Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ode to Claire on Your 7th Birthday

Dear Claire,

I walked into your bedroom at 7am singing, "Happy Birthday to you...Happy Birthday to you!"

Nestled under your covers, you murmured, "Did you see Holly?  Do you think she remembered that it's my birthday?"

Sure enough, Holly was situated on the piano, holding a number seven birthday candle and instantly, all was right with the world.

This is what happens when you have a birthday butted up to Christmas, you ask about your elf on the shelf.

***



Feisty, precocious, tenacious, determined, exhausting, irritable, creative...lover of all things big and loud, hot and cold...you are my hard to handle child.  You know what you want, when you want it and sometimes, all I want is for you to be quiet and just to do as I say.  But that doesn't sit right with you.  You won't be shushed or silenced.  Your voice matters and you're not afraid to make your intentions known.

Singing, as your piano teacher says, perfectly on pitch--you are a force in motion...always singing, dancing, swaying, skipping, strumming, striking, drawing, painting, and dreaming.  The world is your oyster and you see it as a space to bend, to mold, to maneuver into what you see as fit.

Lover of unicorns, horses, hedgehogs, dragons and Mo Willems books, you live your life in a wonderland of imagination.  You make up stories of characters who go on adventures with elves, fairies, mermaids and wizards.  You write poetry and paint images with detail and abandon.  And, I stand in awe.

Now, entering your fourth month of first grade, you are resolute that you will be a reader.  You try your best to sound out words phonetically, but in the end, your lack of patience gets the best of you.  And you just scream out, when it doesn't come easily....or, you make up your own words, because according to you, you could of written the book better.

Twirling in ballet, banging notes on the piano, riding your bike without training wheels, painting your toenails bright yellow and purple, your life is full and alive.

And even though, many times, we wish you would slow down or give us a little less attitude, we realize that at the core, you are unstoppable and we garner passion and energy from yours.  You teach us to let loose, to be free, and to grab what life has to offer--and when it's not enough--to make your own.

Everyday, we are grateful for your spirit, your smile and the way you make our hearts sing.

Here's to the seventh year...may it bring you more opportunities to chase the sun and to know just how deeply you are loved.

Love always,

Mama

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Will You Write Me?

She came toward me.

Smallish, silver-haired, bundled in a sweater, pushing a walker.

I was standing in front of my baubles, preparing my table for a holiday boutique, and she said,

"Hello, you must be Kathy's daughter.  I could see you from a mile away.  You're pretty and sweet, just like your mother."

I blushed and couldn't help myself and gave her a hug.

She was a resident at the beautiful assisted living facility that my mom works at and the host of the holiday fair.

She picked up a few of my vintage pieces and said, "This reminds me of something I would wear when Roger and I went dancing at the halls."  And then proceeded to share a story of 52-years of marriage, 8 children (one in Heaven), multiple grand and great grandchildren, a career at Central High School and a life on a block near Duchesne Academy that included parties, neighborhood walks and more friends (most of which are gone) than she could count.

After making a discerned purchase, she said, "Tell me about you."

And so, I did.  I told her about my husband, my children, my studies, my life as a mediator and now as an educator and a small business owner, my dreams.  And then she asked, "How old are you?"

I said, 42.  To which she replied, "I'm almost 50 years older than you and I can tell you, now is your time.  Don't squander it.  And when in doubt, trust in God."

Right then, other customers made their way to my table and she quietly left. 

Hours passed and I couldn't stop thinking about how honest and direct and well, how much ground we covered in a short conversation.  I just wanted to scoop her up and find a little coffee shop to talk more.  And then, I felt sad, remembering my own grandparents and I'd wished that I'd probed them more about their lives and lessons learned. 

And then, not long after, she reappeared.

"I was wondering," she asked shyly, "If you would write me?  I feel like you're more of a writer than a jewelry seller and well, maybe, we could be pen pals?  I have the time.  I'm sure you don't.  But I could teach you what I know."

I stood still and said, "Yes. I'll send a letter this week.  Here's my business card, so you can write, when you like."

As I was loading up my car, I began composing my letter,

Dear Esther,

Thank you for taking the time to share your life with me.  I could tell that it hasn't been easy living away from your husband and children and that you miss them.  I was grateful to hear about your legacy and the extraordinary life that you've lived in almost 90 years.  You have so much to be proud of and thankful for. 

I'd love to hear more about the dances in the halls and what it felt like to raise seven children and how you managed when you felt overwhelmed or unsure.

Mostly, I'd just like to be another person to share your life.

Love to you,

Kelly

In a time when I do a lot to mitigate my aging, I am reminded that being connected to those who have come before me...particularly, strong, courageous women...is a gift, an honor, and an opportunity, not to be squandered.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Help and Thank You

Every time an ambulance goes by, it's automatic.

I make the sign of the cross and begin,

"Hail Mary, full of grace.  The Lord is with thee..."

Before I put food into my mouth, it's habitual,

"Bless us Oh Lord and these thy gifts..."

As my children put their heads on their pillows and close their eyes, I say,

"Now, I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep..."

Prayers like these bring me comfort and the rote, ritual, habitualness of them grounds me.

***

When I was in college, a Philosophy major, I used to claim that religion was an opiate for the masses, a crutch, a place for people who didn't want to think...sheeps who wanted to be told what to do. I couldn't imagine giving anything over to God. 

The difference between being 22 and 42 is that significant amounts of life have transpired.  I have three children walking around the world, with parts of my heart beating inside of them, and I cannot control what happens.

And there are big chunks of my life that have no rational explanation.  There are things that cannot be bought, eaten, screamed or explained away.  They just are.  And everyone has them.  I think of them as big holes--places in our being that just don't add up--spots that feel broken or lonely or severed.  Maybe not all the time, but definitely upon reflection, some of the time.  And no matter what you do or consume or extricate, you can't make the feeling go away.

Likewise, there are miracles.  And we've all experienced them.  We can try to explain them with technology or modern medicine or fate or fortune or serendipity or happenstance or coincidence, but some things are too great to trust to circumstance.  And we wonder, how did this happen?  How can this be?

***

I didn't find and subsequently forge my relationship with God until I was 25...on my hands and knees on a cold apartment floor searching for answers, begging for a new beginning, searching for truth.

My initial prayers looked like, "Help me and thank you." They were the only things I knew to say.

I've later learned after becoming a ginormous Anne Lamott fan that her favorite prayers are, "Help, help, help and Thank you, thank you, thank you."  An extraordinary writer and observer of what it means to be a nonjudgemental human, she gets it. 

The God I pray to likes that I cuss.  It's okay that a good chunk of my prayers start out, "Get a fucking load out of this"...and then they turn into, what would you do if you were me...how do I make this right...which path is best....I don't want to....I'm tired...I wish that...thank you for him....please, please help me to be better...promise me that it's going to be okay.

I pray on the way to the gym at 5am.  I pray in the shower.  I pray at night.  I pray while I'm cursing out the dip shit, ass wipe driver in front of me.  I pray when my kids are driving me up a fucking wall.  I pray when I'm really tired at night. 

I am no longer afraid to pray the right or the wrong prayer or the right or the wrong way.

I just pray....for me, for you, for us...and I do it because I have faith that my prayers mean something as I believe that my life and your life do.  And I try in that space to cry out for what I need and to be grateful for what and whom I've been given.  And I stand reminded that in a world spinning crazy, sometimes, Help and Thank you are all you need.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

I'm Here

When my nephew died, I stopped.

I refused to get up at 4:30am to run.

I couldn't bear to engage social media.

The idea of posting inspirational, life-giving mantras felt like a farce.

I ate anything I wanted, which included lots of milk chocolate and next to no vegetables.

I did only the things that I had to do...work, my children's activities, laundry and grocery shopping.

And, I l stayed largely sad and sometimes, mad.  It's still incredibly hard for me to make sense of a life lost way too early.

But then yesterday, I went to the funeral mass of a dear friend's mother...another woman who passed away too early as well.

And while I was praying and crying, watching so many loved ones gathered to say goodbye to an incredible woman, I thought about the way that she lived her life...to the hilt, brashly, boldly, fully and with laughter and fun.

And I thought, grief is grief and it probably won't ever go away, but it's time to live, because after all, I am a part of the living.  For many days, weeks, I thought it was a betrayal to laugh at things or post something flippant or silly, because really, doesn't the world remember and need to honor that someone really extraordinary has left us.

But I don't think that's how it works.  I think instead that you can be walking around dead, even though your heart is beating.  I think you can shut people and activities off that help you to rise to your best self.  I think you can lose sight that your one precious life is still available for whatever God has in store.

And that the real task is to live in the murk without letting the murk overtake you.  And this is no small feat.  It's hard to allow pain to move through you without letting it drown your being.  It's hard to look at pictures, video and to remember all that was so, so, so good and to know that those pictures are in the past.  And there is no rational explanation or sense to be made...so trying is in and of itself, futile.

But what is paramount is to live.

And so today, I ran again.

I just finished writing this.

I ate vegetables.

I documented in my journal.

I shared coffee with a friend.

And I thought, Nathan would like this.  He would laugh that I even wasted a moment on thinking that I shouldn't.

He knows that my story is still being told and that so too is his through all of us...and that we have a responsibility and a gift to say, "Today, I'm here."  Here's to the unfolding, pain, laughter and all...




Monday, October 23, 2017

Remembering Nathan

Nathan was six years old when I met him.

The blondest haired, bluest eyed, biggest hearted little boy you've ever seen. He and his three-year old brother, Dylan were adorable.

We met when I started dating my now husband, Ray--their absolute favorite uncle.

The first grandchild of the family, Nathan was the one who made Ray an uncle.  Born in his freshman year of college, Ray loved having a little boy to hang with.  Sunday dinners. T-ball games. Super hero drawings. Rough housing.  Nathan's presence showed Ray that even though he didn't grow up with a dad, it wasn't so out of the realm of possibility that he could be one...and maybe, a really good one at that.

When he was 7 years old, his uncle Ray moved 1,447 miles east to be with me.  Shortly thereafter, we asked Nathan and his brother to be ring bearers in our wedding.  And once again, he looked adorable in a tuxedo, dancing the night away on the reception floor.

Over the years, from afar, we watched as he grew up to be amazing...an academic force to be reckoned with, a star in every sport he played and a huge lover of his family and friends.  Every picture we got was of him smiling big with both his mouth and his eyes.  And most of the time, he was smiling at his mom, whom he loved to pieces.

On summer vacations to Disney, Colorado and Nevada, he was a daredevil...riding every roller coaster multiple times, cruising down the longest Alpine slide and maneuvering every water ride like it was his job...he was fearless and often, laughing the entire way.

About four years ago, we were on a run in Colorado.  As a newbie at running, I was huffing and puffing and he was indulging me as I tried to make my way down the trail alongside him.  He knew I was struggling to talk, so he slowed down and we watched the sun as I said, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  He said, "I dunno know.  It's mostly the places I wanna go, not really what I want to be."  To which I replied, "You remind me in every way of your uncle, Ray.  So smart.  So fun and funny.  And so interested in seeing something outside of home.  I think you should see everything. "  And he said, "I hope to."

****
And so, it was the worst phone call to receive one week ago today, when we learned that Nathan had tragically passed away.  In a way that no one ever plans or expects.

Hours after we heard the news, we put my husband on a plane to get to his family as fast as he could.

And while my husband was flying, my three children and I sat in a circle and talked about Nathan being in Heaven.  With big tears in their eyes, they asked, "What is Heaven like, mom?"  Without words, I asked them, "What do you think?"

Claire (6) said, "I think it's a place where in a second, you get to have all of the things that make you happy like chocolate ice cream."

Sam (12) said, "I think it's a bunch of rooms that you go through.  The first one is where you get to revisit any part of your life you want, like sixth grade or fourth grade, and you get to remember everything.  Another room is a place where you get to say all the things you didn't get a chance to the people who have already gone to Heaven. And another, is where you just feel love."

Kate (10) said, "I think it's where you aren't sad or scared.  You're just free."

Every night for six nights while Ray was gone, we sat in a circle holding hands, praying for my nephew and their cousin, remembering mostly how happy he made us feel in our hearts.

****

Because Nathan's body was so healthy, he was able to donate all of his organs...a sheer feat of amazement.  There is a person walking around with his heart...another roaming the world breathing in through both of his lungs and a man who didn't have to go on dialysis because of his kidneys.

And while we are grieving a sadness that I never thought humanly possible, we are so grateful for the life that Nathan gave to the world--that will continue on for generations to come.


This picture is the last one we took of him, this summer while we were home in Nevada.  He was so happy to hold Claire and to hug all of us.  A hug that was tight and strong and enduring.  A hug that I cling to now and will take with me as I race 13 miles next Sunday on the day of his Celebration of Life.

From six to 21-years, I'm so, so grateful for the time I got to know you, Nathan.

You have made me a stronger person and have reminded me of what it means to live every moment.

Until we see each other in that room in Heaven...

I love you, Aunt Kelly



Friday, September 29, 2017

I Was Loved Like That

There is a force that marks the busyness of fall, the inevitable hustle of the school year.

Days start early with big cups of coffee and bigger bowls of oatmeal and end late with practices, activities and the need to soak up Vitamin D before Daylight Savings time brings darkness on your way home from work.

There are things to remember like homework, quizzes, group projects, casual days, where you put your retainer and that deoderant matters. 

And the laid back coolness of summer falls on its' face as parents try to remember picture money, birthday presents, ballet tights, who's taking who to soccer and what it is that you had to get at Target, yet again.

And meanwhile, work doesn't stop, laundry grows, something is still sticky under the refrigerator, the pesky eye exam must be scheduled and school lunches are never ending.

And in between the sighs and sometimes the yells and many times feet barely in front of the other, you remember, I got to love like that.  Not everyone gets to be leaned on and counted on in this way.  And you realize, this is a window.  This need, in this way is temporary and surely, fleeting.

***

When I was certain that I could not give another part of me, Claire came bounding up the stairs.  "Good night, mama.  I'm not going to have another dream like the one last night.  You know, when the toad was standing on the stairs and screamed to eat me.  And you said, Not today, Toad. Not today.  No more nightmares tonight."

To which I replied, "That's a good thing, Claire.  Only sweet dreams for you."

Sometimes, being a hero in a dream, making macaroni and cheese for dinner, letting him stay up way past his bed time, helping to study for the 58th Geography test, buying fabric that will only be turned into another pile project collecting dust in my house, telling them today will be the best day ever and really meaning it...gives you a smile, a hug, a look of gratitude (even if it's unspoken) that says, I couldn't do it without you.  And in that moment, you get to know that I was loved like that.  A way that is hard fought and lives most of its' life in the mundane routine...but is incredibly sweet and true.




Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Safe + Strong

There are a few undeniable things that I know to be true of myself.

Since the age of 12, I have loved coffee.  Not a little bit.  More than you can imagine.

I am obsessed with books and newspapers.  Not the ones you read on a phone or an iPad or a laptop.  The physical ones that you hold in your hands, spread on your lap, and because you cannot help yourself, mark up with copious marginal notes to go-back to, when you need a reminder.

I like stories and I don't mind if they're made up.  Being in the presence of an engaging story teller is orgasmic.  And I love both a good character and a twisty plot.

I was born to be a mother.  And to that end, I am grateful (even with and especially because of the chaos) to God for the gift of Sam, Kate and Claire.

I mean it.  When I was little, I walked around carrying babies.  I thought about what I would name them and what I wanted for them (a real, tangible relationship with God, a strong, rooted family that they could always go home to, a rigorous liberal arts education coupled with a study abroad experience, true friends to share in the fun and the heartache, a partner who really gets them and wants to build a life of love, and a passion that if they're lucky, they can call a livelihood.)

And I knew from the moment that they came that I wanted to be the primary influence in their lives.  I wanted to read and share my love of language.  I wanted them to paint and create and grow and test and triumph all within a safe container.  I wanted to know them...deeply.



And to that end, I have always, always sought to protect them.  Not a little bit.  A lot.  I have taken the role of advocate for their physical, social, emotional and spiritual being very seriously. It matters to me who they spend their time with, how we talk to each other at home, that their opinions are validated and that their interests are cultivated.

I suppose it was fine while they were young to prescribe such a life.  But in six months, Sam will be a teenager.  And the concept of crafting a bubble of defined experience is no longer exclusively helpful.

The dichotomy of parenting is that we want two things simultaneously: safety and strength for our children.  And we all know that the only way to earn stripes of grit is to weather storms of uncertainty...the ones where no one is guiding the boat, except for you--no matter how much your mother wants to throw herself at the tidal waves and tell them to back the fuck up or she'll cut em. 

No, in order to ensure that we're raising independent, self-sufficient, capable young people is to give them room to fall.  And pray that they fall within a recoverable zone.  Or, that if they hit rock bottom, that they know we will be there as they claw their way back out.

And, if I'm being honest, that makes me want to vomit. 

I understand the theory of tough love, the reasoning behind letting your kid suffer the consequences and letting your little ones make their own mistakes...but it is definitively not an easy one for me to stomach. 

And yet, I must.  If I don't, my children will either rebel and go on a heroin binge or die in the wildnerness or live with me for the rest of my life...none of which seem appealing to me.

So, the question becomes...how do we keep them safe and make them strong, so that they can go into the world prepared for joy and heartache and not die a million deaths, while they fuck up and try to figure it out?

This is the work that I'm struggling with as I try to stop doing things for my son, so that he can grow into the man that God intends him to be.

If you have an extra prayer in your back pocket, shoot me one while you're drinking coffee and reading the paper and tell me a story of how it will all work out. This mama is slowly, but surely, learning the value of letting go.