Monday, August 29, 2011

Needing More Hellos

"Why can't we get all the people together in the world that we really like and then just stay together?  I guess that wouldn't work.  Someone would leave.  Someone always leaves.  Then we would have to say good-bye.  I hate good-byes.  I know what I need.  I need more hellos."  ~Charles M. Schulz

It's been almost two weeks since I had to kiss my firstborn good-bye. Two weeks.  That's not that much time at all and yet every time I see him on Skype, hear his voice or read his words I know it might as well be a decade.  Already so much has changed for him...navigating the world -- yes that big wide world -- pretty much on his own with three stumbling and bumbling room-mates for companionship.  He seems older already.  He seems more worldly and yes, more moments have happened in these two weeks where his eyes have been opened.  I love it and I hate it in pretty equal doses.  I'm so thrilled for him to be on this adventure and so sad for me that our adventure with him in our daily life has ended.  

He's fine.  No, actually, he's pretty great.  He likes his room-mates, he has averted disaster and he's found his way to class and to food and to friends all relatively easily.  Heck he's even done his laundry!  

I can't help but reflect on my own going away moments.  I really don't remember being fearful at all -- although I'm sure I must have been nervous.  I just remember the adrenalin.  I remember being excited and ready and so curious about all of the new places and new people and new things I was seeing and learning.  I was thrilled and hopeful.  I knew I could do it and I wanted to go for it.  I couldn't get over the very different and yet so very much the same.

I remember the kindness of strangers: that first day on my bike searching for my Classics class when out of nowhere a fellow biker pointed out the correct building I couldn't figure out from my map.  I remember the professors who told good stories and recited lines of poetry from their passionate hearts.  I remember feeling super cool hanging out in the Coffeehouse after class with my 75 cent bagel and cream cheese. I remember the parties and the craziness and the FUN!  Mostly, I remember the new friends who made me laugh and think and wonder about things I'd never thought about before. 

So...when I wish for more hellos from my big guy, I just remember how many, many, many hellos he is getting everyday. It's tantalizing to think about all of the paths he is crossing and all of the experiences he is having each new day of his adventure.  

And, it makes me want to have more hellos too.  I look a little longer for those confused faces trying to figure out a new school, a new team or a new town.  I find myself reaching out...pointing out a building, a person who knows the answer or a website that might help.  

A few years ago during the summer I had an itch to go to the beach.  My baby was weeks old but that didn't stop me; the beach was calling our name.  It was a little reckless but I packed up a picnic, good sunscreen and lots of sand toys and we started our adventure.  Two freeway exits down the road I got a flat tire.  I was close enough to home that I didn't freak out but it was a very vivid, deep feeling of vulnerability and suddenly I felt like a jerk on the open road with three kids and a tiny baby. What was I thinking? 

Two young hispanic guys stopped their car in front of ours.  I told the kids to be silent and I opened my window.  One of them offered: "I'm a mechanic, I know how to change a tire.  I'd like to help you change yours."

I was shocked and thrilled and very emotional.  He changed my tire like the expert he was and I sat in awe at a skill I needed to have.  Within  ten minutes we were ready to go.  I searched through my purse and tried to pay him.  He shyly smiled.  He refused and said: "I just got married a few weeks ago.  I would hate to have my wife out on a freeway like this and I would hope someone would help her the way I am helping you. "  That sacred moment of silent connection between us was all we needed:  I thanked him, and vowed to pay it forward.  He just smiled.

Often I think of that good deed...that kindness because he could see his wife in me.  Without effort, I can see Jack in all of the college kids around my town and I begin my hellos.  I can see myself in the new teacher and it dawns on me that that's the secret.  Seeing ourself in others gives us the willingness to say hello, to reach out and break down barriers.  Knowing it could be you gives you the grace to be patient, forgiving, understanding and most of all kind.  You're a little more tender and a little less ready to pounce.

So...deep's time for fewer good-byes and more hellos.

Hello world -- you're pretty beautiful.  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Grace Happens

Do you have someone you'd like to be when you grow up?  For me, it's Susan Branch.  If you don't know her, she writes the most beautiful cookbooks, creates gorgeous calendars, develops material for quilters and generally has her creative mojo overflowing. Recently she began a blog and I love it!  Take a look and escape into the wonderful world of Susan Branch.

So...I had to steal her little bumper sticker...I just know we would be friends if only I hung out in Martha's Vineyard.  :)  

Anyway, her bumper sticker got me thinking...if we all lived like Susan Branch, we would create our own islands full of people that are wise and of good will.  The grace would happen.  We wouldn't need anything fancy.  We wouldn't even need a view...just some good will and wisdom.  And where can we find that?  Here's the big secret that even darling Susan Branch doesn't seem to mention very often: at eye level with kids.  

So often, they have that lovely mixture of good will and wisdom.  

They give second chances.  They love ferociously.  They think you're beautiful.  They dance.  They cuddle when they need to (or if you need to), offer up a quick "sorry" when the time is right, pause with wonder and stop eating when they are full.  They don't have any pretenses and they tell it like it is.  In short, they keep it real.  

Just the other day, my sister's son Peter was crying and my sister asked him why.  He looked up at her and clarified the obvious: "Because sometimes little boys cry." Yep.  They do. So, on my list of things that kids do right is Peter's astute observation: they allow themselves to cry when necessary. 

Kids keep it simple.  They can sense a fake the way a raccoon can find a garbage can, immediately.  They live effortlessly, simply and with profound grace.  

I have four kids.  One just left to find his own little village full of wisdom and good will.  Pray that he finds it, creates it and lives it.  I do.  And until I see him again, I'm going to hang with my posse: kids.  I'm going to search them out, listen and wait because sssshhhh: that's where the grace happens.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Love Letter

"Cooking is love made visible." 
              -- Anonymous

John loves food and the whole food cycle.  He loves where it comes from, he loves blending flavors and dreaming up tasty combinations, he loves preparing and planning and pleasing the palate. He writes his love letters with ingredients and recipes.  John "plates" a dinner with the same love, talent and raw emotion as a Shakespearean sonnet or a Hank Aaron home-run.

Christmas Eve dinner is a culinary event at our house.  John has slowly trained his two (and often a third) sous-chefs and they cook with abandon.  They bring out creativity, enthusiasm and delicious medleys of taste that last in our household conversation for a year. Jack and Mary Kate have now moved into full fledged chef status themselves and often create signature taste sensations of their own: home-made pasta, strawberry country cake, or brie/tart apple/arugula and turkey sandwich to name a few of the ones happening now.

So, it was almost inevitable that John would create a special good-bye dinner for Jack before he headed off to college.  He asked for recommendations of favorites and worked feverishly to create something memorable -- some way to show Jack just how very loved he was.

He started out with a rack of lamb and created an incredible sauce to glaze the lamb.  Our house smells like heaven for the hour it is cooking and puts us all in a good mood.  Suddenly, we realize that Mary Kate has a late driving lesson on this Sunday and so we decide to delay dinner and snack for a bit.  The salad is imagined and realized with grapefruit, green beans, beets, fennel and the insane home-made croutons with some goat cheese spread that should be outlawed. I try not to notice the rice with tiny bits of fried pasta being prepared under my nose. Comfort food, Christmas Eve and Creativity are woven together to create a palate of magnificence.

But the hour is getting late, the natives are getting restless and things start unwinding quickly. The lamb is undercooked, by chunks of time, not moments of time.  The rice is crunchy -- an unheard of humiliation for a rice farming family. The salad is obliterated and the grapefruit looks like it has been stirred by the Jolly Green Giant. Patrick and Caroline are disinterested and annoying since they have long ago passed the point of hunger and snacked their way to complete satisfaction.

The moment isn't right.  We crunch our croutons and feel the love.  We meander our way and find some portions of the lamb that will work.  We scoop up some rice and ignore the crunch.  But I watch John cringe and shrug and wipe his face.  He wanted it perfect and it was so far from perfect that it was -- almost -- laughable.  His disappointment is palpable.

In that moment, a slide show begins: I taste the countless hamburgers and hotdogs, barbecued chicken and flank steaks that John has cooked his whole life.  I see him side by side with Jack chopping onions, celery and carrots in a french mirepoix. I can smell the tomatoes, garlic and onions bubbling to meld into the most delicious coulee on the planet.  I feel the comfort foods he has shared, developed and I see his love made visible over and over again.

I want to tell him that none of this matters. That it's just a dinner gone bust and that we'll get another chance.  I want to hug him and hold him and love him but I also know that that is the last thing he wants.

What he doesn't know is that by flopping big time for all to see...for swinging for the fences and striking out and holding it together and finding his balance and keeping a wistful smile on his face, he showed Jack something much more important.  He showed him how to be a gentle, kind man just loving his family.

Jack knows about food.  He knows about tantalizing gourmet moments.  Up until this meal, he might not have noticed that you can blow it apart, falter and still be graceful as well. Sunday's dinner, I guess, was supposed to be more than a taste treat.  It was a love letter with a PS.

PS  Jack, we will mess it up and it will still be OK.
PS  Jack, when you mess up, you can do it too: just take a deep breath and keep it together.  Find your balance again.
PS  Life isn't always about the sweet and satisfying moments. The bitter ones come too -- but with a smile and a crunchy crouton and your family, it can't be all bad.
PS  Jack, we love you.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Milestone...6 Years Later

Six years ago, a miracle occurred in the Foraker household: Patrick ended all treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on August 2, 2005.  That date was chosen by a computer.  Yes, our fate was sealed by a number crunching machine that decided that after three plus years of chemo, Patrick's body was ready to be done.  That would be the end mark to all chemo coursing through his body, all spinal taps to put chemo in his spinal fluid to attack the blood/brain barrier that so often carries a stealth cancer cell or two and creates brain cancer, all monthly doctor appointments and monthly (or weekly) blood draws.  It was the date for freedom and boy, did we wish for it, hope for it, pray for it.  It was the end of 1,172 days of treatment and anguish and fear.

Looking forward to that day, Jack and Mary Kate and of course John and I wanted to celebrate in a big way but we didn't know how.  We wanted to throw a gigantic party but got scared that we might be tempting fate and decided not to.  We wanted to sing and dance and live loud that day and we created all sorts of must-include songs on our imagined playlist.  The first: "Celebrate!" by Kool and the Gang.  If you don't know that it is in all it's celebratory glory.  Enjoy!

But again, we got fearful thinking it might be too good to be true.  At the time,  Jack and Mary Kate loved to draw with chalk and so we created a fundraiser/celebration called "Chillin' with Chalk".  We held it in our town's Central Park.  We had buckets of chalk, invited our friends and asked for donations for anyone at the Farmer's Market who would like to have some chalk and decorate the park too.  We ended up raising about $500 and gave that entirely to Patrick's health team and told them to host a Victory Dinner for everyone involved in Patrick's care on our dime.  We gave them explicit instructions to go to their favorite restaurant and live it up.  And, we also gave each one of them a Life is Good T-shirt, our required uniform for anyone participating in Chillin' with Chalk.  Life is Good  

Auntie Claire created a beautiful chalk drawing of Patrick, Jack and Mary Kate.  Erin drew a sunshine.  Grandma and Papa drew a life-sized purple Barney.  Friends and family came a great distance to get their hands messy and write their messages from their hearts on a cement path in a park.  Those who were far away drew in chalk at their homes and posted their pictures to us on the computer.  I remember coming home dirty and tired, opening my email and seeing picture after picture of celebration from long distance. It was a day full of love and hope and yes, joyful tears.

We celebrated but in a careful way.  We wanted to be mindful that at any time things can change and the winds of our good fortune might blow the other way.  We were tentative to believe that this whole thing could have a happy ending.  

Guess what?  Here we are SIX years later!!! I actually didn't wake up on August 2, 2011 and think first of the date and its meaning.  I listened to Patrick and Caroline playing.  I put my daily to-do list in order in my mind.  I lived my regular old boring life and boy was it wonderful.  

I can never thank enough the doctors and nurses who played such a huge role in our lives for three years.    I can never thank enough the fundraisers who year after year work tirelessly to battle this ferocious foe.
I can never thank enough the tenacious cancer researchers who believe the impossible is possible and prove it over and over again.

If you want to find grace, it's in your ordinary day.  The gift of a regular old, nothing special, kind of boring day.  I had 1,172 days that weren't very typical...I'll take boring any day of the week.

Celebrate Life this Saturday at  the Davis Relay4Life for the American Cancer Society -- we will be there...walking, remembering, and celebrating the gift of ordinary days.