On Display

          My son was “Hawk of the Day” at school last week, which meant he got to put all his favorite things in the display case in the front of the building, so that everyone who walked by could see them.  Luke spent two days designing his personal exhibit.   He had the typical 8-year-old-boy things: lego game, knight and dragon, alien police station with enormous robot.  But he also had things that show his heart: the photo of his baby sister that he pointed out to people with pride, the silly-face photo of his daddy and him that shows where he got his big personality, his chipmunk and puppy dog stuffed animals.  I love that these made the cut.  That my boy is still a boy and young enough to fill up his side of the glass case with pride, with selectivity based on what he likes best.  Each year it’s fun to see which things he’ll choose to represent himself to his friends and the world.  And it makes me think, if there were an adult version, what would be in my display?
          Photos of my family, of course.  Those are really my most treasured “things.”  In going through the 42,280 photos we have on the computer (that is not a typo.  Being married to a video guy means LOTS of pictures), to make the annual calendars for Christmas gifts, it struck me how much I’ve forgotten about what was just a few years ago.  Photos of Lily and Luke when they were babies brought back memories that were tucked away in the files of my brain, forgotten if not for the pictures that sparked remembrance.  Marc with long hair, me with a pregnant belly, Marc and I on a walk with our dog before kids.  Pictures tell the story of life when words can’t – they would definitely be in my lineup .
          For his book the other night, Luke chose his Mommy Journal, the book in which I not-so-faithfully recorded the happenings of his first few years of life.  I read the story of his birth, the anecdotes of his first outing, his first words, his first plane flight during which he yelled the entire way.  One entry described Marc’s first Father’s Day when we lived in L.A. – how we went to Zankou Chicken for lunch, then got bobas and sat in the park listening to live jazz with our new baby boy.  I remember that now, but I’d forgotten until I read about it.  These books are a treasure to me; they tell the story of my kids, and my past, with my own words.  Though they might not be interesting to look at, I would put my Mommy Journals in there.
          If I could have a multi-media set-up I’d loop videos of favorite movie clips, stopping intermittently to play a soundtrack of songs I love.  The “O Captain My Captain” scene from  Dead Poet’s Society, the dinner party from Chocolat, any part of Out of Africa – they represent me just as Luke’s legos represent him.  My favorite songs  explain me in ways an hour’s worth of verbal description couldn’t.  Throw in a few of my favorite books, a printed out poem or two, and my new orange slippers and my display would be complete.  Me, summarized in a glass case.  I like the simplicity of it.  The this-is-all-the-space-you-get-so-you’ve-got-to-edit-yourself factor.  It’s a good exercise to do from time to time.
          Maybe when Luke is “Hawk of the Day” again next year I’ll do another mental edit of myself, picking and choosing what I would include in the “this is me” showcase.  I’m sure many things would stay the same, but some might change.  I know most of Luke’s will, since the difference between almost-eight and almost-nine is like a decade in grown-up years.  Hopefully, though, he’ll still let the world see his sweet heart.  Chipmunk and Woof-Woof may be absent, but maybe his family will still be included.  No matter, it will be fun, yet again, to see what my son chooses to show the world about who he is.  And to do a little self-evaluation along with him.
Hawk of the Day
Hawk of the Day

Speaking Of…

A list of things for which I’m thankful:

 

The Usual (but no less important):
My family and my friends.

 

The Every Day (but not for everyone):
my bed, heat in winter/air conditioning in summer, warm socks, running water, a refrigerator.

 

Food:
boba, pickles, Indian food, lemongrass, pancakes, GARLIC, quinoa, cereal, home-made doughnuts at 715 restaurant.

 

Things I would be thankful for if they didn’t suck:
gluten-free bread

 

Miscellaneous:
free babysitting by grandparents, my fake Frye boots that look awesome but were only $20, poetry, my grandparents, E.B. White, Josh Ritter, people who adopt, my mini-van, the fact that I’ll never be in junior high again.

 

Speaking of…
          Junior high was awful in most ways.  After feeling totally confident in elementary school, I entered seventh grade magically void of any self-assurance.  Any time I began to feel comfortable in my own skin, something embarrassing or unnerving would happen  – I would fall forward up the stairs, forget my cheerleading bloomers, see a fight in the hallway, not wear the most popular jeans, be asked a sexually explicit question of which I didn’t know the meaning and could never answer, be unable to get my bangs exactly right, get a new zit, grow freakishly tall over the summer, never know if anything I did was lame or great.  Throw in hormones, and by the time I got to high school I wasn’t sure about myself at all.
Enter Mrs. Bailey.  She taught Social Studies, one of my favorite subjects, and she rocked it.  She was smart, sassy, and didn’t take any of the high school boys’ crap; she demanded respect and got it.  She loved us, that was clear, but wasn’t going to let us run the show.  For that very reason.
          I was a little scared of her at first – her no-nonsense manner, her expectations, her steely stare when someone got out of line.  But I soon found in her a role model; this was a woman I wanted to emulate.  To have so much confidence you didn’t care what the kids thought of you seemed like something I could only imagine in my nerve-wracked adolescent mind.  I observed her quietly all semester, working her magic on the class, making even the jocks want to learn about the three branches of government.  I watched and I learned, and I leeched spunk from her by osmosis.
          It may have lain dormant for years, but eventually my self-assurance emerged when I, myself, started teaching.  I knew from Mrs. Bailey that my 35 sixth-graders per hour weren’t all going to love me, and that was okay.  Even good.  I had to put their needs above making them love me.  But I’ve used it even more in parenting.  When I ask my kids why I’m making them eat their broccoli or go to bed on time, they roll their eyes and say with exasperation “Because you love me.”  That’s right.  I could let them eat candy all day long and stay up ‘til they passed out and they’d think I was really cool.  But I’m a mom – I’m not supposed to be cool.  I’m supposed to keep them alive and well as best I can.  So it’s vegetables and 8:00PM and all kinds of things they’ll be thankful for someday.
          Therefore I will add Mrs. Bailey to my thankful list.  And I’ll mention her to my kids on Thursday, telling them she’s the one to blame.

Love in Moderation

          We have dear friends who are thinking about moving away, and it breaks my heart.
          I had a friend in Los Angeles who had to deal with this often.  Eventually she decided to only make friends who planned to stay in L.A. for the long haul.  Too many friends – couples who she’d known as singles, whose weddings she’d attended, whose children she had seen born – moved away over the span of a few years and it was too much to bear.  She couldn’t keep her heart open for just anyone new – and there is always someone new in L.A.  She had to be selective, to protect herself.  I knew it must be hard, but as one of the people who was planning to leave I didn’t really know how it felt.  We had a going away party when we first decided to move back to Kansas, and announced at said party that we would, in fact, be staying for a while longer as Marc was going to shoot a documentary.  A year later we had our second annual going away party.  This time we actually moved.  It was a long-time coming, and for me a mostly exciting change.  I was the one leaving.  Not being left.
          But now I’m feeling the impact of being left behind.  I planned on raising my kids with these friends, taking family vacations together, being able to say “remember when” with them every year of our grown-up lives.  And now they will be packing up their things and the irreplaceable spot they have in my heart and driving away.
          In his soaring song Land of the Living, about dealing with the death of his father, Matthew Perryman Jones sings “You cannot love in moderation/ You’re dancing with a dead man’s bones/ Lay your soul on the threshing floor.”
          I agree.  That’s the problem.  To love someone you have to give your whole heart, and take the risk of having it ripped away.  It doesn’t matter what sort of love you’re dealing with – romantic, friend-friend, parent-child, person-dog (actually that one’s a little easier) – for it to be real, you have to be vulnerable and raw.
          C.S. Lewis writes about this in The Four Loves
                    “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly
                    broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an
                    animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it
                    up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless,
                    airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable,
                    irredeemable.”
          So awfully and wonderfully true.
          I tried the casket route for a few years.  When my mom was sick with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome I decided not to feel.  I would be strong and keep the sadness at bay.  That didn’t work at all – it only produced anger, which is itself a feeling, and a terrible one to have.  Even a broken heart is better than anger, because it’s a release.  It’s not bottling up, or stuffing in, or avoiding.  It’s cathartic, and real, and necessary.  I don’t know when the tears broke through, but I remember they did.  All of a sudden, after years of very little crying, I let it out.  And out, and out.  And it made all the difference.  It made me a better daughter, a better friend, and eventually able to be vulnerable enough to fall in love.
          In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet the friar cautions the young lovers “Therefore love moderately.  Long love doth so.  Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.”  He is trying to save them from their passion.  To temper their lust and love into something that will last.   His words are wise, but as we see in the rest of the play, even if it comes to a tragic end, loving fully, passionately involves abandon of the heart at some point.  In my love for my husband, my kids, and my friends, I choose to give the whole bloody thing over to them, because I want to be real.  I don’t want a hard heart, even if it saves me pain.
          So I’ve given my heart to my friends who may leave, and if they do they’ll take it right along with them.  I know it will hurt.  It will sting and throb and there will be no medicine to help.  I could cut them off now, as with a tourniquet, to stop the blood-letting.  But that would cut off the joy too.  It would hurt them.  My friend in L.A. didn’t cut me off before I left.  She let it hurt.  She was real.  And we are still friends.  That is what I will hope for as I watch their car turn the corner, away from me, if and when it goes.  I will choose that over feeling nothing.  Take the risk and let the pain come.  And cry, and cry and cry.

Reunion

          My mom’s best friend was in town last week from Connecticut, for the first time in sixteen years, and for them it was as if no time had passed.  They didn’t need to get reacquainted.  Nothing, though everything, had changed.
          Mom and Jude didn’t click when they first met: Mom was quiet and serious, Jude was outgoing and funny.  Mom loved poetry, Jude loved a party.  But when they started dating roommates they saw each other a lot, and as often happens, opposites attracted.    Though they were different on the surface, they recognized in one another a similar soul.  It just took some time to uncover.  They soon became deep friends, and roommates.  When Mom married after her sophomore year, Jude was her maid of honor.  When Mom’s young husband died just six months later, Jude moved in to take care of her.
          It was the kind of friendship you wait for your whole life, and then hang on to for the rest of it.
Then they both married, Jude moved far away, and life happened.  Kids, jobs and a thousand miles made visits wait.  Now Jude has retired, and last week was their 40th college reunion, so a visit was finally planned.  It was wonderful to see them together, instantly picking up where they left off all those years ago.  The same women, but older, wiser; talking about grandchildren instead of boyfriends, telling different jokes but laughing with the same voices as before, with a shared history that makes even laughing more fun.
          It’s beautiful when someone is given to you as a gift, allowing you to know and be known, deeply.  Someone who has your back no matter how far away, who you can call at any hour, blubbering with tears or squealing with joy, who knows by the tone of your voice, in two seconds, that something is up.
          Julie showed up my sophomore year of high school, fresh from California and therefore cooler than anyone else.  She wore black babydoll dresses, listened to Jane’s Addiction and had been to Haight-Ashbury.  Whoa.  She was a novelty, but I soon realized she was also a real person.  We had met as little kids, in ballet, but as we remember it we didn’t like each other then.  Now as sixteen-year-olds, the older versions of us found a similar soul, too.  It didn’t take long to be inseparable – getting ourselves into trouble, getting ourselves out of trouble, making each other laugh ‘til we peed, holding each other up when the drama of adolescence brought us down.  We were roommates in college, too.  She married our junior year and I was her maid of honor.  And when my now husband told me he didn’t “want to pursue a relationship” with me and I was a wreck, he dropped me off at Julie’s because he knew I needed her.
          Now, after each getting married, having babies, living twenty years more life (gasp), she is still an essential element of my sanity, of lifting me up, of making me laugh.  She knows me better than anyone other than my husband – even better in some ways, as a woman.  She’s got my back, I can call her in joy or pain, she knows by my voice when I’m having a bad day.  She is a gift, as much as any other I’ve received.  I know my Mom would say the same of Jude.
          What would life look like without a bestest best friend?  I don’t want to know, actually.  I’m hoping Julie and I get to our 40th college reunion, post-kid-raising, with a bit of time on our hands to spend together, and realize that the years haven’t changed what made us friends in the first place.  That having someone who’s in it for the long haul is a gift indeed.