help her, which I would have been doing on a daily basis if we lived in the same town.)

The first day there went very quickly. Micah was at his little preschool when I arrived, so we took that opportunity to hit her local thrift stores. After we picked the baby up from school I stayed at their house until Micah’s bed time, when I retired to my hotel room.

It wasn’t until the next day that I started to feel helpful. My daughter picked me up in the morning and brought me to her house. Apparently one need have no memory of what one used to do all day in order to fall right back into….what one used to do all day. The baby and I went into my daughter’s bedroom where while I made the bed, he investigated the shiny coasters on the night stand. When my task was finished, I grabbed him and made a hasty retreat from the room.

Next, Micah and I moved to the kitchen to unload the dishwasher.  With one swift move I removed the butter knives he had taken into the living room and thrust into his hand a  plastic spatula. Every fifteen seconds I had to make another swap in the name of safety. But the clean dishes were put away and the dirty ones loaded.Yes, this is what I used to do, to somehow run the house despite the children.

In the middle of the job my daughter walked in, surprised that I would be doing this while Micah was awake. Watching me intercept Micah’s grab for a dinner plate she remarked that having the baby interrupt would just drive her crazy. Hmm, I replied, it doesn’t bother me at all. Many years of practice had made it so.

That morning we paid a visit to the Mission Gabriel area of Pasadena, where we admired everything we could, given that we could not turn Micah loose in the cactus garden or in the streets, both places of vital interest to our little fellow. And because of his obsession penchant for being the one to push the stroller, he spent lots of his time in his Ergo, cuddled up to his Mama in the warm sunshine. When he began to sing softly to lull himself to sleep, we rushed him home to let him take his nap.

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Micah leaves no door unopened.

While he was asleep I organized his toys in the living room. Puzzles now rested beside puzzles, cars beside cars, wooden toys with other toys. Though Micah would soon make the arrangement of toys much more diverse, there was order in the room for now.

As I arranged the toys I felt the most insistent physical deja vu sensation. It was as though I were meeting myself again after 34 years of not seeing me. My body remembered. In my mind’s eye I saw myself at twenty five, with big hair and big glasses, moving like a whirlwind through the little house where we lived. Yes. I knew this person who used to run behind children all day, putting things back several times a day, only to repeat the process in a few hours.

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I recognized this person, and I liked her. During those years I never had the time or the luxury to think about whether my job was hard. After my daughter, my second child,  was born I was thrilled to be able to resign from teaching to be able to stay home with my children. I couldn’t tolerate the idea of someone else spending the day with my babies. I’m sure I wouldn’t have complained about the long hours, frustrations or tedium of being a stay at home Mom.

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I can’t say every day was a picnic.

It’s a little embarrassing to admit but I think I always assumed that because I was so young and inexperienced, that someone else could have done a better job than I did. That some other unknown person could have walked in and known exactly what to do, which would cause our household to run like an expensive Swiss watch. I would never make such an assumption about someone else. Now I realize that I never have given myself credit (though others have) for mustering up the courage and the creativity and the continuity it took to stay home with my three children.

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You just do what you have to do.

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And go with the flow.

In Pasadena with Micah, my old routine came right back to me. Whatever room I was in, I straightened or organized. Toys were put away before naps. I alternated playing and reading stories with doing chores or starting dinner, just as I had done all those years ago when  was alone with children all day and couldn’t go anywhere. Running along behind the children, trying to create some kind of order in the chaos was the only way I could figure out to cope, to give me some concrete sense of accomplishment, and to keep my mind off the fact that these children had been entrusted to me, who had no idea how to do this job.

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Parenting instructions were not very clear!

Somehow the children were raised, and I moved onto other things, without realizing I still harbored this negative judgement of myself. I forgot the way my day used to hinge on small but important  events, such as how long a nap lasted or whether we were out of applesauce, and how hard I worked to try to influence the outcome of those very events.  If I had not entered my daughter’s world to give moral and hands on support, I don’t know if I ever would have reexamined those years. But I had plenty of time to think when my daughter and son in law went away for the night together, their first night alone since Micah was born.

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Mommy and Daddy get ready to leave!

When the door closed behind them, the two of us got to work. We strolled, we went to the park, and we roughhoused so loudly that the downstairs neighbor called my daughter to complain about the noise. (Oops. Never raised a child in an apartment before.)

untitled-384I got to relive familiar scenes, including  being awakened by a chatting baby at 5:30 A.M., manhandling a screaming child into the car,  and strolling at the speed of light before a short attention span expires. But mostly I remembered how it feels to be the only adult alone with a whirling dervish. Is there a word for that feeling?

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Who, me? I never even THOUGHT about crashing this vase to the floor!

The trip was a success in every way.  I had sweet times with all my people out there, and felt gratified to have helped. In fact, my daughter wrote a post  about the visit if you care to see it. But the gift of revisiting my young mother self was an unexpected pleasure. It feels good  to look back on my younger self with admiration and appreciation. That new mother helped me become the confident grandmother I am today. And let tell you, as a grandmother I am quite confident. Who put a short sleeved shirt on that baby? And just where are his socks?

Since I can’t  reach back in time, I’m thanking that younger me right now, in print. Thanks dear, for all your hard work. You didn’t know what you could do until you needed to do it. It is important to acknowledge that what can seem like the most thankless of jobs is of immeasurable importance. The benefits of your efforts are reaching down through the generations. No one could have done better than you did. You were just right for the job!

1983-10

 

Lessons From A Suitcase

On Monday night I sat on the floor of my daughter’s old room, contemplating the yawning mouth of her enormous  brown suitcase. I had just emptied said suitcase of what few items still remained in it after my daughter’s week long visit, in order to repack it for her return trip.  How unfair, I said to myself, that Mothers not only have to let their daughters leave home, but they also have to help them pack their clothes. Separating my grandson’s clothes out from my daughter’s clothes, I sniffed to myself that this was just like having to go out in the yard and pick your own switch. If you’re from the South you’ll understand that reference.

We don't mess around in the South.

We don’t mess around in the South.

For a week I had been luxuriating in a visit from my daughter Cameron and my angel grandson Micah. ( For those of you who don’t know, Cameron and Micah live in Pasadena with their darling Daddy, who was busy this week at a conference and unable to join them.)  It was the best kind of visit, the kind that is not prompted by a certain event or obligation other than to glory in occupying the same space. The lack of planned activities meant that my husband and I were granted  the wondrous gift of having our daughter and grandson  all to ourselves. Aaah.

As I folded little rompers and onesies, I mentally unfurled  the memories of all our fun together. Drinking coffee in a leisurely fashion in the morning, with Micah playing at our feet. auhgust 2015-61

Not to mention the help with the dishwasher!

Not to mention the help with the dishwasher!

Hearing a sweet tiny voice talking to his stuffed bear in his pack and play.auhgust 2015-17 Having two grandchildren play  together, even if the older one is afraid of the younger one. auhgust 2015-155

The Mommies with their babies.

The Mommies with their babies.

Experiencing the kindness of folks in Memphis.

Our waitress wrote a thank you note on our receipt because we cleaned up Micah's high chair. AND she comped us five dollars!

Our waitress wrote a thank you note on our receipt because we cleaned up Micah’s high chair. AND she comped us five dollars!

Micah appreciated being given the run of the bra store. Would they do that in California, one wonders?

Micah appreciated being given the run of the bra store. Would they do that in California, one wonders?

Having my daughter, who at 18  “had to get out of the South” eager to get all up in the grit and grind of Memphis.That’s right; now WE’RE the cool ones! ( By the way, her glowing account of her visit can be found here.auhgust 2015-47

Dead asleep at the beer joint.

Dead asleep at the beer joint.

And so was this baby after grinding it at the zoo.

And so was this baby after grinding it at the zoo.

Watching my daughter with her own Daddy, carrying Micah home.auhgust 2015-122

Glorious.

The only sad note was that Cameron couldn’t share her fun with her husband. We hated that he had to miss, for example, Micah swinging at a beer glass and shattering it, or Micah whapping his head on my travertine floor. It just didn’t feel right not to have him here with the rest of us.

Now, having separated Micah’s things into piles, I began to stack and roll them up, a technique I have used throughout the years in order to fit more things into the ugly brown suitcase. I hate you suitcase, I said silently, and would have stomped my foot on the floor for good measure except the baby was asleep. I felt I had reason to detest  this selfish bag, with its seductive expanding compartments, always luring my daughter further away from home.

I would put a photo of the suitcase here, but why would I photograph such a thing?

Like most parents, I didn’t exactly realize that when I was gracious enough to allow my daughter to leave home for college that she wasn’t ever coming back. It was the ugly brown suitcase that taught me that lesson. First we had to cram it full for college, 750 miles away. Soon my daughter’s course of study would lead her to  Russia for a semester. Dutifully I rolled and packed fluffy coats and durable boots into the behemoth bag. I secreted little notes in her coat pockets. It was a comfort to me to think of her so far away, finding a note from home.

After Russia the trips away seemed constant. She retuned once to St. Petersburg, then graduated, then drove across the country for graduate school. Inevitably, the night before she left, instead of licking my wounds,  I was creatively engineering  cowboy boots, furry coats, mens’ oversized shirts, or whatever her current fashion interest was, inside Mr. Suitcase. I was not gentle with the suitcase.  Take these belts and clunky bead necklaces, sir, and overweight bags be damned! 

My daughter’s comings and goings eventually led to graduation, marriage, motherhood and the carving out of a novel career. Now I’d had her for a week, taking her to see things that didn’t used to exist last time she lived here. That was fun enough, but it was more than just fun.auhgust 2015-83

Because here’s the thing about Cameron. I don’t say this just because she is my daughter. It  just so happens that she  is just a pure  joy to be around. I promise you would want her for a friend, and not just because she’s brilliant and interesting.  Those are fine qualities in a friend, but what stands out in Cameron is her love for others. She is never too busy to do something thoughtful for someone else, something that shows she cares. She is consistently warm and encouraging. Getting her to myself for a week felt like going to a luxurious spa, one that allows thirteen month old babies.

Spa bound!

Spa bound!

My daughter and I jammed in  the rolled items, along with one million plastic baby bottles, and added a new stuffed bear, Micah’s souvenir from the zoo. Cameron had said over and over how much fun she had had being in Memphis. She hated to leave, but she and Micah really missed Daddy. We had missed him as well on all our jaunts. And oh, how he missed his little family this week!

Who wouldn't miss this face?

Who wouldn’t miss this face?

I zipped up Mr. Ugly brown suitcase, packed tight with treasures. Reflecting on how the family would reunite the next  morning, I realized this ubiquitous mud brown bag had yet another lesson to teach me. My heart swelled as I pictured Micah’s Daddy swooping him up in one arm while pulling my daughter close. They are a family now, making a firm foundation for Micah’s future, and that is as it should be.  For this trip my daughter packed bottles and baby clothes. One day it will be jeans, hoodies, and enormous shoes. That is also how it should be. It is right and I am glad. We are always preparing for the next step of our journey whether we realize it or not.

Thanks, Mr. Suitcase. I guess you’re not so bad after all. 

The Return of the Whiteway Girls

Long ago when I was a child I used to play with the other girls on Whiteway Drive, where I lived.  When we got together, big plans ensued, because someone would  always  have an inspiration. Why don’t we all get our Barbie stuff and play on Jane’s patio? Why don’t we get umbrellas and pretend we’re on The Avengers? Why don’t we play Miss America, or gin rummy? Why don’t we play hide and seek after dark? Often my younger sister Ellen hoped  to be included in our pursuits but as I recall, in my rarified spot as the oldest sister, I forbade her from coming any closer than three sidewalk squares of any spot occupied by my friends or myself.  In time we all grew up. Some of us lost touch. Three of us moved away.

In all, five of us stayed in touch in various combinations, but we were never together at the same time. We were adults now and life was happening to us: careers, relationships, children. Also children, children, and children. In the last few years I found myself saying what fun it would be to rent a house somewhere and have us all come. No kids. No spouses, no responsibilities.

I don’t want to admit  that it took one of us becoming  gravely  ill to force us out of just SAYING  we should get together to YES. WE WILL GET TOGETHER. But it’s true. This spring, after our friend Jane  was well on the way to recovery, we began to plan in earnest. Texts and emails flew back and forth. Our eyes burned from scrolling through VRBO listings. But we did choose a place: Asheville, North Carolina, and booked the dates.

Five of us were to attend: Mary, Jane, Mary Beth – that’s me, Gayle, and Ellen. Mary and Jane are sisters. Ellen and I are sisters. On the appointed day I flew into Greensboro and was met by my trusty companion, Ellen. Luckily for me, Ellen nursed no grudge about having NEVER been included in our games as a child- oh, come on, she had kids her own age to play with- but she shared a little trepidation about this inaugural trip. Her concern was that she had never spent much time with Mary while growing up, because Mary is  like, even two more years older than I am. She hoped they would hit it off. I too had a valid concern. What if these girls were  drinkers of CHEAP WINE??? That would be INTOLERABLE!girls trip 2015-59

Despite these small worries, we made it to Asheville in good spirits, and as it happened, with several bottles of wine, chosen by moi, to share. Jane and Mary had  arrived first, and no doubt emboldened by imbibing some of their own wine, had boldly chosen the main bedroom for themselves. Was that OK with us, they asked. Certainly, the other three of us replied. We had carefully chosen a house with three private bedrooms and three private baths. There would be no turf wars here!girls trip 2015-2

girls trip 2015-3After deciding upon our sleeping arrangements we ventured down our mountain into downtown Asheville. Parking took awhile because each one of us had her own ideas about how and where to park, but eventually we were prowling the downtown streets with the efficiency of five disinterested cats. We approached restaurant after restaurant, read their menus and at least one of us would say, “Let’s keep walking.” “Let’s go here,” I suggested finally, winning the prize for having the first inspiration of the evening. We ducked into Zambra, which was reputed to have good tapas and drinks.

While waiting for a table, we gathered at the “confessional”. Enough said.girls trip 2015-82We each picked something to drink, I don’t recall what, and had a merry time until we were escorted to our lovely romantic table in the courtyard. girls trip 2015-87Dinner was a series of small plates. Everyone seemed satisfied  with their choices. We were a perfectly happy group of old ladies. Our trip was off to a capital start.

The next day we attended the The Big Crafty Fair, followed by dinner at the Tupelo Honey Cafe.

girls trip 2015-83

They had me at AC!

girls trip 2015-85Or maybe not, because at some point we stopped in at the Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. Surveying the many nooks and crannies of the store I  could not help but wish my companions would indulge me in just one more game of hide and seek.

You know you could hide behind those chairs. And beyond them, a bookcase to the second floor!

You know you could hide behind those chairs. And beyond them, a bookcase to the second floor!

Oh well. I amused myself by taking pictures of my companions for a fictional dossier. I had to make use of all the scoop I’d had on these girls all these years!

Fact: They had more Barbie stuff than I did.

Fact: They had more Barbie stuff than I did. And they still wear matching outfits.

Fact: Her Mother used to buy Coke AND Koolaid! Lucky duck!

Fact: Her Mother used to buy Coke AND Koolaid! Lucky duck!

And our bill came in a Dr. Seuss book!

And our bill came in a Dr. Seuss book!

Monday we hit the River Arts District, where a couple of us found things we just had to have.

These ladies wanted to go home with Ellen.

These ladies wanted to go home with Ellen.

girls trip 2015-11

Should we tell this man to use the inside facilities?

Should we tell this man to use the inside facilities?

We agreed.

We agreed.

This I found beautiful, but it was not for sale.

This I found beautiful, but it was not for sale.

The dossier continues. Fact: This little lady and her friend Sandra ate All the candy I had planned to serve at my slumber party, and had NO REMORSE!

The dossier continues. Fact: This little lady and her friend Sandra ate All the candy I had planned to serve at my slumber party, and had NO REMORSE!

Fact: I never even TOLD the other ladies that Ellen hung her footies to dry on the light fixture. That's loyalty.

Fact: I never even TOLD the other ladies that Ellen hung her footies to dry on the light fixture. That’s loyalty.

I’m thinking we stayed home that night and enjoyed some delicious vegetables from Ellen’s garden. girls trip 2015-51What was our dinner conversation? It was about how powerful we all are! We added up the combined years of our marriages, and of our motherhood. I can’t remember the numbers, but they were large! We marveled at how once upon a time we made pretend Barbie families, but now our lives were  completely real. Each one of us had buried a parent, tended sick family members, and faced personal disappointments. But dang it, here we were watching the sun set over the mountains, happy to be supporting one another.girls trip 2015-92girls trip 2015-57

Our feelings of power led to a rollicking game of “Catch Phrase” and I confess I have no pictures of that. Early Tuesday Gayle had to leave us because her mom was being released from the hospital. We were sad to see her go, but glad that she, as  the main caretaker of her elderly mother, had been able to join us at all. We knew how lucky we were.

After she left, Ellen tried to cheer us all up by suggesting we work a  “very easy” 250 piece  puzzle. Like the Little Red Hen, she started on it by herself and soon had it worked mostly all wrong. She thought maybe some puzzle pieces were missing, or that two puzzles were mixed up in the same box, but no..she had just done it wrong. It seemed that all the puzzle pieces were the same size and the same shape. Each piece held a word or a definition, and the two had to match correctly. Let me tell you, even the librarian among us did not know most of these vocabulary words. Eventually we all joined in the puzzle, each in our own way denouncing the mean spirited folks who could have invented such a deceptive device.

After a time we left the puzzle and went into town for some shopping and a Mediterranean lunch.girls trip 2015-89

But when we returned, there was the puzzle, mocking us silently. Thankfully Mary took the lead, gently insisting that Ellen move connected sections one piece at a time instead of brazenly shoving them across the table. I think the two of them made a good connection indeed.

Fact: I wouldn't have had the patience for this in 1968.

Fact: I wouldn’t have had the patience for this in 1968.

Finally, the thing was complete, and we could hit our normal old lady bedtimes with a sense of accomplishment. But first, a little more relaxing on the porch.girls trip 2015-96 The next morning we parted ways: Mary and Jane to Charlotte, Ellen and I to Winston Salem, where I would spend the night before returning  to Memphis.girls trip 2015-67Ellen’s husband had a lovely al fresco dinner waiting for us, and as we ate we reviewed the success of the first getaway of the Whiteway girls. We dreamed it, and we did it. All the coming year no matter what happens, we will savor our new memories. Any thoughts on where we should go next year?

A sad goodbye at the airport.

A sad goodbye at the airport.

Museums In Progress

There she was, approaching my gate in the Atlanta airport, a stylish vision, decked out in a turquoise top, carrying a pumpkin colored purse, wearing red shoes and lugging a heavy purple carryon. She was on her way to Europe for the first time, and neutral was nowhere in her color scheme. One could say she was an exhibit of a colorful, exuberant traveler. Finally, after much planning and scheming, my sister Ellen was going to accompany me to Amsterdam.

Two intrepid travelers

Two intrepid travelers

Because my husband has business in Amsterdam, I have been fortunate enough to accompany him to that lovely city many times. Amsterdam May 2015-58Typically we travel there on a Friday, arrive Saturday and have the weekend to explore before he goes to work Monday through Wednesday. I have never had any trouble amusing myself while he worked, but I often thought how wonderful it would be to show someone around the city, someone who would love it as much as I did. Someone like my sister.Amsterdam May 2015-3

We had no reservations about whether we would travel well together,  meaning we knew we would not interfere with one another’s reading, nor would either of suggest tacky tourist activities.  Ellen did later voice a secret fear that I might rush her through the museums, as I had been to them before. Although to me museums are there to be visited over and over again, I also secretly feared I might experience a feeling of let down if I did not also find something to do that was new to me. I decided to take my role as a tour guide one day at a time, and adjust our plans as needed so that we both felt satisfied.

And lo, with a sidekick to amuse me while my husband worked, all became new in Amsterdam. To my delight, every single place I took my sister had changed to some degree since last I went. What bliss  it was to spend my days with someone who “museums” the way I do. I would call my museum style slow and careful, yet humane, meaning that I read everything I want to read but I don’t overwhelm myself. I’m happy to immerse myself in exhibits and lose all track of time, but I’m not compulsive about seeing everything the museum may have on offer.

In five days we girls museumed ourselves through the Anne Frank House, The Dutch Resistance Museum, the Amsterdam Museum, The Church of Our Lord In The Attic, The Van Gogh Museum, The Stejdelik, and the Rijksmuseum.

The Rijksmuseum. Don't even try to see it in one day. Even with the audio tour, you'll get lost.

The Rijksmuseum. Don’t even try to see it in one day. Even with the audio tour, you’ll get lost.

The Stedeljik had a lovely Matisse exhibit.

The Stedelijk had a lovely Matisse exhibit.

We were fortunate enough to avoid long lines at the Anne Frank House, as we went late in the day, after being the last people out of the Amsterdam Museum.

She took her time in the museum.

She took her time in the museum.

My fears of feeling bored or let down proved groundless, as did Ellen’s fears of being rushed. I was just as riveted by the exhibits as she was. Here we were, two ladies who try to live meaningful lives, reading about how others had spent theirs. Our daytime hours were spent touring carefully curated rooms, and our evenings were spent  gloriously debriefing. Over dinner we would pose question after question to one another about the city’s history and its development, for each of us is endlessly interested in the daily lives of others. Our questions really had no answers, but we just loved to share  ideas.

Deep, philosophical discussions after a day at the museums.

Deep, philosophical discussions after a day at the museums.

Of all we discussed what we kept coming back to was the value of self expression.  Again and again we had seen and read about examples of how ordinary people dealt with extraordinary conditions using what they could, never knowing how their works would one day inspire others. Some, wrote, some painted, some made needlework,some designed fashions, some composed music, but no matter the medium, they all used art to try to make meaning out of their lives. We marveled at how creativity was used to resist tyranny, to celebrate life, to save lives, or simply to endure.

Protesting Hitler and The Third Reich

Protesting Hitler and The Third Reich

A journal of the Occupation

A journal of the Occupation

A church built in an attic...that's creative!

A church built in an attic…that’s creative!

Sewing in an Indonesian prisoner of war camp.

Sewing in an Indonesian prisoner of war camp.

And of course, Van Gogh had his struggles.

And of course, Van Gogh had his struggles.

And sometimes it's just fun to make things!

And sometimes it’s just fun to make things!

Most of us will never have articles from our lives on display behind a glass case at a museum, but what if we knew they were going to be? What creation of mine would I donate as representative of the way I have lived my life? What would I write on the little placard beside my exhibit about how writing this, or painting that, or capturing an image  with a camera helped me deal with problems unique to my time of life?

I am sure that my sister and I would qualify for some sort of nerd exhibit, in that we spent most of our waking hours poring over artifacts inside museums, while outside the most liberal city in the world was vibrating with life.

Plus, my sister was the only bare legged woman in Amsterdam, a museum worthy contribution.

Plus, my sister was the only bare legged woman in Amsterdam, a museum worthy contribution.

But aren’t we all, as we make our way through life, cataloguing and curating our own little museums, filled with our own memories and hopefully, our creative efforts? In my own collection of life memories, I am so pleased to be able to add my experiences with my  sister, the colorful traveler, in Amsterdam, to see the city through her eyes, to revisit old haunts, and to enjoy being together.  Luckily, my museum is open at all hours, and I have a lifetime membership.

It's always beautiful, and always thought provoking.

It’s always beautiful, and always thought provoking.