Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Look Up!

"It's your sky, so you make the decision where your clouds live." 

I've got a thing for clouds.  Yep, living in a land with a majority of days that have endless, empty blue skies might make that seem ironic, but maybe it makes sense.  Clouds are not in my world very often.  So when they are, they seem to bust out the moves, put on the tap shoes and go for it. Recently I had one of those days.

Maybe it was reading a whole bunch of Nancy Drew books and solving mysteries with Encyclopedia Brown as a kid, who knows.  It might have been reading Harry Potter or watching James Bond.  Wherever it was, somewhere along the way it was revealed that most people rarely make the effort to look up. Nancy proved that taking the time to view the world from a different angle often reveals a secret.  However it happened, I learned to stop and look up as a kid.

 On this day, I couldn't help it...the entire universe was sending me clues...starting with the one in my van's rearview window as I was trying to put away my groceries:
Beth, stop what you're doing...there's a show going on.

With a view like that I couldn't ignore the dance the sky was doing apparently just for me.

I looked across the street:
Little Iphone 4 camera...and ka bam...Ansel Adams. Thanks clouds!

It actually got silly this game of me and the clouds.  I mean I had stuff to do and things that needed to be accomplished and I'm sure all sorts of other important things and all I could do was enjoy the clouds.  I felt like someone newly in was all I could see...all I could think about...and it was beautiful.

I had to get gas...and look who followed me.

When I have moments like this it makes me wonder what I'm not noticing most of the time.  What beauty is just above my normal line of vision that I often miss?

H-e-l-l-o...anybody paying attention??

Today I am thankful for the ephemeral, transient, fleeting beauty of clouds.  How could water vapor form such a multitude of shapes in a myriad of hues?? How can they move so swiftly and yet feel so oppressive?  How can the formless not only take shape but literally sculpt the horizon???

Clouds never stay still.
Their presence reminds me and challenges me to live this moment right now.
Life is always changing and flowing.
 Endless blue skies give up their ballpark to guys like these
who get run out of town by the serious bad boys
 who in turn head for the hills
 and allow that ocean of blue to hover above once again.

The very same day...making way for some blue.

Feather dusters, arrows pointing the way, a thick blanket, whimsical wafts, imaginary creatures morphing and molding...whatever path you take, clouds, I am a fan.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Our Goddess: Bev

That's no's our fairy godmother in disguise!

"Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses and some don't turn up at all."
--Sam Ewing

Every school has someone like this...well let's put it this way, every well-functioning school has someone like this.  She's our school secretary, welcome wagon, school nurse, keeper of all secrets, and the Yoda of our school -- heck she is the Force.

If Bev doesn't know where it's lost.

If Bev can't help're outta luck.

Bev is who we go to...who we ALL go to.  We ask our questions about Picture Day, Field Day, school uniforms, school lunches, the bulletin, registration, and on and on it goes.

She gets the kids who are ready to throw up, the kids with a nasty scrape, the kids who just broke their glasses, the ones who have a loose tooth or sore throat.  Naturally, these children are escorted by caring friends or at the very least a couple of kids who need to take a walk.  Bev knows how to soothe any ill. She knows when to call home and when to play it tough.
She's seen it all.

One day, I want to sit Bev down with a margarita in her hand and just hear the stories.  There have got to be some doozies.  Heck the Foraker family alone has given her some...
How about the phone call to young teacher Beth at work when Jack was in kindergarten.  It seems young Jack went down the slide head first and at the precise moment when physics was at its greatest managed to suck a piece of pea gravel up his nose. There's no way to make that call without at least a small chuckle. But Bev did no such thing.  She called with care and concern in her voice and thought I might like to come over and help Jack out.  The pea gravel made its way out without any medical intervention and Jack's nose survives today.

Or there was the time when Mary Kate was running in first grade full force, head down and ran into a basketball pole.  I was at home that time. Got the caring call from Bev, ran right over and found my darling girl with a knot the size of a golf ball on her forehead and a sudden burst of tears...the bravery could only last so long.

Or we have the many special moments with Patrick...far too many to count.  Some highlights include sliding into mud, barfing after running the mile, a bathroom mishap, and the wrong uniform on.  Let's not even count the sheer number of tardies we've made Bev write on Patrick's behalf...she should have writer's cramp and yet, she faithfully writes them out with a zen-like calmness.

Happily Caroline hasn't had too many Bev moments, although I do remember getting a call about having to remove some nail polish...but she's only in first grade.  Give her a little time.

Bev must have some sort of trick because she never gets flustered, frantic or frenzied.  She is calm, always.  She's orderly and organized.  She is the engine of our school and it hums along like a fine-tuned roadster thanks to her.

Maybe her trick is that she has seen it all: broken bones, ambulance calls, frightened upset parents, sick, crabby kids.  She knows how to administer what we all need: TLC.  She offers it freely and kindly.  She's like the best referee/mom combo.  She knows when to call you out and when to comfort you.

Bev is at all events.  She is setting up and taking down.  She's in the parents' club closet and in the school kitchen.  She knows the trick of the trash cans, the ice machine, the pitchers, the tables and chairs and special table cloths.  She doesn't just know where everything goes, she knows how every machine runs and every tool works.  Not to mention maintaining our school calendar.

Truly, she is our school's Google.  We should just start using her name as a verb...have you Bev'd it? If you haven't, you're lost.

Today I saw her during Conference Week.  She schedules every single one of our school's does she do it??? I smiled knowing that the orchestra she conducts is full of so many instruments and yet it always is on key.

She must have a little Bibbity Bobbity Boo in there somewhere. She's magic!

I've been part of our school for fifteen years.  Bev has been there probably twice as long.  Day in, day out. Week in, week out.  School year after school year Bev brings the sparkle to our gem of a school. She has a ready smile and sleeves rolled up.  She's amazing and truly a gift to so many.

Today, I am grateful to Bev...the keeper of the keys and so much more. She holds the heart of our school. Thanks is not enough for this special lady but here it goes:
Bev, you ROCK!

I've Bev'd it and I know. :)

Friday, November 2, 2012

My Secret

"Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." -G.K. Chesterton

It's that time of year...counting blessings; pausing to notice the little things; time to gather with family.  My very favorite holiday approaches and so I suppose I should share my not-so little secret.

When Patrick was in the thick of battling leukemia, probably about two years into the three year battle, I decided to try to keep a Grateful Journal for Lent.  Lent, for those of you who haven't hung around a lot of Catholics is a 40 day journey leading up to the miracle of Easter.  It's considered a time of sacrifice and personal reflection...a time of stripping away the superficial trappings of our life. As a child, you are told to "give up" something (most often it is a treat like chocolate, soda, ice cream) so that you can get in the frame of mind of sacrifice and selflessness.  

I did that "giving up" thing for decades...rotely, thoughtlessly, practically effortlessly.  I patted myself on the back as I avoided Starbucks for 40 days...smiled as I wouldn't have any chocolate with friends during another set of 40 days...felt actually proud of myself for resisting my daily lunchtime Coke for a different set of 40 days...and then it got old and tired. Flat and stale.  Lent felt like a time card that I simply punched and waited for the paycheck. I felt stuck in grade school religion and began to be on the look out for something else...wondering if there was a more grown up way to venture through a 40 day journey.  

Once you start looking, things start revealing themselves...and as soon as I began to think about it, somebody said something mind blowing: "How about DOING something each day for 40 days?"  Instead of focusing on "doing without", make your priority to take action.  I glommed on to that big idea and decided that was my challenge.

I had always wanted to try a Grateful Journal but I got bogged down at the thought of doing it every day.  Besides, it was like a hot movie that everyone is talking about: overexposed and annoying.  I was tired of the trite: "count your blessings and you'll be happy" mantra that Oprah and other gurus were offering up. My kid had leukemia.  I had a crap ton of laundry and a perpetually dirty house.  My other two kids were, demanding and needy and attention-seeking. 

But on the rainy first night of Lent in 2004 I decided to grope in the dark for an ancient blank journal stuck away on a random bookshelf and begin my first official Grateful Journal.  My rules: 
1) Write in it every night for 40 nights
2) List at least 5 things I am grateful for

The first night was easy.  I was motivated.  It was raining (and we needed rain) so I already had two things: finding my journal and the rain.  The next three tumbled out and I plopped into bed...deeply satisfied with my experiment.

As the universe likes to do, Day 2 was an entirely different story.

Patrick was sick that day...weirdly sick.  He was stuffed up and could barely breathe.  He was listless and without his usual sparkle.  I couldn't put my finger on it but I began to have that unease that mothers have when their subconscious knows what the conscious self hasn't yet figured out: 
crap is going down and fast.

Patrick came toddling up to me at about 4 in the afternoon and his coloring was off...way off.  He was pale in an eerie way.  I lifted him up and hugged him close.  He was raging with a fever.  Suddenly I pulled him back to look deep into his eyes...something was definitely not right.  He was so stuffed up and full of gunk he could barely breathe.  His breathing was shallow and difficult.  He tried to snuggle in to my shoulder but instead of that moment feeling comforting it felt like a wounded animal seeking refuge.

The alarm bells started going off inside my head.  I felt panic lurking around my doorway.  I knew an enemy was prowling.  I was holding my vulnerable, sick little boy and suddenly all the pieces fit together.  He's not just sick...he's fighting to stay alive!

I had two other kids at home and I was very aware that I could scare them silly if I went down Crazy Street -- which incidentally is exactly the street I wanted to travel.  John was too far away to come and rescue any of us.  The neighborhood was empty.  How could I call 911 and travel with other children too?  

Swirling around my mind are these frightening thoughts:
How much time does Patrick have?  Is he getting enough oxygen?  Will he pass out from such difficulty breathing?  Can so much phlegm drown him? What does this mean? What's going on with the leukemia?  Does he have a life-threatening virus? What can I DO?

I suddenly remembered my friend, Michele, whose husband Jim is a fire fighter.  I called her on the off chance that he might be home and that he might come with me to the hospital and that Michele could take Jack and Mary Kate.

He was.  He did.  She did.  Thank God.

As I drove begging for a speeding ticket, Jim sat in the back of my car with Patrick in his car seat. He talked to me in the most soothing voice giving me updates on Patrick's breathing and how Patrick was doing.  He will never know what his gentle kindness did for me in those moments but it is stained on my brain like a water ring on a wooden table...clear as can be.

Halfway there, Patrick vomited. All that gunk had to go somewhere.  Turns out that your body knows what to do in deep just gets rid of the gunk.  Thankfully, Jim was unfazed.  Miraculously, Patrick's breathing rapidly improved.

We made it to the hospital and when I turned around and saw Patrick his color was so much better that I finally could breathe myself. We had made it!  He might have something terrible going on but we were at the right place. We could get help. I hugged Jim with so much grateful appreciation I could barely let go. We had a chance.

Sadly, I don't even know what happened to Jim after that.  I just remember dealing with a doctor that didn't know Patrick at all or any of his history.  Without even checking him she gave me a very condescending answer to Patrick's ills: pneumonia.  She was smug in her diagnosis.  All I can recall hearing is something like: "Your son has Down Syndrome and it's common knowledge that Down's kids always get pneumonia."

Patrick had never had pneumonia in his entire life.  My face was red, my anger was sitting like a ripe fruit just waiting to get picked.  I tried hard to not lose it but in my head I was screaming:
"Patrick might have Down Syndrome but he sure as hell isn't a Down's kid and who are you to stereotype a diagnosis when my kid is so sick!"

Turns out, the lady with a medical degree was right. He did have pneumonia which gave him a free ticket into the hospital and me a chance to simmer in anger.

I was SO mad.  Mad that Patrick had leukemia. Mad that he now was in the hospital for who knows how long.  Mad that he was so sick. Mad that I had to watch him go through so much. Mad that my family was separated. Mad at pretty much everything. 

Right in the thick of that quicksand, I saw my Grateful Journal -- tucked into my bag, taunting me, my very empty journal.  
Day 2...yeah, right.
I acted like a stubborn child refusing to do homework.  No. No way. I'm NOT writing in that stinking thing.  I am most definitely not grateful. I had hours to whittle away.  I was adamant in my avoidance.  But as I grew wearier and wearier, I chided myself. 
 How could I quit on Day 2?

So, begrudgingly, I took out the journal.  I opened it and began writing.  I was convinced I'd write five short items.  I ended up writing six pages.  Turns out underneath that simmering anger was an entire casserole dish of grateful appreciation -- mounds and mounds of people and moments that were wonderful in this terrible day: Jim and Michele at the top, a hospital that would give Patrick care, transportation that worked so that I could get him there, the ability to ask for and receive help, the diagnosis of pneumonia wasn't life threatening and very treatable, for Patrick's attitude, for the nurses who were tending to us and on and on.

Once I stopped writing I started crying.  Seeing all of those blessings written there made them even more real...and yes, sacred.  On one of the worst days of my life I could see the beauty in that day.  
I was transformed.

All it took was living through that to see that keeping a Grateful Journal would allow me to see the sacred in the mundane, the tragic, the difficult and the very ordinary days of my life.  I've been doing it ever since.  There's no way I can stop.   Eight years of grateful living and trust is my secret.  If I skip a day or a few, I can feel my perspective shift.  I get irritated a bit more easily.  I focus on the annoying.  I nit pick.  All I have to do is open up that journal and suddenly my blessings are laid before me...ready to be cemented in print.

My kids hear regularly: "I'm going to put that in my grateful journal!"  If they do something it goes.  I have counted John in there so often that I now get sheepish counting him -- like that's an easy out.  But it's fun to see what comes up often.  It's amazing to reread and humbling to see the string of days so beautifully beaded by the sparks of everyday grace. Truthfully, this blog is just a more sporadic internet version of the original.

I want to challenge all of you to try it for the month of November.  Don't get stuck on the type of journal or the manner of writing -- spelling doesn't count. :)  Just stop and write each day for 30 days five things you are grateful for.  I promise that you will notice beauty, kindness, gentleness and love surrounding you like angels every single day.  Even on your hardest days they will be there.

Thanksgiving will hold your heart closer this year.  You will have a grateful heart on that most sacred day.  Your cup will be full.  

Come on...give it a try! And at the end of the month I really want to hear your stories.  I want to know what comes up in your journal time and time again.  I want to hear the magic of the blessings that were there every day just waiting to be noticed. Tell me and I'll tell you my favorites of November too.

In the meantime: Happy Thanksgiving!