To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, One clover, and a bee, And revery.
The revery alone will do, If bees are few.
--Emily Dickinson

Sunday, September 30, 2012

From foe to friend

Recently Rose and Emma taught Jason and I a lesson, a lesson we've struggled through the years to teach them.

Since Rose and Emma were little my husband and I have been trying to teach them the art of forgiveness. When they fought (as only sisters can) we made them apologize to each other and then directly afterward utter the phrase, "I forgive you." Granted, in the heat of the moment, when they're still so mad at one another they're spitting apologies through gritted teeth, the forgiveness part seemed pretty futile. But in that moment they didn't have to believe it, just say it. Because I believe that something, once spoken, has power. I didn't need them to believe and understand forgiveness when they were 4 years old, I needed them to say it, to practice it, so that somewhere in their brains they would begin to understand that forgiveness is just as important as the apology.

We don't discuss forgiveness a lot in our culture. We're Americans. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We overcome poverty, fight against injustice, and take no prisoners until we get what we want. We don't apologize to the people we vanquish along the way to reach those goals. We also don't ask forgiveness for the manner in which we achieve the things we want.

So we're not really good at apologizing and even worse at forgiving. We don't want to let go of the conflict. We want to relive it, savor our response if we thought we were the winner or hold on to it because we were the loser, the person trampled by the other. We want to lock that hurt up tight and keep it close so we can be reminded of our humiliation and plot our revenge.

People seem to confuse forgiving with weakness. The act of forgiveness is actually an act of freedom. It's a letting go of anger, resentment, all those darker emotions that everyone feels and then needs to get rid of. It's a release of the emotions that could hold you back, cloud your judgment and numb you to the good stuff like joy. It's difficult to fully experience joy if you're holding onto the hardship.

So we want Emma and Rose to know about forgiveness. To function in this world, they need to be comfortable receiving it as well as giving it. Forgiveness is a gift.

In the Bible, Jesus forgave. He urged his followers to forgive freely. Forgiveness is featured in the model prayer, the Lord's Prayer, and even on the cross Jesus asked God to forgive his tormentors, the very people who had put him there.

Forgiveness looks fine and dandy on paper. it sounds nice and easy when you're sitting in the church pew on Sunday morning with your shoes shined and your halo on. But it's much harder to pull off in real life. In fact, I'm not that great at it. It's hard for me to let things go when I feel slighted or stepped on.

Recently, Rose and Emma set an example of forgiveness for me to follow. In January, when we moved to Texas and enrolled the girls in a new school, we had bully trouble. There was a girl in Rose and Emma's class who decided to throw her weight around. She wouldn't let the other girls eat lunch with them or play with them at recess. She made fun of Rose and called her names. Often in those first few months, the girls came home in tears about the slights and insults this other little girl was dishing out. They finally allowed me to talk to their teachers about the situation. The school immediately took action and the bullying behavior stopped.

When it came time to create the guest list for their laser tag birthday party, Rose surprised me by insisting on inviting the girl who had given her so much heartache. "Really?" I said. "You can only invite two friends from school. Are you sure?"

I wanted to make certain Rose understood what she was doing, but I also was having trouble with her decision. I hadn't forgiven this little girl yet for the grief and tears she'd caused my babies, so I couldn't understand why Rose or Emma would want her at their party.

"Are you sure?" I asked her a second time.
"Yes, mom. It's okay," Rose said. "I've forgiven her."
"Yeah, we forgave her mom." Emma chimed in. "She's really nice now. Everything is okay."

I shrugged and sealed the last party invitation.

And you know what? They were right. Everything was okay. At the party, there was no name-calling, no hard feelings. Everyone had a good time, played together and laughed. I overheard the little girl who had given Rose and Emma such a difficult time express remorse that she hadn't invited them to her birthday party. I think she gained a whole new perspective on Rose and Emma by being included in their birthday celebration.

And Rose and Emma taught me that forgiveness is still a gift and something that should be practiced -- often.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Security over sanity?

The first week of school was the usual rush of packing lunches, filling out forms and placing ourselves firmly back into the familiar arms of the school routine. Amid all of that hustle and bustle, I was most disturbed by the lockdown drill that Rose and Emma practiced in their second grade room.

My elementary school was located in a small, Midwestern town. We had our fair share of drills. For fire drills we shuffled out onto the dewy grass and stood there talking and laughing, caught up in our own elementary-age drama while the teachers did head counts and then shouted the all clear to go back inside. For tornado drills, we crouched in the main hallway, backs against the wall, arms protecting our heads, whispering jokes to each other. We were participants in these drills, but we were distracted participants. Because even in second grade, we realized the odds of a fire or tornado sweeping through the school were remote.

Fast forward to Rose and Emma's generation. They're almost eight and they've never known a time when they could walk to the airplane gate to greet someone or kiss them goodbye. They're post-9/11 babies, born and being raised amid terrorist threats and heightened security. They're growing up in a world where school and public shootings are more common then we'd like to acknowledge. Remember Columbine? How about the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo where 12 people were killed and 50 wounded during a movie? And let's not forget Tucson last year when U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 17 others were shot at a grocery store meet-and-greet. The gruesome list of shootings goes on and on.

So why should it surprise me that my children now do a "lockdown" drill at school? The idea is to teach the children how to react if a gunmen enters the building. During the first week, their teacher locked their classroom door and the whole class huddled together in a corner. Their principal pretended to be the "bad guy" and jiggled the doorknob trying to trick them to come out. Rose and Emma proudly told me that Ms. Sierra's trick didn't work. And then the drill was over and their studies resumed.

I'm sure the intent of the school district is to keep the children safe. But I wonder if the drill is so much about safety as it is teaching them fear? I'd rather the school didn't teach Rose and Emma to dread the unknown, to fear a mad man with a gun and a twisted vendetta. Plenty of fear already exists in the world that adults must grapple with daily, I don't think the schools need to start teaching it to our children. All the eye-opening horror and the grisly side of humanity will come as soon as they learn to flip on the news. And if a mad man should appear, do I really want them to respond by huddling in a corner behind the flimsy lock of a school door?

You see, I'm not comfortable with any of this. Not the lockdown drill or the need for it or the reasoning behind it. As a society, we shouldn't meet the twisted truths of mad men by instilling our children with fear. Then the mad men with the guns have already won without lifting a trigger finger.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

My new phobia.....

It's not much fun when you discover new weaknesses about yourself. I don't normally think of myself as a fearful person. Heights don't bother me. Neither do snakes, spiders or dark, close spaces. I love fast, high roller coasters and theme park rides that make your toes curl. Death doesn't even bother me  much. It will come when it's supposed to and everyone faces it eventually. So imagine my surprise when I walked into our Texas garage and began screaming in a high-pitched tone, most associated with animals in pain and prepubescent girls. Yes, I was screaming like a girl. Over what you might ask? A giant cockroach.

I know what you're thinking. It's an insect, big deal. Except in Texas everything, even the roaches are bigger. It's probably the warm climate because they just don't grow that huge in places that freeze regularly. I've seen and squashed my fair share of roaches. Those weren't a big thing. But these are ginormous. In Texas, they can grow up to two inches in length. Did I mention they have wings? So if you go to crush them, they just fly off, usually in the direction of your head. (Enter screaming here.) If they were just smaller, they wouldn't bother me so much. But they're like every magnified science textbook picture you've ever seen, you know the ones that illustrate small insects and they're reproduced so large that it grosses you out? That's what it's like with these Texas-sized critters. Everything about them is magnified. And bigger in a cockroach is not necessarily better.

When I explain my new-found phobia to my bench buddy, the guy I chat with while I wait to pick my girls up from school, he tells me that his mother was bitten on the stomach by a giant cockroach. And it got infected and formed some sort of weird puss pocket. Okay, so now they bite. Great.

But don't worry, I have an appointment already set up with an exterminator. Until then, my husband gets to traipse out to the garage freezer at night. It's too risky for me to go. The high-pitched screaming might just wake the neighbors.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Living with a lover of sports

As a much younger woman when I would think about what kind of man I would marry, inevitably I would imagine someone artistic. Someone who played in a band, enjoyed poetry slams and would make me the subject of his verse. I imagined this person would love to have long, meandering conversations about Foucault. He would be passionate about me and probably just as devoted to saving some almost-extinct form of wildlife -- like the western ground parrot (that's an Australian bird). He would play the guitar and serenade me often. I thought he would have long dark hair, probably held back in a ponytail. Anyway, you get the idea.
So imagine my surprise when I fell in love with a guy who doesn't have a ponytail, but sports a crew cut instead. Oh, and he's blond. And he doesn't play guitar. Also, the closest he's ever come to a poetry slam was the summer when we were dating and he had mono. We went on a picnic and he read me some poetry. Of course, every time I remind him of those romance-filled, wooing days he tells me he had mono and was half out of his head in delirium. (I tend to believe him. He hasn't read me any poetry since.)
Don't get me wrong. My husband Jason is an excellent father and a wonderful husband. I wouldn't trade him for anyone. When I look back at the expectations of my younger self, I realize that some pony-tail wearing, artsy dude with a mercurial temperament probably would not have been a good fit for my own personality. Jason is logical and even-tempered, a nice balance to my stormier, emotional make-up. The only time my husband loses his usually cool head is when there's a Bears or a Bulls game on.
He's an avid sports fan. Whatever the season, he's usually watching the corresponding sport. Unless I'm at a sporting event, I have little interest in them. And sometimes, even when they're right in front of me, I have little interest. Just ask Jason about the time he took me to the U.S. Open and I brought a book. (Was I really the only one there who couldn't see that tiny ball floating through the sky toward the hole?)
So when my dear hubby has tuned into a game or tournament I zone out with a book or magazine -- until the shouting begins. You see, my level-headed sweetie starts arguing with the refs when the call is bad and cheering and clapping when the plays are good. It's when he watches his favorite Chicago teams that he's particularly animated.
That's when I leave the room all the while wondering if I've married a mad man because he's shouting at the television. Surely, he doesn't expect it to answer?
But then I remember my wedding vows (I should have had something about sports written in. "Will you love him in football AND basketball season? Will you love him through golf tournaments AND hockey season?) Does sports count in the sickness part of "in sickness and in health"?
The answer, of course, is yes. Even if he isn't discussing Foucault or spouting poetry he still balances me in ways that no other person can. I'm certain he loves me through all my annoying quirks. Although at the moment I can't really think of any, I'm sure after he reads this post he'll remind me of a few. Blogging about him, for instance?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Transforming Texas

After bouncing around the Midwest all my life, I've recently relocated to Houston, Texas. I've always been proud of that fact that I'm a practical Midwestern girl. My people are more apt to be farmers than fisherman, so they didn't settle on either coast. And I never thought I'd leave the Midwest. Sure the bright lights of the coastal cities are nice to visit, but we had Chicago and other smaller, steadfast places like Minneapolis, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Des Moines. We didn't panic when a snow storm hit. Ice didn't thwart us from getting to work either. Tornadoes were so random that you didn't worry unless one was on your doorstep and then you beat it to the basement. Because in the Midwest everyone had a basement or storm cellar to flee too. There were four seasons. The cold of winter followed the breathless changing leaves of fall. You could cut down your own Christmas tree and expect to get cold knees and pine sap sticky hands. In the Midwest, I knew the culture and I knew the rules.

Yet moving to Texas has been like moving to another country. It's a whole different game. It doesn't get cold here. There are no basements on homes. Everyone stays inside and hibernates with their air conditioners in the summer. And you have to shake the bugs out of the real Christmas trees that you buy in the Christmas tree lots because December is warm here and there's no killing frost. (Of these things I've been told since I have not spent a Christmas here yet.)

But bugs and heat aside, Texans are proud to be Texans. I now shop at a grocery store called H.E.B. which stands for Here Everything is Better. (No kidding. I couldn't make that one up if I tried.) The Texas flag is flown outside of homes and worn on dress shirts. They teach Texas history in the elementary schools. My daughters already know that its illegal to pick bluebonnets, the state's official flower, or kill a mockingbird, the state bird. In the mornings, they pledge allegiance not only the United States flag, but the Texas one as well. Since moving five months ago, I've seen several people with Texas flag tattoos. (Yet I never once felt inclined to get an Ohio flag tattoo.) They are proud of their state to be sure.

But where does that put me, Miss Midwest now living in the lone star state? In truth, I'm not sure. I suppose I'll just get used to it. Maybe I could meld the two cultures? (Tex Mex jello salad anyone?) The mix of cultures in Houston is amazing. There are strong influences of Asian, Hispanic, Indian and Middle Eastern culture all around me. It makes for some eye opening conversations and amazing culinary experiences. So maybe if there is room here for all that diversity, one practical Midwestern girl will just add some additional seasoning to an already incredible melting pot.

I do enjoy living here. Eventually, I think it will feel like home. Although I doubt I'll get a Texas state tattoo to prove it. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Making the case for solitude

Recently my husband took our two daughters to Phoenix for spring break, leaving me at home with our dog. Oh, I could have gone on vacation with them but I just chose not too. My dear husband would golf, the girls would spend time with their grandparents who were also in Phoenix and that would leave me by the hotel pool with a book. But I didn't want to sit by a pool. You see, I really wanted the luxury of an empty house.
I needed to spend some time in silence, in contemplation. I also needed to work on a new writing project. And it didn't hurt that I had the television remote all to myself. (March Madness cannot end soon enough for me.) I love my family with all my heart, but sometimes the only way I can recharge my batteries is by being alone. Luckily, I am blessed with a husband who understands this and doesn't raise an eyebrow when I suggest they trundle off without me.
Spending spring break in solitude may seem odd to those who are more people oriented, grow up in large families or fear going to the movies alone. But I am an only child, love to attend movies by myself and, by nature, am an extremely independent person. I live my life having a few carefully chosen friends and family members around me. I'm not good in crowds. After a while, places like theme parks grate on my nerves. Sure one line or two is fine. But five hours later bumping elbows with sweaty people and standing on concrete while roller coasters screech overhead loses its appeal. Loud noises also bother me after a while. Oh, I can go to a sporting event and cheer my head off, but then I go home and sit quietly with a book to balance out all the mayhem I previously subjected myself to. Indeed sometimes I crave solitude like a fat woman craves chocolate.
So while some women might have gone to Phoenix, sat by the pool and soaked in the sun, I opted to sit at home and soak up the solitude.
Four days later when I picked up my family at the airport, I felt rested and reinvigorated. I was also happy to see them. Like vacations, solitude is fine in small doses. But it's also good when the people who make a place home come back home.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A drawer full of treasure

In my bedroom I have a drawer filled with treasure. No thief would steal it of that I am sure. No one but my husband and I would even recognize it as having any value. My drawer is full of paper, outpourings of my children's love. There are pictures of princesses with long hair and beautiful gowns (named Rose and Emma of course) and paper books made in school dedicated to Mom and Dad. My favorite book is the "Diary of a Worm" book Rose made and dedicated to Jason, "because my Dad is as brave as worm." It brings a smile to my face every time I see it. She also said in her presidents book that I'd make a great president "because she is smart and brave and nice to her friends." (A budding genius.) Of course, Emma nominated her Dad as president "because he follows the law and he is honest."

There are apologies handwritten in an impish first-grade scrawl to make up for when they've misbehaved. There is Emma's request to wear my high-heeled red boots for Halloween which she wrote in January. (I bet it won't be the last time she'll want borrow something of mine.) And then there are the notes that simply say, "I love you Mom" drawn with a heart or two. There are notes which tell me that I am loved, that I'm the best mom ever and that they miss me.

It seems as though every day, I am the benefactor of these gifts of love. So I try not to take them for granted. When I receive them I ooh and ah over them and distribute hugs and kisses and thank yous. And my daughters' eyes shine with pride. They delight in the giving of those gifts and are thrilled by their reception. When they skip off to play, I quietly go to my room and slip each little offering in my drawer. I'm saving them for a time when my daughters are older and they don't feel quite as motivated to freely bestow such high praise. Someday they will be teenagers. As first graders they think I know everything, but later I think my awesomeness will fade in their eyes. (At least until their 20s when they discover I was right about everything. ) As teens, they'll be more interested in texting their friends then passing their notes and drawings to me. That's okay, because I'll already have my drawer full of treasure. And it will always remind me of my loving, creative girls.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sowing friendships

 The job in Houston was simply too good an opportunity for my husband to pass up. So once again we packed our boxes, loaded the moving van, and transported all of our worldly goods, our daughters and the family beagle across a thousand miles. It was a logistically daunting journey. Yet after all the boxes were unpacked, the real adventure began. How do you reestablish your community? Where do you find friends, a church, or even a good grocery store? It's like a foreign place and you feel you're the outsider. I should be used to this by now. Before Texas, there was Ohio. Before Ohio, Indiana. Before Indiana, Iowa and at the very, very beginning Illinois. I blazed a trail across most of the Midwest.

In all of these places I cemented friendships, plugged into a church and generally thrived. And here I am in Texas trying to do it all over again. It's difficult work, this restarting a life in another place. I suppose that I could have stayed in Illinois, close to the tiny town where my life started. My father did. He worked at the local mine for over 30 years and then retired. I think my father's generation could expect a job that lasted decades in their local community. His generation could expect a pension and Sunday afternoons spent visiting the folks. Mine can't. We roam to find the best opportunities. Employers are much more fickle and don't shell out the generous pensions of yesteryear. We roam and sow relationships in all the communities where we settle. It's a lifestyle that forces you to be much more proactive in forging new friendships. When you have a group of friends that you've worked to cultivate, you're much less likely to take them for granted. And that's good for everybody.