Little Piggies and Parenting

There is a photo somewhere in which I am about six and wearing a teal fake fur winter coat. We are gorgeous, that coat and me.  I am holding a pinkish white baby pig close to my chest, cradling and squishing it like a beloved baby doll.  

Have you ever seen a baby pig? They are so cute it makes you want to hoard baby pigs.



Sadly, sweet little piggies grow to become enormous and stubborn and smelly and cannot be re-directed were you to, say, hit them over the snout with a 2 x 4 as my dad once discovered.  It's not unlike raising a teen I am told though I don't know much about that yet.  It took a few years but soon enough after that innocent moment was captured on film,  pigs began to lose their charm. They became a big and disgusting deal in my life because they became work.  I used to have to help my dad vaccinate pigs. What this meant to my preteen self was that I would fetch the meds out of a second-hand refrigerator located in the mud room. Often sitting next to all sorts of animal pharmaceuticals, you could also find various Coke bottles and Rubbermaid cups filled with either plain Coke or whiskey and Coke (you know, should anyone need an instant afternoon nip to carry you through the day). I once took a swig out of the wrong cup on a mad dash for animal meds and that was the end of my afternoon Coke nips.  But no matter what I drank, I always ended up traipsing out to the farrowing house, a place designated for sows (large and very pregnant pigs) and later their litters.  New babes were treated to some shots.

How to evaluate progress in your life.



Isn't this how we all feel sometimes? Progress can seem so slow. It can be so hard to take a step back and say, "Wait a minute! Inching is good as long as it's forward. And look how far you have come!"

I am taking stock now, looking at my blog, my writing, my personal life, my self. I am thinking of all that was hard this year, what has been a gift, what I have learned, and what I still feel compelled to examine.

I used to believe, or more accurately, wanted to believe that everything in life could be easily categorized.  And now, ten days out from my 45th birthday, I can see that categorizing life and all that it offers, unlike items in your home or work space, is just plain hard. You can claim a loss but easily find the gift inside that loss if you dare to look. You can admit a mistake and take the time to learn from it in a way you may not have had the mistake never been made. You can say you just didn't do something because you couldn't when really its time has not come. One of my biggest quandaries is trying to determine when I am avoiding something versus simply not being ready for it.

Many of us (me included) like to use the word 'time' as an excuse, but I firmly believe time will

I Am Anything But Real Simple


I keep thinking about the covers of a magazine called Real Simple. Every month it appears at the grocery check-out. Each cover has clean lines and one dominate color and the featured items are neatly placed in spots created just for them.  I salivate with longing for a simple way of being, a way in which everything has its place and there is a place for everything…always.

How great it would be if emotions were so easily organized. I find emotions are trouble. Or at least mine are. They come and go without warning and it is so hard to find places for them. For me, they are omnipresent. People’s words move me.  I take in and react and respond to headlines and stories and books and poems and conversations in such a visceral way. I notice and then I start to feel and my responses can be difficult to contain. 

There are days I jump in the shower to cry in order to avoid alarming my family or getting the third degree.

I simply do not know how to contain myself. The definition reads “to control or restrain” and it seems I have spent my life in restraint though anyone who knows me would likely disagree. But for every time I have let it all out, let me assure you there are hundreds of nights where I have diligently and in my mind, heroically, stuffed it all up in deference to acting like the adult I am supposed to be.

I see a pattern. I get jazzed by a conversation, moved by someone’s circumstance, lit up from stirring words and I MUST. DO. SOMETHING. I talk, I cry, I pace.  And then I fall apart, seek counsel, get love, move a bit forward, fall a lot back, and the cycle repeats itself because I seek out that which makes me high (words, stories, headlines, personal connections) and inevitably, I fall again.

Some of you will suggest drugs and meditation. I am working with both and have done so for a long time and still, I am a roller coaster.

Until my first year of teaching, I had never really noticed this pattern in myself. But nothing will reveal your true colors to yourself like teaching hormonal and wacky seventh graders. Every other hour would find me running into a peer’s room to whisper-shout with clenched teeth, “Can you believe this?” or “My head wants to explode!” or “This. Is. It.!” Every day I was an emotional juggernaut and it wore me out.

I loved and hated it with equal measure. Contrary to what many think, teaching is isolating.  Save for the three minutes between classes where you are hard pressed to choose between peeing, conferencing with a student, making last minute changes to your lesson plans, or seeking emotional release from a sympathetic peer while knowing you are using up his or her three minutes of time, you are left with your own self. And 28 expectant or disinterested or energetic or confused or dramatic or you-will-never-make-me-care-even-if-you-jump-on-chairs-and-roll-on-the-floor tweens. It felt hard.

So why now, 20 years later, am I reflecting on this bit of my life?

Probably because it has taken me this long to see me for who I really am. It seems I have always been in a fight with myself, a self that feels very much like those unpredictable tweens. A self that reacts to her world and its troubles, her students and their trials, her friends and their stories, her children and their lives, her spouse and his dreams because she feels so deeply and cares so much she can rarely contain herself. A self that stumbles a lot in a world that caters much more to staid adults with responsibilities than wonky and irrepressible tweens.

Where do I put all this incredulousness, uncertainty, and feelings of being flabbergasted and stymied in my daily life? How do I live in a way that is true to who I am while trying to function in a world that has yet to make containers for all of my emotional overflow?  Restraining seems futile. Yet how is it useful to anyone? To me?

I start with my words.  I sort out the jumble and mess of my heart in a mad fury working to create the appearance of order from what feels like utter chaos. And in doing so I am contained, if only for a brief time, to the page.

Learning How To Focus

There are many things about my daughter that I admire, but one quality she has had since birth is her ability to get what she wants.  It was apparent as an infant when she didn't sleep much. I know now that she just preferred being near me. Needless to say this wore me out and yet even today at the age of 12, she still likes having me around though she doesn't want much from me....just my physical presence. When I left on a trip she was emailing me a message that said, "You just pulled out of the drive way and I already miss you." And this relates to the other quality which is her laser-like focus on things she deems important to her. As an infant and well into elementary school she wanted me. At night. Every night. And she would stop at nothing to get my presence. The fights we had because she was so focused and persistent rattled our home.

Did I mention it was was tiring? Did I say she wore me out?

But finally (thank god) I can see how this will be useful.

Holy Mother of Writing

Slowly, I am coming out of the fog of being immersed in a different world. Family helps by asking where their socks went, how come we are out of cereal, arguing about brushing their teeth, and forcing me to plan the next meal. It feels like a "whose life is this? whiplash" and I am hard-pressed to tell you which one I am most in at the moment.

August 25th, 1963



50 years is a long time to do anything, right? Especially to
stay married.  I was talking to a friend the other day about a party we had recently for my parents whose 50th anniversary is on Sunday. There is a lot to consider about marriage.  To feel loved and to endure and to be who you are inside that marriage for a lifetime is hard work. I think, even greater than raising children, continuing to come back to the partner you smiled at unknowingly however many years ago is challenging.

Merci Beaucoup

It's coming to an end, this summer of ours. I have mixed feelings like always....admitting my kids are moving onward, upward, getting OLDER while I do not.  

Ha.

I know a lot of people feel excited about a new school year. In truth, it's my real New Year's, a time when I re-evaluate how I'd like our family life to go in the thick of carpooling and homework and social obligations and activities.  But in thinking of all that, there is usually some sort of small knot in my stomach, some sort of little dull ache that suggests not yet....I am not ready just yet and I have to dive in without really feeling like I am up to it.

This year I will take trip to a local university a few times a week to teach public speaking. I will drive my kids hither and yon and try to prepare meals 3 out of 4 of us will eat. I will squeak in a bit of writing and lots laundry and make dusting a thing of the past. Ok. I admit, I don't even really know what dusting is, but it feels good to make a public declaration of letting the pretense go. I will attempt to take care of my body in a way that it deserves,  and I will make Big Man and our marriage a priority that comes well before the laundry. 

And finally, I will re-evaluate this blog.  When I started it, I thought I would find my way to some sense of contentment that I find hard to get to. It has brought me many things, but I would be hard-pressed to say contentment is one of them.

So this is all to say I am taking a time out. I realize I have tested people by waiting a long time between posts, but to do so officially makes me feel like I have time to really breathe, to be thoughtful about what is next. 

I wish I knew, and when I do it's likely you will be able to check back though things might be quite different. 

I hope, if anything, my writing has giving YOU food for thought. For any time and attention you have given to this blog,


Parenting in the First World

I read THIS the other day and it has stuck with me. I hate whining as much as the next parent, but as I am ushering my kids through stages I haven't been through yet it seems I have been focusing a little too much on the little things when all along perhaps some of them are just more first world problems.

Both of my kids are going through changes that are developmentally appropriate but awkward nonetheless. I can't help but thinking about the women I often saw long ago on a trip to Cameroon, Africa who toted babies on their hips in the hot blazing sun while their other children ran so far ahead or behind that mom paid little mind whatsoever to what they were doing. Mom walks forward along the dusty dirty road to the next village, hoping for a bit of water and something to eat. There is no TIME to study the awkward phases their children are going through- the child him or herself probably doesn't even wonder too much about it because they are being part of the solution, helping mom find water or looking after the little siblings.

I keep thinking about how those of us in the first world "attack" parenting, much like my own family just attacked a summer break we had- trying to cram as much fun it with a to-do list a mile long, go-go-go. We get books to read about child rearing, mommy/parenting blogs galore, not to mention Pinterest for any number of child rearing solutions, and the more you read, the more confused you can get. It's as if you could micro-manage your child's entire life thereby exerting total control over the people your kids will become. And then there are those who simply need a place to sleep and some food.

In trying to shepherd my kids through these phases, the one thing that I keep obsessing over is "Who are you?"  I don't mean to say I don't know who my kids are. I mean to say that my kids need to discover who they really are, to embrace their essential characteristics and build on them.  As a former teacher, it felt hard to guide a kid to that sweet spot, a place where a kid felt sure of him or herself yet just fearless enough to push out of that comfort zone. At the time, I told parents real growth occurs when that confidence propels you out of this zone. It didn't guarantee success, but it did guarantee growth.  This is all big stuff and yeah for me for wanting to help my kid through this, but what third world parent worries about this?

Maybe I am too glib. I think I could be hard-pressed to find any parent who doesn't worry about their kid no matter what their situation is. 

But I like that the article brought me down from my worries-our first world problems seem at times to be inventions, things we look for and obsess about, when really, if we stick to the basics, respecting oneself and others and being willing to work hard, much of the other stuff just really becomes....stuff.

Thanks for this talk. I feel better already.









Yin to yang

We have a summer vacation hangover. Is there such a thing? We crammed what felt like two summers of activities into two and half weeks.  On the eve of his first week in a new job, we decided to set the alarm for the first time in a very long time. We haven't been sleeping in, exactly, but the go, go, go had finally caught up with us. I also thought out loud about starting the day with a walk, maybe we could make a special breakfast, do this, do that, blah blah blah. All of this was met with silence until Big Man finally said, "Why don't we just get up?"

And there it is folks....the yin and yang in action, except in this moment, he was the bubble-burster, the rain on my parade, the REALIST. A blatant switcheroo in roles already firmly established.

"I think I will make a zip-line!  Would you like a hot tub? All we need is a cattle tank!  I'd like to be a bee keeper! If we get enough bees, I can claim it as a working farm for some tax write-offs!  I think we can add eight more fruit trees and two more beds of perennials so there will be less grass to mow. Guinea fowl are low maintenance, plus they eat bugs. They can wander in the garden...whadya think? Maybe the neighbors could check in on them! I'm just gonna haul this wood from here to there and see if I can't build a...."

Frequently, these musings are met with a raised brow (mine), a skeptical tilt of the head (again, mine) and are peppered with questions (from me) about the realities (general safety, cost, and longevity of said project) and yet, the list goes on for the plans Big Man has. We have no fewer than six books devoted to FUN projects for dads who want to do-it-themselves thereby clearly extolling what a FUN a dad he is. I, on the other hand, feel like this fact has already been firmly established. 

Hey Big Man! You CAN do it yourself! YOU already have! Some things have been more successful (cider press) than others (zip line), but YOU are fun PERSONIFIED! No one is more fun than YOU!

Me? I just wanted to take a walk and get a fresh start to our day with a healthy breakfast and some quality time together.

Another difference, and I am not sure whether this is gender or person specific, is that I will admit the error of my ways. In print, I will declare that he was right and I was wrong.  The alarm went off, he got up,  and I followed .....thirty minutes later. I DID wake up in time to say good-bye.


Oh well.

I walked alone and sipped coffee alone as he cruised off to a new place, no doubt conjuring up his next adventure. I am sure I will have something to say about whatever it may be. I am sure whatever I say will be encouraging, supportive, and will carry the feeling of the wet blanket I am oh so comfortable wearing.


Me-Mail

I have been feeling out of sorts. The grief lingers... the changes in our life without Paul still jump at us when we least expect them to.  I am equal parts happy and sad when my kids feel down...I keep reminding them that the strength of their relationship with Grandpa is what is causing this sadness. Had there been none, they wouldn't feel much. But there are moments that just grab you without warning and you sort of look around thinking, "Hey! I thought this was over." But it's not and it won't be until it is. Or, maybe it won't ever be and we will just live in this new way. I think that is the unsettling part... accepting that this IS the new way. The other part of this is understanding that everyone in my family needs something so different. I like to talk because it keeps Paul alive. Big Man doesn't, or can't, for too long.  It's a sticky wicket trying to manage and respect individual needs.

This, combined with the shift to summer, has been sort of rocky. I didn't mean to be busy, but a daily run to tennis lessons (I am frantically trying to finish this between dashes to the courts) with two kids at two different times seems to suck away at my morning. The afternoons are full of swimming and the library and chores and reading and music and who-knows-what-might-come. I have tried to set my sights low on personal accomplishments and am wondering just how low I can go.

And while I don't have a wildfire lurking in my backyard, I do have a pre-pubescent tween who seems to be in for a long slow smolder as well.  I am thankful for the supporting cast of aunties whose gentle and funny ways will guide both of us through. I really am banking on the fact that she won't remember her harpy  exasperated, short-tempered mom but fun-filled trips to Camp Auntie. Diverting college funds to a therapist will remain an option for awhile.

All of this is to say that my MAJOR accomplishment for the summer thus far is whittling down 694 g-mails to 24. These messages went back three years ago. I could chronicle my involvement with the marriage amendment, my communications with CNN editors, The Huffington Post, and a few local editors. There were emails regarding our journey to finding an acreage and learning about Andrew being killed and trips being planned and friends whose hearts have been broken and inquiries to me regarding my job interests and personal messages from writers I admire. The whole spring of Paul's illness was there as well as book club dates and reminders of favorite recipes I wanted to try.  I know it sounds silly, but this task made me feel better. While this month of June has been a wash as far as visible progress, I can see that I have had an active life, I have created new friendships, renewed old ones, and continue to maintain those that feed me in my daily life. I have put myself out there in ways I could never have imagined three years ago in writing and speaking and teaching. One slow month does not define my life.

It always hardest to see in the thick of things....a message I need to send to myself a little more often, I think. And from all this turmoil, new things are brewing even if I don't know what they are yet.

For now gentle reminders that I am where I am supposed to be are the whispers that carry me throughout my day.








For the Birthday Girl

I can't believe my mom raised four kids between two small towns in rural Iowa and lived to talk about it. When I think of the resources available to families today, and moms in particular, it makes me want to weep for that girl in her young twenties just doing what had to be done out on the farm. Cooking, cooking, and more cooking. Cleaning and ironing and hauling food out to the field and running farm errands non-stop. There wasn't a lot of time for socialization, few people to bounce ideas off of, few people to ask for help and certainly no instant chat rooms to run to when you felt alone, stranded, at your wit's end.  It makes me think I am a major wuss.

I have never been one to take a lot of time to examine what I did or did not get from my mom. Being a parent myself has made me see that we all do the best we can with what we are given. I know my kids will have their own therapy bills to contend with though I hope they adopt my approach which has basically been, "Get over it already!" It saves time and money.

The long and short of it is that we do not have the perfect relationship. She had a difficult life and I worked hard not to add to it. Without even realizing it, I kind of stop letting my mom be my mom because I didn't want to be a burden when she already had so much to bear. I made that choice not to lean on her though she has always been in my corner. When I couldn't find a job, when I  finally had a job, at all the speech meets for students I coached for the first time on my own, when I lost many babies, when I had babies, when Paul died, and so many other times in between my mom has been at my side. Her physical presence has been my gift. My mom, despite my not really opening up to her or leaning on her, has always planted herself nearby. And so I credit her for not giving up on me, on us, for accepting what is and running with it. Mom is much more resilient than I fear I will ever be.

And so it goes without saying that I love her, but it must also be said that I love her in ways that have yet to reveal themselves fully to me.  

I was never the perfect daughter.  And she is the mom that I know and from whom I have based all other female relationships upon. It can feel complex and sticky and burdensome and overwhelming and I will never pretend to understand it all.  But what is great about love, especially mother-love, is that it doesn't have to be figured out or perfect or what we want it to be or what we think it should be. If we are lucky enough to get out of the way of all that crap, it can just be.

I am working on that and she is letting me.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you.




Well, it's June.

Lots of random things on my mind with little time to focus. In no particular order, we've had these things happening....

- morel mushroom hunting. Big Man scored big time in a very concerted effort. The man did not give up. He was privy to no special land or information, but the guy can spot a dying elm tree!  And so, in many stolen moments he walked and walked and found some loot. He was joined once by a medical student (ok- forced...they don't know it's part of their gig at Winona Health. Some view it as a perk, others a peculiarity), once by a beloved aunt and uncle, and most often with Dog. She's a boon companion who does not complain or talk despairingly about long uphill hikes like some Things we know.

-blasts from our past.  Friends from residency visited our farm and all of the people, dogs, and kids blended well, a friend from my first teaching job spent a few days with me, and I met an old high school friend for a whirlwind lunch a few weeks ago. Last Friday, I met a dear woman whom I met early on in my life in Winona.  We see each other randomly but had not really talked in a long time. All this social time has left me thinking a lot about how we tend to relationships and which ones get our focus.  A woman I know believes in what she calls "seasonal friendships". There are different seasons or stages of our life and we are drawn to people who help us through those particular phases of life.  But there are those that we keep no matter the season and who seem to require little nourishment and thrive despite a lack of tending to. In each case, I was able to pick up where we left off and it was easy and comfortable and meaningful.  Big Man will be the first to admit that he is a gardener of plants, and I am the gardener of people. It's clear...we know our strengths.

-living with loss.  This has been strange, us living without The Original Big Man. Thing 1 received a beautiful birthday card from her aunt who wrote about how proud Grandpa Paul must be of what a sweet and loving girl she is becoming. It sent us both to tears when, a minute earlier, we had been giggling.  Yikes!  Big Man is  churning on...looking at the wonky way in which the tree he planted in his dad's honor is situated and trying to figure out best how to correct it's stature.  It seems a fitting metaphor for how we are all trying to live. It feels wonky and not quite right. Will it ever?  Thing 2 wants to hear his voice and goes silent when we talk about Grandpa. It's hard for him. I keep imagining Paul's interjections in conversation. I think, "This is when Paul would say 'Well, sure...." and state his case and I would likely disagree with him. It's just still too weird. And sad.

-politics. I am still reading about it, not commenting, ruminating on the system in general. I think, despite how anyone feels regarding gay rights, what I got from the whole experience was a front row seat to democracy in action. It restored my faith in the system as a whole. There is unrest and discomfort in my local scene,especially regarding our frac sand mining issue, and I find myself asking, "What would I do?" I don't think I want to run for any sort of seat and yet, as I get older, I see that real change occurs with policy making. And yet I can think of nothing more detrimental to your personal relationships- marriage, kids, friends, than becoming a politician. Oy vey!  But, how else can I get involved? 

-job changes. Big Man is finally hanging up his hat at Winona Health. Given the size of the community and time he has spent here, it is harder than one might think. I have been surprised at what a toll it has taken on all of us. My roll at The Book Shelf puts me out in the community sometimes .  People feel compelled to ask questions and offer kind words and express sadness. It is hard for people to say good-bye to their physician.  After losing his dad and bearing the weight of trying to be the kind of doctor he wants to be until his very last day here, I feel a bit like a cheerleader on auto-pilot who is down to her last pom-pom. Or, is it pom?

-my blog.  A dear friend offered some suggestions in order to make it more inviting for people to comment. Since I am not tech-savvy, I am working on this. If you can comment easily, do!  I would love to hear from you and will try to figure out how to reply to you.

I long for a day of focus. My last day of school was supposed to be mine, but instead Thing 2 is sick and I am writing in between trips to help him clean up after an upset stomach. This is life, my life. In all of it, I would not trade one thing.

The girl came.

The journey to Lucy was anything but normal. I never thought I would get a girl. I never thought I would get any baby. We traveled a long, exhausting road towards a viable pregnancy and of course, much of that was forgotten when I looked into her eyes.

Lucy Grace came out with her eyes open. Doctors commented on how that wasn't particularly normal and from that time forward, she has always been engaged in her world. As she has migrated into the tween world, I question some of what engages her, but at least we can say she's normal.

Or not.  

I am not sure how normal it is to carry a book with you wherever you go, or to have friends who do the same. I am not sure how normal it is to start the day singing and keep it at a low hum for most of the day. I am not sure how normal it is to doodle intricately on your body with your favorite pens or to read Harry Potter incessantly. She started the series at the beginning of third grade and has never really stopped reading them.  There have been plenty of other books in between, but she can't let them go. I get it. I felt that way about the first five Box Car Children books, but we know HP and friends have way more going for them.

I am not sure how normal it is that she has awakened every morning since birth between 5:00 and 6:30. I am not sure how normal it is that her morning and bed time routines are set in stones that seem unmovable despite our pleading for a little flexibility. She will be a great 80 year old.

I am not sure how normal she is, but I do know our life is anything but with her smile and her giggle and her singing and her art and her excellent navigational skills and her perseverance and her kind heart. 

I am a happy woman trying to guide a girl who is so much more than normal, so much better than any dream I may have had and feel grateful every day for living outside of normal.

Happy Birthday, Lucy Grace.




For the world to read.

Sometimes it's hard to decide where to submit things...do I leave it on my blog, send it to our local paper, run it through the Huffington Post, or submit to a new place?   I felt the country might like to know about life regarding marriage equality in Minnesota so I went this way because they already know me and have run some of my work.

I hope you take the time to read and share. 

Life is good in Minnesota as we wait for the rest of the country to catch up.




Love in Retrospect



What a crazy day I had yesterday! I went to St. Paul, MN to watch history being made as Minnesota's state senate voted to legalize gay marriage, an event that will happen today when Governor Mark Dayton signs it into law.
The Wabasha Bridge in St. Paul ready for history!

How wild! How crazy! As I listened to the senator's speeches and the wild roaring love-chants floating throughout the capitol rotunda, it was almost impossible to take in.






It seems I have been thinking about gay rights and marriage in ways I haven't always fully understood. It started with my sister wondering out loud as a confused teen, "What is wrong with me?" to a young man named Bob Gardner who joined the first speech team I coached as a brand spanking new English and speech teacher. I immediately recognized him as gay and watched feeling helpless at times as he navigated a path that was fraught with insecurity and worry and torment. I shepherded him into my fold, wanting to protect and guide him if I could, but mostly I let him be the person he was meant to be. He would be the first to say that it wasn't always easy.

I can't think of a time when gay people weren't a part of my life. I can't think of a time when I ever really thought they should be viewed as less than though I do admit to confusion of the normal sort, the kind that clearly tells me I am not gay. Yet never have I once doubted those who know they are.

And I can't think of time where I ever let religion cloud what I thought of it. I was raised Methodist and so I know as many stories as the next Sunday-schooled child, but I can't remember ever letting those stories from long ago ever affect the reality of what is clearly in front of me.




I remember being drawn to Maya Angelou and Mildred Taylor and Harper Lee as a middle school girl in rural white Iowa. As someone almost embarrassingly "normal", whose only major oppression is that of her own mind, I felt gobsmacked reading about people whose daily life was filled with oppression and discrimination. I know now that it was part of an education that went far beyond the page. When Atticus told Scout to "walk a mile in someone else's shoes" I took it literally and have worked hard throughout my life to at least allow myself to dip my toes in water than might not always feel good to me. Not everyone resides from a middle-class, heterosexual white world and it has served me well to remember that.

But I have to confess that I never thought simple life experience would turn into anything that had purpose. What a surprise this has turned out to be.

Life happens, and if you pay attention it guides you in ways you could never have imagined. If you are wise, you follow.
A VOTE No fall campaign shirt recycled to VOTE Yes for gay marriage. 

And follow I did. Most of you know this part of the journey for me so I won't belabor it. Nor will I ever claim to have had a major part in Minnesota's historical moment. But I did make some noise and while it was barely a whisper in the last few months, I needed to be there yesterday to understand that this is what democracy can do. I needed to see with my own eyes that our voices can and have been heard. It's easy to get jaded into today's political climate, but there I was watching it with my own eyes. 


Two years ago, I was sitting in the front yard with a few people including my husband and Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt. We were trying to figure out how we could make some sort of difference in the way our state was then proposing to leave out gay people.  None of us then would have predicted this day.

Lori Wilfahrt, celebrating a movement that continues to honor the spirit of her son, Andrew.

Jeff Wilfahrt honoring his son and countless others he met along the way.
But what has brought our state to this day is simple. It has been our stories, the backbone of the whole campaign. "This is what happened to me" has been whispered and chatted and shouted and sung and written and emailed and prayed about all over this state. It has been our willingness to share and our willingness to listen and to inhabit and imagine, "What if that were me? What if that were my child, my sister, my brother, my neighbor, my friend?" that has moved so many people.

So many of us have tried on another pair of shoes and paid attention to how they fit.  It is clear to many that some adjustments need to be made.

And here we are, the twelfth state in the nation to fully embrace more of the good people who have been serving and loving and working and contributing all along.

 It feels nothing short of wonderful to have been a part of it.





Mother-land

Don't we all live in mother-land? Whether we have kids or not, we come from mother.  Complex, confounding, essential, intricate, nourishing, perplexing--most of us can speak volumes about gifts given or sorely missed from the woman who gave us life.

My own personal relationship to my mom and the journey to becoming a mother of children are not threads in my life that I take lightly. But over time what I have come to realize is this--as women, we are all mothers. By nature we crave intimacy, to be known and to know, to teach, to share, to love, to lift up. Our very way of being fills this world with such graceful power, tenacious spirit, and a loving force that has driven the course of history. Women-mothers are the directors, the nurturers, the leaders, the hands, ears, and eyes always in tune to what is needed. 

Raising a small child is not required to live in mother-land.

My life is filled with teacher-mothers, a mosaic of women whose chance encounters or vested relationships made lasting and deep impressions on the person I have become. I carry each of them with me and try to remain cognizant of my own "mother moments".  As I am talking to my young co-workers about major life decisions or crafting my observations of pop culture with preteens or trying to view the neighborhood I live in through the eyes of children or casing venues for any number of purposes based on their physical accessibility, I am mothering beyond the walls of my home.

I don't know a single woman who doesn't do something like this. 

You don't have to give birth to a child to bring your individual ideas and creativity and spirit to this world. You don't have to nurture wee ones to teach values and perseverance and self-reliance. 

Of course we can't ignore (nor should we) our moms on this day. But I find it totally acceptable to get a little selfish and think about the gifts you have already offered to this world, and better yet, start planning what you wish to offer up next.








A random new life

I thought it would stop, but I found myself waking up with tears in my eyes (again!) after what I thought was a sound night of sleep. Getting there is still hard.

*********************************************************************************

My kids are sad.

Thing 2 is focused on longevity and some of the words that I had spoken at the service.

"Why did you say we were selfish?" he asked after a long weekend of family and photos and stories and tears. 

"Well, I said humans were selfish. No matter what we have, we want more. Grandpa lived a rich life and did so much of what he wanted to do.....including giving you squish-a-roonies and teasing you about "getting the girls". But for those of us who loved him, any amount of time with him would not be enough time."

"So what's the average age?" he asked me.

"For what?"

"For living," he said.

I thought and then said, "I don't know. Most people live long and productive lives if they care for themselves and are reasonably safe. The number is different for everyone."

He seemed satisfied but pensive. It was all he wanted from me, all he could take for the moment, and then he said, "Will you read to me?"

*********************************************************************************

Thing 1 is out of sorts. She doesn't like being thrown off her schedule, even at almost age 12. She doesn't like all the traveling, she doesn't like why we have been traveling, she wants the stories and hates the stories, and her heart just can't bear it at times.

"It's just so hard, mom. I won't ever see him again." Tears are streaming down her face as I try to comfort her.

"I know. It is hard. But we have each other, babe. And you, lucky girl, got Grandpa for 11 years..the record for his grandchildren. You are the Keeper of the Grandpa Wilfahrt Stories."

We lay together for what feels like hours, but is only a few minutes. Her breathing relaxes, but she is not asleep. 

"I just don't know how to think about it, " she whispers.

I say nothing because I don't know either.

*********************************************************************************

Thing 1 is sleeping on our floor again, a habit I thought we'd kicked. 

I noticed she picked up Harry Potter when this whole ordeal began almost six weeks ago. She'd moved on from that two grade levels ago, but she is racing through it once more now on Book 6. I know she has memorized every line in each book and there is comfort in a story that will not change. 

She will read it over and over until she feels settled.... and I will not stop her.

*********************************************************************************

Big Man is immersed in work. At night he is furiously pounding through the paperwork death leaves for the living. A soul-less task, impersonal and perfunctory. You were here and now you are not. Please let us know. 

While he attends to the business of death, I go after the business of living. Dirty dishes and clothes, homework, dog walking, soccer practice, summer camps. 

*********************************************************************************

New day, new normal, new way of life. 

Unwelcome, hard, no choice.








About a boy and his dad.

They have always been funny, these two. Paul kept Bob on a wild ride of --what should we get up to next?  Long time ribbing of how they were the youngest and most spry men in attendance (even when Paul's gait was unsteady) did not prevent them from actively participating in the omni-sexy model railroading that is all the rage these days.  Upper Midwest  road trips from Madison to Milwaukee, Minneapolis to Winona and points in between. Paul would drive a long ways to go to a model railroading show and if Bob could tag along, he would.

Paul developed a penchant for holiday decorations after his kids had grown and graduated.When his first grandchild came along, it seemed the perfect time for a Christmas inflatable. For a few years, he kept adding to these with the penultimate being two gigantic polar bears. But there wasn't much for them to do so he moved on to Halloween. Here is where he could create some action.  A technology guru and a long time fan of special effects, he was always interested in what the average man could do at home. And so with his ever-willing compadre, they would putz and tinker and make endless trips to Menard's and Home Depot for the right this or that. It goes without saying they likely already had whatever this or that may have been. This or that  just could not be found due to.... organizational challenges.

Over the years Bob has been gifted with any number of masks, weird hats, costumes, and special effects gadgets to enhance the haunted houses we started doing in our own garage. Not everyone can claim they received a bubbling cauldron, a strobe light, or a animated rat the size of our dog for their birthday...or even Christmas. Such gadgets allowed Bob to set up an empty exam room at Winona Health one Halloween to the delight and surprise of patients and staff.  Again, not everyone can claim their doctor had animated Halloween displays...in their exam rooms. Paul radiated pride at this feat.

There are endless stories of the funny man and his boy. Those, of course, are easy and fun and healing to tell. It explains at least part of my husband's heart, his penchant for seeking fun and sharing it with others, especially his own kids, and particularly his son.

But here is what won't be said this weekend.

Bob has lost his best friend, his mentor, his North star.  There have been pivotal moments in his life when what he needed for that final push in a big decision was some sort of stamp of approval, some clarification in his thinking, some guidance. He could talk to me, he could reason his own way through so much, but whenever he felt really hurt or particularly stuck, his dad pushed him through it.

The phone calls are done. The endless Saturday morning chatter about another railroad scene. The middle of the week phone calls where Paul was seeking guidance from the one doctor he trusted most, his son, about the latest medical malady.

I don't know why I didn't see it before, that Paul was his best friend. But it has hit me like a ton of bricks, the realization of what he has lost. 

We will find our way through this together since there really isn't any other way.

This weekend we will gather with friends and family to celebrate the wonderful life of The Original Big Man.  And I will do my best to take care of his boy.




Tiny explosions

Sometimes they are literal and sudden...such as the tragedy of yesterday. How utterly horrifying for those runners and all the friends and family and supporters along the way.  A day that has been meticulously planned for, where the months of gritty work is finally realized and ends in complete mayhem and confusion is just stunning. 

Sometimes, though, disaster creeps up on you. The Original Big Man's future remains unclear. His delirium persists and we just feel like maybe this might be it.  This might be who we have now, a weak man with few lucid moments just lying in a hospital bed. It's been a slip and slide sort of realization after all the whiplash of he's dying! He lived! He'll recover, right? Or won't he? What is his future? What is ours? No one seems to know.

But I am reminded of the goodness in our families and our friends.

My mom had arrangements to visit so I could be with my mother-in-law when her oldest daughter finally had to return to her real life. My brother had arrangements to leave at a moment's notice just to be with us as needed. My sister took my baby boy for two nights so I could help my in-laws.  My friends have called and sent messages and offered their ears and their hands and cared for my kids.  I am breathing in daily the beauty of people whose good wishes and prayers sustain us.

The folks in Boston will do the same.

Whether it takes you by surprise or the hard truth slowly creeps in, the feelings are no different.  Shock at the situation you are in, grief as the circumstances reveal themselves, pain at what is lost. It's all there no matter how it arrives.

People do show up whether or not you have lived life well by making deposits and investments in those around you. No matter the circumstances and without a background check, people give with abandon, pray without asking, love without questioning, and, as we saw yesterday, run toward the disaster to help, to serve. Rather than wonder at the horrors, it seems best to take in the light, that golden gleaming nuggets of evidence that goodness is far more resilient than any brief flash of evil. 

For all of us, Life is a series of tiny explosions made smaller by the work of our hands and heft of our hearts 


A surprise for me!

I tidied up my latest post and sent it off to The Huffington Post. They have a quick turn around so when I did not hear from them in two days, I assumed it was a no-go.

Imagine my surprise as I was driving home from another trip to St. Cloud when I checked my email to see this:


Thank you very much for your blog post. It's been published and can be found at this permanent link:


It's also permanently listed in your author archive:


I kind of giggle when I read "in your author archive" because there are many moments when I still feel like I am in Mrs. Reymond's 7th grade English class toiling away at a draft of this or that waiting for a smile of encouragement she would always give me. A crowning achievement was re-writing the lyrics to "Elvira" by the Oak Ridge Boys. That I successfully crafted that country hit into a Christmas poem should have made it clear to me that I was on my way right then and there (yes, you can laugh...it's ok), but I harbored doubts for a long while. 

At any rate, the other bit about writing and reacting to news for opinion pieces is that you have to do your work. I read several pieces from reputable news sources about Obama's remarks about Kamala Harris. I wanted to be sure that I was not "overreacting." Bloggers and tweeters have a way of blowing things out of proportion quickly. I sat on this for a day or so (eons in the news world) until I felt confident that, yes, I had a clear understanding of what had happened.  I learned too much later that Harris herself had commented on Obama's looks prompting him to reference her looks in his response.  This exchange was part of something bigger that I did not catch. 

Oh well.   

Obviously, the Huff Post isn't going to run things that are way off base because that detracts from their credibility. After re-reading what I wrote a hundred times, I think the essence of my angst still holds true no matter the exact context which is why they made the choice to run it. 

So, if you are wondering why my production for them and our local paper is slow, I hope this gives you a clearer picture. Despite it not being something I do for pay, I do not wish to look like a reactionary crackpot. Given how my days go, it takes lots of time to research not only what is going on, but that someone else hasn't already said what I did. It can make me crazy and sometimes, frankly, I just pass. With the family issues we have had as of late, I feel lucky to have an opinion on what I am making for dinner. 

Thanks for sticking with me readers. I so appreciate your kind words, enthusiastic responses to what I write, and the good vibes you give me. In the end I do it because I can't imagine not doing it, but sharing it makes it that much sweeter.

I Don't Think So

Beauty is a beast that burdens those of us who have it, and tortures those of us who feel we've drawn the short straw.  Even the president is not immune to a lovely lady. He said this about Kamala Harris, Attorney General of California: "You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you'd want in anybody who is administering the law and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake," Obama said. "She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country."

Had he been truly careful, he might have quit while he was ahead before tangling with the beast that is beauty.

The fight is still here, still omnipresent. How, how, how do women win the war on looks when our own commander-in-chief just can't stop himself in choosing to highlight them as well? However well-meaning they might have been, comment like this do not help, especially from a leader of a "free world."

But how free are any of us really when the follow-up to a roster of great attributes ends with a comment about looks?

Obama has his own girls. No doubt he thinks they are beautiful, but what makes them beautiful is the real question.

My communications degree taught me a lot about beauty, our perceptions of it, and how much more likely people are to be successful depending on how "beautiful" someone is perceived. It's impossible not to notice what people look like, but the mark of my maturity as an adult has been in reaching far beyond the physical to what is underneath...the spirit, the drive, the pulse of what makes someone tick.

As a parent, I am painfully aware of how I describe and craft my observations of people. I am also very careful in how I tell my children how I see them.  I've struggled with the word  "beautiful" in describing my own daughter, not because I don't think she is, but because of how our society seems to value physical beauty above other qualities.  And now that she is older, we discuss beauty as a living thing- beauty in a kind gesture, a bright smile, a gentle touch, self-confidence created by working hard, failing and succeeding, studying, reading, striving, pushing.  When my daughter hears me say she is beautiful, she understands that I am commenting on something much deeper than a set of physical attributes.

Women everywhere work with what we are given to feel good about ourselves, and it should be no secret that self-confidence has way more to do with beauty than any physical gifts. Our life experiences and intellect combined with education cultivated over time deepens and sharpens that self confidence. No one in a position such as Kamala Harris gets there without any of those things. While her physical beauty is part of who she is, that Obama felt compelled to name it within the context of his speech is what bothers me. 

All women at one time struggle with how we might be perceived on the beauty scale. It starts in the pink bundle when someone exclaims (or not), "She's gorgeous!" Hardly a female can watch Beyonce swagger without lusting after her thighs and shaking their head in awe at her mere existence. Magazines and ads and catalogs and keep us keenly aware of what is often perceived as "good-looking" attributes. They are hard to ignore.

But because I want more for myself and my daughter than to be chasing the whimsical tail of  physical beauty,  I want more from my president whose own girls are watching and listening. I want my president to keep those things to himself and most importantly, focus on the picture that really matters...one in which brilliance, tenacity, and self-confidence in a woman are so stunning that any observation of a physical attribute is simply not worth mentioning.


It is only then that our leader and all us, men and women, will really be free. 


Aftershocks

The crisis has passed, but the emotional whiplash continues. Our hearts have been beaten and battered around like an old, scruffed-up soccer ball the park kids dig out at the first sign of spring. 

He didn't die....he's better!  

What most of us thought was that better meant "as before". What better really means is that the infection is mostly gone.  We spent the weekend trying to let this sink in.

What remains is a man still in pain who is unwilling to admit he still has pain and pulling out his feeding tube.  What remains is a man with a swollen belly due to water weight from the IV. What remains is a man whose delirium is overpowering his lucid moments. Who we are seeing in no way resembles the man we have known.  Occasionally there are teeny-tiny glimpses (his most consistent concern is money so that jives). What remains is a very weak man.  We are very uncertain of who might emerge and what the end result of recovery will look like.

The weight of all the decision making was palpable in the family home this past weekend. There were tears and a settling-in of resolve to help rock star/mother-in-law, Linda.  

We will get through by treading lightly, carefully, intentionally. 

I propose a game of love laser tag wherein we zap each other on a continual basis sending out love vibes with our imaginary laser guns. The light waves carry beams of encouragement, hope, resolve, warmth, whatever is needed from whatever corner of the world we are in to St. Cloud, to Linda and Ali and Anne and my Big Man. I suppose other people rely on prayer chains, but I think I can get Thing 2 to buy in if I call it laser tag.  

It's likely The Original Big Man would scoff at such a thing. And there is no question that he would hate all of the time, emotion, energy, and resources spent on him.

But he doesn't have much say or any power in the matters at hand. He would hate that the most.

And I know how much he would hate this...this bearing of a family crisis. But it's my blog and my life and I need to do what I need to do. I hope he gets the chance to read this so I can really piss him off.  If he gets the chance to stop talking to me by choice, I will gladly take it for the team. It would be my pleasure because I don't hold grudges....and I'd still let him drive the tractor.





Big Man Wears His Doctor Hat

I hesitate to say our crisis has passed. We aren't planning a funeral. This is good, but the recovery road is long and as I type, The Original Big Man is still in the ICU. 

The family is made of strong stuff. The sisters, Big Man, and their mom have donned their cheerleading outfits with a resolve that doesn't seem to be waning.  

It's been weird and interesting for me to observe Big Man in his role as son and physician. As I have watched the family hang on the doctor's every word, I have been struck by the position of power the doctors seem to be in.  They have the ability to couch their language in such a way that can draw people to the conclusions they wish them to draw and in some instances, toy with their emotions.  At one point, Big Man told me about medical school in Rochester. As a grunt student, he said he would go into room after room with this or that expert and listen to these doctors give families brilliant little mini-lectures on whatever the disease of the day was. As a student he learned some great science, but when the doctor left and he remained to do whatever medical students do the families would look stunned and baffled. He wondered why they didn't ask questions. Often, they didn't know where to start and worried about feeling stupid. It was there that he learned what it meant to be a meaningful communicator. Later on, he had a supervising physician in residency who was so perfect with patients. She knew how to talk and read between the lines of what wasn't said and draw out their concerns and explain without condescending and again, Big Man took notes. These experiences have colored his whole approach to talking with patients and their families.

Since my life with Big Man isn't about medicine, I can freely admit I haven't always appreciated what he does. I got to watch him in action and struggle to find a balance between son, interpreter for his family, and just his own natural interest in the medicine of a case that happens to be his father's. He's gone over how he would have handled things, and I can't begin to explain the nuances of what he would have done things differently. But I have seen a glimpse of why our little town has been fortunate to have him in their medical community. He is very good at what he does. 

I am proud of how he has handled himself as a son who happens to be a physician. He hasn't been overbearing, but they are well aware that he's watching and that he's no slouch.

We don't often see our spouses in the action of their daily lives. I am not sure what I thought he was like and while I can't say I am surprised, I do know I felt pride.  

But mostly, he was the kind of son his dad would want him to be- kind, funny when needed, compassionate towards his family and all the medical personnel, and loyal to his tribe.  

As for me, I felt a renewed sense of gratitude for my guy and who he is as a person. When you are young, love goggles can sometimes make things seem rosey. Later, the grit of daily life can cast shadows. But moments of clarity abound in any relationship...if you are willing to see them. 

I looked.  And it will come as no surprise that I liked what I saw.






Things can turn on a dime...

Paul Wilfahrt, the original Big Man, is in the hospital. He's battling a horrible infection and the outcome is dicey.  It was one of those, "Hey Bob! Could you call me? Dad's back is hurting and I can't seem to help him get comfortable" to an admission to the ICU to soon-to-be-made major decisions about end-of-life care. 

It can happen that fast and while miracles present themselves, we are preparing for any eventuality.

My head is spinning, my heart is pounding, my fingers are itching to write something but nothing seems quite right so let me just tell you this:   Paul and I had a difficult relationship.  Of course, it was probably only difficult on my side. He admitted I scared him and friends counselled that this was a good place for an in-law to be.  I never meant to scare him. He was just so BIG and so OPINIONATED and so EVERYTHING that I don't know if I ever found my footing with him. But he loved me and I loved him in our wonky and sometimes misguided way.  

His greatest gift is his passion for his own children and grandchildren and his bride. This is where our thoughts are now as we wait to see what might happen and the family will focus on this as they face some tough decisions.

Bob's admitted he's been preparing for this type of week since 2000. He's had dreams about how things might go down, he and his dad have had some frank conversations, and in between they have acted like school boys together playing with lawn mowers and trains and tractors and working on creepy special effects for the next haunted house. The love between these two men has always been active and fun. 

I've spent a good portion of our marriage trying to understand Wilfahrt men and love. It hasn't always been easy, but I have found that between the cracks and crevices is where the bounty resides. 

We all know that things could turn again, but it seem impossible, ridiculously not doable, to balance on a dime.


Wow!


We went to The National Archives. This was on my D.C. list though I was in no way prepared for how emotional I would be. I saw The Constitution and one of four replications of The Magna Carta, which hugely inspired the creation of our constitution. Holy smokes!! I wasn't expecting to be blown away and I confess to getting teary-eyed. "Those are some old pieces of paper," is what Ben had to say. And me?  I felt humbled and full of gratitude while thinking of those guys hammering out the details to what has become the foundation of what we are all about. I couldn't begin to wrap my brain around what I was really looking at...and since I haven't always been a diligent student of history,  I wasn't expecting to feel much of anything.

But I did, and the other thing that kept niggling at me was that despite that whole 'liberty and justice for all' thing, women and LGBT folks and African Americans have miles to go before they sleep despite our founders clearly- worded intentions. I guess the beauty then, is that we can still fight. That, too, is basis of our democracy.

I don't know if patriotism is the right word to describe my feelings. It's more of a renewed sense of appreciation for who we are as a nation.

 A full circle moment came when we visited a museum dedicated to the idea of free speech. One of the first items you see when you walk through this place is a world map colored according to the countries who have free, limited, or completely censored speech. That was sobering and you can guess without really knowing what the color red means.



If you follow THIS link, you can poke around each country and learn about the criteria they used for qualifying the press and speech rights. 

As riled up as people can get about their beliefs, the great thing is that we CAN get riled up and all of our opinions matter.  We can agree to disagree and still be kind and thoughtful. And we don't have to read everything that is written.  

This is just one little nugget of a big week that was hard for me to take in. There is more to come as I process it all.

But let me be clear in saying that while my kids took in the history, asked some good questions, and were game for most of what came their way, their favorite part was the zoo.








Finding a writing community

I have some writing "friends" I never would have imagined having two short years ago. Granted, it's on Facebook only, but the virtual support I have has grown by leaps and bounds.  I will not overstate these friendships, but I do leave quick questions, comments, or observations and the writing people I have befriended respond in a kind, caring, compassionate way. Every time. Every single one of them.

I am learning simply by inhaling what they say and share. The peaks I have gotten into their writing world have left me feeling 1). Not quite so alone 2). Comforted in the fact that writing is as necessary as breathing if you are, indeed, a writer and 
3). There is no one way to write.  

It has been freeing to learn so much from people I truly admire.  And when I get down by my lack of progress or intimidated by the wall I put up entirely by myself,  I think of Michael Perry who simply puts his butt in the chair (and now on the walking office treadmill) every day and DOES the work, or Lidia Yukavitch who says that she writes in bursts but not every day and it's ok.  Or of Diana Joseph who is mothering a toddler and feels thrilled when her often hilarious and dead-on posts about motherhood are her major writing accomplishment for the day. 

I am making progress in my writing life, but it's more in my head than on the page.

It's no secret that my head has always given me more problems than anything else
in life.  I have stopped or thwarted or talked myself out of more things than I can count. It is only when I let go and stop thinking so much that I take risks.

That is what propelled me to try to get a spot in this class. I sent some writing in and they accepted me. It wasn't a competition. I'm sure they just wanted to see if I could string some sentences together, and while it's tempting to say it's no big deal, it is a huge deal to me. Every single writing teacher is fabulous. I will be working with Cheryl Strayed and learning so about the art of memoir. She started as an essay writer, which is my favorite genre so I feel hope for myself.

I also feel extremely scared.

But fear is good when it's causing you to stretch and grow and push yourself. Otherwise, what's the point?

It's a long way off, this class. Until then, I am soaking up the words of my mentors and reaching for the keyboard in frustration, anxiety, and joy all at once. 

It turns out that everyone I admire feels just like I do....so at least I am in good company.