Author Archives: thedamari

Old and Young, It’s All Relative

Every year we have this cluster of celebrations in our family. My kids’ birthdays are May 13 and May 15th. Mother’s Day always falls right in around there, too, this year sandwiched in between.

Unbelievable as it is to me, my oldest turned twenty-two yesterday. That’s the same age I was when I got married. Whoa if true! And it is true.

As an official adult, they spent their birthday at work. They’re employed as assistant manager at a retail store that caters largely to children, and as a result often come home with adorable or hilarious stories.

Yesterday’s tale involved a conversation with a little girl who was celebrating her own birthday and, of course, had to let everyone know. It went like this —

My kid: “That’s cool. It’s my birthday, too! How old are you?”

Little girl: “Six! How old are you?”

My kid: “Twenty-two.”

Little girl: “Oh.” Pause. “Do you have dentures?”

What’s young and what’s old? It’s all relative, isn’t it?

 

This Muskrat, Living Its Best Life

I know life is stressful for everyone right now, but let’s all commit to a little self-care so we can keep going. For me that means taking walks. I try to do so mindfully, soaking in the sights, sounds and feel of what’s around me, rather than simply using my body as a vehicle to transport my worries from place to place.

Yesterday’s perambulation along the MKT Trail was particularly restorative. I stopped on a bridge for a bit to watch this muskrat enjoying nature’s salad bar. It’s fully in the moment, not fussed about what might or might not happen tomorrow.

Let’s all promise ourselves that for at least a few minutes each day, we’ll be this muskrat, living its best life.

 

A Cat and Her Boy

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This critter staring at you from the screen is named Luna. Feel free to extend her birthday greetings, as she is fifteen years old this month. She’s been a member of our household from the age of eight weeks, coming to us about the time my youngest kid was turning four. The two of them bonded immediately. She’s supposed to be my cat, but I’m the only one who signed that contract; she never agreed to the terms and conditions. As far as Luna is concerned, she has one human — the boy she helped raise.

Both of my children are good with animals, and even at such a young age, my son showed a remarkable gentleness with our tiny kitten. The two of them spent many hours playing and snuggling. It wasn’t uncommon for my son to fall asleep with the cat wrapped in his arms.

For a few months last year, Luna’s boy moved away, and I could tell she was looking for him, going to his room repeatedly. Since he returned home in late December, she’s been dogging his footsteps, so to speak. Sometimes I wonder about cat brains and what they remember. Does she know the big, gangly human she loves now is the same person as the little guy who used to drive his Hot Wheels cars around her? I think she must. But I’m sure neither of them remembers a time before the other.

The boy is considering moving away again in the fall. I hope it doesn’t break either of their hearts too much.

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She still likes to sleep in his bed. 

 

Ironing Day -Poem in Honor of My Mom

My mother passed away a little over a year ago. Today would be her birthday. I wrote this poem a few years back and am sharing it now in memory of her.

Ironing Day – Age Four

On the dining room table, stiff and wrinkled: my father’s shirt
In the chair, standing: me
Under my arms, tied tight: my mother’s apron
In my hand, upside down: a glass Coke bottle
In the mouth of the bottle, sealed securely: a cork
Punched in the cork, round and regular: holes
Through the holes, irregular as my attention: sprinkles of water

At the far end of the living room, legs criss-crossed: an ironing board
On the board, steaming: my father’s shirt
Next to the board, standing: my mother
In her hand, sizzling: an iron
On her face, trickling: beads of sweat
On the floor, receptive: a laundry basket
In the basket, folded: the product of our morning’s labor

Moving between the rooms: my industrious mother
Moving from table to board to basket: freshly cleaned clothes
Staying put in the dining room, important in my work: me
Staying put in the living room, at the far end: the hot iron

My Plus One Method of Coping

I’m still struggling with depression and despair, as are so many others right now. But so far, I keep rising back up. I’ll share one weird trick I use to get myself through the minutes, but there’s a story behind it, so bear with me.

When my son was in grade school, enduring many rounds of evaluations and tests to figure out exactly what was up with him and the system failing to mesh, I found it necessary to insist in writing that every report and evaluation had to include positive statements about him. If you’re a parent who has ever sat through an IEP or 504 meeting, you know what I’m talking about. It can feel as if your baby is on trial for his life with the most vicious prosecutor ever.

It’s not because the educators involved are bad people or have bad intentions (well…most of them aren’t and don’t.) The intention is good. There are problems and they have to be identified to be solved. And there are legal requirements about showing enough evidence that a student is failing to thrive in the classroom before the school can “provide accommodations.” So the teachers and staff are looking for anything they can include to help bolster the case that we should do more for this student.

But often, how it plays out is that the parent sits down and hears what sounds like a litany of crimes and deficiencies attributed to the little person they adore. The Multitiude of Ways Your Kid is Broken is not the documented list you want to take home with you. It about killed me sometimes. And I think this approach has an effect on other adults who work with the child, too. When they are only looking for problems, it limits their view and the relationship with the student can get pretty negative. Some things I saw as positive qualities ended up listed as evidence for the prosecution.

After crying in my car a couple of times, I came up with a plan. I put it in writing and I put my foot down that it had to be followed. I hope I was polite, but I was also dogged.

I made them count. Everyone who wrote a report or even said anything in a meeting about my son was required to count the number of negative observations or statements they made. Then they had to make at least the same number of positive statements about him, plus one. At least one more positive than negative. We all needed to remember this was a whole human being who was so much more than the sum of his flaws, and that he was someone worth making an effort for.

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Worth the effort.

He’s graduated from high school now and I’m recalling my plus one system when it comes to dealing with today’s world. There are a lot of issues to be addressed currently, huge ones.

It’s easy to fall in to despair. One night I found myself sleepless at 3:00 thinking thoughts like “I hope the nukes fall directly on us while we’re all asleep so it’s over quickly and we don’t have to know.” Yeah. That level of despair.

What I insist on making myself do is to address whatever problems I feel I can in whatever way I feel I can. Then I make myself a list of good things about the world. At least as many good as bad, plus one. Reasons why it’s worth the effort. Things like the collected works of William Shakespeare and purple iris and a new clothes/shoe rack that has helped organize my bedroom and kittens and all of the beautiful instances where strangers help each other. Naturally, my amazing, wonderful children go into the positive column every time.

Full House Again

Everything old is new again. So much for the empty nest. A couple of months after the first kid boomeranged, the second one came back.

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We brought the 18-year-old home from college for Christmas break and he decided to stay. He had an unfortunate first semester as a freshman, with all sorts of problems, from the college bookstore messing up his textbook order to a bicycle accident that resulted in a fractured wrist. And he discovered he really didn’t like dorm life.

I went with him yesterday to sign up for classes at the local community college. He plans to get a few gen ed credits there this semester and possibly transfer somewhere else in the fall. He and some friends are talking about getting an apartment together. They held a discussion session at our house the other evening. It was interesting listening to 18 & 19-year-old young men discuss the virtues of slow cookers. We shall see what actually happens.

For now it’s back to a heaping cart full of groceries every week. Back to tracking four different schedules and parceling out car use — who has to be where when and what family member might have to give another one a ride. Back to more dishes to wash, to negotiating who has the most pressing need to get their laundry done and thus dibs on the washer, who is showering when. Back to sending shushing text messages to my kids in the middle of the night if they’re being too loud, and nagging about chores. But also back to enjoying their company a lot of the time and the comfort of being an eye-witness to food consumption, so I don’t worry about them starving.

I confess to mixed feelings. I liked having more time and freedom the few weeks they both were gone and I was getting a rhythm to what I thought was going to be my life now. But it’s also comforting seeing them a lot and feeling needed.

My firstborn is working at a small retail store and has already been promoted to assistant manager. This is a pleasing turn of events, after a long period of, uh, I guess I could phrase it as floundering or way finding or struggle or waiting for some brain synapses to do their thing with maturity.

Now I can focus on helping the younger sibling with his…way finding.

 

A Storm of Kindness and Courage

On Friday, a surprise ice storm restored my hope. I’ve been pretty discouraged about the world, humanity, and prospects for the future. Every day, it seems, the news got worse and the voice in my head proclaiming “All is lost” grew louder.Until two days ago.

An unpredicted hours-long spell of freezing drizzle hit at the worst possible time — late morning, after most people had already arrived at work or school, and right before lunch time. Nobody had prepared. Streets and sidewalks quickly became treacherous. At first, everyone thought the weather would clear up pretty quickly, so schools remained open, as did businesses, and nothing was canceled. I was lucky to be off work, but had a lunch date with a friend, to which I didn’t make it. (I drove four blocks, sliding twice, before realizing we would need to cancel.)

As the day went on, the population of cars in ditches boomed, pedestrians fell on sidewalks all over the place, our county had in excess of 200 traffic wrecks in seven hours, and people were generally stuck wherever they had been when the weather system hit. School buses couldn’t get to schools. The whole situation fit many definitions of disaster.

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What the traffic looked like in front of my house for several hours. A long line of people getting nowhere fast on the black ice.

But here’s what else happened. My Facebook page transformed from a  site of political wrangling into a feed full of locals checking on each other and updating their personal situation re: travel and weather and waiting on family members. People said to each other: “Check in and let us know you’re safe.” I saw friends reporting where they were stranded, followed by other friends saying “I’m nearby and have chains on my tires. I’m on my way.” Acquaintances shared stories of being helped by strangers.

My own firstborn was a quiet hero in their own way. They work retail in a small store in a shopping mall about three miles from our home. When a co-worker called in sick, my kid volunteered to go work so the manager wouldn’t have to drive in from his home in the country, many more miles away on even worse roads. I was worried about seeing my 21-year-old baby go risk such terrible conditions, but never more proud than hearing them say, “If I don’t go, I know my boss will try to come in instead and it will be a lot more dangerous for him. Besides, he has three kids depending him to make it back home. If I wreck, nobody else is going to go hungry over me being out of work for a while.” What is more an act of courage and love than to put yourself in harm’s way to spare someone else because they have children depending on them?

For the record, it took said offspring one hour and forty-three minutes to drive the three miles. Three miles in lines of vehicles rolling a couple of feet and then stopping for a minute. Then rolling a few feet and then stopping. And once they got to work, the food places in the mall were giving away many low-dollar menu items to mall workers and shoppers who were stranded there.

I setted in, safe in the house, but in touch with my husband, staying on at his work. In touch with various acquaintances, sharing their stories and concerns of the storm. Many parents fretted as their children remained at school for hours past the normal time, or had school buses slide off the road trying to deliver them home. The rest of the story is that school bus drivers went above and beyond in caring for the kids. And on blocks where school buses were stuck, neighbors let children into their homes and fed them. One of my friends who drives a school bus managed to transport all of her kids home, but afterward slid and got her vehicle jammed sideways across a residential street, unable to move it. The residents could have been upset with her for blocking their street, or they could do what they did — bring her dinner and hot cocoa and invite her to use their bathroom when she needed to. Later, they teamed up to spread sand and help her get the bus out.

School teachers and janitors and principals and secretaries stayed at their buildings and took care of the kids, even if they themselves would have been able to get home. They chose to stay with the children. As the evening went on, the temperature actually rose and the ice melted. At 1:00 a.m., the local school district sent out a message verifying that every child was finally home. All of the worried parents were surrounded by a bevy of friends digitally rejoicing with them that their kids were safe. Friends who had held their virtual hands and waited with them via internet connections.

For a day, a community came together and cared and helped each other. For one day, in one place, the best of humanity came out.

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Now there’s a little snow. Better than ice by a long shot.