Saturday, March 31, 2012


A few mornings ago, Sam and I were hanging out in one of our favorite coffee shops when we ran into a family friend, the grandmother of several of Sam and Caroline's classmates. She's a sweet lady who lives in the senior housing across the street from us and she helps take care of her grandkids while their mom, a good friend of mine, is at work. We waved to her as she entered and we chatted a bit, more than we usually get to at preschool pickup and drop-off.

During the conversation, she offhandedly asked if my parents were in the area. I told her without really thinking about it that my dad lives in Portland, and that my mom died about two and a half years ago. She gasped and put her hand to her chest and expressed her condolences, and apologized for bringing it up. I found myself comforting her as I thanked her for her sympathies, and assured her that it was ok for me to talk about it, that we talk about Grammy a lot in our house.

Before this encounter, I found myself this last week reading a few of my older posts about my grief right after my mom died, and in the year afterward. The rawness of my emotions is so apparent. My grief was worn on my sleeve and woven like a thread through everything I did, saw, and thought. Each stitch drew blood.

That's changed. The fabric has mostly been sewn, and I live with it now. It's not that I don't miss her or don't think about her. In fact, just a few weeks ago I observed grandparents at story time playing with their obviously beloved granddaughter, and I suddenly had to turn away as unexpected tears stung my eyes. But mostly it's not so immediate and ever-present anymore. It's just a part of my life. In fact, I was rather surprised listening to myself talk to my friend at the coffee shop by my dispassionate accounting of the facts, especially in contrast to her shocked and visceral reaction.

And with that observation came an uncomfortable realization, one that I've had many times over the last two years. My mom didn't really seem present to me, and she hadn't for a long time. One always hears stories about how dead loved ones are somehow "with" the people they left behind. They visit in dreams, or they intervene in some obvious way. And I felt a little angry and cheated that I hadn't had that. She just seemed....not there.

The conversation with my friend continued, and it turned out that she herself had lost her own mother when she was 28, and that day was the anniversary of her death. Even all these years later, the loss obviously still stung. Then, she gave me her phone number and told me she was just across the street, and if I ever needed emergency help with the kids to call her.

And suddenly, I realized how often this sort of thing had been happening.

Earlier this week, I got to talking with the lady who does story time at the same place I observed the grandparents and their granddaughter. She's also older, and she's taken a special interest in Sam over the years we've known her, and especially in the last few months. In talking with her this week we realized that she went to my college many years ago, and we had a much deeper conversation than usual, reliving old memories of the place we both loved. And then, she told me that I ought to bring Sam by her house this summer so she can work on reading with him.

And for the last few months, there has been an older couple who without fail have brought with them to Mass a matchbox car every week from their extensive collection left over from their own kids and given it to Sam with a hug and a chat. When I thank them, they just smile and grasp my hand.

The more I think about it, the more the list of people who have just fallen into my path and want to be involved with my kids and my family grows.

And suddenly I knew. I saw.

Asserting herself wasn't really Mom's style. She almost never talked about herself, instead preferring to listen to other people. If my mom were intervening, it would have been so unlike her to just show up in a dream and announce "Here I am! I'm taking care of you!" What would have been her? To quietly work behind the scenes to make sure that the people she loved were taken care of, and she would never have wanted to take any credit for it.

I was looking completely in the wrong direction. There she was, in the helping hands of neighbors, in the conversations of friends, in the interest of others. And she'd been there for a long time before I'd noticed.

Now I obviously can't prove that. And I'm not really in the business of proof here. I can say for now that this just feels like her.

Someday, though, I'll be able to ask her when I see her face to face. I can almost picture her smiling and coyly answering just as she did in life, "I have my ways."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Doing without

No, God. I didn't give up the microwave for Lent. Did you hear me? I gave up Facebook and sweets. NOT. MICROWAVE.

That's what was going through my head about five weeks ago when, after punching in the time and pressing start, the contraption above the stove began to make a sound like unto an electrocuted cat and to spit sparks out of the top vent. Being the level-headed person I am, I screamed and started dancing and looked around for something to throw at it. Failing that, I said a short prayer against frying myself and hit the off button, then jumped to the other side of the kitchen.

Mark poked around and declared it dead. The circuitry up top was completely toast. We've been waiting for a few appliances around the house to finally bite the dust. Our house was remodeled by the previous owners almost 10 years ago, and our time is almost up on a few of these. There's a dishwasher that requires an exorcism before running and when it does it makes a sound like it's washing gravel, the dryer that doesn't stop running when you open the door so if you forget to turn it off it shoots clothes out at you like a t-shirt gun...but the microwave was not on that list. It wasn't even hinting that it wanted to be. Maybe it was feeling neglected, in the shadow of all those appliances with more personality. But whatever the reason, it was pretty inconvenient since a new one cost at least $199 plus tax and every red cent this month is accounted for and assigned elsewhere.

The choice was pretty much made for us. We'd have to do without, at least for a while.

But what on earth was I going to do without a microwave? That thing gets a lot of mileage in our house. I mean, I have two small children. Children who demand chicken nuggets and Trader Joe's mac and cheese. And if they don't get it...well, things could get ugly for everyone.

This wasn't what I planned to give up, I thought. I mean, I'm giving up FACEBOOK and SWEETS. Seriously, God? Do you know how much I love those two things? Do you just want me to move to Amish Country? The whole thing was making me want to start playing Farmville while shoving pie in my face just to be contrary.

I spent at least a day or two stewing about it. I know, I realize it's not the heaviest cross to bear, but still. I was really peeved at being required to go without something that made my life so much easier. But in going about my days, I noticed a few things.

First, pretty much anything you normally microwave CAN BE COOKED IN THE OVEN. I know. I was shocked, too. It does require a little more planning ahead and adds 15 minutes to meal prep, but in the end it's not that big of a deal.

Secondly, things that are cooked in the oven TASTE BETTER. Another shocker. Even the same stuff tasted better. The nuggets were delightfully crispy on the outside and evenly cooked on the inside. The TJ's mac and cheese? Wonderfully buttery and gooey and just a little crispy in parts. I may never microwave it again, even when I can.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, needing to think about what to feed my family instead of just shoving the same old same old in the microwave helped me make some better decisions. After all, if it takes the same amount of time to bake a corn dog from the freezer that it does to bake a seasoned chicken breast, the scales aren't tipped quite so much in the corn dog's favor. I found myself willing to actually make something from scratch more often, even just for lunch.

The conclusion? As I type, we've been microwave-free for about five weeks and at this point I don't even really notice. I definitely don't feel the driving need to replace it as soon as possible. Maybe we'll just repurpose it as a child art display and leave it there, hanging impotently above the stove.

I find it interesting, the timing of all of this. We've definitely been financially crunched lately - lots of little unexpected expenses, lots of coupon clipping and squeezing every penny. It's figured prominently in my prayer life, but when it did make an appearance, it was always basically asking God to provide more money.

He didn't do that. We're still making due with the same amount as always. What He did give me, though, was a heart more disposed to doing without. I saw in this that not only was doing without grudgingly possible, not only was it even just tolerable, but that sometimes it's surprisingly better. There are several other expenses in our life that I've been reluctant to go without, and gradually I'm finding that I am more open to letting them go. Things that once seemed to be necessities have started to be viewed as luxuries. Taking that final step of cutting them out is looking easier and easier.

So I'm thankful for our busted, sparky microwave. I'm thankful that somehow I don't miss it. I'm thankful that I was shown in this little way that when I go without, somehow, there are blessings I never expected that reside in that small sacrifice.

And I find myself asking, what else can I let go of to find those blessings?

Friday, March 16, 2012

A workable solution

So, I've been working recently on ways to improve my prayer life throughout the day that is both manageable and effective. To this end, I found a few great, short prayers that I printed out and planned to hang around the house in places I'd regularly see them and be reminded to say them.

Now, where to put them?

On the bathroom mirror? No, I don't really spend time getting ready long enough to make that workable.

On the fridge? No, usually I'm trying to feed ravenous, crabby children when I head that way so that wouldn't really be practical.

Maybe the microwave? Well, no, since it's broken and I don't really use it (more on that later).

The front door? No, same as above, it's not exactly a place in the house I'm liable to stop and linger.

After going around and around about this, I finally landed on the one spot in the house I'm likely to be alone (sometimes), holding still for a period of time, and willing to read something.

I hung it on the shelf facing the toilet.

Somehow, I think God will understand.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why Sam's teachers looked at me funny at pickup today...

I would like to introduce you to my son's latest creative masterpiece. At his school, the kids often illustrate books and the teacher writes in the narrative as dictated to them. Sam's brought home a few of these, most having to do with fire trucks and fires.

Until today.

Without further ado, I give you:

That's right, folks, the next great children's picture book. "Zombie Hill."

Aw, look at that nice guy in his nice house. Too bad we all know what happens to people in stories like this with names like "The Guy."

Isn't that always the way it goes? You want to climb Zombie Hill, but you do not know. YOU DO NOT KNOW. Look how happy he looks. Smiling and everything.

Yup, that's right. There are zombies on Zombie Hill. How could he possibly have known?

It doesn't seem to bother him too much. After all, he's still smiling.

Man, I hate it when that happens. Thats what you get for buying a house right next to Zombie Hill. New realtor, dude.

What's that?? A happy end for our hero? Well, well, well. Looks like The Guy has defied horror cliches and lived to fight it out again at his poorly researched long-term investment, The House at Zombie Hill.

Hope you had the hero shoot him in the head, honey. Otherwise I smell a sequel. But don't worry, Sam's Teachers, we'll cover that at the next The Walking Dead family viewing party.