Categories
Family Holidays

Sleep

My sweet husband gave me this cuppa as a Christmas gift this year.

Our kiddos have outgrown Santa and toys. Christmas morning no longer involves happy giggles and excited shouts at the crack of dawn.

Like many other parents, however, our Christmas Day celebrations used to be preceded by late-night Christmas Eves full of wrapping and prepping and finalizing details. It was a labor of love, and we were delighted by our children’s bright, shiny faces when they saw the results. Nevertheless, our delight was shrouded in a haze of drowsy delirium. We were quietly grateful as the morning energy waned, and we were able to relax a bit, maybe even close our eyes for a few minutes while the boys played happily nearby.

Here’s to my husband, my co-creator of treasured family moments and my partner in sleep deprivation. Our holiday activities are different now, and remembering days past makes us a bit wistful. We haven’t stopped making special family memories, however, and now we’re getting more sleep. I’d call that a win-win.

Categories
Family Holidays

Toys

When my first son was born, I received several toys as gifts. They were designed for infants, with smooth edges and soft materials, and I looked forward to the days when he’d be old enough to play with them.

As he grew, we added more age-appropriate playthings with bright colors and cheery noises. We also added baskets and buckets to hold the toys when they weren’t in use. Not everything got put away every day, but the routine worked most of the time.

Over the years, our family increased, as did our toy collection. And as the children got older, the toys became smaller, with detachable pieces and parts (so many pieces and parts). They became louder (so loud). Gone were the sunny rhymes, gentle music, and simple designs of the baby items; in their place were roars and sirens, bells and whistles, ceaseless chimes and tunes, symbols and signals that echoed favorite cartoons or movies or adventure stories.

We still had the buckets and baskets, but the cleanup routine didn’t work as well as it used to. In the rhythm of daily life, we chose to prioritize other activities. But every once in a while, I’d steel myself for a Day of Sorting and Culling. I’d put the pieces and parts back together, designate storage locations, fix and group, discard and organize. It was both frustrating and soothing, an exhausting exercise that yielded satisfying results.

Eventually, however, the toys would resume their command of the house. The parts and pieces would again lie in wait, preparing for their assault on our bare feet in the middle of the night or angling to be the first to get caught in the vacuum cleaner hose. We’d sigh and complain, but we also found it comforting, this youthful clutter, one of the realities of raising children.

Then one day, after the parts and pieces were culled and sorted and organized, the baskets and buckets filled and straightened…they remained that way. The contents went untouched; the toys were no longer appealing. My children had outgrown their playthings. They’d moved on to new activities, new interests. It had happened without notice, seemingly overnight. I’d blinked, and it was over.

I suppose I’m thinking about these things today because it’s the time of year when kids are making their wish lists, describing their dreams of what they’ll find under the tree on Christmas morning. I’m remembering the fun of those early morning hours when the presents were opened and the excitement was tangible, sparkling in the air amidst the delighted cheers and smiling faces.

I don’t miss the clutter and the chaos of the plastic and noise, but I do think fondly of the days when my family was surrounded by childhood magic. I’m grateful for those experiences and memories, for the imaginary fun they contained.

Our Christmas mornings no longer include toys, but it’s not too late to help to make those moments possible for other children. There are many organizations working to bring happiness to families this holiday season, and today’s cuppa celebrates the people who devote their time and energy to this work. It also reminds me that it’s still possible to be a part of the special fun that comes from pieces and parts, sirens and music, cheery symbols and childhood clutter.

https://toysfortots.org

https://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/

https://www.operationhelpahero.org/operation-christmas-spirit.html

http://www.sharinglifeoutreach.org

https://wish.org

Categories
Family Holidays

Different

Halloween Past was something like this:

Costumes (of course), most purchased but some homemade. When they were young, my boys had simple requests – Ninjas, superheroes, knights in shining armor – options that could be found at the store and required minimal effort. As they got older, they became more creative, adding their own details to the purchased supplies.The last few years that he went trick-or-treating, my youngest son insisted on creating his own costume inventions with cardboard boxes and paint and wires. The results didn’t always turn out exactly as he envisioned, but they were still impressive.

Parties, at home and elsewhere. Many years ago, my husband and I hosted a party at our house far out in the country, set back in the woods. We were concerned that people wouldn’t want to make the drive, but the house ended up full. We had fun eating and drinking, talking and dancing among the ghosts and spiderwebs and skeletons.

Contests to determine the best pumpkin carvings, the best costumes, the best decorations. One of my favorite work memories is from the year the movie Twister came out, and we decorated our work space accordingly. It was quite elaborate, with fans blowing and papers flapping. We even crafted Christmas ornaments to resemble the data-collecting balls that the Twister team risked their lives to activate. When the contest judges came through, we acted out our characters, hanging on to the our chairs and desks, pretending to be blowing in the wind.

Trick-or-treaters, sometimes in groups of ten or 15 at a time, a constant stream of costumed kiddos knocking on the door, holding out their bags, saying the magical words. We used to have neighbors a few houses down the street who’d put out an elaborate display of crazy clowns and other creepy stuff. They called it the Psycho Circus, and it drew people from miles around. After they were done checking it out, parents would shepherd their kids to the other houses on the block to gather candy. Those neighbors moved a few years ago, taking the Psycho Circus with them, and the Halloween crowds as well. But we continue to get good numbers of trick-or-treaters every year, not as many as before, but enough that it is always wisest to stock up on candy.

Halloween Present is very different.

My sons are grown, too old for trick-or-treating, not interested in costumes. Parties are an unwise choice right now. Work-related festivities vanished with remote requirements and furloughs and job losses.

Still…we will have fun. Our front yard now contains a spooky battle scene, complete with a large dragon, skeletons, and swords. We’ll do our best to facilitate socially-distanced candy distribution, wearing masks and using hand sanitizer each time we replenish the bowl on the table at the end of our driveway, just in case anybody stops by. We’ll watch scary movies and eat popcorn and enjoy being together, grateful for what we have – our health, our home, our family.

Different can still be good.

Categories
Family

Year

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” – Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler

Categories
Family Nature

Apple

A few years ago, at our youngest son’s request, we planted an apple tree in our yard.

Last year, the tree produced four apples. Unfortunately, a storm shook them out of the tree before they were ripe. Nevertheless, we were quite excited by our bounty.

This year, the tree has given us one apple. One perfect, beautifully ripe apple. It seems a shame to eat it. It also seems a shame not to.

It won’t keep forever, so eat it we will, after we’ve admired it, photographed it, exclaimed over it. I suspect it will be the tastiest apple we’ve ever enjoyed. The best of both worlds, the experience and the outcome.

Here’s to simple treasures and delicious moments.

Categories
Family Life

Humanity

I dreamt of my father last night.

In my dream, he was in the hospital, sick and in pain. He held out his hand, and I took it. He told me that holding my hand made him feel better. I told him I would hold his hand as long as he wanted me to.

And then I either woke up or moved on to another dream; I don’t remember. I do know that when I opened my eyes this morning, the dream was on my mind. I could still see his face and hear his words. I could still see his arm, swollen and bruised, reaching out to me, and I could still feel his hand, warm but weak, holding mine. The dream both saddened and comforted me.

My father died before the pandemic, before the necessary rules of separation and isolation. If one can be grateful about a death, I suppose I’m grateful for the timing of his.

I knew that his life was ending and was with him each day, along with my sister and stepmother and friends who came to see him, caring for him, talking with him as slowly, bit by bit, he grew weaker and then was ultimately unable to speak. In those last days, just as in my dream, I held his hand. I stroked his arm, his forehead. I sat quietly beside his bed, looking at his face, his closed eyes, his hollow cheekbones and thinning hair.

Regrettably, I wasn’t there at the final moment. That fact haunts me sometimes. I do find peace in knowing that other people were there on that day and that in the time leading up to that moment, he and I were able to say our goodbyes. I find comfort in knowing that we were together through most of it, that he knew I was there and that he was soothed by my presence.

There are so many stories of death right now, of lonely deaths in hospital rooms sealed off by protective measures, FaceTime goodbyes and remote grieving. There’ve been more than 200,000 of them as of today, and there are likely hundreds of thousands more still to come. They are in addition to all the other stories of death, of passings due to cancer or heart disease or car crashes, all the same fatal circumstances that existed before everything changed, circumstances that didn’t go away, that will continue to exist as long as humans do. Even those may be governed by the same strict measures and protective rules, necessary steps that limit in order to safeguard.

It’s tempting to avoid these painful stories, but I make myself pay attention to them. I do so as a means of honoring the people within them, but I’m careful not to take in too many at once. The sadness becomes too great. That sadness then leads to anger, which is justified and important, but which can also be incredibly destructive if not channeled in productive ways.

So instead, I focus on small bits of humanity. I look at the pictures the families have chosen to illustrate the existence of their loved ones. I learn about the special moments in these strangers’ lives. I vow to respect them by doing what I can to prevent more death, to acknowledge and heed the wisdom of those who speak in terms of science and history, empathy and common sense.

Very often, the stories mention the kindness of a nurse or a doctor or a hospital worker who was with someone at the end, who spent a few special moments to comfort and care when nobody else could. I think of these people as guardian angels, present in the absence of those who wanted to be there but who were unable to, were not allowed because of the reality of today. When we talk of heroes, these are the people we must include.

Death is inevitable, but we don’t have to be numbed by it. Feelings and connections are needed now more than ever. It’s such a simple gesture, holding somebody’s hand. It’s an easy choice, honoring the last moments of somebody’s life, acknowledging their existence, assuring them that they matter and will be remembered, even if we are strangers.

Categories
Family Life

Snapshots

Snapshots from a life together:

I’m walking down the aisle, nervously holding my father’s arm. The music surrounds me, like waves in water. I’m aware of people as I pass them, but their faces are blurry, the individual details lost. My focus shifts, and I see you, standing there, waiting. My heart leaps, my steps quicken. I smile. Yes. I do, I will, always.

Our firstborn is crying. It’s hard, being new to the world, adjusting to the lights and sounds, the temperatures and textures. I can’t calm him. You take him into your arms and quietly dance with him, gently back and forth, swaying to a silent beat that only the two of you can hear. He sleeps contentedly, safely within your love.

We are living outside of the city, in our house hidden within the trees, far back from the road, far into the peaceful quiet. I watch as you head toward the creek, our dog at your heels, our sons at your side. You will be gone a while, I know, and when you return you will tell me of your adventures. This land is ours; this land speaks to us, carries our dreams, shelters our souls.

We are traveling with our sons, driving in a rented car through unfamiliar territory. They are happy boys, they are good boys, but they are also young boys, and they do not appreciate the adventure in the same way that we do. For them, the experience is tiring, the road never-ending, the destination light years away. We entertain them with an episode of one of their favorite shows, but the player won’t advance to the next episode. It is stuck; it can’t be fixed. And so, they watch the same episode again. And again. And again and again. They are delighted. The voices, the music, the action and sound from the show echo within the car, bounce across the seats and off the windows, filling the space over and over. Despite our weariness from the repetition, despite our unwelcome, newfound ability to recite the episode verbatim, we are grateful for their happiness. Their laughter is musical. We revel in it. We soak it in. We hold it in our hearts.

Another trip, years later. We take our sons back to the mountains. We hike together, as a family, on paths, across fields, into the forest. Sometimes, we walk as a group, sharing jokes, telling stories. Sometimes, we separate, walking at our own pace, thinking our thoughts, enjoying the whisper of the wind in the branches, the sound of our shoes on the gravel and the grass. Our connection is built from love and trust, an invisible bond that holds us together as we walk. We have a destination and will get there eventually, but the journey is where the memories live.


Happy anniversary to my beloved husband. Let’s keep going.

Categories
Family

Sister

I’m cheating a bit today, repurposing something I wrote a while back in honor of National Sibling’s Day. It’s National Sisters Day, and the message, with a few updates, still fits.

So much of my strength and most definitely much of my courage is influenced by my sister.

She is brilliant is so many ways, perceptive, honest, pragmatic, and brave. She’s taught me more than she may ever realize by the way she approaches the world and everything in it.

She has a caring spirit that bubbles up at just the right moments. Some of my most loved possessions are gifts she’s given me, trinkets and treasures that perfectly capture a moment or an emotion.

She is also hands-down one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. Some of my best memories in life are of the two of us laughing hysterically together.

During the past year, we’ve weathered many challenges together. Any one of them could have driven us apart, could have broken the multi-layered trust and care built over a lifetime together, the friendship that rests on top of our biological connection. It’s not unusual, when illness, death, or other circumstances occur, for families to splinter.

We chose, however, to stay united. We chose to remain sisters, allies from birth to death. We are each individuals with differences in likes and dislikes, opinions, perspectives, hopes and dreams. Yet, we are each one half of the other.

So, Happy Sisters Day to my sister. I’ve never quite gotten over the fact that our mother occasionally made us go to school in matching outfits, and I know the same is true for you. Thank goodness we are able to laugh about it together.

“i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)” – e.e. cummings

Categories
Family Life

100

When my sons were in elementary school, their teachers would typically mark the 100th day of class by gathering 100 items together in a collection.

Sometimes, the students brought the items; sometimes, I’d know nothing about it until I asked my sons about their day at school. The school-supplied items were typically pencils or raisins or M&Ms. On the occasions when we were asked to supply 100 somethings, we chose pennies or LEGO.

I was always a little surprised at the weight of 100 pennies, holding up the plastic bag as we counted them out several times (just to be sure we really, truly had 100, not 98 or 99 but 100). With the LEGO, the weight wasn’t significant, but the sizes and shapes created a sort of plastic salad, clicking and clacking together in a colorful pile.

My boys and I would marvel at how many is 100, and I’d be reminded that it’s a lot but not actually that many, not in the big picture. An age that most of us won’t reach but a little less than one-third of one year. A lot of pennies but not a lot of money. Enough LEGO to make a collection but not enough to build a castle.

I woke up this morning thinking about 100, the tactile memories and numerical implications. It’s something interesting to contemplate, while I sit and sip in the early hours of this day.

Categories
Animals Family Pets

Wishbone

If you raised children in the 90s, chances are you know about Wishbone.

For those who aren’t familiar with Wishbone, here’s the deal: Wishbone is a Jack Russell Terrier (dog) who goes on literary adventures. He dresses up like the characters in the stories and tells the tales by acting out various parts. He’s done Rip Van Winkle, Don Quixote, Romeo and Juliet…you get the picture.

The show, which aired on PBS, was a clever and creative way to introduce young children to the Classics, fun for them and interesting enough for adults to endorse without feeling like time was being wasted.

My oldest son adored Wishbone. We watched every episode, sometimes multiple times. This was in the Time Before YouTube and Netflix and Streaming, so we had to plan to tune in. We’d sit together on the couch, and the show would start, and we’d sing along with the theme song (“What’s the story, Wishbone? What’s this you’re dreaming of?”). And then we’d enjoy the show, learning something new while giggling at Wishbone’s antics and costumes.

Sadly, the original Wishbone died several years ago. I’ve heard, however, that somebody’s making a Wishbone movie. It won’t be exactly the same, of course, but it will probably (hopefully) capture the same sweet, engaging spirit as the tv show.

Perhaps my son and I will watch it together, this time with our own Jack Russell Terrier (mix) snuggled on the couch with us. Or maybe not; he’s a grownup, has his own life now, and Wishbone may not hold the same nostalgic appeal for him as it does for me. That’s okay, that’s how life works sometimes.

Either way, watching with my son or watching alone, I’ll do my best not to give into the temptation to dress our pup, Mollie, like a literary character. I’ll give Wishbone his moment, make him the focus.

Mollie looks pretty cute in costumes and hats, however, so I’m not making any promises.