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.

A Soft Landing

This is a short little story about the unexpected glories of aging. Between Christmas and the new year, I had the chance to get away for a few days. Usually my husband and I visit friends at their mountain cabin for New Year’s Eve, and on the way I sneak in a short but vital one night visit with my sister. When I found out our friends were not going to their cabin this year, my sister and I had to put our heads together quickly to be sure we got to see one another.

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Because we just need to. That’s why.

While I was searching for a meeting spot somewhere between our two homes, my friend R. mentioned that he too wanted to have a short getaway, and so he made us a trio. My online search wasn’t yielding much. It seems people book ahead for holiday trips. When I don’t immediately find what I want on line I tend to look more and more and more until I am totally flustered. In this case, as a last resort I typed in “state parks close to Knoxville” instead of “TN state parks close to Knoxville” and VOILA! Up it came! Cumberland Falls State Park in Corbin, Kentucky. And guess what? They had just ONE available cabin, a two story, two bedroom, two bath with kitchen and fireplace. I’ll take it!!  I shouted into the phone.

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View from the stairs of the cabin.

When I left for Cumberland Falls on the 28th I had made few concrete plans, perhaps because by that time I had had  three house guests for eight days.  I just threw some clothes in a bag, grabbed a couple of bottles of wine and hit the road with my friend R. The easy six hour ride I envisioned did not take place, as it rained hard on us all the way to Nashville, all the way to Bowling Green, and all the rest of the way. I’m a cautious driver in the rain, and so did not use my cruise control one time.  We drove through the dark wet night, two tired travelers, one with a cramped right leg, until we saw the welcoming lights of the  the 1930s era DuPont Lodge.

Soon we were at the executive two story cabin, enjoying the spread prepared by Ellen, who had not been delayed by rain. We could not have been more thrilled to simply put on our pajamas, drink a glass of wine, and eat cheese and crackers.

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The little table cloth belonged to my mother, who knew how to make folks feel comfortable. 

We found that each of us had brought little treats for the others. Ellen had brought adult coloring books. I had brought face cream and little facial kits, just in case, and R., a set of essential oils to share. No hikers ever smelled better.

In the morning we of course reconnoitered our surroundings by the light of day. Our cabins were situated on a ridge overlooking the Cumberland River.  About a fourth of a mile away was the Lodge, where we walked for a standard country breakfast.

After admiring the CCC  era lodge construction and lovely view from the restaurant windows, we made the important decisions of the day. To whit,  we would first walk whatever trails we could. Afterwards we would procure supplies, meaning wine. Ellen, who had approached the park from another direction, allowed as how she had passed the “Liquor King” on her way in. Third, we would build a fire with the firelogs we had purchased from the lodge. And finally, we would watch Transparent.

The weather was brisk but not too wet or too cold. And we three old folks set out for the woods.Let me tell you a little bit about the park. Known as “The Niagara Of The South”, the park is most famous for  its seven story waterfall on the Cumberland River.

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During full moons, a spectacular “moon bow” effect is seen on the water. We did not get to see that but enjoyed what we did see.

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The trails are well marked and maintained. There are  camping, hiking, horseback riding and water activities available depending on the season. We were fortunate to be able to rent the very last cabin for our stay.

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Just visible through the bars of the balcony is the warning that we are on a cliff. 

The first day we chose what we thought would be a manageable trail. After we left the Visitor’s Center we saw few other people. Sometimes we talked, but often we were each silently contemplating our own lives, watching our feet trudge through the fallen leaves. Though the scenery would no doubt be more striking in one of the three other seasons, we still found numerous photo opportunities.

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After several hours of hiking, or maybe it was only walking, we called it quits so that we could head into civilization. We had a good little drive before we pulled into Corbin. As I cruised down the main drag, Ellen kept a lookout for the “Liquor King” and sure enough there it was on the right. By the time we chose our wine and provisions we were eager to return to our cabin and build a fire.

Soon we were all in our pajama pants, reeking of soothing essential oils but ready to eat our cheese, hummus, fruit and cut veggies. We toasted to our collective health, for we had finished a somewhat arduous hike, which many folks our age cannot attempt. Our fire that night was not a success. Having no matches or extra kindling, we resorted to using toilet paper to stoke up the fire. Don’t even try it.

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Do note the handy toilet paper.

Finally we were ready to start watching Transparent. I had already seen it, but my companions had not. After watching several episodes our commentary was hotter than the fire. The writing: genius, the acting: genius, the characters: self centered and extremely annoying. ( If you are not familiar with this award winning Amazon Prime series, it is about a man in his 60s who comes out as transgendered. But the show is also about the lingering effects of secrets in families.)

Perhaps it was the combination of the thinking time we had during the first day and whatever we were reading ( I was reading a biography of Winston’s Churchill’s wife, aptly named Clementine ) along  with watching the dysfunctional Pfefferman family that evening, that gave rise to our conversations the second day.

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For a time we talked about what seemed important to each of us at the moment. R. was focused on the need to take pictures to record memories, not just for his family, but also for him. Ellen shared how she had, like me, been unable to take to scrapbooking. But we  all acknowledged that our memories had gotten somewhat tricky, and that we needed to make records of our time however we were able to do so. What was  the truth anyway, I wondered, writhing mentally, as I am wont to do,  at not being able to reconcile the various threads of the Churchill’s marriage.

Ellen, no doubt having grown tired of hearing about Clementine Churchill and the unfairness of it all,  mentioned some  tribulations of a family she knew. As tribulations go, they were of the kind that could happen to anyone.

Suddenly, the conversation changed from what happened to a certain family to what we know now that we are old. The three of us had entered a space where we did not have to censor ourselves for fear of upsetting someone else. Because by the time we  live past fifty, we have either lived through trying situations or known someone else who has. And we  can’t live through these things without coming out a little wiser at the end. We could admit our thoughts and conclusions now, for we were all past the stage of saying that these things could not or should not be so.

A family is no guarantee of happiness. 

In fact sometimes you have to protect yourself from your family.

You may have to face an obstacle or situation that you thought only happened to others, not to you or yours. In fact you will certainly have to do this. 

Some things don’t end. They are managed. But they don’t go away.

Dreams are not for some future date, but for today, for we are not guaranteed tomorrow.

This may sound depressing, but it was a moment of refreshing honesty. No one tells you these things. You must learn them for yourself. It felt good to know we had all paid our dues.

As we sat at the breakfast table, we felt the comfort of being old together, of knowing that we had all learned hard life lessons, and that we could openly say so.

After breakfast just as we had done the day before, we struck out for the woods, stopping to admire carved out boulders, caves, and waterfalls.

cumberland falls-178We had gotten a late start because of our leisurely breakfast.

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View from the back verandah of the Lodge.

Ellen was in a happier mood because that day she had actually remembered to wear her new hiking shoes. It seems some parts of growing are not profound, only silly.

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We passed through some muddy spots close to the river, where we each had to navigate in our own way to get to dry land.

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Once, R. who was in the lead at that time, lost his footing on a  slippery slope, unable to gain purchase on anything, and landed on his posterior at the bottom of a hill. Ellen was in front of me, and reached him first. I heard her ask if he was alright,  and he said he was. Then she asked, “Was it a soft landing?”

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That phrase has stuck with me. Soft landings. I think that is what we were all trying to say at breakfast. There are sadnesses and disappointments in life, in ways we never could have expected, but when we accept that these things are bound to happen, there is peace. Because there are sadnesses and disappointments, we decide give up on certain dreams and grieve our losses. In the process we learn to cherish the very simple but meaningful aspects of our lives: smiles, memories, small acts of service, being present for others. We find we can thrive on these. Productive lives have been made of less.

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When I was younger I struggled like anyone else, but without the knowledge that comes from experience, the knowledge that tells me that in the end I will find peace, increased awareness, humility,  or just an enhanced ability to appreciate daily life.

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In the woods, we three old folks were making our respective ways the best we could. In the end we chose a shorter route back to where we had begun, for the sun was setting faster than we expected.  Sometimes we became winded and longed to be back at the cabin. I found myself daydreaming of taking a piping hot bath upon my return. R. was no doubt wondering about his muddy pants, as he had brought only one pair. But even as we hiked the steep paths, we knew we could look forward to another cozy evening of sitting in front of a fire, warm in our pajamas. We were confident of  providing ourselves  a soft landing.

May you all find soft landings in the year ahead.

 

 

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!

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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. 

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.

A Balanced Grandmother

New projects just thrill me. Or, to be perfectly honest, the moment when I open the energy spigot for a new project and feel that divine surge of dopamine… that’s a lovely moment. My most recent energy filled  pursuits have been meeting Grandchild Number One and Grandchild Number Two. True, I was not directly involved in their creation, but I was very involved in preparing my own heart and mind for their arrival. And in giving, um…unsolicited advice.

Go ahead. Ask me all your parenting questions!

Go ahead. Ask me all your parenting questions!

During this beautiful “birth season”, naturally, I drifted away from some of my usual pastimes, because let’s face it: nothing  can top the birth of a precious new baby. For a time I devoted all my creative energy to helping the new parents adjust, and in trying to get myself designated as chief baby soother. A perfect day would begin with my daily face time with Grandchild Number One, during which I could “babysit” while my daughter left the room to fix her coffee. Pay no attention to my neck.

Go brew your coffee; I've got you covered!

Go brew your coffee; I’ve got you covered!

Then I would put on my work clothes, pack my computer and other home making accoutrements I might require, and zoom to my son’s house to help take care of the new parents and Grandchild Number Two. After I had helped with the baby and dinner I drove home tired but gratified, ready to relax with a library book.

You can go home , Emmy. My parents know what they're doing!

You can go home , Emmy. My parents know what they’re doing!

In the last couple of weeks, however, the frenetic new-baby vibe has quieted down. Everyone seems healthy, settled and happy. As my hands-on grandmother time has subsided, I have found myself hopeful that I would find my way back to knitting, painting, writing, and the other glorious hobbies that help keep me balanced.

I hoped, but instead of taking action I observed, watched and waited. Yes, there was just a smidge of anxiety that made me think I should do something to MAKE something happen, but I resisted. And  just last week I found myself up in my newly  cleaned out craft room, checking  to see if my sewing machine even works. It does work. And it has fuchsia thread in it.  I can’t remember what it was I ever intended to sew, but that will come. Another day I made a foray into my long unused painting corner, my copy of Brave Intuitive Painting open beside me, just making marks on paper with paint. lillian aprilOn a walk around the lake by my house I snapped a picture of a crane surrounded by turtles.lillian april-290I’m sprouting. And the babies and parents are doing fine.

And guess what???  While I am integrating the grandchildren in with the creativity, It is RAINING GRANDCHILDREN AROUND HERE!!! We just got word that Grandchild Number Three should arrive this fall.  Then all three of my children will be parents. That’s balance along with a definite dopamine thrill.lillian april-306

I hadn’t thought of this before, but it is creative just to decide what kind of grandmother to be. It’s a dream come true for a free spirit. I can put in some Auntie Mame  and throw in some Maya Angelou right along with some dashes of my own mother and grandmothers. Meaning I’ll be a character, an utterly unique recipe.  Meaning my grandchildren will all share  a grandmother who loves to nurture and spoil them but still manages to plant some flowers, take some pictures,  try on hats in the thrift stores, turn out a pair of socks, or just in general make a mess. I wouldn’t want these children to have to endure a calm, sedate grandparent. That would be completely out of balance!

Excused Absences – Part Two: The Royalty Pay A Visit

In the Fall of 2014 I learned that I was to be honored by a royal visit. No, not Prince Harry and Princess Catherine; they were already here last May for a wedding. This time the  royal personage involved was none other than my grandson, Prince Micah, making his first visit to Memphis, accompanied by  his royal attendants and parents,  Lady Cameron and  Sir Eric.

Since they would not be bringing a full accoutrement of Court members, I feared I would have to scramble around for some ladies in waiting, squires and the like.  But as soon as word of their visit got out, I was  fairly besieged with offers for royal duty. In fact, I feared we would have a surfeit of hangers on at the Memphis Court. In the end however, since in the South we would rather have too much of a thing than not enough, all who offered were given tasks to perform. And now, according to Prince Micah’s decree, the following pictures are to be shared with all  his subjects, as he was unable to grant an audience to all. Micah iun Memphis-5

Immediately upon arrival the Prince suffered a bout of very pink cheeks, brought about by the Arctic air. Someone forgot to order balmy temperatures.Micah iun Memphis-2

Luckily, heads did not roll. Here, Lady Cameron allows him to gnaw on a blanket.Micah iun Memphis-10

The diminutive Prince took quickly to allowing others to wait upon him. Here, the Matron Emmy receives a welcome opportunity.Micah iun Memphis-12 Early the first evening of the visit, two more matronly Ladies in Waiting arrived: Great Aunts Lady Ann and Lady Mare. They were suitably impressed with the Prince’s advanced growling and drooling skills.

State visits occurred on Saturday and Sunday with young Prince Ollie, approximately eight months of age,  who made the trip over from Arkansas with his attendants. Ladies Ann and Mare were able to serve both royal households. No pictures of the state visits are available at the moment, but Prince Micah was deemed the more bellicose of the two young rulers.

By Sunday evening, freezing rain and sleet covered the Memphis area. The frigid temperatures  caused  Prince Micah’s Court to be held largely in front of the fireplace. At this point, and I do lower my voice here, the two major female Court attendants began a  daring task which was distinctly unrelated to the Prince  – that of cleaning out an entire craft room. Lady Cameron felt that going through her high school detritus DURING A ROYAL VISIT was worth the risk. I bowed to her judgment.Micah iun Memphis-24

The entire Court tacitly withheld  knowledge of the craft room project from the minor monarch, fearing his wrath. Lady Cameron knew from experience that her young highness would nix such a project here just as he would at home. There were close calls, yes, but the swift interventions of the Jester Grandaddy and Sir Eric prevented certain disaster.Micah iun Memphis-11 Micah iun Memphis-14 I don’t believe the Prince noticed anything amiss,

I look normal, don't I?

I look normal, don’t I?

but by Tuesday he was plagued with a runny nose which may have diverted his attention. Upstairs the cleaning out moved apace, with hefty bag after hefty age of trash lined up in the hall. Downstairs the menfolk labored unsuccessfully to wipe their charge’s nose. As the Prince protested such treatment , suddenly we heard    – DING DONG!

And the next installment of Courtiers arrived – Sir Eric’s parents, who had driven through the ice and snow all the way from Illinois just to be able to see their grandson, the Prince.Micah iun Memphis-17

Lady Cameron consults with Sir Eric's Dad.

Lady Cameron consults with Sir Eric’s Dad, no doubt while Lady Annette rocked the Prince.

We were all glad for the influx of fresh attendants who knew more songs and silly games and who were willing to spend their days on the floor in front of the fireplace. I was mostly upstairs in knitting needle hell, for the project, once begun, could not be abandoned, and with new Court members on hand , my services would not be missed for the nonce.Micah iun Memphis-25

Through the week either the temperature or frozen precipitation kept the young Master indoors. Efforts were made to keep the Prince’s routine  unchanged from that of his California home. The Prince’s expectation is that his work continue unimpeded, no matter his location.Micah iun Memphis-9 Just when the Illinois contingent had to depart, Great Aunt Lady Ellen appeared upon the scene, and after a brief introduction to our local Princess Lillian, Micah iun Memphis-28was eager to participate in Court life and intrigue. Since the craft room had been the only intrigue, we made do with a sociological experiment about whether a cardboard box can rightfully be considered a throne.Micah iun Memphis-29 Too soon it was Saturday, and the last full day of the royal visit. The weather had improved enough for the Prince to hold an impromptu audience, which greatly cheered the throngs who had been denied a viewing.Micah iun Memphis-32 The Court members struggled to complete the rest of the scheduled events. First, there was the royal photo shoot, which had to be held indoors. Four attendants were required for the grueling session.Micah iun Memphis-34 And there was a last afternoon coffee, served with cookies, at which two more Court ladies, Great Aunt Lady Carla and Lady Alexis, and a fellow royal, Princess Cee Austin were able to pay Court to the Prince.Micah iun Memphis-35Micah iun Memphis-36Micah iun Memphis-26 The last night of the visit was rather glum, for every single member of the Court was sad and plumb worn out. This writer, for example, was unable to move from her own bed after 8:00 P.M. Sometime in the early morning the Prince and his small contingent were conveyed to the airport from which they returned to California.

We have had no negative feedback from the visit, so we must conclude that his Highness was pleased with the level of service that can be provided by a minimum of eleven volunteer attendants. I wonder if Prince Harry and Princess Catherine had such a well functioning temporary Court for their Memphis visit?