Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Beauty and Spiders

Originally written September 2008 for a writers workshop

Fear in my head looks like the Robot from Lost in Space.

With arms waving, a sweet mechanical voice yells, "Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!" 

Instead of being a prison which confines, I consider Fear's advice. It no longer controls my decisions. When the kids were afraid, I would share the tools of overcoming. Our most remarkable victory was GirlyK’s fear of spiders.  

            It began when she was two. In Mammoth, spiders were rare. In this Central Valley town, they are everywhere. Those small sphered creatures with that bit and sucked and eight creepy crawly legs that seemed to work independent looked the creature from The War of the Worlds come to life. 

Photo taken by xandert
            She would be alone, in her room playing. Out of the corner of her eye that creepy crawly would dangle. Toddler legs catapulted her out of the room. With a glass shattering shriek, she would beg for someone to come kill it.We tried to explain that her shoe was bigger than the spider She could take care of it herself.

 She looked at us like we were aliens.

The final straw came when she was eight. We were working in the yard and she went inside to use the bathroom. Moments later, that blood curdling scream.

I raced toward the house thinking GirlyK had lost a limb. She sped around the corner and crashed into my stomach. Her body blurred with vibrations as she wailed,

"There was a GIANT black spider in the bathroom!"

With a deep breath to stifle the giggle, I took her quivering hand as we charged into the bathroom to face this gargantuan invader.

Nothing was there. 

I checked all corners, curtains and the trashcan.  Tears streamed from green eyes as she asserted, "There was a giant spider!  There WAS!"

I said, "I believe you. I think when you screamed you scared him as much as he scared you and ran away." 

She stood blinking, dumbfounded at my conclusion. 

The spring air warmed the chill of our winter bones a few weeks later at a craft fair.  We perused a booth filled with resin-encased insects. Necklaces, bracelets and earrings filled the space. I admired the encased butterfly wings when GirlyK approached me with a medallion necklace.

Lifting it into my eyes she plead, "Mom, will you please buy me this necklace?  I think it would help me conquer my fear of spiders." 

My eyes focused upon a yellow spider, about the size of a nickel. Its abdomen shaped into thorny points. I looked deep within those green eyes and thought,

How can I say no? 

I paid the lady. GirlyK proudly put on the necklace. Her brothers looked on dumbfounded. Holding her breath and standing a little taller, she led the way out of the booth. 

Serendipity visited a few weeks later through my friend Jeff Klingler. I looked through his online portfolio and loved his ability to capture the beauty of small, insignificant things. Casually scrolling through I caught my breath.

I called GirlyK from the other room. Her breath caught. Eyes widened and a wind of freedom blew across her face.

We saw before us iridescent beads of dew hanging delicately from a small portion of a spider's web against a liquid chartreuse background. 

"Mom!  That is what I want to do in my room!  We can paint my ceiling that color and make a giant crystal web over the whole thing!  I can sleep under the spider web. It will glitter and sparkle and be beautiful."

GirlyK spent the next weeks creating different ways the web could fill her whole entire room.  With liberation she could now walk into empty rooms without the fear of a creepy crawly lurking in the corner. She created a way to face a crippling, silly fear, and the result was a possibility to see beauty. 

2014 follow up: The reality of a whole room spider web was daunting for this Crafty Mom. She settled on a few different lighting options that hung over her bed. GirlyK collects spiders to this day. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Ancestral Dimension: Freedom or Bondage

Photo taken by Sgarton
Growing up, family gatherings were filled with tales of blazing a trail within a land of opportunity.

On my Father’s side, my Great Grandma Pfiester came to America from Switzerland at the age of 11. She married my Great Grandfather Dooley a second generation Irish immigrant- originally it was O’Dooley, but they dropped the O’ because it sounded too Irish.  They were Pastors, inventors and rebel rousers. If you thing Italians are passionate, wait till you spend time with the descendants of a Swiss German/ Irishman.

On my Mother’s side, tales of Great Great Grandparents traveling the Mormon trail to a land of hope and religious freedom. Names like Gould, Pearmain and Coombs followed the call of Brigham Young to fill the promised land of Deseret. One of the Grandmothers died within weeks of reaching Fountain Green. Another, my Grandmother remembers speaking in a Cockney accent.

Other immigrants within my family tree I am not so close to. Those trace back to the Mayflower, Revolutionary war and some mystery as to if we are related to Mary Todd Lincoln.

What all these people have in common is this: they wanted to be here. They all came hoping for a better life. Fighting, blending in, and sometimes separating themselves from a world they saw as evil for the right to Life, Liberty and Pursue Happiness/property. 

But what if…
Photo taken by Sgarton

What if at those family gatherings, the stories had been different. What if they were filled with disillusionment and injustice? What if those Great Greats didn’t have a choice to come to this country? What if my Grandparent’s stories were filled with denied opportunity.

All my Great Grandfather had to do was drop the O’ from his name in order to avoid discrimination. To be able to get a job. A name like Dooley would have been accepted freely, promoted and granted liberties. A person cannot change the color of their skin.

For them, this was not a land of opportunity. It was a land of bondage. During the Revolutionary war, those who fought were promised freedom, only to be denied it in the end. The Astonishing Life of OctavianNothing is a brilliant series dealing with this very subject. My Revolutionary war ancestors' stories now have a deeper dimension. 

Around the tables of color, family stories of triumph in the face of adversity instead of hope and promise. They talk about how to love an enemy in the face of violence. The value of hard work is flavored with tales of injustice, being passed over and sometimes hopelessness.

Drew Hart wrote about his own experience as a black man. In a town where discrimination is still prevalent I often frustrated with those who say:

Slavery was long ago.
Why does it matter now?
Can’t they just move on?
Racism does not exist anymore. 

Photo of Cape Coast Castle by Ricorocks
But just as I am a product of my lineage, so is my fellow man. My privilege of having immigrants who journeyed because they chose to, can be named. The ability to know exactly where they came from blinds me to those whose only point of origin is the name of a continent. The slave trade decimated cultures in Africa. They don’t have the luxury of a cultural diversity as I do within: Irish, Swiss German, English.

My story would be much different if all I had to say was: my immigrants were from Europe.

It is my responsibility to remember the persecution my own Irish heritage felt. To keep in perspective the isolation my Mother felt as a non-Mormon growing up within a Mormon culture in the 1950s. It is for these reasons my parents marched with Martin Luther King for equality and I endeavor to teach my kids to live these same values- Love your neighbor, no matter the color of the skin. Share the hope of opportunity. Build those up around the corner because the cause of equality starts with me. Living within White Privilege

Friday, January 10, 2014

Finding Good Enough

Photo taken by arien
I am a perfectionist.

Not the kind that does everything perfectly, but the kind that gets anxiety when things aren't perfect. 

When I see a flaw I feel shame. I feel the need to repent. I want to crawl into a hole and lament.

It is the perfect first ingredient in making an anorexic. When I was eating only one meal a day, I felt in control. The little mistakes didn’t hurt as much because my body was in perfect discipline. The best days were when I never even felt hungry. I took Jesus’ words, “Deny yourself and follow me” a little too literally.

Then I found recovery.

First on the agenda was acceptance. I was not perfect. I would make mistakes. I had flaws. The point was to grow from mistakes and strengthen my weaknesses. Jesus knew I was filled with shortcomings. That is why God sent him.

To fulfill the Law.
To make me free.
He was perfect so I didn’t have to be.

Photo taken by chelle
The most important application of this new flaw filled life was the need to accept “good enough.” Often I wouldn’t start a project because I knew mistakes would be made. I would measure once and then cut twice. In painting, the outside of my hand would pick up a dollop of wet color and smear it outside the lines. I would panic. Wanting to throw it all away and try again I would hear Holy Spirit’s sweet words:

“It’s an opportunity.”

The blob of paint became a flower.

See, the point was not a perfect project. The point was showing up. Starting, working through the middle and then finishing.

So armed with this new discipline, I began to manage life.
Housework- good enough.
Cooking-good enough.

Now, marriage is not perfect. In fact, it is the opposite of perfect. Marriage is exasperating, refining, puzzling and laughter filled. One of my major snags with Counting Mutant is this:

He’s an accountant.

Photo taken by clarita
 An auditor to be precise. He loves to look at a pattern and find the flaw, then point it out so it can be fixed. Then… perfection. With his wisdom and logic, short comings can easily be rectified. Mistakes can be fixed. All of the columns add up.

Earlier this week I talked about my new found freedom of falling. He lovingly messaged me a few errors I might like to rectify. Of course I immediately felt hurt. Vulnerable.  Then I walked through the mantras:

I need to take criticism well.
It is for my own good.
It’s not personal.
He loves me, that’s why he points out my flaws.

Then Holy Spirit turned on that light of understanding:

A Perfectionist married an Auditor.

I realized it wasn’t personal. It was simply a clash of perfectionism. I looked at the critique again. Fixed what I thought was important. Not every mistake needs to be fixed. Sometimes they are left to remind us of grace.

To teach us about Good Enough.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pattycake With A Bear

Originally posted November, 2001
Photo taken by kornrolla

“I know this is supposed to be a dream job but, this drama drives me crazy and I don’t know if I will ever fit in. It's just so inbred. AND I don’t get to see the kids because of the late hours." The Counting Mutant's shoes thudded against the back of the closet. Working at a ski resort had an unseen price.

I sat in a small stuffed chair wedged in a nook that held a narrow north facing window.  The outside chill seeped through the blinds and up my neck, it stung a little. It pained me to hear his dream drowning in a sea of monotony.

I studied his face, those creases between his eyebrows look like the Grand Canyon.

I followed Counting Mutant into the bathroom patiently listening. His mass filled the mirror as he brushed his teeth. I washed my face and ducked his elbows. I interrupted silence with a summary of my day: school for Ase and Zany was good. I made it to the gym with GirlyK.  Homework was a battle. The tedium was getting to me. I stopped talking when his eyes drooped from exhaustion. I lost him. The night’s window of conversation closed.

Counting Mutant opened the blinds on the western window to a full harvest moon and glittering stars. I turned off my light to welcome the pail liquid light. Escaping the cold, I nestled into bed. He rocked as he fell in and cuddled for warmth.
Photo taken by kamuelaboy

A growling, scratching, tumbling noise reverberated below the small northern window.

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know,” he groaned.  He listened more attentively.  “It’s something.”

“I know that!" I paused, "Maybe coyotes?”

“Hmm?  Probably raccoons.”  Then a snore.

I was curious, but the bed was perfect warmth.

The boys’ door opened down the hall. I bristled to hear where the pair of feet would go. With a relief, I thought; Just the bathroom. He doesn't need a cuddle or a tuck in to go back to bed. I rolled over and sank into sleep.

Morning came too soon. The day beckoned: boys off to school, baby girl to feed, kiss husband good bye. I stumbled down the hallway, Counting Mutant's face washed in shock as he stood at the boys’ doorway. My heart jumped and I rushed into the room. Ase, six, listened to Zany, five, as they stood next to their window. Blinds pulled tight to its top.

Zany, continued acting out the story “…And then the Mama looked at me!  Her cubs were playing right over there, rolling around.  She walked to me, stood up and put her paws on the window!  So I put my hands on her paws.” He put his hands on the window. Big blue eyes turned to Austin, “We played Pattycake! Then she put her nose on the window and I kissed it.” He pressed his lips to the window, and turned toward us. His hands fell with satisfaction. “And then she dropped to the ground and walked away. Her cubs followed her. Then I closed the blinds and crawled back to bed.”
Photo taken by ali110

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“My dream! I played Pattycake with a Mama bear and her cubs were playing right, over there.”  Zany was breathless.

I looked at a Counting Mutant. I took a deep breath and gently said, “Zany, I don’t think it was a dream. I think it was real!  Dad and I heard something outside last night when we went to bed. We heard you wake up and go to the bathroom.”  I looked at Counting Mutant, eyes pleading for support, “The noise was the cubs playing.”

Counting Mutant stood silent.  Zany was emphatic, “No Mom. It was a dream!”

I looked at my son. His magical imagination often got him into trouble but, this time was different. He needed to know that.

Squaring myself I encouraged, “Honey, I believe you. I know you are telling the truth!  I think you really did see a bear and her cubs. It wasn’t your imagination.  It was real.”

Counting Mutant's “Spock” eye brow met my gaze.

“Remember? The noises we heard last night? It was bears!” His silence continued. I marched to the back door, “Fine! Let’s look.”

He cautiously followed.

Along the side of the house, pine needles rested on powdered dirt. I scoured while he surveyed. Puffs of dirt covered our shoes.

“Could be…” Counting Mutant's succinct answer.

"I found a paw print." I cheered.
Photo taken by kakisky

He glanced at it. Moving on, the analytical review continued.   Probing the landscape, his face brightened. With a quickened step toward the Boys’ window he muttered, “She saw the trash can.”  Stepped closer for examination, “Filled with garden waste.  No food in the can. Undisturbed.”

With a satisfied nod, he strode to the back door. I scurried behind him.

“Zany,” Counting Mutant announced, walking through the door.  “Come here.”  They sat across from each other at the table.  Ase and I joined them wondering what the verdict would be.

A serious brow, looked into wonder-filled eyes, “Your dream could have been true.  The pine needles were disturbed.  There was a faint claw print in the dust.  It is fall; the Mama was looking for food to get ready for hibernating. She saw a trashcan by your room and became curious; she didn't smell any. When you opened your blinds, you surprised her.  She investigated through the window.  You did play Pat-a-Cake with a bear, Zany!”

Zany’s deep blue eyes sparkled with satisfaction. Self-doubt melted away.

A hope filled our hearts. Wonder happened in spite of monotony. With an awareness of magic, Counting Mutant and I faced the day looking for unlikely possibilities. 

A Mother Life

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Art of Falling

A week ago I fell.

A complete and total face plant walking Watson. My fantastic Audrey sunglasses scratched. Both knees scraped and bruised. My right shoulder still complains when I lay on it.

And… What happened in that fraction in of a second revealed a complete freedom.

Photo taken by krosseel
On 8mm film, when I was 3 years old, flickers an odd little thing which is the perfect picture of my basic personality.

I run as fast as I can.
I stop.
Step warily over a garden hose.
Then continue running.

I remember at 5, learning to ride without training wheels. I was a two wheeling success for three days. Then my Grandparents came over. They wanted to see me ride my bike.
Photo taken by cohdra

Proud, and feeling quite invincible, I pushed away.
Began pedaling down the sidewalk.
I was great riding in a straight line, but the bike decided to turn. I hung onto the bike as we both found the rosebush at the end of the apartment row.

I refused to ride my bike for the rest of the summer.

I. Hate. Falling.

Then I had boys. They jumped. They climbed. They fell. Ase was cautious and I realized very quickly he looked to me for bravery. I had to lead by example.

These were our mantras:
Being brave is being afraid and doing it anyway.
If you fall-point your toes. (Patrick Swayze’s Mom told him that.)

Then we moved to Mammoth. Counting Mutant worked for the resort which of course meant Ase and Zany learned how to ski.  Here they were, wanting to hurl themselves down an ice covered mountain on waxed wood pieces.
I was the parent.

I needed to set the example.

I needed to get my ass on a chair lift and learn how to ski. In throwing myself upon the mercy of gravity a truth emerged from the ski/snowboarding culture: falling is an art form. All falls are braggable accomplishments, because it means you tried.

Life happened and we moved into the Central Valley. The boys, now with sister in tow, decided dance would be their new passion. I would watch through the window of their classes, or in the audience during rehearsals. Beautiful, graceful dancers flowing across the stage would fall on their face. They would bounce up like a rubber ball, smile firmly in place and continue. It reminded me of what my Mom used to tell me when performing a musical piece: “If you make a mistake, keep playing. Don’t pause. Don’t start over. Just keep going because the audience won’t know you made a mistake. You are the only one who knows the music.”

I have listened to people the last week, express concern, sorrow, regret and warnings to be careful in the future. Each interaction leaves me a bit befuddled. I fell and it was spectacular. It was the rare person who could revel in the beauty of my wounds. Who could celebrate with me that I was alright in the grand scheme of things.
And I realized today:

Falling is not the worst thing that could happen. 

I bounced back up.
Smile on my face.
Bravely facing the next moment.

Never afraid to fall again.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Grace Is New Every Morning

Originally posted on January 7, 2013

Stalled. I insert the key, turn with hope and hear the engine grind and pop. No ignition.

It is the New Year. Social feeds are engorged with New Year's resolutions. How to pick them. How to fulfill them. How to ignore them. I on the other hand feel stuck.

For a week now I have mused the topic. Old lists materialize in my mind: Create a working schedule for cleaning the house. Figure out regular times of worship with The Creator. How to save dinner so all of us can sit at a table and touch base about our individual days. Clean up my food. Loose 10 pounds. The response to each problem is static.

I am now in a transition. My oldest, Austin, has his license. For a year and a half now he has his own schedule. His own entrances and exits. Many times Zachary, the second son, is with him. Other times, I drive Zachary has his own agenda needs to be fulfilled. Kacey, the tag along girl, has a merging life of her own. No longer does she follow her brothers around, she is finding her own call and purpose.

I reflect on Christianity's agenda for women as inspiration. I slap into another wall of dryness. As an empty nest looms, my purpose is undefined. Long gone are the days when the kids' schedule was under my command. Dinner could be timed. The house cleaned on schedule. Bed time controlled.

I pray for them all. I push through chronic illness to keep it running smoothly. Laughter is present. Listening is active. On the slippery side, dinner is often self-fetched. The house is tidy with littered corners. Here I sit now, with a dog curled up in my jacket because she is cold, sharing my heart's struggle.

With The Loving Creator, New Year doesn't exist. "But in my mind I keep returning to something, something that gives me hope- that the grace of ADONAI is not exhausted, that his compassion has not ended. (On the contrary,) they are new every morning! How great your faithfulness!" Lamentations 3:21-23

I am brought back to what matters. His call for me in today. My personal normal. Meals need to be better planned-I know he has a plan for that. If I listen to the still quiet voice instead of my own static the plan will be made clear. Everyday is an opportunity for change. Waiting for the first day of school, New year or the beginning of spring is redundant. Today can be my beginning. My moment to change the flow. If the Creator's grace can be new for me every morning, then the grace I extend myself can be likewise.

A Mother Life