Life is Strange

(for GG)

I shut the door behind me.

He shut the door.

He left the city behind;

wanting a new rhythm,

bridging 40 to 60.

Did you know it would be

a mild January day

when he walked his last mile?

I didn’t say goodbye.

He didn’t say goodbye.

I walked backward,

leaving it all behind.

He walked backward.

Life is strange;

that one day–

suddenly–

you just don’t show up.

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Third Grade

Teacher in

white gauchos.

Snaps gum,

platform shoes.

Lanette Ferguson

moves away

after Christmas.

Brother plays

Moody Blues,

forever autumn.

A winter cry

wearing loneliness.

Brent S.

likes my

long hair.

Asks me

to go

with him.

Mom asks,

Go where?

Cut hair

not interested

in boys.

Play dolls

in laundry

room with

my cat.

Make floppy

paper dolls

at recess

with Sarah

and her

green markers.

For My Daughter–A Mixed CD in Honor of Your College Graduation

  1. For the Good from Wicked (song honors you and Sydney)
  2. Which Way Your Heart Will Go from Mason Jennings (song honors process of change and not second-guessing your choices)
  3. I Will Remember You from Sarah McLachlan (song honors you and your Beloit memories—that you will one day cherish)
  4. Don’t You (Forget About Me) from Simple Minds (song honors you and all of your true Beloiter friends—Syd, Timon, Sophia, Hannah x 2 or 3, Erin, Sarah, Max, Anthony, JVT, Haley as well as many others—I’ll let you fill in the blanks)
  5. Breathe Me from Sia (this one is for the day you drive your car away from that place because this song enables one’s tears)
  6. Destiny from Zero 7 (honors the new groove heading your way)
  7. A Change Would Do You Good from Sheryl Crow (kind of self-explanatory)
  8. Good Friday from Cowboy Junkies (honors the beauty found in leaving)
  9. So Leave from Polica (honors your time with Syd at Austin City Limits and just because it’s a cool song)
  10. Leaving Las Vegas from Sheryl Crow (Honors the “muddy line between the things you want, and the things you have to do”)
  11. Ramble On from Led Zeppelin (Because you have a hippy mom, who loves Tolkien, and you went to a hippy school—“the leaves are falling all around/ It’s time I was on my way/ But still I’m much obliged/ Such a pleasant stay”) EMBRACE THE JOURNEY!
  12. Blow Out from Radiohead (Blow out of Beloit Girl!)
  13. Midnight on the Interstate from Trampled by Turtles (honors your future career that may well have you traveling the interstates, hopefully not at midnight)
  14. Driving from Po’ Girl (“that’s the trait of him that I love the most, I don’t see him now that I’m on the west coast”—honors parental love and the vagabond life that I see you befriending)
  15. Rise from Eddie Vedder (honors the ability to turn mistakes into gold—I bestow upon you parental permission to make all the mistakes you need to. It is better to try and fail than to never try at all. I admire your courage and willingness to try new things!)
  16. I Need $ from Polica (because you do need $ and it’s very danceable)
  17. Heaven When We’re Home from Wailin Jennies (honors the home you’ll always have with me and all the new homes you’ll make for yourself—“It’s a long and rugged road and we don’t know where it’s heading but we know it’s going to get us where we’re going”)
  18. Going to California from Led Zeppelin (because I’m preparing myself for your coastal or bi-coastal future)

Update: I watch the searches that lead folks to my site and I see numerous folks looking for a gradation song to share with their child. If you don’t already know about the Sunscreen Song, it is a good graduation song–lots of good advice here.

Love Grandma O.

My dad shot this photo of Grandma O. getting off the Greyhound Bus, when she was visiting one spring in '77.
My dad shot this photo of Grandma O. getting off the Greyhound Bus, when she was visiting us in ’77.

That’s how my grandmother, Hydie Olson, signed all of her cards to me–“Love Grandma O.” I still have a box of birthday, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day cards sent to me by Grandma O. She died in the hospital not long after my 15th birthday. I am grateful for the 15 years I had with my Grandma O. and her presence remains with me to this day. When I was younger, we played a game called, “Author, Author.” I don’t remember much about the game, but I still remember the illustrations of famous authors on the cards. Perhaps it was merely a more sophisticated version of “Go Fish!” Grandma O. had a love of words that came through in her crossword puzzles, Scrabble games, and poetry. Because of Grandma O., I wanted to be an “author” (not writer) when I grew up. I felt that being a published author had been Grandma O’s unfulfilled destiny. Somehow I was born as her namesake to fulfill this destiny.

Today, as I watched my oldest child drive away from our house, on her way back to college, after this last spring break spent with us before she graduates in May, I was reminded of my Grandma O.  I remember our family of six pulling away from her curb, three across the front, three across the back courtesy of a bench seating system. I can still see Grandma O. waving goodbye from a metal screen door that had an “O” directly in the middle of it. I always felt so sad for Grandma O. as we drove away. “Who will play Scrabble with her?” I’d wonder. I understand it better now. It wasn’t so much about her loneliness, although my Grandpa Roy had died about ten years before she did, it was about the constant and abiding moments of leaving that make up a mother’s lifelong work of raising her kids. While it may start with the first day of day care or Kindergarten, it never really ends. So like the tide, this going out and coming back to you, loops and crashes one leaving to the next. Eventually, your children begin bringing things home from their time away; first school papers, later perhaps college boyfriends, spouses, even children someday. And always, no matter how long or how far, you gather your child and his or her life collections unto your shores and into your arms.

When they once again go back out, as they all must do, you wave at the door and wipe away tears–just a few–before you align yourself back with your typical daily routine. Perhaps Grandma O. would sit down over a cup of coffee and finish the daily cross word puzzle after we all had left, maybe with a date-filled cookie or “Grandma Roll,” both baked specially for our visit. Just as I sit here this morning by the fire, in a quiet house, with my cup of coffee and this blog. My love of words flowing into and out of all of the leavings that have already passed.

Much love to you, Grandma O.

To Love is to be Vulnerable

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything & your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies & little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
C.S. Lewis, from “The Four Loves”

This lesson just keeps coming up on my path–perhaps it circles through on everyone’s path–time and time again. If you want to love deeply, you will, at one time or another, experience a broke-open heart. No other way around it. Maybe just maybe you have an option of whether to be vulnerable in your adult relationships, but the moment you open your heart to a child, there is no option but to be in this place of love and vulnerability. Being a parent is one wild ride but I would choose this ride again and again. It is the place where I have learned to open my heart; where I’ve learned to bleed in the name of something higher than my own selfish needs.

Hannah is in Japan once again. And Josh is not “out of the woods” for another month or so. We are living on the little island of our own home, as if each day were a winter storm, shutting us in the house as we try to spare Josh any unnecessary germs. There have been moments over the past few days where I realize I am holding my breath, no longer breathing freely. Ah, but this does little to protect my own heart or my children. I must learn, once again, to let go. I am vulnerable. My children are vulnerable. It is our human state. The lesson is to make peace with the fragility and vulnerability of life and still breathe deeply, open wide the heart and yell “yes, yes!”

Goodbye Dear Helen . . .

I didn’t get to know you long enough.

Three years and three months was just not long enough to know this amazing woman named Helen. My husband’s mother. But I am glad that I did get to know her still, even if not long enough. She had more energy and zest for life, as well as abundant optimism, than perhaps anyone I’ve ever known. And what does it do for a child to grow up with all of this positive energy? Great things. I can tell you that it creates resilient, confidant, mentally strong, kind-hearted, and loving children. I feel blessed that I was able to marry one of Helen’s children. And from Chris, I am learning so much about seeing a cup that is full to overflowing, always, even in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. I am learning about the depths, heights, and sheer volume of a faith that can fill up a house and carry a bunch of negative, fearful, anxious people around until they see the possibilities of the closed window.  And I am, in honor of Helen, learning how to better parent all three of my children (even the two big ones) with greater optimism and joy.

Dear Helen, you will be missed by all. Thank you for the gift of your son, through whom you’ll keep living here on this earth. And I am so grateful for the time Josh had with you. Thanks for being here in the weeks after he was born, and then making the next two birthdays, although it meant a flight from Texas, even when you were battling your cancer full on. You are a most special grandmother and we will keep you alive in our home. I will endeavor to live with the kind of enthusiasm and grace that you embraced, always. Even in the face of death. From this ending, may new beginnings arise. Much love, Heidi

Josh's Gran reading Winnie-the-Pooh to him last April

Confession: I Failed at Balancing Toddler and Puppy

Beating a sinus infection without antibiotics

I guess it’s been a while since I’ve written here. Life has just kind of exploded on many fronts lately. I did manage to finally beat down the cold around February 2nd. I do think I had a sinus infection but credit my many daily neti pot rinses for helping me clear out the infection. I also began putting Dessert Essence Tea Tree Oil Mouthwash into my neti pot, with an equal part water. I think the gentle wash of Tea Tree Oil helped kill off some of the bacteria. Finally, I began hot and cold showers to bring blood to my head to promote healing (focusing very hot water and then very cold, alternating about 5 times each, on my sinus area).

Hearing loss, Ear perforation, and February colds

The day after my cold symptoms dried up, Josh came down with a new cold and fever, directly after I closed the door on our last guest, leaving after a mid-winter get together for my spanish rice and good conversation. This latest cold seems to be located more in Josh’s chest, but he still has a great deal of congestion. His ENT had already put him on ear drops last week because the right ear kept oozing, even after Josh’s antibiotic treatment in the ER. So I am keeping the drops going, hoping this new cold doesn’t bring on yet another infection. So far, Josh has been without his right hearing aid for three weeks now! Ughh. I am not sure how all of this draining is impacting his hearing levels. Thankfully, we see his audiologist on Monday. I am learning that colds are no small matter for a child with hearing loss and a perforated ear drum.

Life Drenched in Chaos

In the middle of all of this, Chris’s mom has been placed in the care of Hospice. Chris is so very close to his mom and she is such an amazing woman. It is very difficult to see her struggling at the end of her life, one very well lived. Chris is also going through extensive job stress, rich with fodder for transitions. I will leave it at that, without elaboration. Suffice it to say, Chris has had to continually work some long days. With all of the sickness, Chris’s work stress, the mounting sensory issues with Josh, and Chris’s mom’s health declining, I realized during a sickness-induced-sleepless-night epiphany, that we were well over our capacity to handle everything going on in our lives. Something had to give. The only thing that could give was the puppy.

The Part Where I Realize Our Lives Cannot Handle a Puppy

So here is the story of a small letting go that I had to do. I had been feeling very bad for our puppy ever since Hannah left (Hannah really helped us so much with the dog for the four weeks she was home, even though she had rightly told me in November that she couldn’t believe we were getting a puppy because our lives were too chaotic already–wise wise girl). Because the puppy seemed to trigger many of Josh’s sensory “meltdowns” (I’ll call them), we had to put up baby gates between the kitchen and the rest of the house. Ozzie had to live in the kitchen. It was sort of okay while Hannah was home, because she (for whatever reason) tends to park herself in the kitchen with her computer during most waking hours. Once she left, however, I realized that our puppy was spending most of his time alone (and Springers are very social creatures). And even Chris’s evening time with him had been severely curtailed due to Chris’s recent long hours (or should I say, even longer hours) at work. The final straw was when I realized that I was no longer even cooking dinner because I couldn’t have Josh and the dog together and Chris was getting home too late to take one or the other, so that I could cook. For a while I thought I had just lost my cooking mojo, but it finally occurred to me that it was the whole dog in the kitchen, Josh elsewhere, deal.

The Gift of My Cold

During the peak of my nasty cold, at about 3:00 am, I realized that we shouldn’t continue to try to keep Ozzie. It wasn’t fair to Ozzie or Josh. Neither could understand the other. So, the next morning, I literally raised my hand in front of Chris and said, “I admit it. I messed up. This puppy thing wasn’t a good idea. You were right. We should have waited at least another year.” (Now I know we’ll need to wait at least another 5-6 years, given Josh’s dramatic sensory issues–diagnosed the very day before we picked up Ozzie). Anyway, Chris was visibly relieved to hear my words. And the Springer Rescue organization through which Ozzie came to us was very gracious about taking him back. He went back to his original foster family for a week or so and then they found him a new home, with two older boys who can love him the way he deserves. In all of this, it was never about Ozzie. Ozzie was such a smart, good puppy. He always rang a bell to go outside to use the bathroom, he didn’t bite, he was always appropriately submissive, he was never territorial about food or toys, and he really wanted to play with Josh and love Josh (I like to say he was the right dog, at the wrong time). Josh just wasn’t in an appropriate place for a puppy, whose unpredictable movements seemed to cause Josh huge anxiety.

The morning Chris drove away with Ozzie, and I took down the two gates dividing the kitchen and the rest of our house, Josh became noticeably less stressed. He began to run around the “race track” of our lower level again, pushing his stroller and he seemed finally, once again, able to be left alone for a second without panicking (which hadn’t happened since before Ozzie). I knew, instantly, that we had made the right decision. And that was the lesson of my prolonged illness. It brought me to the point where I could recognize that the whole puppy thing wasn’t about helping Josh, or Ozzie, or even Ethan (who never payed any attention to Ozzie whatsoever); in fact, the whole puppy thing had really only been about me and some ideal that I had in my mind (that Ozzie would help Josh learn to accept more new things and become a fabulous therapy dog someday, etc.). I needed to let go of that ideal, for everyone’s sake, and see the reality for what is was. It just wasn’t working for anyone, especially Ozzie. We often talk now about Ozzie still and miss him. Yesterday, Josh said to me “Ozzie will be here soon.” And last week he said, “I don’t see Ozzie in this place (being our house).” This must be his way of processing the change. Chris said to me this morning, “Ozzie is in a better place.” Yep, I think that is right.

Incidentally, I did quite a bit of crying the night before Ozzie left us. I wasn’t just letting go of my dog dream, I was letting go (once again–special needs parents go through a series of grieving episodes, I believe), of the dream of the Standard “Normal” Child. Maybe we mostly want that so-called “perfect” child to make it easier on ourselves. Or maybe we just hate the idea of seeing a less-than perfect child struggle in life. Somehow being blessed with a special needs child has brought me down to my knees at many junctures. I worry sometimes that I don’t have what it takes to raise this special guy; that he should have somehow been given to a less imperfect mother. One who is more laid-back and who doesn’t worry so over each new health development or diagnosis, one who can see through the daily grind and really count each little blessing and joy and pull them close to support her in her often lonely “special needs” raft. But as I cried for Ozzie that night, I also cried for Josh and then I released the need to have our life match some ideal. I released Josh to be exactly who he is supposed to be and me to be the mother that I am, imperfect and all.

And so for today, we are still here, in this place (where Ozzie isn’t) in all of our chaos and stress. And we still have a special needs toddler. That fact hasn’t changed. But at least with Ozzie gone we can, once again, make Josh our full priority. And that is probably how it has to be, for quite some time. And that is okay. It is where we are. It is how it should be.