Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What would YOU do?

This has been a stressful few days. First, I contracted some form of a stomach virus which has put me in a cranky space. It's very difficult to be loving and patient when you feel like your body is imploding. Reading the stories about the pain and devastation in Haiti has hit me hard as well. Those images are never far from my mind, and despite my donation of money, I feel helpless and small in this world right now. My mom has been having health difficulties and yesterday received some potential diagnoses, one of which is quite serious. Then I got to get up this morning, achy stomach and all, and go to work with my new boss. The two of us are the only ones working in our school, and this is going to bring about the all-dreaded word: change.

Last night, after speaking with my mom, I lay in bed trying to imagine life without her. I know that eventually that day will more than likely come, and I'll have to find a way to handle it. My anxiety was pretty high. In those moments, I want to be close to those I love. I fought the urge to go snuggle with my daughter, check on my son, track down my husband. Instead, I pulled Gabi close and petted her for awhile. Sleep finally came around one a.m.

This evening I saw an article on AOL news about a journalist who faced severe depression several years ago, to the point he contemplated suicide. On that day, as he made a choice not to end his life, he asked himself, "What would I do if this were the last day of my life?"

This seems to be a popular question. Songs are written about it, books are penned, poems focused on how we would choose to spend our last hours on this planet if we knew the end was near. It seems a basic, simplistic philosophical question, yet still one worth pondering: what would I do if I knew it ended tomorrow? What parts of my life would I be content with and what would I regret?

I know in my gut how I would spend my last day. With my family. What would I do? I have no idea. It doesn't matter. I would kiss my husband and tell him all the things I hold back from sharing. I would hold my son and reassure him that he is perfect in God's eyes--and in mine. I would snuggle my daughter and let her know that I could not love her more if I had given birth to her. And I would kiss my dog and chase her through the yard, playing catch.

I would be content with the fact that I have touched many people's professional lives. I would be proud that I have influenced many young teachers and the way they interact with children. I would reflect fondly on all the children I have taught and have a last, wonderful giggle at all the funny things they have done, and gratitude for what they have taught me.

I would call all of the people I love and tell them so. I would go back to writing poetry and leave a mark for each one, so they have a piece of me written indelibly for them. I would thank them for all of the wonderful moments we spent together and encourage them to spend more, to make more memories. To build love in their hearts and their lives.

I would take a walk through my neighborhood and see--really see--the wonder of God's world around me. I would smell the flowers, lie in the grass, watch the clouds. I would sit in wonder of all the things I tend to pass too quickly.

My regrets? I would have a few. That I haven't been able to give as much of myself to this world as I wish I could. That people still suffer and I can't take it away. That there is so much need and such limited resources. Activism. That would be my regret.

Ironically, here's what I wouldn't regret: I wouldn't regret not having my own birth child. I wouldn't regret having an unusual family, or the house I live in, or the job I have. I wouldn't regret having a messy house or not doing laundry on a daily basis, or not cooking a homemade meal every night. In comparison, those things seem inconsequential.

So, just something to ponder. Sometimes it's good to prioritize all that we have, all that we're given. The things that seem so important that aren't. To focus on who we are, spiritually, versus who we get bogged down being in our daily lives. I am God's child, and He has his finger on my life. Trusting that he knows where we're going is important. Recognizing that I don't have the answers, equally important.

I can't heal my mother, take away the horrific pain in Haiti, solve the economic crisis, or even smooth over transitions at work. Some of it will be scary. Some may be depressing. Sometimes I will cry and be anxious and need to snuggle my dog or kiss my kids or get a reality check from a loved one. But I can be me. And I can bring my gifts to the table every day, to the best of my ability. I can be the best mother, wife, daughter, teacher, person I know how to be. And I can keep learning and growing and trying.

What would--and can--you do?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Help for Haiti

One of my favorite things to dabble in is frugality. I know that sounds strange ("dabble in frugality") but I really enjoy reading tips and tricks about saving money. By nature I'm a penny pincher. I got it from my dad, who was born right after the Great Depression. His parents owned a dairy farm and were extremely frugal...so much so, that when my grandmother passed away ten years ago, she left both her sons a sizeable inheritance. I love challenging myself to spend the least amount at the grocery store; to shop at thrift stores for things that don't need to be new; to teach my children the value of a dollar. We've been fairly successful. We have a small income yet are blessed enough to pay our bills and occasionally take reasonably priced family vacations and enjoy some nice things.

Charity has always been important to me as well. I want my children to grow up learning that money does not multiply when you hold on to it so tightly. My daughter has internalized this message well and is quite generous with her money. My husband and I have both tried to stress the importance of good works--whether it be through money or service--to our children.

Often times when disasters strike, my first response is shock and denial, as though the event is somewhat surreal. Such was my reaction to the earthquake in Haiti earlier this week. I was involved in my own daily routine and took notice, but not enough notice. That embarrasses me. My daughter brought it to my attention later the next evening, telling me there had been an earthquake in Haiti and the Red Cross thought there were "lots of people" who had died.
And this Haiti perched itself on my shoulder.

With my husband out of work currently, our money is tighter than usual. I thought about what I felt comfortable with being able to donate. Then I thought about my kids, who both had been given a tidy sum of cash at Christmas. We held a meeting and agreed that we would all contribute, then we read about different nonprofits who are working in Haiti. Together, we chose Doctors Without Borders to donate our small sum.

I feel guilty that our sum wasn't larger. I wish I was comfortable at this time being able to donate a larger amount. But my heart has been warmed as I have been visiting many of my favorite frugal websites. So many frugal bloggers are making donations to various charities to assist in Haiti. At a time when so many Americans are feeling the economic squeeze, it is amazing that literally thousands are banding together to give whatever they can. Some bloggers are donating a certain amount per comment or link. Some are giving what they would normally spend on entertainment in a month or vowing to eat from their pantry and give up their grocery money. Our personal donation came from money that was saved by eating at home the last few weeks, combined with savvy shopping.

When I was twenty-one, I traveled to the Soviet Union for twelve days. That experience made me realize how incredibly fortunate we are in our country. We have resources and protections and money that provide us with the ability to call luxuries "essentials". I think of the people in Haiti at this moment who are struggling to survive, being dug out of rubble they've been buried in for days. I hope that our donation helps a little bit. But I'm confident that our donation, combined with yours and those of so many others, will make a significant difference.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Growing Older

Over Christmas, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit my parents and brother in another state. My mom and I are very close, and I miss her through the year and look forward to our regular visits. Christmas, summer, and usually spring break are the times we get to see one another. This year, for many reasons, our Christmas visit was much shorter than usual, and seemed to zoom by. This was the first year that we were not with my parents on Christmas Eve--we flew in Christmas night--and my son did not come for the visit. So things were different.

Several years ago, my father's health began declining slowly. He has some good days and some less than good ones, but on his good days, he still has his sarcastic wit that makes me laugh, and he always has the spirit of willingness to do what he can to help me, however I need it. It has been hard to watch the physical decline of a man that I once saw as my protector. My role has changed in our relationship, and most days he is willing to accept help from me when it's needed, even if he would fight others over the same help. He humors me, probably because I see him only a few times a year. And I'm grateful for that.

This visit was especially poignant for me, because my mother is currently ill. She has been sick for two months now and the doctors have a variety of theories but nothing definite. My mom has always been an on-the-go type of person. She's in her late sixties but still runs her own business, is active in her church, and has lots of friends and outside activities. My mom has lived by schedules for my entire life. Her favorite phrase is, "So what's on your schedule today?" I'm sure she had no idea what to do with me as a teenager, when my response was often, "What schedule?" She's extremely organized in what she feels needs to get done each day and sets off to accomplish it. But this visit was different. Being sick as she has been, she was incredibly exhausted and slept much of the time. Her waking time was often uncomfortable, and I felt so helpless in trying to think of ways to make her more comfortable. This trip, instead of asking me what was on my schedule, I heard her saying the following repeatedly: "I'm so sorry I'm not able to keep up."

I guess some people might have the response of, "Yeah! Me too! This sucks!" I can't imagine, though, feeling that way. Instead, I felt helpless and scared. I know my parents are growing older. But much as I feel as a parent, I want to make things better for them. I want to make sure Dad takes his medicines on time, sees the doctors when he needs to and has someone who understands what the doctors are explaining about how condition. I want to help my mom feel better, to be able to eat regularly and sleep regularly and not feel so exhausted and uncomfortable. I want to be able to go to appointments with both of them to keep up on what's going on and make sure their needs are met. The hardest part about leaving them this time was knowing there was no one there to do those things on a regular basis.

I look in the mirror, and at forty, see my own crow's feet and gray hairs. I notice that I'm not as flexible as I was five years ago, that body parts hang a little lower and I'm definitely not passing as "cute" these days. But the funny thing is, I still feel like I'm younger. I don't think of myself as forty. I think of myself as...well, me.

I wonder if my parents think of themselves the same way. If their souls are separate from the bodies that are changing. If their spirits still feel young even if their bodies are experiencing limitations. And I wonder what all of this is going to mean for all of us. Even though things are changing, my parents are still, at their core, the human beings who raised me and I know and love and cherish. Nothing will ever change that. Not only do I appreciate them as Mom and Dad, but as the people who taught me tremendous lessons that I needed to learn, and the good, compassionate, decent people that I would be proud to know under any circumstances. Those characteristics are at their cores.

Finding a way to balance my family responsibilities at home and my family responsibilities over a thousand miles away is tricky. It's going to take some careful reflection and creativity. Time changes everything, and if I've said it once I've said it a million times--I'm not a girl who does well with change. Our society isn't respectful of the elderly. We are dismissive and fail to recognize that these people who are older are also wiser too, and carry our history with them. I don't like seeing my parents growing older, but I am determined to face these changes head on and God help me, to maintain the dignity of these people who love me no matter what.

Ironically, even as she is sick, my mom is worried about me--if I'm worried for her, if I felt like Christmas wasn't as good as it should be, if everything is okay at my house. No matter what, she's my mom. We'll all be okay, because we have each other. Growing older is hard, but it's the price of life experience and wisdom. And Mom and Dad, don't worry about holding my hand...because I'll be holding yours.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Baby, it's cold outside!

I live in a part of the country where weather events are hugely broadcasted. Coming from a more metropolitan area, I used to think the people in this part of the country had no life! Before moving here, murders, rapes and robberies were the primary focus of the news each night. I really thought tornadoes occurred so rapidly that you were pretty much toast if you lived in the midwest. It wasn't until I moved out here that I began to understand that a) not every area of the country has daily or even weekly murders; and b)weather broadcasting is super-big business. Back in my hometown they had come up with this thing called "Super Doppler Radar" that was supposed to narrow in on specific streets to tell you exactly what was going on where. I never really saw the point of that technology in my hometown. True, we would sometimes have severe thunderstorms, but nothing that I would consider life-threatening overall. Every TV station tried to outdo the next with their super doppler stuff. It go so bad that one of the radio stations created a comedy sketch about "Big F**king Doppler"--"We can see Ms. Mabel Kincaid is putting out her laundry at 123 Brewster Avenue...how's the wind today, Ms. Kincaid?" Crazy.

So now I live in the midwest, or more precisely, tornado alley. My first encounter with a tornado warning was spectacular. As the winds picked up and the rain poured down, I was trying to unlock the door but my hands were shaking so badly from fear that I could hardly make the keys work. Both of my kids--then four and two--were with me, as was my husband and our dog. The sirens were blaring and I really, really thought for a moment I was going to die. Of course, we got in, got settled in our safe place (the shower--the most interior room) and waited while my husband listened to the report. Thankfully, the wall cloud (for you people anywhere else in the country, that's the cloud that spins off tornadoes) passed to the south of us without the funnel touching down. Our littlest one fell asleep in the shower despite the commotion. Since then, we've been through a variety of interesting weather experiences, including the tornado that passed right over our house and landed down the street last summer. It was a small one that caused minimal damage, but I heard it when it went over. Too late to gather the kids and to worry. God was watching over everyone--no one was hurt and that's what's important.

Suffice it to say, though, that weather coverage is a big deal here. If there's any POTENTIAL for unusual weather, we hear about it over. and. over. On every channel. Round the clock coverage. It's like watching your very own exciting mystery unfold before your very eyes. "Well, we're getting reports all over the metro that snow is falling! Yes, that's right folks, snow is FALLING. It's on the ground. And you could fall if you leave your home, so experts warn that you be extremely careful should you encounter a snowflake. We're going to go to John Joe out on 36th street...hello, John? Have you encountered the snowflake yet?"

The problem with this kind of reporting is that every little thing gets blown into a natural disaster, and then people don't take it seriously. Two weeks ago, on Christmas Eve, we had a blizzard here. Of all days--Christmas Eve. Fortunately, I finished my shopping by nine a.m., just as it was starting to sleet. I said to my son, "We're not going ANYWHERE today." The half-mile drive home was dangerous enough. But I knew in my gut people would risk it. And they did. A fifty-car (yes, fifty!) pileup on one road. Vehicles abandoned left and right all over the streets. Interstates closed down throughout the state. It was a madhouse. And yes, John Joe the weather reporter was out, measuring the snow in the parking lot and talking about being stranded at the station. This was news worth reporting. If only the news would report THIS, then maybe people would listen when somebody says, "Hey, stay home!"

We are currently in the middle of what they're calling an "arctic freeze". It's seriously cold outside. Our average winter temps are around 40 degrees, and with the wind chill it's easily below zero right now. Some public schools have closed, but not my kids'! I would have much preferred a day snuggled in bed, drinking hot cocoa and making soup instead of schlepping two kids off to school at 7:30 in layers of pants, shirts, socks, outerwear, and all. I even considered keeping them home. Why? Because the "experts" say to stay inside today! Because the roads are "slick and hazardous"! Where did I get this information? From the news, of course.

Well, it's definitely cold outside (and inside too). But the kids made it to school without losing a limb to frostbite or collapsing from hypothermia. I managed to drop them off, go to Starbucks for my coffee, and drop a couple of prescriptions off at the drugstore, all without losing control of my car. Now granted, I wouldn't send my kid walking to school in this weather and I wouldn't encourage people to take a road trip today. But do we really need to shut down whole cities and put the public on panic alert? Because it's cold?

So yeah, baby, it's cold outside. But I'm snug with my coffee, enjoying one of my last days off, watching Gabi sleep on the comforter. I appreciate my meteorologists, especially during tornado season when they save huge numbers of lives every year. But guys, can we lay off the drama a bit? Grab a blanket, a mug of cocoa, and let's all settle down. Who's up for an episode of the Price is Right?