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.

 

Blogging From the Pit

I had so many ideas for blog posts. I planned a lighthearted account of the sans-children escapade my husband and I took to Niagara Falls. I thought I could elicit a few chuckles talking about our current household of three adults with different work schedules and how we juggle things. Or a look at the issues with young adults that I hadn’t anticipated (does having my name listed on my offspring’s checking account affect my credit score? Especially if they regularly run the balance down to $.050?) I could muse on how kids who are launching into the world are on different developmental timelines, just as babies and toddlers are.

Or I could log on, open a new post and sit here looking at a blank screen, lost in the bewilderment over the upending of the world. When it looks as if every rule for life is changing, how can I form communicate coherent thoughts about what it means to be helping my kids make their way? I’m not even sure what the world is going to be or how it will look. Much different from what I expected a few weeks ago. I know that much. I’m not sure I can form coherent thoughts about it.

I don’t know what advice to give my children, either. Does it make sense to get a college degree? Who knows?  I’ve always urged frugality and saving, but maybe saving money isn’t smart any more. I remember the part in Margaret Atwoods The Handmaid’s Tale where they shut down the bank accounts. Possibly it’s smarter to spend all the money now and get concrete stuff for it, or else move to coffee cans buried in the back yard. Or eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow seems so uncertain. The eat and drink part seems easy; the merriness, not so much.

After years of being subsumed by the needs of others, I thought I’d take my first opportunity for a breather and turn my focus inward for a year or so. Try to work on some health issues, get myself well and rested, and not jump into volunteering or activism for anything. That now seems like the idea of stopping to take your vitamins and make your green smoothie while the house is on fire.

I know, big picture, life has always been uncertain, the rules have always been changing and people have always been clawing their way out of the pit over and over. You think you have medieval existence figured out and then everyone around you starts dropping from plague. You see life progressing with the new wonders of the twentieth century. It looks like life might finally be getting easier, when bam! – a world war and Spanish flu. Humanity has often teetered on the brink.

I guess now we do what people did in those situations. The next thing. And then the next. I suppose I urge my kids to look around and see what they can do to make life better in some way for someone. I suppose I do the same myself.

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Here are some trees, doing their thing, unaware of what humanity is up to. Just doing their thing because they’re here today to do it.

 

 

Major League Adulting

My 18-year-old son has done some major league adulting the past couple of weeks, tackling challenges that can leave even the most seasoned grown-up looking around in panic for a more adulty adult.

First, he cast his first ever vote by absentee ballot. I always vote, and have always kept my life boring enough that I was sure to be in town on election day, able to go to the polling place. Absentee voting was new to me, but between the two of us we figure out how to get him a ballot. I only helped him with the easy first step.

After he received the ballot, he earned his stars on the chart for grown-up responsibility by researching every candidate and issue before marking his selections. I didn’t realize he would have to get it notarized before returning it. But he figured out how to do this all on his own. This is the kind of thing that can shut down people much older than he is. It makes my heart sing to know that voting is important enough to my offspring that he made the effort to go find a notary by himself. I wonder how many people stop at that point in the process.

His second major bit of adulting involved an injury. He wrecked his bicycle and hurt his wrist. He messaged me a few minutes after the incident, and I urged him to go to the Student Health Center immediately. Once again, I helped him as I could through the first steps, even describing to him what I saw on Google street view to help him find the building. Once he was in the doors, though, he was on his own for the first time handling a medical emergency. I prepared myself to jump in my car and drive 95 miles right away if they wanted to send him on to the hospital. However, they sent him away with an ace bandage and the opinion that it was unlikely he had a fracture.Stymied in my frantic desire to save the day in a motherly way, I hopped on-line and ordered a box of instant cold packs delivered to his dorm overnight.

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He sent me a photo.

A few days later, my kid had a follow-up with the health center and they decided he should go get X-rays. They put an actual brace on in the meantime. This was last Friday. He messaged me saying he needed to get it done over the weekend. Again, I pulled on my SuperMom cape only to be told to pack it away. I made plans A, B, C and D for getting together with him and going for the scans at a place covered under our insurance. Then I talked to him on the phone and he was all like “I can do it at the hospital near campus. They have a deal with the school. It’s a flat $35 fee.” Oh.

Did he at least want me to drive down and go over there with him, for moral and logistical support? He didn’t see any reason for it. Oh. He did it. Got himself to the hospital, handled the paperwork and got X-rays done, all on his own. In case you’re curious about what the scan showed, I am, too. He goes back to Student Health tomorrow to find out the results.

I wish I were able to help him more, but can’t say I’m displeased at his level of competence. Whatever happens with grades and school, he’s obviously developing the skills to cope with adult life. But I’m still ready to jump in the car if he needs me.

I Love Halloween

Here’s a Mad Lib about me:

I love celebrating _________ (holiday).

In this case, Halloween. This year, I’m saying “Boo” over my work schedule, which keeps me occupied until nine o’clock Halloween night.

When my kids were younger, we took them trick-or-treating every year, whatever the weather. Umbrellas exist for a reason, after all. Then we’d have a party at our house with their friends and the friends’ parents.

Before we even had children, the spouse and I carved jack-o-lanterns. In the years since my kids have outgrown trick-or-treating, I still have loads of fun passing out candy and seeing the trick-or-treaters in their costumes. I guess my husband gets all the fun this year. But I did get my pumpkin carved:

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Happy Halloween!