Sunday, January 22, 2017

To Cade, the Week of Your 17th Birthday

Hello, Son. I can hardly believe that, in one year, you'll be considered grown, although I'll admit: your face looked different to me, again, today. It wasn't just the way your chin's been reshaped by orthodontics, either; it was some of the other bones in your face, also the matter of facial hair. I wish there were no need to replace your glasses because your eyes are lovely. They look like my eyes and especially as my eyes did twenty-five years ago (I've always liked my eyes), only with more generous lashes: your dad's. Why do the boys always get the good ones. It's not a question, really; I'm just writing.

I'm frustrated because I feel like I'm just starting to figure things out, and you're practically grown, and I'm sure I've screwed up sixteen million things. I am somewhat comforted because we can really talk and because I seem to be the person you want when your heart is broken. That thing I do where I enter your pain: no one taught me that, at least not the easy way, so I do feel inclined to take credit for it, to pat myself on the back for that one small thing. I think it's nice how sometimes we can count on getting right the things our parents screwed up most. You'll probably be clean and faithful; I'm glad, relieved.

I'm glad we share so many interests: that we have an honest-to-goodness plan to read 100 classics together in five years, that we're both serious as a heart attack about it. I'm glad we have music in common to the extent we do. I loved our Christmas together more than ever I have: our mutual awe over the Mighty Wurlitzer and every second we put into our own performance. I was proud that my son was the one playing and singing, and especially that you were proud to be playing and singing with me.

Thank you for never being embarrassed of me, or at least, for never letting your embarrassment show. If ever you were to shrug me off in public, I would cry for a million years. Thank you for knowing that and choosing not to do it. I know you make concessions to protect my mental health. (I really am aware, Cade.) Thank you for calling if you know you'll be late. Thank you for never even dreaming of joining the military or police, even if just to keep me out of Tucker. I'm grateful.

I know the church thing wears you out, at points. You may look back on it with resentment, but Son. You have to know I'm all in: that I'm just clinging to Jesus. And if that's true--at the very worst and even if I'm dead wrong--I am all the time just trying to make sure you know where to find me.

Last point. Even though, in my weakness (which is at points extreme, I will admit), I bye felicia-ed you as you were getting out of the minivan, yesterday, there's no one in all the world whom I love more than I love you. You are my treasure and will always be.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

To Chip at Four

Mama's Baby,

You turned four right around the corner from halloween. Our celebration was quiet, but I took photos, thinking I'd write a post after our trip to Great Wolf Lodge (your big birthday present) in mid-November. Then, somehow, I didn't...but remembered the other day--after you announced that you want to marry me--that I should.

At four, you play such a significant role in my life. We want to make one another happy; we do make one another happy; it's easy between us. I am your parent, yes, but I am also your friend, and you know it. It makes no nevermind to me what other, more parenty parents have to think about this; I am pleased to make friends of my children when I can.

You, Chip, are a friendly sort, the most grateful child I've ever known. You are the leader of thank-yous in our family. You are mischievous but always very contrite after crossing the line. You are the only person in the house with any concept of how to wake me up, and it's the loveliest thing; they all send you in to do it, and truth be told, I suspect they think of you as a bear whisperer, a caver.

You are these things. I see you seeing me, assessing my every exposed nerve ending and accepting me, anyway. More than that, choosing my body as the safest place you know. Your wordless message (and it plays on a loop) is that I am okay; we are okay; there is nothing to see here.

You follow directions. You open your mouth wide for the dentist and hold your head still for Mrs. Brooke, who cuts your hair. You like hats and hoods, not so much socks and shoes. You are a hopeless sugar hound. You love knights, dragons, pirates, swords, Mickey Mouse, super heroes, water play, and baked beans. I am your favorite, and you are a gift to me. Every day, I think it's impossible to love you more; I am always wrong.

With utter devotion,
Your BFF

Friday, December 2, 2016

My Father Is an Astronomer

I took the little kids to the library, this evening, for an event called A Starry Night. There were experts in attendance from the Science Museum of Virginia and the Richmond Astronomy Club. Inside, they explained about an evening sky map and star clocks, and outside, they shared their giant telescopes.

It was dark in the parking lot, so dark I could hardly see my children. I was straining, shushing, fussing, and periodically calling someone down from a hill after (s)he'd bolted. Meanwhile, without my realizing it, the line for a telescope formed just to my left and stretched behind me, so it took even longer for us to get to the front than it should have.

At last we reached the man with the telescope. He was short, older I think. I could just make out a glint from his glasses: his features, not at all. "I'm sorry," I said: "What should we see?"

"Oh, that's quite alright," he said, and he proceeded to say that we should see something resembling a cotton ball through the telescope. He called it an M15 star cluster, I think. He had several other things to say. I can't say what. I got lost in his voice.

In his voice, I got lost. It was a most ordinary voice: scientisty. His words were so devoid of variation and volume that his voice seemed barely-, hardly-there. Gentle. Factual without seeming matter-of-fact. It was as though he were very far away. I think I have tuned out similar man voices all my life; yet, I was completely arrested. Utterly entranced.

It was the greatest disappointment to walk away, to go back inside the library for cookies and cocoa. I wanted to stay in the dark, in the parking lot. I wanted to listen to a man I couldn't see tell me things about a cotton ball of stars in space.

Driving home, I thought to myself how I've changed: how I'm so done, so threadbare, so tired of yelling. How I hope to never again hear anyone, including myself, holler. How I want to spend my next life--not that I really believe in next lives--surrounded by people who talk like the man with the telescope.

I was wondering how different my life would be if that man were my dad. I was wondering; then, I heard it: "Your Father is an astronomer."

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Untold Story #21: St. Petersburg Murals

Usually, I admire the murals of St. Peterburg, Florida from afar, as my friend Erin posts photos of them regularly. I'm not a mural person as much as I'm a fiberglass-statue person, but I do like murals, especially because they remind me of Erin...and Anjie...and Becky.

You're sure to have noticed: I'm always on the lookout for things to do for free or very cheap, and Erin is very much my soul sister in this regard. We'd much rather have ten (or more!) cheap adventures than one expensive one. I would guess that a homebody/nester--provided that (s)he's on a budget--is much more likely to save up for that one special something, but Erin and I are in a different category. We need to go and do as much as possible, even on a limited budget.

Checking out murals is free, and I enjoyed seeing some of St. Petersburg's in person. Bonus: I think all the kids (ages 3-16) did, too.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Untold Story #20: Yoder's and Siesta Key

When my brother and I were kids, Aunt Ellie bought him a copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon. It was his favorite, and it was one of my favorites, too. It's a little story I carry with me, and I thought of it while we were in Sarasota, because...pie. I bought two pies (Florida Key Lime and Peanut Butter Cream) from Yoder's Amish Restaurant, and we ate pie, sea-side, for dinner. That's all: just pie. There were eight of us, and we ate a lot of pie, but there was pie left over (and neither a moose nor a porcupine in sight), so we asked a couple near us if they'd like to have the rest. They were so excited. They promised not to waste a bit, but instead, to pass on any leftover pie.

Cade looked at me and whispered: "Mom. That was awesome."

Siesta Key was more populated than Honeymoon Island had been the night before, and Cade and Sam sort of took off to do their own thing. But then they came back jogging, panting a bit, pointing, talking excitedly. Evidently, down (up?) from the rest of us, an aggregation of manatees had swum through. Nearby swimmers had been cautious, at first, not knowing the source of the activity, but they relaxed upon realizing it was manatees. Cade and Sam had swum out and with the manatees, actually touching them. What an unexpected delight.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Untold Story #19: Unconditional Surrender

While we were in Sarasota, I hopped out of the minivan to photograph J. Seward Johnson's Unconditional Surrender sculpture. I had read that some Sarasota locals disapprove of it, thinking it kitschy, but of course, I love kitschy, also J. Seward Johnson's The Awakening sculpture at National Harbor.

The words on the sign:

The profound joy portrayed in this sculpture was prompted by the spontaneous surrender of the Japanese, thus ending World War II on August 14, 1945. Among the celebrants in Times Square in New York City were a United States sailor and a nurse embracing amidst the multitude of joy makers.

The merriment expressed the pride and relief of the military and the home front to have been part of this great victory despite the eleven years of unemployment and the hardships of the Great Depression; four years of horrific war; losing loved ones; the rationing of food and gasoline and the war production duties endured by the home front. This group is called the "Greatest Generation," which is a title they well deserve.

This celebrated moment in the history of our nation prompted preeminent American sculptor J. Seward Johnson to create this sculpture, which he named "Unconditional Surrender." After several years of intensive efforts, a proud veteran of World War II, Jack Curran, bought the sculpture, and with the outstanding support given by various Sarasota County veterans associations, he was able to donate the statue to the City of Sarasota.

The presence of this sculpture prompts viewers to never forget the "Greatest Generation" or the day when they demonstrated their "Unity"--August 14. 1945.

Of course, there's more than one side to every story. I photographed the sculpture in June, and in September, Greta Zimmer Friedman--the woman portrayed in Johnson's sculpture (and initially captured in photographs)--died. She'd been twenty-one in 1945. She'd been wearing a nurse's uniform but had been working as a dental assistant. When the news of Japanese surrender was announced, George Mendonsa--a sailor and stranger to Friedman--had grabbed and kissed her. Mendonsa's girlfriend (an actual nurse) had looked on and smiled (source).

In an interview for the Library of Congress, Friedman said to Patricia Redmond: “It wasn't my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and grabbed!” (source). Friedman's son said his mother had understood why some perceive this to be an account of public assault, but that she hadn't necessarily seen it that way (source). Of course, times were different, then: impetuous celebration more commonplace (source)

It's been thought-provoking to revisit my photos of this sculpture, these last couple consider it in light of Donald Trump's words from eleven years ago. I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but--whether or not Michelle Obama was sincere when she said she hasn't been able to stop thinking about them--I am sincere when I say it.

I spoke with a friend over the weekend, a woman a little older than I, who talked nonchalantly about having been groped herself...and about her plans to vote for Trump regardless of what he said (or, in my opinion, confessed to have done). She's not the only woman in my life who intends to vote for Trump, next month. Their decision is baffling to me; yet, even as I write this, I feel convicted because I know I'd disregarded many of Trump's ugly words before they triggered me, personally.

Is that what it all comes down to? Are words only offensive if one is offended by them? Is assault only assault if one is outraged or traumatized by it? I've had similar thoughts, before, as related to abortion; it seems like the value (or type of value) placed upon a fetus/baby lies only in a person's perception of it. (Read my thoughts on abortion, here.) All of it is confusing to me. Is there a line? Is there a standard?

I want to believe yes...and Jesus. The trouble is: not everyone believes in Jesus. We have freedom of and from religion here. Isn't that part of what's supposed to make America great? And not everyone who believes in Jesus believes the same things of Him. Since I've announced my intention to vote for Gary Johnson, I've been shamed by Republicans, Democrats, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Where is the fair intersection between religion and politics? I've puzzled over this before, and I'm still puzzling. I'm still here, my heart feeling heavy as a rock inside my chest. What does it mean to be a true patriot? All I know is: if it comes down to thinking and praying and caring (obsessing), I've arrived.

The Girls at J. Seward Johnson's The Awakening, 2015