Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Finger Lickin' Good

It is here, in Waukesha Wisconsin. The light that blasts through the roof of the cookie-cutter retail strip center in which it resides. A woman, named Alisha - who makes ribs, and fried okra (which heretofore couldn't be found in Wisconsin) and a pulled pork sandwich that melts my heart and expands my hips.

Her mother was Pat, who was the sister of somebody relatively famous. Her mother suffered with addiction but she made a hell of a mean BBQ sauce. This little slice of heaven is literally around the corner from my house. My soon to be 13 year old son has his photo on the wall there and is instantly proclaimed as "The Rib King", when greeted by Alisha. My boy has found a place where everybody knows his name.

Seriously, who could resist those freckles?

I think he won them over when he invited three of his buddies to join him in a rib fest for which he had saved all of his allowance to treat. Awkward middle school kids, rebelliously eating ribs with their various stages of orthodontics.  Who cares. We can pick the rib meat out and nobody will be the wiser?

I am grateful to Alisha in so many ways. Due to her tie to that relatively (okay totally) famous person, her business took off. But she has the eye of an eagle when spotting my freckle faced boy across the crowded scene.  The last time we were there, she literally stopped taking an order, excused herself and walked out from behind the counter to greet and hug him.

That brought me to tears. I know her in a very small way through school and she is close to my older son as well due to his proclivity for wings, hot sauce and good conversation.  Her daughter is in the same class as my little guy.  But none of that was known when she singled him out and made him feel deserving of her attention at a time when his world was falling apart.

I love you Alisha and I love you Pat's Rib Place. She even has a photo of Ryley and I on her website. There are a lot of them so you will have to look for it. Pat's Rib Place.

It's not so much humanity as it is about the simple act of being human; waving a sparkler of effervescent joy and warming hearts with her dimpled smile and tireless approach to serving down home southern cooking (due in large part to her very talented husband) to a rag-tag looking family that was broken. She didn't know how much we were hurting. How much Ryley needed attention, or how much his mom needed an okra fix. She simply smiled and enjoyed her passion in life as we were lucky enough to soak it up just as we did with Pat's famous house sauce. 

Hence, if you should find yourself lucky enough to travel anywhere in the vicinity of Waukesha Wisconsin, take a detour to Sunset Ave and warm yourself from the inside out.  For it is with my whole heart I recommend the love of a daughter rendered so satisfyingly in the food, you will taste the very essence and soul of a woman who lost the battle with the demons of addiction but poured her spirit into the love of her daughters and the spice in her sauces. You will have no choice but to leave feeling loved or in love and you will not be able to suppress your need for more.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Doubt, Lord Please

When it is all said and done,

will anybody know how hard it was?

Doubt it.

I am living it and I can't believe it.

I chose this life, for my lessons

so I can either learn well or

gloriously fail.

I can no longer chant and defy

life, throwing my gauntlet

pretending it will not break me.
Cause more than one life is up for the

taking and there is sacrifice in the

making in order to be free.

Lord please.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Children of a Lesser Mom

They rhyme in rhythm
and compound the energy
surrounding them.
They frolic in the fray
astounding them
and receive the love that
is handed them.
They usher words into gaps
where silence drowned them
giving voice and sound to them.
They seek truth  from the lies
that were bound to them
knowing it can be found when
they are on this earthly ground
though much is confounding them.
Their laughter is joy profound
and I, me, am humbly gifted 
to simply be around for them.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Happiness is Absurd and Vice Versa

In Greek mythology, the gods condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.

Sisyphus, what a complicated soul, destined to toil, day in day out, rolling that heavy bolder to the top, only to watch it fall down again, knowing he would open his eyes the next day and face the same fate. Was he a laborer, feeling as if he ended each day no further ahead or did he find a divine enlightenment in his quest to shoulder to boulder on his shoulder, to prove he was able to harness his strength to defeat the expectations of punishment bestowed upon him?  Did he win? Did he prove them wrong by sheer willpower?

If one believes Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of mortals. Homer goes on and on as to the reasons why Sisyphus became the futile laborer of the underworld. There is espionage, kidnappings, bargaining, deceit and so forth. Homer reported that Sisyphus, the conqueror, had managed to put Death in chains. But Pluto intervened, sending the god of war, who liberated Death from the hands of the conqueror.

This did not stop "the Conqueror" from riding high on his reputation.  He proceeded to get himself all caught up in love and jealousy and shit until he created an insidious test for his wife to prove her love for him. Uh yeah, that didn't work out so well;  so hello, he found himself once again in the underworld. Then he got like totally pissed off by the lack of human love so he obtained permission from Pluto (who is not even a planet anymore) to return to earth for the explicit purpose of chastising his wife.

Lesson I am still learning:  Never allow yourself to operate out of anger, bitterness or revenge.

But alas, once on earth, he enjoyed the water and sun, warm stones and the sea and he no longer wanted to go back to the infernal darkness. He lived for many years facing the curve of the gulf, the unpredictable sea and the predictable cycles of the earth. The god's became angry and a decree was in order.  Mercury would seize the imprudent man, literally by the collar, leading him back to his station at the bottom of the mountain with a heavy rock awaiting him.

It is well believed Sisyphus was a hero as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. Or is it? Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them. As for this myth, it is said one sees merely the whole effort of a body straining to raise the huge stone, to roll it and push it up a slope a hundred times over; one sees the face screwed up, the cheek tight against the stone, the shoulder bracing the clay-covered mass, the foot wedging it, the fresh start with arms outstretched, the wholly human security of two earth-clotted hands.

At the very end of his long effort measured by depth without time, the purpose is achieved. Much like the feeling I have when I am rushing to get my kids out the door in the morning; the toil, the sameness and the insanity of it all.  At the end of the evening when the fucking enormous rock rolls back down, I have to ask myself, do we really need to discuss why we put our pajamas on every single night? I have to get up tomorrow because I need to push an enormous boulder back up a mountain. Have a little respect for that and just do what I say..........okay?

One must be careful though for a face that toils so close to stones could become stone itself (which obviously makes me think of Botox, even though it is not relative to this posting whatsoever.)  One must be superior, or at the very least, equal to his fate and stronger than his rock. For fate, stones, boulders, daily mindless tasks are meant to make us overcome our obstacles and live our truth.

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus writes. "When the images of earth cling too tightly to memory, when the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy rises in man's heart: this is the rock's victory, this is the rock itself. The boundless grief is too heavy to bear. These are our nights of Gethsemane. But crushing truths perish from being acknowledged. Ancient wisdom confirms modern heroism. One does not discover the absurd without attempting to write a manual of happiness. Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable. It would be a mistake to say that happiness necessarily springs from the absurd discovery. It happens as well that the feeling of the absurd springs from happiness."

It resonates with me, these images of earth, these imagined ideas of what I am  supposed to be doing today, just today, just roll that rock and keep on rolling but then I realize the very idea of that is truly insane.  My third eye, the one that can truly see, cannot see past the daily toil to realize why I have been given, nay blessed, with these particular toils.

My kids were recently told by their dad that the bible says God only punishes "those he loves the most". To which his mom, their Grandma nudged him, and laughingly replied, "then God must REALLY, REALLY love your daddy".  Needless to say, I have had some difficulty processing that philosophy.  Where is the accountability for the crime he committed? 

Going a step further, dad tells them of a grand life they will live when he gets out of prison.  He will buy land and begin farming, organic farming nonetheless.  He will purchase a house up north for hunting and fishing.  How will he do this with no money, a felon, convicted of stealing from an employer?  Is it just more of the same, his endless stream of unrealistic consciousness,or will someone step in to help him.  Probably the same people who have refused to offer any help or assistance to his kids while he is away.

The only time he provided was when he succumbed to  a desk job. That was his great burden.

As you can see, I am still working on the bitterness and resentment part but unlike the past, when I have these thoughts, they are quickly dismissed.  I no longer allow myself to wallow in the stress or struggle against the tide for the great boulder has been placed upon my shoulders, and mine alone.  I will carry it, push it, attempt to beat the hell out of it, or find another way around it to survive.   

Caymus goes on to write, ".. there is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his effort will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that silent pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which becomes his fate, created by him, combined under his memory's eye and soon sealed by his death."

"I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Honestly, as I write this, I understand why Sisyphus was happy.  He took the long road.  He wasn't afraid to work hard each and every day.  He didn't desire a shortcut to luxury or wealth the way my children's father did in his pattern of shirking the burden of responsibility, relying on his mom to bail him out and basking in that cross generational bondage that held him to his mother when she desperately clung to the one child she believed would make good.

But in a hairpin turn, with no nod to proper segue whatsoever, I praise my time with him for we bore three beautiful souls, the very ones I am privileged enough to struggle with each and every day and I know, beyond time and depth or depth and time that MY fate was created by me.  

How appropriate I should sit in front of Oklahoma City's sculpture of Sisyphus with my children, feeling futile, knowing hopeless is or could be but a day or perhaps an hour away, if I let it. But these are my greatest gifts, missing my eldest, but with us in spirit. It is an absurd happiness in the midst of the happiest absurdity I could possibly imagine. Can you see it?

The four of us in Oklahoma City, missing #1 Son, in front of Sisyphus.

What a sight it is.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Paths of Destruction

The New Testament speaks of the wide path of destruction we are offered in our lives versus the narrow path we should adhere to in order to reach the gates of heaven.

So simple, so clear, so much easier to walk along a wide path; though I tend to prefer narrow paths that prevent me from having to walk side by side or in large groups. I love the solitude of strolling along the edge of a beach, leaving friends behind while I drink in the sun, allow the wind to curl my hair and delight in the squish of the sand between my toes.

But gheez, we all know, I have not walked the narrow path as set forth in the book of Matthew.  I walk the path my mama always told me to walk.  She would say just start walking and if you find a bunch of big boulders and shit, nay stuff in your way, then turn around. But if the path opens up to you without a lot of obstacles, six-pronged forks, hairpin turns and perilous falls to your certain demise, then by all means, just keep on walkin'.  Didn't matter how wide or narrow.  Didn't matter if it appeared to be the high road or the low road, for deception lies in preconceived notions.  Just walk.

With that said, actually walking that narrow path between the vast, scary ocean and the solid ground beneath my feet literally summarizes my existence.  If I step too far into the water, then I am solidly screwed for I can't swim and I do not like sea creatures of any kind, not even the little Nemo clown fish.  I don't want to be there but once I'm in, it is very difficult for me to get myself out.  However, if I stay put, on the solid yet sandy side - I will prevail.  I may not last very long as we all know what happens with castles built in sand but I will remain on my journey and wake up each day to move closer to the purpose for which I am here.

First order of business then - figure out my purpose.

Last week, while in Oklahoma City, I was able to visit with a wonderful friend from my long ago past.  She and I started out in the corporate world together, both hired around the same time in our late twenties, both naive and green, both single mom's to little boys who were the same age and both ready to set the world on fire. 

We didn't realize it back then but we were smart.  Really, really smart.  During our visit, we remembered words we used to teach each other, plans we made to change the direction of our company (which never materialized) and choices we made to change the directions of our lives (which did materialize, in the seemingly most interesting and fascinating of ways.)

She married a wonderful man who had two boys of his own.  They built a life together, raised those boys, had financial security and did all they were supposed to do to be good parents.  She rose to the top of her industry and is close to retirement with her handsome man complete with a place in Arizona and a family chalet in the mountains of Santa Fe.

I married a wonderful man, later divorced him out of boredom then married another man, had three more kids, moved to Wisconsin, got another divorce and am now raising the whole brood while the ex is serving time at federal camp "good time" for felony fraud.  I rose to the top of my career as well but retirment is not a word I will entertain for many, many years to come.  I struggle with the burdens and sometimes I breakdown from the sheer load of it all. I told her of nearly losing my second son, The Commando, after his dad went to prison. And I have no handsome man or mountain chalet anywhere near or far, not even with a telescopic lens.

She understood the agonizing story I told her of watching as they took The Commando from me and she lauded my bravery in not stepping in to snatch him up and take him home.  She knew how deep I had to dig to go through with this measure of intervention on a child who was raging, creating his own rath of destruction.

Then she told me how her son, the one who is the same age as my #1Son is strung out on drugs, committing crime, jobless, nearly homeless and still hasn't hit rock bottom. All three of their boys went down the same path of destruction my brothers chose.  She knows, just as I knew with my brothers, this will likely end in death or jail for each of them.

One would think my son would have been the one to fall into the deep end with the crazy life I created for him. Instead he is centered and good, thoughtful, hard-working, loyal and kind.

One would think her son would have benefited from a loving relationship, financial security, all the trappings of a solid, centered life.

But one can never know how these things turn out.

Just as it has been for my life, the edge of that water is always so close at hand, or at foot as the case may be. It is quite easy to fall in, to fall out, to fall over until you find yourself going down the road too wide. Wrong choice of friends, basic wiring of the brain, just a tiny slip and you are cast out into the raging currant.  Especially when it comes to drugs.  Drugs are as vast as the ocean and every bit as deep.  The longer you try to keep your head above water, the more drugs you will need to stay above sea level. Then you are caught in a whirlpool of sharks, waves, wind and three-headed sea monsters from the deep that will pull your ass under and keep you there until you grow fins and gills and breath it in just to survive.

I drifted off, into the analogy of the deep as my friend was sharing her heartbreaking news. I asked all the questions I could ask from someone who had experienced this many times over. But there was one question remaining. One that had never been asked, not even of my parents.

I asked if she knew what happened to him?  Could she tell me what went wrong?

It was then this beautiful soul, who gifted me so often in our times of abandoned youth, deliberately placed the most powerful gift of all in my hands, in my heart and in my mind. It was wickedly deliberate, because she is brilliant enough to know exactly what I needed to hear. She lit her words and then set back to watch the fuse burn until she could see the shrapnel, tearing through my brain and systematically removing all of my fears of being a single parent with a crazy life.  She obliterated my doubts and uncertainty for what the Commando and I went through.

She told me she could look back and see the exact moment when she lost her son to drugs.  She said she hadn't been strong enough to do what I did when she had the opportunity, when he was young enough still, to save.

And just like that, I remembered my purpose.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Dance of the Divine

As I enter the clearing at the top of the universe, I have to repeat to myself, you wanted this, you asked for it, you wanted this, you asked for it.  And yet, even in this moment, I still fear my own truth.

I love that word, not Truth as you might have expected, but the word, Still.


For I know I must sit still long enough to receive it, that which is my truth.

But sitting still is not easy for me.  I have a pattern, created very early in my years, of growing tired of things, places, people and circumstances.  My pattern is to let them go. Run Jenny Run.  Run like the wind.  Change is needed to fuel me and I am hungry for change.

Many friends, husbands, relationships, jobs, goals and dreams have succumbed to this dance of mine.  It is a ten year cycle.  For each, it is ten years - then done.  I only very recently stopped to count the number of instances in relationship to the number of years for each and I was duly startled.  It is clearly ten years. That's pretty much all I am good for.

Except for my children and a precious few who have survived, circumvented or otherwise put up with the faults known as my ten year limits.

I have always counted myself blessed with bountiful friends, more than any one person should deserve but this realization has awakened me to my truth.  I can be difficult, feisty, sometimes mean, but that is the armor I have used for all these years to drive the chafe from the wheat.

As I slide head first toward 50, I don't care for trivialities.  I don't cotton to a huggy, kissy kind of emailish, girlfriendy type of love. I need to know the people I carry with me into this last 50 years (God willing) of my life are the ones who will listen to my stories over and over again and wipe the shit off my ass-ignation when I've crossed yet another line. These people need to get me and most importantly, they need to know I get them. I've got them. I will hold them and wipe off their ass-ignations as well.

I have met or rekindled some relationships with true angels recently, and I have been awakened to the power of selfless love, sacrifice and bravery.

Robyn - meeting you in our girl's kindergarten class - how could I possibly have known you would reveal yourself to me in a time of my greatest need. You are the epitome of the belief that Australians are the nicest people on earth. Oprah said it, so it must be true and I love you - you are a divine Goddess.

Megan - strong, tough bitch, survivor, Amish in all the right ways, not Amish in all the right ways, loving and supportive. You are family and I am proud to be with you as we gather up our strength and conquer our worlds. Never lose touch with your power. Harness it and face your challenges head on but don't ever forget, I will always be here for you, as long as you let me borrow your cool jewelry.

Lacey - amazing mom, truly.  The best I have ever seen.  You let your brilliant son go off and sit with the big kids because that is where he finds his truth; yet you, like so many really good mothers, never lose sight of him. He is a challenge, just as I have experienced with my own but your calm balances him. You have risen to the top baby girl.  Stay the course. I love your man and your boys.  You have done well, your dad is proud of you too.  I can see his spirit in both of those boys.

Nick - So much to overcome but equal parts brilliant mind and loving heart to drive you through. Keep your eye or perhaps both eyes on the life you want. You are perfectly formed and made to be exactly who you are by God's own hands. So young still but so mature.  My kids all told me you reminded them of their dad's fiance's younger brother who is gay.  They don't know Ryan is gay.  Their dad would never allow them to know that. So essentially, their opinion was formed based on pure universal intuition. What that tells me is - fuck the conservative right wing, anti-gay, mostly closeted homosexual naysayers.  If kids can see it, then it is real. But you and I knew that already as does your dad.  You are loved.

Debbie - you are in my mind's eye, the utmost of the Divine Goddesses along with Betty Sue and yes, even your mom, my beloved Aunt Sarah.  I know there is bickering and a feeling that you are the one left to handle everything but I witnessed that legacy being passed down to you.  I remember your mom showing up to visit Granny every night on her way home from work. Then I remember you driving your mom to work every day and coming with her to visit Granny every night. Adding to that burden, I recall you picking me up and driving me to work at the age of 14, exposing me to the corporate environment and ensuring your employer I could run the front desk and handle the mail.  God, how I loved that summer. YOU made it all happen, you gave me the confidence at such a young age to know I could handle anything.

You have to face it, you are the one who stepped up to take responsibility when it was handed to you but you also have to remember, when it comes to those you cannot help, you need to let go. Calls from family who have gotten themselves into trouble are not your responsibility.  Don't feel as if it all falls on you because you must replace your mom. You can choose to tough love those people who may be taking advantage. Doing things that go against your judgment will make you bitter.  Helping people who struggle with addictions will only keep them addicted.  Be happy my beautiful cousin. You have done more than anyone else in our family can claim.  You have raised two children who will not go down those paths to destruction.  YOU did that. My mom always used to tell me how proud she was of you to raise your kids the way you did.

And trust me when I say, she never said that about anyone else, not even herself.

You are my hero. Yes, we have both made some bad choices in our lives, with respect to love and relationships but we seem to keep the ultimate prize in mind - that of the well being of our children.  So please be happy for all you have. Be grateful for Megan and Jeremy's goodness for that is the ultimate true test of a mom.  You have raised good people who will go on to raise good people. If you do nothing else in your life, that is enough for have broken a chain that was wrapped around your neck at birth and you have set free a new regime that will effect generation upon generation to come. As I said, my hero.

I hope you can visualize your burdens and blessings the same. My mom loved you and had a special place in her heart for you.  I obviously loved you, following you around in my childhood and cherishing every moment with you. Now I love Megan and Jeremy and I see my kids growing up to love them too. Megan opened her home to us and taught us to have conversation instead of TV.

And your son, who is preparing to welcome his first child, thought enough of us to sneak some money into my purse so I could spend a little more on the kids while in Oklahoma.  I found it, asked Megan about it, cried, made Megan cry but then believed her when she hugged me and told me how much all of you love all of us.

When I took the kids to Celebration Station, I told them this was money Jeremy gave us because he loves us, you all love us. It is hard for me to accept handouts.  I know that is why Jeremy secretly placed it in my purse, for my stubborn pride would have prevented accepting it.  He and Shelbi have a baby coming for goodness sakes. I can't believe I used to change that boy's diapers.

It is true in that the subtleties of love speak the loudest.

This is my truth. I know who I love. I know who loves me (us). And that is all I need.

To Amanda, Meghan, Cerese, Terese, Penny, Kim, Katt and countless others I wasn't able to see on this trip, please know I love you.

Standing at the top of the universe makes it so much easier to see. I love my Burt (Bird) and precious few others for it is not quantity but quality that makes up the Dance of the Divine.

And for those of you who have known me more than ten years and continue to dance in my circle, God bless you for I know my expectations are well beyond any reasonable divine expectation.  And for those I have driven away, please know this is not about you.  It is my truth and mine alone. But we shall dance nonetheless.

Shake shake shake, shake shake shake, shake your bootie, shake your bootie.

So much more to say about my trip back to Oklahoma City last week but for now, shaking by bootie seems to be an appropriate end.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Who Will Watch Over My Hostas?

A lovely man, attorney, good tenant of mine, hung himself on a Monday, March 7, 2011.  He had intended to do it a week earlier as evidenced by the letter he wrote telling me he was dead.  Four years ago, I had negotiated what was to be his last five year renewal in my building.  He had been battling cancer and at the time, he wasn't yet certain he would win the battle. He asked me to incorporate a "death" provision into his lease.  This was not uncommon, especially given his circumstances being a sole practitioner. Should something happen to him, he did not want the long term obligations of a lease to encumber his estate. Understandable.  Done. But did he negotiate that provision with something else in mind?

First, I received a letter from him telling me he was dead - his office had been instructed to mail said letter in the event of his death.  Within minutes of receiving the letter I was surprised to find an email from him apologizing for the mistaken mailing and assuring me he was alive and well.  My response went something along the lines of this....." so happy to know you are alive but don't you ever do that to me again......"

A few days later, he asked me to mail him a full copy of his lease and within a week of that, he went to his basement and hung himself, but not before hand writing a letter to me with date and initial just before he did it.

I have since been able to piece together just a few fragments.  He reportedly was in financial trouble; yet he paid his rent right up the the very end. He left behind two long term sub-tenants who had no more of an inkling of his plans than I. He carefully and thoughtfully placed notes in his house to warn his live-in girlfriend to 1) remember him as he was and 2) to not go down to the basement but instead to call 911.

Walking through his office the next day, it looked as if he had left for the night, nothing unusual, nothing out of place, newspaper on the cafe table, something he might finish reading when he returned.  Law books carefully organized and two bewildered sub-tenants who had leased from him for ten years. They told me how they had been receiving phone calls from vendors who seemed to know of his death before it occurred, just as I had been notified.  Placing the fragmented pieces of the last desperate puzzle together, it became clear - he attempted it once then changed his mind just long enough to unravel the unrest he had sent out to the universe, only to attempt it again, this time with success (so very hard to use that word in this context).

When I held his second letter in my hand, knowing it was real, knowing he dated and signed it hours or perhaps minutes before he hung himself, I wondered.  Had the very act of mailing the letters a second time provided him the impetus to not turn back? He couldn't call me a second time and tell me he was alive. He couldn't explain two such letters mailed in error for an attorney is much too pragmatic for that.  He mailed the letter and knew, this time, he would end it.  The Wisconsin Bar Association notified me before I got the second letter. I had time to question my actions.  Had I been cordial to him after the first letter or had I been a hard ass landlord interested in collecting rent?

And why didn't I take the time to connect with him on a level of which I am most familiar? Hurt, loss, financial trouble, depression, regret?  You've just got to keep fucking fighting the best fucking way you know how.  This life can be hard beyond our ability to cope but I also know when you are done, you are done. His kids were grown, he had faced death once......maybe he came to a place of acceptance that no living soul will ever understand.  Not one of life, but of death.

I will miss you and I will think of you each time I view this property and see the Hostas along "your" front walkway struggling to survive amidst the salt and plow damage from the winter.  But rest assured my friend, this year, I will plant nothing less than a soliloquy of seasonal, breathtaking, foliage in your name.  For I know you were the one who always took the time to notice and care for your surroundings.

Your lessons will not be forgotten.

Even in the midst of the greatest pain, the final reckoning, the encore that brought you back from the dead, you were always surrounded by the bountiful offerings of the earth. Why was that not enough to save you? Why couldn't you hold on for one more spring? I suppose the thought of the rose that would bloom was mired by your own belief that death had come to the vine.

And whether it's a twisted, thorny vine or a Hosta that held on as long as it could but eventually gave way to the bitter elements of a cold, hard winter, I believe life will come again for with the The Charge of the Light Brigade, "....Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die: into the valley of Death, rode the six hundred. 

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

The Charge of The Light Brigade
Alfred, Lord Tennyson 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In Lieu of My Refrain

For the love of Webster, here I am stringing words together again. I love to write and thankfully, I have enjoyed attention for it:
  • Elementary school -  poem published in the school newspaper. 
  • Honored by the Masonic Temple as tops in my class during 6th grade grad ceremony.
  • Junior High - met Coach Carter and started to write for real.
  • Went to NYC in junior year, attended the Columbia University Journalism Convention at Coach Carter's insistence.
  • High School - Editor of the Jet Express.
  • Recruited Robin Thomas to write reviews on movies, music and anything else that was on her mind. For those of you who know her, just imagine her very first blog.
  • Won First Place, Oklahoma Interscholastic Press Association Award for Editorial writing.
  • Freshman year at junior college - first essay written was singled out by professor, resulting in scholarship nomination and award of $125.00 US dollars toward my education.
  • Subsequently recruited by the junior college newspaper for a staff writing position. Covered many hot topics including the need for more student parking on campus.
Then it stopped, not the opportunities, not the praise, but me.  I stopped.

Life happened.

Had a child, got a real job, became an accountant, got married and divorced and married and divorced again. Had three more kids along the way. See prior blog posts if you must.

Last night while enjoying a moment with my children, watching one of their Nickelodeon TV shows, I was blindsided by the choices I've made in my life, or to be more specific, the life I thought I would have as a writer.

So innocent was the thought behind the words, so pure was the message, I laughed, hugged, applauded, then explained to my nearly nine year old daughter how the words she had so quietly and irreverently spoken were equally inspirational and brilliant.  These words came from the daughter who does not put herself out there very often.  She saves her moments, she processes and intellectualizes while her sister is charging the windmills of her Don Quixote inspired spirit.  This introspective, happy-go-lucky, beautiful child asked me if I had ever wanted to be famous.

Sure, I said.  I always imagined myself being a famous writer some day.

And with that, came the six words that pierced the veil of my very existence, "when did you change your mind"? 

I should have known this would come from her. I have not dared write or speak of this as I wasn't sure if reality was in charge that night or I was under the delusion of some postpartum induced fantasy. And if it was real, how could I possibly find the words to describe how this gentle daughter of mine allowed me to see the universe on the night she was born.

I suppose it was fortunate I was in extreme pain, which left me no choice but to be wide awake when it happened. Holding her, propped up on my knees, staring at her as she stirred and then in the blink of an eye, or maybe it was five minutes, or perhaps an hour, I saw into her past and I knew from where she had come. Many lifetimes, so much wisdom, it felt like staring into an infinite mirror where the reflection was beyond my mortal understanding and yet it was recognizable even into infinity. It was me. She was me, she was my choice and she was a wise old soul here for some serious business.

So many times I have questioned this moment as I observe her in her daily comings and goings. Can it be true? Surely it is the wild one who was sent to teach me, not her, not the one who rarely ever expresses but almost always compromises to the whims of her identical twin.

I almost missed her message. After she said it, I remember thinking about it for just a moment before I realized the gravity of it. What made you change your mind?

And just as she had done on the night she was born, she had once again allowed me to see a glimpse of my own truth 1) either wake the fuck up and believe what you know or 2) go back to sleep and pretend none of this ever happened.  I get the mediocrity of my bullet points above. I realize I was not changing the world or even working hard at this craft. Yet, the messages were finding their way to me, in spite of my denial and in lieu of my refrain.

I haven't changed my mind baby girl, but I have been acting like I have.  Thank you gracious, tenacious.

Thank God for you, quiet messenger of the universe that you are. May I always be open to the gifts you bring.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Saturday Morning Swim Switch

We walk into the steamy pool area of our local high school every Saturday morning with heavy winter gear; coats, hats, gloves, scarfs, boots and for my daughters, swim suits buried underneath those tantamount layers. It was an idea spawned from my obsessive compulsive need to make sure my girls never fear the water as I did/do. Well that, and the fact that their two best friends are competitive swimmers.

The girls are taking to it like fish in the......strike that.  Like sea bass on a hot grill waiting to be served to Oprah and Gayle. They are all in, fully invested and they make my heart skip a beat when I watch them glide along the water as I could never do.  There is a rather infamous story of me told by The Leaders of The Free World. It has been embellished over the years, I am certain of that.  And depending upon who recounts the tale, it is either told as a horrifying experience or the most hilarious thing ever witnessed at a lake house.

We had been boating and floating most of the day.  After docking the boat, we cranked up the Toby Keith tunes and sat at the edge of the water, drinking our Corona's and enjoying the sacredness of our much too infrequent reunions.  As the sun grew more intense, we all slowly drifted out into the lake, standing amongst the fish and squishy, tickly, disgusting plant life that inhabits the bottom of a lake.  I was uncomfortable at best but the conversation was getting deep and so was I.  Without realizing it, I apparently backed off a ledge of some sort and was starting to go under, grasping for my friend with one arm while carefully keeping my Corona arm safely above sea level, or lake level as the case may be.

But my girls will never know the agony of choosing to save their own life or that of a frosty cold beverage, for they will be the greatest of swimmers.  The one thing that saddens me at these Saturday morning swim sessions is witnessing the parade of divorced families using this noon hour as the drop off point for the switch from mom's house to dad's or vice versa. I see the bags packed full of weekend gear, I see the mom's giving those extra long goodbye hugs and I see the kids who don't appear bothered at all, for they have settled into this life, this routine that is comfortable and common to them.  "Don't worry, kids are resilient", they all say.

And I am reminded how ugly the face of divorce can be. I clearly remember my ex coming to pick up the kids for the first "switch day". I remember the twin whom I had guessed would be falling apart was brave and stoic, while her sister screamed and reached for me as she was carried out the door.  I could hear her screams all the way to the car.  I shut the door behind me and slid down to the floor, like a hollowed out tree, there was nothing left inside of me. I was numb.

While cleaning out some old files, I recently ran across a photo taken of Mr. Sunshine with the kids, just after our separation. It was a black and white photo used in a campaign brochure for his run at a seat in the State Assembly.  The Commando is standing next to him with his arm around his dad and a look on his face that brought me right back to that empty, hollowed out vortex I once inhabited. I looked at the innocence of a child who was being manipulated by a man terrified of losing his children.

I saw the brightness that has only recently returned to his eyes and I also saw a little guy who wanted nothing more than to please his dad.  Smile for the camera, let's tell the voting public we are a happy family, while behind the scenes, he was witnessing the unraveling of his father.  Mommy left us....mommy took the toaster so I can't make toast for breakfast, as he broke down crying in front of them for the very first time.  For years, I couldn't make toast without one of them screaming at me for taking daddy's toaster, the same toaster I had had since I first moved out on my own at the age of 19. It was only recently one of them finally opened up to me about what happened that day.  He must have been holding in all of his guilt, anger and raw emotion when the toaster's disappearance served as the catalyst for him to release it.

Eventually, as all divorced families do, we settled into our own routine; that is, until he made the decision to commit a felony fraud landing himself in a country club to serve 30 months of cooking, gardening and exercise duty while I usher the kids through this most difficult of transitions.  I've been through the unraveling of our son and I've seen him put back together again.  I am seeing more subtle signs from the girls.  Just as in that black and white photo, when they were too young to truly process their pain, they are now too strong to let this openly bother them; but the truth is there, if you look closely enough.  They are taking their emotions out on each other, as only twins could do.

Sitting through teacher conferences last week, I was told in each case, one by one, all three of these children are "gifted writers". It is up to me to nurture this in them.  I know what it is to have it, but I don't know what it is to believe in it from an early age.  We are always writing stories, or telling stories, or imagining a great title for a book or noticing humanity for the good and the bad.  Soaking it in until we realize we can internalize it, process it and then tell it in a way that is earth bending.

Watching the American Idol preliminary auditions recently, one of the girls quickly surmised a pattern.  She noticed when a contestant has a gut wrenching back story told prior to their audition, they will inevitably be a good singer.  I was amazed at how quickly she tuned into this.  As obvious as it is to us, that's some pretty heady stuff for an 8 year old.  As I tucked her into bed weeks later, she told me she had come to another realization. "Mommy, I am living my own back story right now, aren't I", she asked with an intended sad inflection and a heart-melting frowney face.

Yes, you are honey. This is a hard time, a struggle of your very own but just like those singers on Idol, you know what happens when they have a difficult back story, right?  Then with confidence, she nodded and concluded she too would be a winner.

I see these families on Saturday morning through a black and white photo lens and I wonder about their lives. Are they being good and true to their children, forsaking their own anger and bitterness to do what is best for them or are they using them as weapons in their own sick battles for power, control, money or just simply to say they won? When I can feel the tension from the top row of the bleachers, I pray for them. Then I sit back and watch my beautiful girls, who have overcome so much and I pray for them too.  One of which is currently writing her autobiography.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Angry Mobs v. Governor Walker in Wisconsin (or how to run away from a fair fight)

Those that know me really well know I generally don't climb mountains but I would climb a mountain if it meant I could avoid a political debate.  I would circumvent the globe if it meant I wouldn't have to stand toe to toe with an over zealous protester who believes in their cause just enough to bring harm to others or worse yet, an ex-husband who morphed from an agnostic to a right winged conservative political pundit/candidate right before my eyes.  The very same conservative Republican candidate then committed a federal fraud landing him in jail for a term of 30 months. I fucking hate politics, the game, the facade, the labels placed upon us all.

I grew up in Oklahoma and as such, I was given the legacy bestowed upon me by me "Democrat" father.  I place the word Democrat in parenthesis as his version of Democrat does not jive with the culture of today.  I clearly recall my father being a hard working American man who would drive me through the northeast sections of Oklahoma City, pointing out the people who chose to sit on their porches instead of working.  He called them many names. He routinely used the "N" word and referred to them as porch monkeys. 

He told me his tax dollars were allowing them to live on their porches. I didn't understand his words at the time but I could taste his hate.  I rebelled against it, arguing with him in my uneducated 11 year old brain.  I insisted he could not understand their plight for he had not walked in their shoes.  He told me they didn't need shoes on the front porch. (Insert internal soul-killing death scream here.)

Living in Wisconsin for the past ten years, working in a politically conservative environment, I have hidden my Democratic roots.  I have been told many times, my actual philosophies align more with the Republicans and I know that is true when it comes to taxes, for God's sake, that was a real eye-opener moving up here.  But, I have held onto my beliefs because I cannot stand the soap box diatribes from those that would like to condemn homosexuals, women who have had abortions and people who need a helping hand from time to time.  I do not like to judge.  I do not care for people who judge and I believe in extending an open arm to those who find themselves in need of a little help from their friends.

But today, I am ashamed to call myself a Democrat.  I work hard for my money.  My company has been forced to cut raises, bonuses, incentives, holiday parties, monthly luncheons, technology upgrades and staff.  I have watched my co-workers walk to their cars with boxes in hand.  I have endured annual increases on health insurance, with this year being the worst - nearly 40%.  I am on my own, raising my children with no help, no support and my salary has regressed as raises diminish and health insurance costs rise. 

Today I witnessed no less than 15 schools in the state of Wisconsin shut down because the teachers took a day off to protest at the state Capitol in Madison.  Today I saw thousands of people demanding, expecting; nay,  feeling entitled to a set of rights I have never been given, never offered, never even considered as a possibility.  Today I am proud of our newly elected Governor because I believe sometimes you have to break necks to cash checks. 

I am not ready to call myself a R....R...Re....Rep...Republican. I don't like labels.  Never have, never will.  But I want to say to that group of cowardly politicians that fled the state to avoid the new sheriff in town, you have shown your true colors and they are yellow.  You were elected to stand up for us, not to run.  I'm not sure if I've made this absolutely clear but I hate politics and hate is the strongest word in my arsenal.  Imagine myself and my fellow senior managers catching wind of an uprising among the workers in our company.  Let's say the accountants are feeling under appreciated during their busiest time of the year and they are screaming at us for the high cost of health insurance.  They took pay cuts for two years straight and yet, they work harder than ever. But that is not going to happen because you know what?  They have a job.  They are employed and in this economy, they have accepted the sacrifices because the alternative is much worse.

Why then?  Why do all these people march on the capitol of my state and insist they should be treated better than I, better than my co-workers, better than most of the hard working American citizens, including my late, misguided, uninformed father?  Why?

I am at a crucible. My brain is telling me to write something my heart does not want to believe. Was my father right?  Was my registered Democrat, Reagan hating father spot on in one respect? Should people be entitled to that which another is not?  His characterizations were based on racist principles; those that my heart shall never embrace.

But today, it was not about race.  It was not about poverty or privilege.  It was about a man whom I formerly placed in the category of a cad.  Not my father, but the former Milwaukee County Executive, now Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.  I categorized him based upon my ex-husband's affiliation with him.  "He is one of them". Just another politician, well spoken, family man - probably stealing money on the side or sleeping with staffers.  I have met him, sat across a luncheon table with him, liked him and appreciated what he was doing for Milwaukee County but jaded I was.  Jaded, for sure.

Jaded no more.  For you, Mr. Governor sir, I respect.  And God only knows how utterly difficult that is for me to admit.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Winter Wonderland

The kids and I have been enjoying the holiday season and the snow, believe it or not. This has been the first year in the ten years I've lived here I've decided to embrace the snow. We've gone sledding and I learned it's great exercise, climbing back up those hills wearing 20 pounds of layers.  I may have embraced the snow but mama still doesn't do cold.

We've adopted a new family member, Sable the dog who heals hearts. We've done snowmen and rode around on an icy lake and we are going to ski as a family later in February. I should preface that. It's skiing but not on a real mountain - more like a very large hill here in Wisconsin. We capped it all off by celebrating my oldest son's 25th birthday!  Yikes, I must be getting old.

I am feeling so blessed by the daily presence of my children. Some days, I get run down, rather beat down by the grind but then I remember how lucky I am to have them full time now.  Here are some of my favorite shots from Christmas and January. (The dates are incorrect on the last six photos - leave it to me to still not be able to figure out how to work a digital camera, which is further proof of my age.)

We are supposed to get two feet of snow this week. Maybe we should have gotten a taller dog.

The Commando recruited some help.

The twins preparing for the Waukesha Christmas parade.

Gracious Tenacious with Sable.

Our beautiful tree.

The dog who will soon be buried in two feet of snow.

My favorite Christmas pic of The Commando.

Thanks to my cousin Debbie in Oklahoma!

One of the girls insisted on buying this for her "Bubba".

#1 Son and his beautiful girlfriend, Melissa.
The kids on Kelly Lake, just north of Green Bay.

Just completed a Sable rescue mission on Kelly Lake.

The beautiful Ms. V at her lake house. She and hubs are the perfect hosts!

Kids at the local supper club for dinner with their friend, the Elk.

Homemade hat with Christmas goodies.

No caption can do justice to this picture.

The Commando's band concert in December, September!

My beauties.

Mama bear and her cubs.

The Commando's signature look.

#1Son's friends came to his party. We went to an old bowling alley where we had to do manual scoring.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Appreciation Revelation

The Commando reduced me to a pile of tears and goose bumps earlier this evening. He sat me down and gave me a five minute speech on how much he appreciates all I do for him, how he thinks I am the best mom ever and how he just loves, loves, loves me.  He thanked me for getting him a dog, keeping the house tidy, paying the bills, the cooking, the laundry - pretty much everything I do day in and day out.  Then he insisted on carrying a load of laundry for me, up two flights of stairs to his sister's room.

Once there, he remained joyful, playing with his sisters (unprecedented), telling them they should appreciate me too.  "Girls, you need to tell mom how much you love her", as he came up behind me and wrapped me up in a big bear hug. 

I was suspicious at first.  Am I being prepped for some bad news or an expensive request?  Nope.  It was real. Complete and total appreciation of me.  After what we've been through, the contrast is stark.  He has not only dealt with his anger, he has surpassed all of my wildest dreams and begun to feel empathy, something I had never seen him do.  The inability to empathize is a trademark characteristic of the narcissistic personality of his father.  Yeah me!  I'm on my way to raising a boy who will be kind, caring and most of all, happy.  To say I feel like I have a new son doesn't even come close to describing the changes he has undergone.

It is remarkable, simply stunning.

Later, as the girls were getting ready for bed, I asked them to write a thank you note to their school counselor, who had bought them each a little bag of goodies for Christmas.  I know I can spin and embellish, edit and clean-up words but this is word for word what came out of their 8 year old souls:

Twin #1 - Dear Mrs. -----, Thank you so much! I loved the gingerbread pal. I wish I had one billion more left! One more thank you for always being there for me and my sister.  I use the crayons and activity book all the time. I hope u have a very fun 2011.  With love.  (Then she drew a picture of the counselor giving the gift bag to her).

Twin #2 - Dear Mrs.------, Thank you so, so, so much.  I love all the gifts. I think it was really nice of you to think of me when I was sick (she was out that day with a stomach flu). If there is anything I can do in return, just call.  Merry Christmas and happy new year!

And believe me when I say, if the school counselor ever needed something from either of these girls, all she would need to do is call.

My heart if filled with love and appreciation for these children and for the opportunity I have been given to change the course of their lives; to allow the true-self of an angry little boy to emerge and shine. Contrast the happy tears from earlier tonight with the tears from just over a month ago as I watched him cave into his rage and I worried I might have lost him forever. He once was lost, but now he is found.  I'm dying to get to know him as he excitedly prepares for his first band concert, slowly opens up to his sisters and becomes all that he was meant to be.

Those things, you know the ones, that just keep happening for a reason, which seem really, really bad, like you're not sure you're going to survive them but then you do and you realize they were sent to you as a gift are truly amazing, aren't they? I know I am appreciating the hell out of them right about now. I am visualizing a shower of appreciation blanketing our little yellow cape cod with a light dusting of snow falling ever so softly just outside my window.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

She Let Go

I have had two serious loves since my divorce from Mr. Sunshine in 2005.  Both lasted between a year and a half to two years if you count that last four to five months of trying to reconcile before you decide it is really over.  Both broke my heart but in vastly different ways.  The first a man with a well thought out, pragmatic past, present and future meticulously planned. Not the sort of thing that would mesh with my, let's just go ahead and say it, somewhat unconventional, colorful past, present and most likely future.  Ironically, said colorful past made me who I was/am, the woman he fell in love with, but when it came to the ultimate decision, or shortly after I had met his entire family.....to this day, not sure which one tipped the scales, I was told he couldn't do it anymore.  His anguish was apparent, his tears were real and just like that, the man I had imagined to be "the one", was gone. 

The second was the brilliant Mr. S. who seduced me with a foreign accent, hot body and intellectual stimulation beyond my wildest imagination. So what if English was his fourth language, I could always take him when it came to grammar, syntax and stupid English figures of speech.  But hyperbole and sarcasm were his aces in the hole.  I stood at his feet in constant admiration of his ability to battle it out with me in the language I had bathed in my entire life, like an alcoholic, not ever fully satisfied until I had acquired more vocabulary, more uses of an oxymoron, more synonyms, more guide to picturesque speech. While he had breezed through French, Armenian, Arabic and oh by the way, English.  Bully for me.

But in the end, the one who wanted me for all of my crazy ideas, accepted me for all past indiscretions and proposed to love me forever, Mr. S., was more fucked up than anyone of my past loves (and if you've read this entire blog, you know that carries some significant weight).  He imagined himself to be someone he wasn't. For example, he prided himself on having not one jealous bone in his body, absolutely no issues with trust; yet I later discovered my computer was being monitored 24/7.  It was insidious, stealth-like deceit but unintentional; as honest to daisies, he believes he is what he claims to be.  Nonetheless, second big love, second heart break.

Why the reflux of past love on this, the dawn of a new year?  Good question. I believe it has to do with letting go.

In a time of reflection and transition such as the new year, what does one do?  Do we wipe the slate clean, let go and chart a new course or do we give thanks that life is just as it is, know that what we have is ours, understand it, claim it and then let the universe show us our own personal end result, that we ourselves brought to fruition?

I believe it is a combination of letting go and believing in your choices.  This year for me was defined by the loss of Mr.S- good riddance - and the gain of my children as their full time provider.  They amaze me, defy me, teach me how to be a better mother, get me outside to play in the snow, make me do the most unimaginable things to fight for them and ultimately convince me that my purpose, i.e., to write, has now been given a meaning beyond what I could have ever begun to imagine.  This is not just about me anymore, this is not just my journey, it's our story.

And from this point forward in my blog, I share their lessons with you.

I let some meatballs stay in the fridge a bit too long and mold started to develop.  My warrior princess lives for meatballs so it was with trepidation I decided to show her the Rubbermaid container with the moldy meatballs.  Honey, this is what happens when meatballs outlive their useful life.  Look, this one has eyeballs, furry eyeballs.  She was incensed, disgusted and appalled - questioning her belief in meatballs for ever after.

A few days later, we all sat down to watch the movie, Babe.  I told the kids it would be sad at times but they would feel good at the end.  When it ended, they questioned me, how could you let us watch a movie with so much sadness?

But didn't it end okay?  Sometimes life gives you sadness but the point of the movie is to believe in yourself, even if everyone else thinks you're crazy. If a thought nags at you, and won't go away then you MUST pursue it. You will be given hardships and obstacles along the way but you cannot let go, do you know why that is?

Yes, the Warrior Princess replied with the tone of a balloon losing its air, we get it mom, life is like a meatball, sometimes it gets moldy.

There is nothing more I can add to that other than to give credit to Robin Thomas, a/k/a Bert, a/k/a, my soul mate who has known me since the time we sat on her bed as young girls and rolled our hair together.  She sent me the card you see at the top of this post.  It is me with red, curly hair, saggy breasts and legs that can still stop a man in his tracks.

Forging a hole through this universe.  I WILL scream past my limitations and defy each and every furry meatball that comes my way.

Happy New Year.


Love to all, Zen Mama