Monday, April 27, 2009

Braver Than Most

If you'll indulge me, a few words about the strongest person I know. She's eight.
As I've expressed previously, eight is a truly magical age; a time when fairies can still be real, the Easter Bunny probably isn't but we pretend it is anyway, and big sister's lip gloss is still better to eat than to wear. Eight is silly and adventurous and playful, especially in the case of my little curly girl who, you can tell from the pics, is my reincarnation. We'll laugh some other time about the irony in that.

Many times, I've witnessed her strength in ways that have made me want to run screaming through the streets. This child, above all others, has tested my Christian upbringing and my strong sense of self preservation. She once agreeably marched into the emergency room at our local hospital when I threatened to have her stomach emptied after she'd consumed an entire gallon of ice cream. All smiles, curls bouncing, she huffed off toward the automatic doors, nodding at the security officer as she passed without a care in the world, just to teach me how strong she was. She was three then.

This Friday when we went into the ER it was an altogether different scene. The bounce in my girl's step had suffered and she was hurt. While fooling around with some friends she'd jumped on a folding chair and landed badly. Very badly. She didn't want to embarrass herself in front of friends or others' parents, so she made some mild remark about being sore and carried on. We had company when she got home so when she showed me what had happened, I didn't quite get it all. I helped her a bit, gave the requisite snuggles and kisses, then went back to tending to guests. She didn't say a word. A short while later, I realized there was a bigger problem than I thought.

Heading into the ER, I was carrying my lanky baby in my arms, trying to be extra gentle and realizing we were probably getting to the point where I shouldn't carry her anymore. I just couldn't help it this time. We were both putting on shows for the benefit of the other, both knowing we were doing so, but needing the fronts to keep ourselves together.

As we progressed through seven hours of emergency room care and waiting, we hugged, held hands, cried -but very little, I asked lots of questions and paid close attention, as best I could while watching my baby suffer. With adult-blinding pain, swelling, bruising, four stitches, and hours of strain between the time of injury and the time she could no longer bear to keep up a pretense, my daughter kept her brave face on and her wicked sense of humor flawlessly in tact.

While brimming with pride I felt, at the same time, completely broken to see my face, in miniature, wearing such bravery. How I know that face. I've worn it all my life. That face is the reason I'm filled with tears welling in the most absurd circumstances, replacing all the tears I should have spent on things that really mattered. But I, like my baby, am never able to willingly show weakness. I joke, I rant, I scoff. I'm sure it shows that I'm hiding, but I can't help myself. I do so to protect a very tender and soft interior.

Sara is the same, but not this time. Sara wasn't being strong to protect herself. No. She had the presence at this tender, tiny age to know that I was the one who needed to be protected. The guilt over not being with her when she got hurt was already burning through me like fire racing across a page. My eyes were hot with self-loathe as I insisted to myself that I should have taken notice immediately of how serious the situation was. I was virtually shaking with rage directed inward and then seeping through and across every fiber of my being.

Outside, I was calm, reassuring, patient with doctors, expressing myself with intellectual curiosity. A real model mom in the ER. (Truth is, I've been there so many times with Sam that the attending knew me from the last time I'd been there... very nice man... and a good doctor... probably thinks I've got some disorder or another but... who doesn't?)

But no matter what I was showing the world, Sara knew what was happening inside. She knew it from the moment I took hold of her and told her we were going to the doctor. She knew it and she made a conscious choice not to scare me further with her own expressions of pain or fear. So she put on an afternoon-at-the-park face and kept it on well into the night. For me.
I'm never going to do anything more important in my life than have my children. I know that. And because of them, even in our darkest moments, I am cast away into the clouds, floating endlessly, into the sun, rising, rising, lifting, flying, being held up when I fail by the tiniest of hands, brightened when I fade by the sweetest of smiles and made strong when I am weak, by the bravest of souls I could ever know.
Sara is better now, as am I, knowing that whatever the day brings I face it with this incredible person by my side, strong, beautiful, inspiring. And I know today, as I have always known, that God is real and I am truly blessed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Up and Down We Go

Remember when you were little and you'd play see-saw with an older child and they'd lift you way off the ground, but you couldn't do the same? And remember how it felt when your legs were just long enough to sit comfortably with the see-saw in balance? Awesome. What a great feeling it was to be balanced. Just scant weeks later you'd be too tall to do this. But then, you were taller than some other hapless toddler and in an odd sense a different kind of balance took hold. What was once small became big. Where you were once the weaker, you were now the stronger.

My husband and I have been embroiled in a weeks-long analysis of the power struggle between men and women. Up and down, back and forth we go. Sometimes, I find myself agreeing that some of the changes that have empowered women have come at the expense of men. I agree not so much because I believe women have taken power from men but because I understand that men feel that way.

Other times, I find myself mired in defensiveness and suspicion. It's fair to say I've experienced my fair share of damage and devaluation at the hands of what I perceive to be a man-powered world. From a human point of view, I sympathize. Especially in the workforce, women can seem to be more dynamic and capable. We're the new black, as it were. But making women flavor-of-the-month isn't exactly fair to the men.

Men got us here. They built the big buildings, paved all the roads. They laid the foundation, built the bridges. Obama's plan to rebuild and rehabilitate America is geared to an infrastructure that was all man-made. Obama himself is a man. Men established our system of government, by far the best in the world. Men have farmed for us, fed us, driven us, propelled us, gone to the ends of the earth and all the way into space for us. They have fathered our children, supported our families, held us close and lifted us up. They have fought and died for all of humanity. Ghandi? Churchill? Denzel? These are all men. Love 'em. Big fan. That's why I got one that was just right for me.

But from a woman's point of view, I'm still smitten with the idea of getting equal pay for equal work. I'm still looking to have a client meeting with my husband where the clients don't turn to my husband after I speak to see if he's nodding assent or not. I'm hopeful that some day, I'll have a meaningful conversation with a male counterpart where I don't see him doing the approval scan of my upper body and then the disapproval scan of the rest of me. I don't care if a man finds me attractive. I care if he treats me with the respect and courtesy I deserve as a person.

In fact, I'll admit that one of the things that most attracted me to my husband was that he was nowhere near intimidated by my strength of character. He seemd to rather like it instead. Our relationship seemed balanced right from the start. He was strong in areas where I had weaknesses, and I was steadier in areas where he needed some support. I loved that. I still do. I think it's sexy as hell that he can have a powerful woman as a mate and still be a powerful man in his own right.

Nonetheless, as we argue our respective points on the issue of men versus women, our gender allegiences are illuminating cracks in the balance veneer we wear. That's o.k. I find the more light that shines through our facades the more, truly, I love us. I love that we talk about things, argue, huff and puff, and then come right back to one another. I love that he values me enough to talk to me, and I love that he's man enough to treat the power struggle intellectually instead of in a more brutish (and more traditionally masculine) way.

And as he articulates the hurt a man can feel when he loses sight of his place in the world, I am brought closer to him. As I lend my perspective on a future where the struggle is less virulent and fairness is the permanent doctrine, he finds me. Up and down we go, back and forth, finding balance in love that is true and honest and real.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Surprise Endings

End of the week today. I look forward to that, even now, when my days all bleed into a long blur of frenzy and frantic. I think the still version of my life would best be captured in one of those artsy photos of cars driving along a wet pavement where the photographer has allowed all the colors to streak across the photo. Except my picture would have manic cell phones vibrating across the page, with babies in unmatched clothing and coffee spilling in the background.

When I was young, Fridays heralded the long-awaited weekend. Back then weekends meant showering was optional and cereal for three meals-a-day was perfectly acceptable. Now, though, that's not the case. I've learned the hard way that it's socially unacceptable to show up to your child's morning soccer game with an untidy 'do' and the crumpled jeans you never picked up from your bedroom floor last week. When you are a mom you're supposed to show up all fresh and pretty to these things, with a brightly colored shirt and pony tail and fresh-brewed coffee in a neat thermocup. (Not knowing this in my early career, I drew literal snorts with my repurposed pickle jar.)

Weekends are also a time when, in my earlier life, I was able to plan fun things to do. Even if I didn't plan I could still do fun things. I'd go see a movie, shop, go out with friends. It was a carefree time. Now, I try to cram relaxation into that three minute period between when I grog myself from bed to bath and one of the kids realizes I'm awake and starts after me. If I'm lucky, the cat doesn't start immediately railing to be left out, otherwise, the three minutes is abbreviated further. Planning fun things is out of the question. It requires way too much scheduling, calendar synchronization, and usually, the dismay of one or more parties who do not want to do whatever the fun thing is. Spontaneous fun is so absurd I don't even think about it.

This weekend I have three soccer games, a school display board to prepare, a late-night benefit (for which I still don't have babysitting), a child's birthday party, two property showings and whatever I haven't thought of yet. This doesn't include whatever the kids will come up with, whatever my husband has forgotten to tell me, whatever drama my mother will invent, and the inevitable weather-related hitch in all of the pre-scheduled plans. Oh. And I have to do laundry and grocery shop.

So while I'm Pavlovicly pre-disposed to being excited about the weekend, I'm also nervously running all the things I have to do, and all the different mom-ish outfits that go with what I have to do. I'm doing this while I'm sneaking some time to blog at work, where I've managed to buy myself some extra time by having two different people break up the after-school care of my children. This means that, throughout the day, I've been layering everything I do with a nice thin coating of guilt, because, really, why shouldn't I be handling the after-school schedule? Technically, I have work to do but my brain hurts so I'm blowing that off.

Blowing off my work when I get so little time to do so makes me feel guilty.

So this whole end-of-week thing is good, but really, it's stressing me out. In the midst of all this, my husband turned to me and asked, "What time is that showing this evening?" to which I replied, wild-eyed and hysterical, "Why are you always in a panic about the schedule? I'm not panicking so why are you?" I believe a little spittle came out. The fusion of contempt and worry on his face made for a comical respite. I didn't tell him that, of course, because the contempt part might have bitten me, but it was funny. I can only imagine that my face was equally, if not moreso, fun to look at.

Two minutes later, the phone rang and the agent was cancelling the evening's showing. I was so wrapped up in my scheduling matrix that I was actually ticked that I had to revise it, even though it was a good thing. What's more, it hurried the onset of my 'weekend' since I didn't have to work as late. And that made me feel even more edgy. Friday a respite? Hah! It's a roller-coaster at the very top of the loop. It's not the sweet relief - it's the whistle on the train coming right at you! I spit on Friday. End of week. I can't wait until Monday.

So there you have it, friends. I'm nuts. Surprise!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Early Up, Early Growing Up, and Gone too Early

I ponder. I'm able to do so only because I've woken early, had some fresh air and consumed twitch-inducing amounts of coffee. I have been doing this lately, waking early and pondering, because I have come to realize that I like starting my day on my own. I don't like waking up to the tune of other people's needs and demands. I like waking up quitely, gently, with some sunshine and some fresh air. I like to have a few minutes to compose my plan for the day and to enjoy my life in a peaceful state of mind. (I find, honestly, that I most love my home and my family when everyone else is asleep.)

So whilst I ponder this morning, I'm replaying parts of my daughters' mid-week sleepover. (It's spring break, so mid-week we needed something to spruce up the otherwise duller-than-steamed veggies 'vacation'.) As part of the evening entertainment for the first night, I rented one of my all-time favorite movies: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland. Aside from the fact that this is an awesome movie for all ages, I expected this to be particularly impressive because the kids are rehearsing for a school production of Oz and they hadn't yet seen the movie. I'm a genius, right?

Uh, no.

Sadly, they spent more time fussing over the quality of the graphics and effects, the age of the artists ("She sings old."), and the slow pace of the story, than they did enjoying the magic of the movie. They didn't even like the good witch's dress, delcaring it "too poofy". What?? I was so bummed.

The next day, I took the girls to go see the Hannah Montana movie. Here, I was relieved to see that my girls were enjoying it, getting teary where appropriate and bopping to the sickly sweet music blaring through the theater. But their friends, who are growing up just a tiny bit faster than mine, were slightly bored and disinterested. My older girl has been sensing some distance between her and her friend. She was trying hard not to show her enthusiasm so as to not be so out of sync with her BFFL. It was a bittersweet moment, watching her struggle between her natural inclination to remain innocent and her growing desire to be more mature. For me, it was - it is - too early. Even if she's ready, I'm not.

And maybe that's because I've had too many early exits in my life. People who've gone away before I was ready. A friend of mine from chidlhood is struggling with that kind of loss right now. Her brother (I barely knew him) was younger than us. He had a wife and small children and died at the end of last year, unexpectedly. He was in his late 30s. So, now, his babies won't get to know him, his wife has lost her life's companion, his family is devastated. Too early. Sometimes being early is entirely the wrong thing to be.

And yet, on this Easter weekend, we are reminded that one good-bye is a hello, of sorts. Life is renewal and renewal is good. We are born in the Lord and return home to Him when He chooses. So our friend is gone too soon from this life, but he is an early riser in the life the Lord has made for him in heaven. Maybe, like me, he needed to rise before all of us, quietly, gently, with sunshine on his face, with some time to plan the day ahead. Maybe he is preparing the way for those who will come after. He is living a new life, watching over his loved ones, waiting for the day when they wake up in His arms, making sure they are met with full grace and with the glory of a good and generous God. In fact, I'm sure that's it. Benny is an early riser and he is home. And I still believe that in the end there's no place like home.