Monday, December 31, 2012

new year tomorrow!

I did say to a few students, "See you next year!" and I'll probably say it to Claire and Grant tonight. Can't help it. But I hope I'm asleep at midnight. It's been awhile since I've had a New Year's Eve celebration that involved purposely staying up to greet the twelve chimes. But I think I'll do it again when Claire and Grant are old enough to be really excited about staying up super late, eating shrimp cocktail and caramel corn, watching old movies and playing cards.

It's also been awhile since I've made any New Year Resolutions. I used to make birthday resolutions but quit those too. This afternoon though, I was thinking about what 2013 might bring and made a short list of hopes: healed knee, a return to running. Just that I named those first made me realize I have yet to transcend the physical. But what is right in front of you is right in front of you. Also on the short list was to continue learning how to love and be kind, especially toward those nearest me: again, what is right in front of you is right in front of you. I love Justin, Claire and Grant dearly. Dearly! But I get short with them or frustrated or expect more than they have to give.

A good friend told me I need to remember to give myself grace too. I don't want Love More and Be Kind and Speak Gently to become measures of how short I fall.

I also want to Be Present or, as my dad wrote years ago in a Bible he gave me, "Be there." Very simple and grounding.

I would like to not freak out so much in 2013. I emote. A lot. I think out loud. A lot. Or I scramble to my notebook and write too much. You know, maybe that is just how I am and I can be okay with that in 2013.

I would like to meal plan. I don't like meal planning at all.

Also on the short list is: I want to listen to God and hear what he has to say. At church a man said too many people put God in a box, limit him to their own understanding. I wouldn't mind having my limited understanding blown open to see God in a new way this year.

Yikes. And fun.

When you look at all of this together, and think of all the tangents each of these kinda sorta resolutions offer, well, it isn't a short list at all! Let me continue to grow!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

quiet: rare commodity

Early in my teaching career, I wanted to quit. I really didn't like it. I told myself I got to work with literature and writing - two passions - but that joy didn't cut the wild frustrations of classroom management or paperwork or my own learning curve. I didn't know what teaching would really be like and I became a teacher with the idea that I would quit after a few years to pursue a masters in writing. So I began with the intent of leaving. After three or four years I felt more competent but still wanted to quit after a tough day. I started calling those tough days Cubicle Days. As in: I wish I worked in a cubicle.

And then I would go for a run or have a weekend away from students, and I would usually feel better when first bell rang.

In January, I start two online writing workshops, one focused on parenting. Writing about parenting, I'm guessing, and how to keep your writing life and be a present parent, maybe. So while I have been tracking political cultural social economic news and working my slow way to my own opinions and ideas (and sometimes surrendering to: I just don't know; and sometimes thinking I should just let the news and surrounding opinions be), I have also been thinking about this upcoming course. Writing and parenting. Writing about parenting.

In my notebook, I have made a couple of lists of topics or questions I want to write about. Some of them are prickly, like this: it's quiet now because Justin is out with the kids. Ten minutes before they left, I thought I'd turn inside out waiting for them to get out the door so the whole apartment could be quiet. And then they were at the door and I couldn't just call goodbye from the kitchen; I had to go kiss the fat baby cheeks and whisper love in their ears. The prickly part of that is how much I sometimes want the whole apartment to myself so I can be quiet alone. I want sleep in a similarly tangible way, or airplane rides without a little person on my lap.

Maybe a year ago, a friend and I were talking about parenting and selfishness. I said parenting was the ultimate lesson in selflessness. And she said that God would have taught me that in another way if I hadn't had children. So I have Cubicle Days in parenting too, when I wonder how else I might learn to be gentle with my voice or patient with routine, when I wonder why I am a mother to learn these things.

The kids are out and the apartment is quiet and I haven't worked my way to an end on this, but I'm done. I will be happy to for the noise of play, but this quiet is too sweet.

Friday, December 28, 2012

staying with me

I am still thinking about the school shooting.

I think most of us have events or books or understandings that stick. When I was in seventh or eighth grade I read The Diary of Anne Frank and curled up on my bunk bed crying because  Anne was never going to be a teacher. One summer during college, I was driving and heard the news about the mom who drowned her kids in the bathtub and I parked in front of the library and screamed.

And now I think about the shooting and the families and friends waking and eating breakfast or not eating breakfast and walking through their grief and falling asleep or not falling asleep. I listen to and read debates about what this means for the country and gun control and gun culture and violence and mental health provisions and school security and media coverage. Early in the reporting, when everyone but the NRA was eager to say something about Newtown and what this means, I heard Huckabee's quote linking the removal of God from public schools and the trail of shootings.

That almost undid me.

It's difficult to explain exactly why that viewpoint made me angry and sad at once. First, I believe God is present. I don't think legislation alters where God exists.

But that quote also needled another thought: the United States is not a wholly (or holy) Christian nation. Some of its first citizens loved God and sought His will, but not all. And some of the people living in the US now also love God and seek His will, but not all. There are many different faiths and while politicians may legislate morality, they cannot legislate a single faith. And Christians should understand that, because their faith is a walk, a journey, a run, a trek, a crawl, a climb that is innately personal and profound.

That personal faith spills into everyday life when Christians live what they believe right where they are. They are in office cubicles and board meetings and truck stops and college registrars and newspapers and banks and police stations and hospitals and coffee shops and department stores. And they are in schools. So God's love is being lived out in our world.

And God's love isn't lost because kids in public schools don't start their day with a prayer. God is bigger than that.

So I have been thinking about the Newtown victims and praying for their families and friends and neighbors in the community who hold close the sorrow and loss, will hold that sorrow for a long time yet. And I have been wrestling with my own unfinished what this means issues. Shortly before the Sandy Hook shooting, I was standing at the window looking out at the desert and Gulf and the apartment buildings between and I had a little heart cry: How do I live here? Here in Kuwait, but also here in this world. And I sensed God saying to simply walk close to him. Love him. Seek him. I complicate things and I want definitive answers about what this means but right now I also want to simply walk close to my God.

When I feel overwhelmed by sadness about the shooting and the young victims, I tell myself it is okay to feel sad for people I have never met, for a situation that isn't mine. And then, I think carefully about how to pray. Sometimes I pray for a specific family when their child's face comes to mind. Sometimes I pray for peace.

I can't write more without crying.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

'twas the day after christmas

Has anyone written this yet?

I started my morning early, on the elliptical. I've been cross-training for the knee, taking the impact off the joint so any sad little ligaments or tendons get a fuller rest than fast walking or slooow jogging allows. I like the elliptical because I sweat and since chopping running from my day, I have missed sweating. It made me cranky not to sweat.

Then I had two cups of coffee before ten in the morning. I don't wake up with coffee. When I drink coffee, it's usually a mid morning or afternoon mocha. So two cups in a row - made a little strong, unmeasured in our French press - made me jittery enough to sail through what I started earlier this month:

Organize.

Or:

Throw away a bunch of stuff we don't use or need.

I spent Christmas Eve in the kitchen, baking and sorting cupboards, taking inventory of curry sauces I bought for easy meals and a bag of black beans I didn't remember having. A week before that, I went through the old science lab drawers and cupboards we have along one wall of our dining room. I took each drawer out and dumped its contents on the dining table. I was merciless. I didn't think about who might use paperless dusty crayon halves. I just threw them away. And not too long before that, I sorted the kids' clothes and put together a stack for donation.

So I have really enjoyed getting rid of junk.

And this morning, two cups of coffee and Christmas music a little too loud, and the kids wandering in pajamas or tutus, I plowed through the pile on my desk, in my desk drawer, my school bag, the kids' toy shelves, and our gigantic bookshelf. I made a teeny tiny bag of three things someone I know might use. Everything else, I pitched: tape-laden paper airplanes Claire has been making lately, old markers that are nearly dead, more sad little crayon pieces (I know there is a Sunday school teacher who would iron those between waxed paper to make stained glass windows, but I don't know who she is or when she'll come along to take all these crayon pieces); puzzle pieces with their nubs gnawed off, Happy Meal toys, old lists and receipts.

Everything doesn't have a place.

I found things I didn't want to pitch, but couldn't think of how to place. I solved that dilemma by stuffing travel brochures in with my writing files and putting all "school stuff" in one giant Ikea box on our shelf. It looks tidy. Another giant box has stacks of dvds and cds hiding inside and a third box I call "Stuff Justin Has to Figure Out What to Do With." A fourth box is empty.

I've been working from one end of the apartment to the other. So tomorrow, I tackle the bedroom. I'd like to know what it really looks like to tackle a bedroom. In the past, it's looked like my closet throwing up. But that is what my room already looks like - partly because I knew tomorrow would come and I didn't feel like putting away what I would soon take out to decide: keep or not.

This morning while sifting through Memory game cards and puzzle pieces and Legos, I thought about what we let in. This Christmas season, I had a chance to talk with Claire about stuff and gifts and wanting and needing. Short conversations while out shopping or playing or after Christmas parties. I tried not to be didactic. Everything I said to her, I need to hear too. Which is why, as Justin and I planned Christmas gifts for the kids, I kept thinking about what we have and what we use and what just takes up space. Which is why I began opening cupboards and dumping drawers. And that has led to me asking how I can be more careful about material things I let in our space.

What is your relationship with stuff?

Monday, December 17, 2012

sandy hook elementary

On Saturday morning, Justin came into the kitchen and told me to give Claire and Grant extra hugs today. He was shaken and I asked what happened and he told me about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. We stood in the kitchen holding each other and crying and then wiping tears away because Claire came in and asked what was wrong. I told her we were sad.

Later that morning, alone in the apartment, I read about the shooting and cried again.

And that night, laying in bed I thought about parents in Newtown, the day after so much about their lives changed. I cried again and had such an ache inside.

When I was twelve, I saw Polly Klass on a magazine cover at the grocery store checkout. I was there on an errand, read the headline - something about a confession of murder or a body found - and walked home with the gallon of milk. I told my mom what I'd read. Polly was a year younger than me. Mom held me while I cried and she kissed my forehead and held me as long as I needed. She told me I have a tender heart and that it is a gift.

Empathy is a gift. We don't need to grapple with what we think we're supposed to feel about an event. We don't need to summon an immediate opinion or solution. I am okay just being sad for a little while. But in the middle of my sadness, I have also thought about the insight of empathy. My children did not die in a school shooting. It was not my school or my town. But when I think about Sandy Hook Elementary and the Newtown community, my sorrow is heavy. I whisper short, ineloquent but fervent prayers. Prayers born of feeling a fraction of sadness Newtown carries today.

Last night we took the kids to a Christmas tree lighting. I didn't want to go because I was tired. Our family has been swapping coughs and bellyaches for almost two weeks and my sleep hasn't been good. But Justin wanted to go, I think partly because we are both raw at the reminder that life remains so uncertain. We ate dinner out before the tree lighting. In the bathroom, another American woman started talking about the shooting. She'd seen my family, she said, the two little kids. She lost a child thirty years ago to cancer and so understands the grief a parent endures, but to lose a child so quickly, she said, that - and neither of us had anything to say about that kind of loss.