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.

Categories
Family Food

Pancakes

When my sons were little boys, weekends typically involved at least one pancake breakfast.

They’d watch as I mixed the batter and heated the skillet, and then they’d tell me what type of pancake they wanted. The plain version evolved to include versions of chocolate chip, blueberry, bacon, and sometimes all three together. We topped them with everything from butter and syrup to Nutella, peanut butter, and brown sugar.

Now that they are grown, we rarely eat breakfast together, and I can’t remember the last time I made pancakes. Although the recipe is simple, mixing the batter, melting the butter, and all the other steps can create a bit of a mess. So, if nobody’s asking for them, I’m not eager to make them.

But last night, my husband asked if we have any pancake mix. I started thinking about pancakes, about their fluffy deliciousness, the melty butter and sweet syrup, the guilty pleasure of eating something that is thinly-veiled dessert masquerading as a breakfast food.

And so, even though the sons who are living at home these days are still asleep and unlikely to venture into the kitchen before the crack of noon, my husband and I made pancakes this morning. They are delicious.

If the boys want some once they wake up, I’ll offer them the option of using the leftover batter to make their own. I’ll also volunteer to make some for them.

I suspect they’ll like the idea of doing their own cooking so they can make the pancakes just the way they like them. There’s a chance, however, that they’ll ask me to do the cooking, providing that I follow their specifications as to the amount of butter and the appropriate ratio of chocolate chips to batter. Which, of course, I will happily do.

Today’s cuppa celebrates pancake breakfasts and yummy memories. We can’t relive the past, but that doesn’t mean the good things disappear forever.


Categories
Family Holidays Life

Lessons

Today, I think of the lessons I’ve learned from my father and my husband.

First, my father.

We didn’t always agree with each other. As a child, I thought he knew everything. As I grew older, I realized he did not. At times, this realization led to frustration and angry words from both of us, careful avoidance and emotional distance between us.

The love was always there, however.

He wasn’t a “warm and fuzzy” kind of dad; he showed his love by taking care of things. Before Google, before Siri, I had Dad. He’d find phone numbers, make appointments, and gather all the details. Nothing made him happier than feeling like he’d fixed a problem or found the answer. My conversations with him typically ended with him saying, “What can I do for you, sweet love?”

At the end of his life, when we both knew that his time was short, the love is what filled our hours together. We shared memories, pictures, letters, tokens. His favorite childhood toys, packed in a box. His college yearbooks. A uniform, a quilt, some newspaper clippings. He entrusted me with these things and experiences that illustrated his time on this earth, told his life story; what he did and the people he knew.

My father taught me many things. Top of mind today is what I learned from those days together not so long ago – that love matters most. It doesn’t erase the mistakes or the failures, doesn’t absolve us from being accountable for our choices. But it does provide shelter and warmth and connection, perspective and forgiveness.

Love is what will be remembered. Love matters most.

And now, my husband.

My husband views fatherhood through a lens of joy and delight.

“Parenting” isn’t always fun. “Parenting” involves rules and routines, schedules and plans. It requires words like no and careful and wait and stop. It brings sleepless nights, temper tantrums, anxious worry. Raising young humans tests your patience and your coping skills.

Being a parent, on the other hand, can be a lot of fun. Being a parent means that you get to play again, like you did as a child. Build forts and sand castles, go on treasure hunts, dig in the dirt, search for bugs. Read stories, solve puzzles, laugh and sing together. Talk in funny voices at the dinner table. Make up adventures and create imaginary worlds to explore. And the best part is that your playmates are people you love in a way you never thought possible before now.

This is the way my husband views fatherhood. It is the father that he strives to be and the father that he is. It is one of his most meaningful lessons – to revel in the joy and delight of parenthood. Celebrate the experience, enjoy the ride, even if there are toys on the floor or crumbs on the counter.

Responsibility and safety come first, of course. He is wise, and he is protective. But he never forgets that being a parent can be magical.

I see that magic when I watch him with our sons. I hear the laughter that they share in silly moments. I listen as they describe their adventures together and engage in deep conversations about everything from the stars and geology to dragons and castles. I notice how my sons trust their father with their ideas, knowing that he sees their potential and will do everything he can to find a way. It makes my heart sing.

Encourage the magic, believe in it and make it possible. Focus on and share the delight and the happiness it brings. That is where the joy of parenthood lives.

Happy Father’s Day.


Categories
Family Food Nature

Jalapeños

The jalapeños in our backyard garden are growing well.

As the Garden Cheerleader, I am excited for their progress and proud to show them off. I don’t generally enjoy jalapeños, however, so a bumper crop of them will not be of much benefit to me.

My husband, on the other hand, can never have enough jalapeños. Fresh, pickled, roasted, baked – he loves them in any form, cooked in any way. To him, spicy food is delicious; the spicier, the better.

I am perplexed by this, because my experience with spicy food is that the flavor is outweighed by the burning. When I eat anything beyond the most basic level of salsa, all I experience is pain. Even worse, if cheese is involved in the dish, the cheesy goodness is overwhelmed by the spice, which is a sad state affairs. Cheese is awesome; cheese should never be overwhelmed.

I suppose it’s possible that his tastebuds have adapted to pick up the nuance of flavor within the heat. Or maybe there’s just something about his palate that makes certain flavors appealing to him but not to me. For example, some people prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate, and some people don’t like chocolate at all. Whatever the reason, he loves those little green spice bombs. For his sake, I’m glad we’re having a good jalapeño year.

Here’s to the peppers that grow in our garden. I’m not a fan, but my husband is, and that is reason enough to cheer them on.

Categories
Family Food Pets

Spaghetti

On Spaghetti Nights (like last night), we fix a small serving for Mollie.

Noodles, a tiny bit of sauce (garlic and onions aren’t good for dogs, so we are careful not to give her more than just a suggestion of flavor), and a lot of cheese.

We put it out for her, and she eats while we eat. It makes her quite happy.

Mollie loves spaghetti. She loves cheese. I think what she loves the most, however, is feeling like she’s part of the action, part of Spaghetti Night. When she’s done eating, she’ll make her way to the couch, where she’ll fall asleep with a doggy smile on her face.

Today’s cuppa is inspired by Mollie, who reminds me to be grateful for the simple happiness that can come from a plate of spaghetti.

Categories
Family Life

Nest

The other day, a friend asked if my husband and I will be “empty nesters” now that our youngest son has finished high school.

The simple answer is yes. Come September, that is what we expect will happen. That’s the natural order of things, right?

The kids grow up, they move out, start their own lives. They stay in touch, they come home for holidays and special occasions. If they live nearby, they might drop by just to say hi, have a meal, take the dog for a walk.

But then, they return to their homes. They no longer sleep under your roof. They are no longer living in your nest.

Here’s the thing, however – life comes at you fast. And sometimes, when the unexpected happens, your nest is the best place; the most convenient, or comforting, or cheapest, or safest place. Sometimes, the kids end up back in your nest, even if only temporarily.

My husband and I expect that we will soon be empty nesters. We enthusiastically support our sons’ steps toward independence; we are proud of the young men they’ve become and are still becoming. We’re also looking forward to life as a couple, just the two of us, for the first time in decades.

We also know that the nest may not always be empty. And, that’s okay with us. We, like all parents, want what’s best for our children – even after they’ve grown up. If what’s best is for them to return home, we’ll always make room for them to do so. I suspect most parents feel the same way.

While the simple answer is yes, the real answer is more complicated. The term “empty nesters” may only refer to a period of time, not a permanent state of being.

So, here’s a cuppa for all of us who watch as our children fly from our nests, knowing that it’s a good and exciting and happy part of life. And, here’s a cuppa for all of us who know that, should the time come, we’ll also open our arms and our hearts to welcome them back.