Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Rope Swing

About 12 years ago little Mary Kate took a gymnastics class through the city.  She was eager to run and jump and follow the teacher through a circuit of activities but by far her favorite part of her class came at the end: the rope swing.  As if by magic a thick rope hung from the ceiling begging to be ridden.  She swang so wide and so long that she was entranced.  She would talk about it all week long and each week I would try to imagine the swing in our backyard.  After the last class, Mary Kate and I walked hand in hand to the local hardware store and sat transfixed in the rope section.  We ended up with a thick rope, red and white.  Trusty John rigged the rope to the thickest branch of our almond tree and thus began our family's courtship with flying kid style. Jack and Mary Kate created elaborate routines; they figured out how to swing high and low, twisty and even bouncy; they were able to climb up the rope and touch the branch and one day after watching the Olympic ice skaters, even attempted to both swing at the same time in some sort of spin...flop! One of our funniest memories of the swing was watching the two of them get bigger and longer and still attempting the swing.  At the time, there was a root of the tree that was running like a thread just below the surface of the grass right where the kids would swing.  We would remind them to be careful of the "root boot" (a.k.a. a sore behind!) but too many times to count one of them came off the swing rubbing their bottom, complaining about that darn root.

Today, the faded red and white rope has been replaced with a thicker green and white one.  The sturdy almond tree has two more playmates -- Patrick and Caroline -- and this time the rope swing has also become a prop in many plays.  Superman has flown from many danger zones in his blue costume and red cape; Mr. Incredible has been flying.  Peter Pan waits for the right angle of the sun.  He knows when the sun will create the shadow he needs to find in Wendy's bedroom and he has sung "I'm Flying" so many times on that rope that I really do believe he is! Little Wendy is often right behind in her flowing jammies.  We've had pirates, princesses, fairies, and yesterday Alice in Wonderland.  Watching Caroline swing with that gorgeous almond blossom snow sprinkling some nature-made fairy dust created a moment of magic.  She whispered and sang in a soft, soft voice.  She jumped and created a twisty pattern with the rope.  She leaped on and off and was lost in her world of play.  Patrick strummed away with his guitar, badly, but it was a definite overture of sorts.  Together they imagined and dreamed and pretended and played in a world of their own.  For the briefest of moments a spell was cast on me and I could see their world.  I could see the grace of child centered creativity, joy, freedom and flying.  Most of all I could see the beauty of childhood and remember my own spell-bound hours in the Nature Area at the end of Duffy Court. Alice took me down the hole today and I fell in...

Have you been lost in a world of make believe?  When? Where?  What made that moment magical for you?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rainbows and Daffodils -- Cheesy and oh so perfect!

"Why take life so seriously?  It isn't permanent." -- bumper sticker

Today was one of those days...you know the kind...just a downer.  It felt like life was just one big gray cloud and the big huge actual black cloud dropping rain on me from place to place only added to the effect.  I could list my woes and some of you would think: "Phew, so very glad that isn't me" and others would think, "Really, you think that's tough, hear what's going on with me". We all know that the woes themselves don't really matter, they are inter-changeable.  It's the weight. And for today, they weighed heavy.

I tried to find the bright (or should I say light) spots: I helped for a minute or two to teach a first grader to tie his shoe; I watched Caroline effortlessly jump onto our rope swing in the backyard and just swing with the freedom and joy of a four year old; I sat in a fort with a dog and my sweet Caroline...but the weight was still there.

As I moved through my day to day obligations, I couldn't shake this overall melancholy and when it poured rain on Caroline, Patrick, Mary Kate and myself it just felt right.  I didn't even mind it.  When the four of us came out only a half hour later, it was sunny and I told the kids to look for a rainbow.  With all of that bright sun and the recent rain, it had to be there.  But, of course, on a day like today, the physics didn't work and there weren't any rainbows -- just some puddles and kids with wet feet.

We made it home and I dropped Patrick and Caroline with Mary Kate.  I hunkered down and headed to the grocery store. I was making the list in my mind, envisioning my peanut gallery's response to this evening's dinner and figuring out exactly how much was in my bank account when I pulled in to the parking lot.  There in front of me in vivid, gorgeous hues was my rainbow.  It was a full arc and it took my breath away.  It was so unexpected, so not in my plans today that I couldn't help but smile and thank the universe for that timeless sign of hope.  I sat in my car and drank it in.  I felt like Dorothy when she lands in Oz and sees everything in color for the first time.  I didn't even realize how colorless the day was until that moment.

I watched that rainbow and looked around for anybody to smile and share it with and there wasn't a soul.  In this crowded parking lot, no one was there.  I decided that for today, it was my personal rainbow.  I clearly needed it. At the exact perfect moment, a little grace came my way.  It always does.  Sometimes it's not as obvious as a rainbow just for you but today I guess I needed the neon sign to say: "Hey, stop, take a look, it's pretty beautiful around here."

As I pulled into my driveway, I noticed the yellow daffodils sprouting like a smiley face. My peripheral vision finally got the best of me and made me take note of my driver's side companion for the entire trip: Woody from Toy Story. Perfectly seat belted and ready for fun. I smiled and noticed the weight of the day was missing.  Getting out of my car, I sighed and was rewarded with the delicious fragrance of almond blossoms.  In that moment, I knew in my heart that the weight was as transitory as those small white star shaped blossoms in my backyard and yes, as fleeting as my own personal rainbow.

Sometimes it's just hard. Today was one of those days.  I needed a rainbow. In the parking lot of the Davis Food Co-op one showed up.  Whoever is accepting universal thank you notes...I sent mine on the petal of almond blossom. Thanks!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Crazy Ones Who Don't Take No For An Answer

For lack of attention, a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day."  
                           -- Evelyn Underhill

I went to take Buddy for a walk this morning and look who caught my attention...this little upstart weed.  He has some nerve, some courage, and some hutzpah.  No one planted him carefully and whispered in his ear how capable and beautiful he was.  No one tended him, watered him and made sure the sunlight was just so.  Nope.  He did it all on his own.  What's even more amazing, no one even noticed.  He is taking root in the middle of a sidewalk.  His very existence means being trampled virtually constantly and yet, there he stands: green, strong and not to be denied his chance at life. Good for you little guy!

Immediately my mind travels to the many upstarts in our world: the Gailieos, the Martin Luthers, the Ghandis, the Mother Theresas and the Martin Luther Kings of the world.  They would not be denied.  They had a mission, a vision and a strength even while being trampled (sometimes literally) that can serve as inspiration for all of us.  They were told no and they didn't listen.  They received no support.  They were called crazy, radical and often much crueler names and still they stood there.  Sometimes they were isolated, like Galileo until they announced that they had changed their mind (which he never did) -- even the pain and heartbreak of loneliness couldn't worm its way past Galileo's undeniable belief and strong resolve.

I can't help but think of the many, many thousands of people in Egypt yesterday who held their ground like this little weed.  Each of them risking ruin, injury and the crushing defeat that can often only accompany a struggle to change government and hand power over to a new group. Yet, they stood their ground.  For 18 days, they grew stronger and stronger with the knowledge that they were together in this struggle and they somehow had the ability to be peaceful and calm.  Even more amazing, their army did not turn against them.  Like a good referee, the army stood alongside their people and allowed the events to play out without interruption. The powerful and life-affirming ideas of freedom and independence could not be denied.  I am so proud of these people and so inspired.  Today, humanity, freedom and peaceful resistance changed the world.

Were you watching?  Did it take your breath away?  Did you pause and reflect at the way the ripples of big ideas just keep going?  I did!  Good for you, citizens of Egypt, good for you!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Candle Glow

Today was a little boy's birthday.  Surrounding him was his family, two grandmothers, family friends and some friends from school.  We don't know this family very well but we are always up for a celebration and the rule in our house is if you're invited, you go.

The preschoolers had fun playing outside on a sunny day...the parents made simple conversation.  For a moment I was pulled out of the party and came back to see everyone gathered around the table, a little boy bathed in the golden light of a handful of candles.  His earnest face enjoying the moment, the kids voices innocent and so very sweet -- love filling the room.

So many candles, so many birthdays where my own heart has welled up in pride as I watch the face of someone I love with my whole heart glow in that candlelight.  Some religions ask that you not celebrate a birthday.  They somehow feel that the personal celebration could dull the celebration of the Lord.  For my money they couldn't be more wrong.  How can celebrating the delicious joy of your baby's birth be anything but a chance to move the joy along and notice the gifts given from some greater source?  How can seeing the eyes reflected with candlelight and the love of family and friends be anything but an extension of God's love?

As I think of the many candles in my own life, I can feel the perpetual glow.   Sometimes we need someone to stop and light our candle...we feel so dim inside, so alone, so cold.  We need someone to pause and acknowledge the joy and glory in our existence.  We need someone to notice.  Funny how we are good at lighting the candles of children...their own joy is so contagious and effortless they barely need it.  We really need to take the time to light the candles for the rest of us...a teen-ager full of angst, a twenty-something making his way in the adult world of work and relationships,  a thirty-something busy juggling the craziness of young children and the rest of life, a forty-something dealing with being "sandwiched" in the caregiving departments of both children and parents, a fifty-something addressing the realities of aging, a sixty-something who knows about loss and disappointment and redemption and renewal, a septuagenarian, an octogenarian and if you make it to 90, there will be a celebration, guaranteed.

These days that we circle the sun should be noted. The candle should be lit and the song sung.  It doesn't matter the language, the flavor of cake or the person bathed in the glow. Birthdays are for celebrating, every single time.  So, take a deep breath, make a wish and bloooooow!  I'd love to know whose candle you are going to light? I'd also love to know who has lit a candle for you.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Tonight was the once every 3 to 4 week excitement of fingernail clipping.  Honestly, how do those things get so long, so fast?  Ever since I saw some creepy guitar player with abnormally long nails I've had a desire to keep all nails of all children short, extra short.  At the same time, whenever I clip Patrick and Caroline's fingers and toes I get bogged down with a memory and every.single.time. it stays with me all.day.long.

When Jack was in third grade and we were in the middle of dealing with non-stop leukemia crap and I was just beginning to see the sunlight and slightly opening up the porthole of perhaps I might live through this and it wasn't the worst thing on the planet to have to deal with, I heard the story of a classmate of Jack's.  In first grade, at the ripe old age of six, his mom died.  He arrived at Jack's school in second grade and for all the outside world, looked like a typical kid.  His dad had remarried and his dad was at all of the school events, front and center.  In third grade, his dad got cancer and the battle was on.

Only this was news that no one in the class knew.  All we could see was a little redheaded boy in rumpled clothes, with extra long fingernails, his father mysteriously busy.  I had heard this this little guy's dad was a prominent attorney so the busy-ness made sense.  Caught up in my own drama, I didn't notice the tragedy unfolding.  After two full years of blinding selfishness, I shook that man's hand in a glad-to-see-you-and-begin-the-school-year kind of way. This dad was so ravaged and frail that it was painful to shake his hand. I could feel the fight still left in that great, great spirit but I was heartbroken to see for the first time how dangerously ill he really was.  Finally, I could make sense of those fingernails.  A momma was missing.  A daddy was derailed.  Nobody noticed.

It turns out that witchy stepmothers aren't only in fairy tales.  In fact, some live right in my hometown.  Unfortunately, in a Harry Potter kind of way, this little boy got the short end of the stick.  He was not going to be nurtured by anybody any time soon.  His fingernails were the least of his worries.  In sixth grade, shortly after his dad's death, he left our school.

But, that little imp has never left my heart.  Every three to four weeks as I lay claim to some extra long fingernails, I surround that now 18 year old with love and prayers.  I wish I could have known him better; wish even more strongly that I wouldn't have been so caught up in my life to not notice a little boy who was in need of some tenderness.  I pray for the mother who never got to clip those nails on that little hand as it grew and grew, marveling at how strong and beautiful those hands were getting. I pray for the father who fought so hard and had his time stolen by the thief we know as cancer.  And when I'm really going for my Mother Teresa impression, I pray for that stepmom who just couldn't offer a grieving heart to share.

Mostly, I say a prayer of thanksgiving for the chance to once again clip some fingernails -- happy for the opportunity to have had the gift of clipping not one pair of hands but four!  Today, two big kids never let me near their strong, capable hands.  However, every few weeks, I steal a moment, force a younger kid to sit close by and begin that momma ritual.  Call it mothering, hovering or extreme care-giving, I wouldn't miss it for the world.