Thursday, October 31, 2013

The apple and the tree

I woke to the gauzy, unexpected light of snow in the air this morning. The flakes were unsure of themselves. New to the stage. They meandered and floated more than they actually fell. But they were there. We saw them. Huddled together for warmth on the roof of the barn, collected on the top edge of the windshield wipers, stuck in a spider's web. We saw them. 

Like shuttling through darkness, turning the bend and seeing that glimpse of light, we’ve broken through. No more waiting and wondering and lamenting and regretting and reminiscing about things, warm and breezy, easy things left behind.

Winter is approaching. Our world has been stripped bare and stands exposed, ready and waiting, unafraid, un-self conscious, unashamed of its nakedness. Prepared.

 Fall agitates. Winter soothes. Spring promises. Summer lulls.

How sensitive can one be to the seasons? How is it that the spinning of the earth, the proximity to the sun, the length of days, the attitude of light, the precipitation or lack of precipitation, can dictate my outlook, my chemistry?

Did I inherit this hyper connectedness? My children may be learning it from me.  The rain draws them outside to dance. Dark days soothe them. They love snow-- the smell of it, the look of it, the feel of it, the sound of it.

On this, one of the darkest mornings we’ve had in a year, the house was still dark, their eyelids shut tight, at 7:05 a.m.

"Wake up, wake up, we’re going to be late for school," I shouted. “No light. No light.” Isla said, scootching backwards under her blanket to escape the rudeness of the bedside lamplight.

And Esther, in the dim light coming through her attic window, her body shaped, no contorted, into its usual arched , jumping fish pose in a tangle of covers. Her head never in line with her feet. Nothing, not even the fear of being late for school, stirred these children.

That is until I mentioned the snow. In an instant they were up, wide eyed, running, barefooted, to the windows, down the stairs, back door flung open, hands out, tongues out, itching for a feel, or a taste, of the sky.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I cannot claim to love the fall


I cannot, will not, despite its wiles, claim to love it. Fall leaves me feeling weak. Superficial. I ignore her message, disregard her true character, while admiring her beauty.

How can something that is dying be so stunning? How can we walk amongst the death, feel it thick and moldering beneath our feet, hear the crunch of its fragile bones, smell it on the air, feel it in the anemic sunlight on our skin, yet revel so unabashedly, so irreverently, in its temperate nature? Nothing this good, this delicious, comes without consequence.

But we, I, do revel. I let my guard down. I allow myself to be bowled over. I comment, mindlessly, on the beauty of fall every single day.

It's turned the bend now. The mountains have transformed from feisty fashionistas, to aging, skeletal homeless ladies. A balding old man. A near -empty coat rack, just a few tattered jackets left hanging.

But the sun, she tries. Her dutiful perseverence is almost pathetic.

She's tiring. You can see weariness in her pale eyes. You can feel it in her nonchalant touch. She's growing weaker. Hesitant to rise in the morning. All too eager to retreat to the safety of that place, out of sight, beyond the horizon, below the distant mountain tops, at day's end.
A lot like me.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Power of Yes

It's getting harder to make jokes about my dad's Alzheimer's these days.
It's never really been funny. But we manage, as we do with most of life's heartbreaks, to find the funnier sides to it.

We particularly like the way he throws his money around. After years of being thrifty guy, he's got his wallet out every chance he gets, offering to buy my kids things they want but don't need, or to pay for my groceries as if I were still in college.

Or the quirky things he does. Like the time we went walking on the Equinox trails and he complained and complained about his underpants "feeling strange" until finally I made him step off the trail and drop trou, praying no one would come along and find us-- an old man with his pants down and a younger woman trying to straighten out his underwear. After having ignored his complaints for half a mile, like I would a toddler, I discovered his was not an idle complaint. He had on briefs and boxers together.

And the boxers  had somehow ended up around his knees.

Or the things he writes down on scrap paper but can't explain. Like  "intelligence + personality= important."

Or things he says. Like in the car in Maine just recently, when he responded to some upsetting news I was telling him by saying, "That's a bunch of birdshit!"

Then, in a moment of great clarity, he said, "I don't think I've ever said that before, have I? That's not what people say. A bunch of birdshit?" And I said, "No, Dad. I've never heard it before. I think you just made up your own brilliant expression."

Bird shit! It doesn't necessarily stink, but it's still super annoying. 

We have so many laughs throughout the day with my dad. We laugh with him. But we're often laughing at him, and he seems to know that, but he never gets upset. My dad has always been a fan of laughter. He likes to make people laugh.

But, just lately, the humorous side of things is harder to spot. He seems so.... vulnerable. And, I'm guessing, he feels vulnerable too. The other day he said something about being a baby. "But you're not a baby anymore," I said. And he said, "Yes, but I'm just as damageable."

Telling him where we're going, twenty times along the way, isn't what gets to me. What gets to me is seeing him, once an incredibly alert man, a conversationalist, at a loss for what to say because he can't follow the conversation. He's lost the thread. He's forgotten what we're conversing about.

And what gets to me, is seeing this once perpetually busy, restless man at a loss as to what to do next. This man who was never caught without a plan. Never to be accused of idleness. Never under remotest threat of gathering moss on any of his many surfaces. A moving target, his motion was his sanity. As long as he kept moving, doing, doing doing, he was safe from whatever it was he was hiding from.

And having heard the distress in his voice the day I stupidly asked him what his most powerful childhood memory was so I could write it in his grandfather book and one day give his memories to Esther and Isla, and he started telling me the story of his father's suicide when my dad was only five, and recounted a vivid memory of his mother howling and pacing on the sleeping porch, I can only imagine that running, constant forward motion, is much more preferable to ever, ever going back there. 

But now the movement has stopped. Lurched to a halt, unsettling all that was not bolted down with the abruptness of the transition. Yet it's not my father who is unsettled, it's us who love him. It's us who look at him and see the same man as always, yet do not recognize the docile aimlessness, the lack of certainty in his eyes. The idleness.

Yet his brain is not idle. He remembers so much-- like the Boy Scout law, which he recites at least once each and every time I see him.
"A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,
courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty,
brave, clean, and reverent."

He gets a big kick out of the clean part. I'll have to ask him, now that I've just Googled it, if he remembers the Scout's Promise as well.
"On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight."

And, ever since he was in the hospital with five broken ribs, sustained last winter while cross country skiing, and they kept him on morphine for several days, he has developed a new quirk. You might call it a verbal tic.

And, so fitting with who my father has become, the master of gratitude, who feels blessed for  everything that comes his way, with the exception, perhaps, of rainy days,  this tic involves chanting the word "yes" as he makes his way through his day.

He sometimes says it with every step he takes, like a child learning to walk, "Yes, yes, yes, yes."
He says it when he's fixing himself breakfast, all alone in the kitchen. "Yes," he says, as he takes the milk carton out of the ice box. "Yes," he says again as he fishes a spoon out of the drawer. "Yes," he says when he reaches for a bowl in the cupboard.

And when he's about to do something tricky, like step across the boardwalks around Equinox Pond, or climb over a stone wall on his property in the woods. "Yes. Yes. Yes." he chants, as if the very word is what propels him. The word is his crutch. His cane. His gas pedal. His teddy bear. His pacifier.

That he's chosen this word, out of all the words in the world, fascinates me. As annoying as it is, mostly in its repetition and its foreshadowing of mental instability, it's brilliant really.

I found myself imitating him the other day, all by myself. It was soothing to say. Yes. Over and over, not letting any other thought, or word, enter your mind or cross your lips. You can't say yes without smiling. Whereas "no," forces the mouth into what feels and looks like the beginning of a frown.

Try it:

"Maybe, maybe, maybe" this is all going to be okay.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Into the middle of things

My oldest daughter might be having the summer of her life. I’m insanely jealous.

Earning money babysitting.  Immersion soccer camp. A week at the lake, inviting friends one at a time. Learning to water ski. Several weeks at home doing nothing, calling no one, redecorating her room, and reading books, sketching, climbing trees, hiking with me, taking pictures, playing with her little sister. Plenty of family gatherings with cousins, and a two-day stint working as a 'stable girl' for one of my older sisters at a horse festival in town.

As I write this, she's on a beach, or swimming in the Atlantic, or scaling a bluff, or flinging across the marina in a child-manned dingy boat, or fishing in the deep sea, or checking out the seals, on an island off Massachusetts with her friend who happens to be the daughter of my friend.

She's been waiting  all summer for this particular trip. 

Watching her lately, I’m convinced that eleven just might be the best age there is. She's teetering ecstatically on the precipice of young womanhood with no reason to fear the fall.

She's all confidence, hope, ideas, curiosity, positive optimism. None of that pure zest is getting bogged down by a fear of being disliked, of being fat, of being ugly, of being stupid, of being unlovable, of being inferior, of being anything less or more than she is.

She is content, a human being, being and feeling fabulous about what life has to offer and how comfortably she seems to fit into it.

Being out of school is a bonus. Being away from the confines of schedule, forced learning, and forced social interaction, being able to pick and choose who she spends her time with, aside from me, is liberating for her.

When I saw her working at the horse show, she was running to fetch a girth back at the barns. She was so assured. So pleased with herself. I chased her playfully to where she had left her bike, as she rode off through the sea of makeshift stables, I shouted, “you are so lucky, you are the luckiest girl in the world, I want to be you.”

But the thing is, I don't want to be her. I don't need to be her. I already have been her. And that's what makes it so alluring. The remembering after all this time. The awakening. The tasting of the past. The almost feeling what it felt like, but not quite, to be 11. As with all endangered stages of growth and states of mind, it doesn't last.

Which is why I've been obsessed lately with trying to capture the unique space in time Esther is occupying in words, before it morphs into something else entirely. Something more complicated, self aware and brooding.

I came upon a description from Annie Dillard in her memoir An American Childhood. If you haven't read this, you should.

I absolutely love this description of children recognizing they're no longer children, not yet adults, and that there's no stopping the trajectory.

 Annie Dillard  An American Childhood:
“Children ten years old wake up and find themselves here, discover themselves to have been here all along; is this sad? They wake like sleepwalkers in full stride; they wake like people brought back from cardiac arrest or from drowning in media res, surrounded by familiar people and objects, equipped with a hundred skills.

They know the neighborhood, they can read and write English, they are old hands at the commonplace mysteries, and yet they feel themselves to have just stepped off the boat, just converged with their bodies, just flown down from a trance, to lodge in an eerily familiar life already well underway.

I woke in bits, like all children, piecemeal over the years. I discovered myself and the world, and forgot them, and discovered them again. I woke at intervals until, by that September when Father went down the river, the intervals of waking tipped the scales, and I was more often awake than not. I noticed this process of waking, and predicted with terrifying logic that one of these years not far away I would be awake continuously and never slip back, and never be free of myself again.
Consciousness converges with the child as a landing tern touches the outspread feet of its shadow on the sand; precisely, toe hits toe. The tern folds its wings to sit, its shadow dips and spreads over the sand to meet and cup its breast. Like any child, I slid into myself perfectly fitted, as a diver meets her reflection in  a pool. Her fingertips enter the fingertips on the water, her wrists slide up her arms. The diver wraps herself in her reflection wholly, sealing it at the toes, and wears it as she climbs rising from the pool, and ever after. "

See what I mean?

Do you remember this? 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Choking on the fragility of life

When Isla emerged from her swimming lesson at Crystal Beach, her lips were blue. Her skin was a carpet of goose bumps. She’d been in the water for an hour. The sky was overcast, absent of friendliness or warmth, a quilt of steel gray.

I wrapped her little, shivering body in a towel and sent her straight to the car. “Go on the grass,” I said. “Follow the lawn until you see our car. It will be nice and warm in there. Don’t go through the parking lot. I’ll be right behind you.”

It didn’t occur to me to say, “Don’t eat any candy!” because I didn’t know she had any candy.

I walked across the short, empty beach to where Esther and her friends were sitting on a blanket under a tree watching YouTube videos on an iPod Touch, the gateway drug for handheld gadget addiction. We hesitated a moment to admire a family of fuzzy baby ducks waddling across the grass.
“C’mon, Esther,” I said. “Isla’s already in the car.”

Esther jumped up, picked up her things and headed toward the parking lot. I followed her and, as socially-deprived parents tend to do, stopped to chat with several other moms along the way. When I got to the car I opened the back door and put my bags into the back. I rummaged around to find something the kids could snack on while we drove home, so they wouldn’t beg to stop at Dunkin Donuts like we did the day before.

Before I could do anything, Esther said, “Isla’s choking on something.”

“What do you mean, something?” I said.

“I don’t know. She’s choking,” she said, a recognizable edge of panic in her voice.

I went around and opened Isla’s door. She was in her booster seat, struggling to breathe. She coughed, once, twice, but then I only heard gurgling.

“What is she eating? What on earth is she eating?” I yelled, unbuckling her seatbelt and lifting her outside. I pried open her hands and found three soggy Dots candies.

“Where did she get these?” I shrieked as I pounded on her back and bent her over.

“I don’t know,” Esther yelled back.

There’s no way I can tell you everything that happened next. I suspected I should be doing the Heimlich, but wasn’t sure if Isla was too small. I got behind her and reached around, all the while looking around,wondering if it would be better to yell for help, or keep doing whatever pathetic thing I was doing.

I do remember the trajectory of my emotions, from fear, to anger, to disbelief to anger, to  fear to eventual panic once it occurred to me that if I didn’t do the right thing, Isla  could actually die, right then and there.

But she couldn't die right here, right now in this beach parking lot, wearing only her bathing suit, with her mother smacking her on the back. Could she? She wouldn't die like this. Would she?

There's a surreal quality to the moment when you realize that, yes, your child could die right in front of your eyes, right in front of all those people standing there watching you, some friends and some strangers, all with concerned looks on their faces, and cell phones poised, as you try to remember how to do the Heimlich maneuver.

Lucky for me, and for Isla, a friend, a young woman who looks after one of Esther’s friends when her mom is busy, a woman who works with  kids with development issues and special education needs , a woman who also works as a lifeguard, a woman who is so confident and comfortable in times of crisis, she later told me she has saved an untold amount of kids, and adults, from choking, appeared.

When she saw me pounding Isla on the back, she ran towards us and grabbed her from me. She did a few Heimlich moves. Then she also tried some back blows. Isla started to cough and coughed up a small piece of chewy candy. “Is there more in there,” Jen asked. Isla nodded yes. Her eyes were getting bloody and  a horrifying gurgling sound escaped from her throat.

Esther started to scream. Someone took her away. I remained strangely numb. Stoic. A woman standing nearby asked if she should call 911. My head reeled. “This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. This isn’t happening.”

Isla started to gag and cough and spit up some more. Then she spoke. “Am I going to the hospital?” she said.

Then the gurgling noise again. Then another big gag and then, there on the blacktop, lying in a puddle of spit, was a completely intact yellow Dot candy. When it was over, 911 calls retracted, and  Isla could speak again, and Esther had calmed down, we sat in the open back of the car and hugged and laughed nervously.

“Where on earth did you get that candy?” I said, desperately grasping for something tangible. “I have never bought you Dots.”

“Daddy bought them for me yesterday," she said. "They were in the car.”

“Were you trying to eat them fast before anyone saw you eating them, by any chance, Isla?”


“Do you think choking on Dots is better than being scolded by mommy for eating candy at 11 in the morning?”


"Death to Dots!” I said out loud. “Death to fucking Dots!” I screamed on the inside. Death to the constant fear of death. Isla’s not a toddler. She’s seven years old for crying out loud. Seven. Who on earth would imagine a seven year old choking to death on a piece of candy. Will I never, ever be able to let my shoulders relax and feel sure my children won’t die or be maimed somehow, every day of their lives? It appears not. 
Motherhood is relentless.

Then we got in the car, backed out of the parking lot, pulled onto the highway and headed home as if nothing had happened. Nothing had changed. Life goes on.

Nobody spoke. That car was stone silent. I tried to focus on my driving, feeling suddenly vulnerable on that narrow road with nothing but a guardrail between our car and the short cliff that dropped down to the lake. I reached back and held Isla’s hand. It was cold. Then I reached for Esther’s hand.

That poor girl carries such a burden when it comes to her little sister’s suffering. 
My mind kept returning to that place, that moment when I was unsure that Isla would breathe again, when I felt the most complete absence of control over life and death, over anything. And the tears finally came. They came from someplace deep, hot and familiar. And their source seemed endless.

There was no sobbing, or urge to sob, accompanying those tears. Just hot liquid pouring forth through my eyes. Crying is so strange. It feels so animalistic, yet I know of no other animals besides humans who do it.

I cried the entire 20 miles back to our house, keeping my eyes fixed firmly to the road for fear if I turned my head even slightly, Isla and Esther would see me.

For some reason, I didn’t want them to know just what a wreck I would be without them.

This happened nearly a month ago. I only just now have managed to be able to put it into words. I've been feeling a bit floored by the fragility of motherhood. I'm also kind of obsessed with the thought that there is only so many accidents your child can have on a mother's watch before someone wonders what the heck is wrong with that child's mother. I know, I know. Balderdash. Right? 

(More than 12,300 kids per year visit Emergency rooms for choking on food. I posted about this over at BabyCenter as well. )

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mom's almost never grouchy at the lake

We survived a week-long heat wave. We came to our senses one hot afternoon and moved into my family's tiny camp on the shore of a not-too-tiny mountain lake and stayed there, hiding out,  and didn't consider leaving until we felt a crispness in the air, cool enough to send our arms flying up and around our own bare shoulders in an attempt to hug ourselves warm.

Lake life suits me. Who wouldn't it suit? Life is pared down to the essentials at the lake. We get hot, we swim. We get hungry, we eat. We get sleepy, we nap. We get overwhelmed by the ceaselessness of the natural scenery, we read.

Most appealing is existing, feeling perfectly content and fulfilled, with one one hundredth of your belongings around you. Bathing suits, perhaps a favorite pillow or two, three to four selected items of clothing, a scarcely- used fridge containing only those food items you all chose together just hours before, a good book, a magazine.... what else.

What few drawers and closets exist in the lake camp are not stuffed with clutter that anyone would claim. Therefore no one feels the need to organize that clutter, to harness it lest it swallows us. We just let it all be, as it is, and as it has been for close to sixty years.

Aside from the occasional sweeping frenzy to pick up all the pine needles and dirt carried in on wet bare feet,  very little, if any, time is spent on housework at the lake. At a temporary shelter I am liberated from the persistent nagging, oppressive nature of my permanent home.

"Live in me, enjoy yourself, be happy, go outside and jump in the lake," the lake camp seems to say.

"Clean me, harness me, sew up these rips in my seams, take control of this place, maintain order lest you are exposed as someone who's, gasp, messy, and take a look at all the crap you've accumulated over a lifetime, all the stuff you claim you "need" to make it through your days on this earth," my home seems to scream.

There is no harnessing the lake house. The lake house harnesses us in the most underhanded of ways. 

Lake life suits my children. They move through their days at the lake needing no guidance. With the water calling them constantly, a beautiful, shimmering thing just outside the window, I don't need to tell them what to do. They are in that water, in one way or another, for hour upon hour.

Esther, with her new fancy swim goggles Ian bought her, and her subsequent newly-discovered love of deep-lake diving, is inseparable with the water. My heart comes into my throat each time my eyes scan the lake's surface and don't find her. Then, seeming lifetimes later, I catch a glimpse of eyes, nose and mouth popping up just long enough to take in a fresh supply of oxygen before disappearing under again and leaving only a vague footprint. Sometimes I see a foot, or half a leg, that breaks the the surface and gives her location away. Sometimes it's just her swirling footprint, remnant turbulence, as if a predator fish is chasing down its dinner.

I had no idea, until now, how at one she was in the water. And it makes sense to me, now, that she might just be of aquatic background, of fishy persuasion. As long as she has been able to talk, this girl has complained of the feeling of too much air coming into her nose. I've never been able to use heat in the car without getting an urgent request to turn it off because she "cannot breathe."

Anyone who knows her will attest that she often has a hand over her nose, especially while sleeping, as a make-shift filter for what her body perceives as suspiciously-dry and empty air.

Watching her in the water, hearing her talk about how natural it feels, as if she can almost breath under there, made me realize my daughter is indeed part fish. As she was in the womb, before her lungs took in their first gulp of air, her little respiratory system still longs to be. What she's missing is gills.

And Isla, whose swimming style instills me with fear, tries on her new-found swimming confidence eagerly each day. She knows when to ask for a noodle. She knows when she doesn't need one. She follows her big sister and the occasional friend around  from float to float, to Henry--the huge, moss-covered rock that sits on the bottom calling children to stand on him--and back with persistent, somewhat dog-like, motion.

And each night at the lake, in her sleep, Isla battles with her superhero self. She talks the night through, fretfully tossing, turning, sitting up, doing the crawl, rolling on her back and gasping for breath, re-living every pirate adventure she has with her sister or maybe cousin Rudy the day before. Fluctuating between aquatic species and land-dweller has never come easy to Isla. She swims, and splashes and thrashes  as if she is dreaming about swimming to a surface that never appears. A visceral child, she lives her life, re-lives it, through her sleeping body.

And my mother, she relives her childhood in the water. She spent an afternoon sitting on the lake bottom with Isla, who taught her, or refreshed her memory,  about the joys of letting out all your oxygen and sinking as deep as you can.  Again and again she held her nose and went under, only to pop up laughing moments later.

First Esther, then Isla, then even my 89-going-on-8-year-old mom would all disappear under the water's surface as if taunting me, all of humanity's lifeguard, for being such a nervous worrier.

It's cooler now. We're back home in the meadow. Back to the lawn that needs mowing and pile of mail that needs sorting and, "I don't have any clean underwear or shorts and I can't find my iPod charger" problems that need solving.

In some ways it's nice to be back to normal, to see my kids feeling listtless on the couch and experiencing "the boredom." In other ways, it makes me want to bust free again, and see just how long we could survive living on lake time before we started to crave the creature comforts and routine of home.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The pond that Ruby loved

Ruby didn't go far in the end.

She picked and chose her ambulatory battles with discretion.

The neighbors' pond always proved worth the fight.

It took her a while to make the trip, but, stirred by years of fond remembrances, of strange humans, most of them children, fawning over her, throwing her sticks, and balls and feeding her scraps--potato chips, Smart Food, hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly sandwich crusts--her eating habits showed little discretion-- she persisted along the familiar route.

So frequently had she made that trip across the meadow, to our nearest neighbors' pond, the guests staying in the house that goes with the pond, the one that's rented out weekly by vacationers,  often felt compelled to mention Ruby in the guest book. Or so I've heard.

"The dog makes a nice addition."
"Ruby was an excellent rent-a-pet." 
"You didn't mention the pond came complete with a stick-fetching -obsessed dog." 
"We love Ruby."
"Where'd the dog go? 
"No Ruby?"

She was lured over to the pond, originally, by the sound of splashing water and screaming children. And attention-starved dogs idea of heaven. She got into the habit of sneaking over there every time I let her outside.

But, her final summer, last summer, she rarely left the porch without being carried down the steps.

So I was surprised the first time she arrived at the pond ten minutes behind us. I imagined her loping, limping, her way across the meadow, through the tall grass, through the gap in the fallen stone wall, past the rope swing where the girls frequently stopped to play, their feet suddenly leaving the ground, and fly back and forth over her head.

She'd reach the crest of our neighbors' sloped, closely-shorn lawn and know it was all downhill from there. She saw us before she heard us. Neither her eyes nor her floppy ears worked all that well. But her nose never failed her. And her sense of place endured.

Straight across the short sandy beach and into the murky water she'd crash. She lapped up the coolness and lay down her weary, hot body in the soft muck at the pond's edge, letting the water soak and soothe her often raw underbelly and sending her fleas, her new permanent guests, curse them, scrambling for higher ground.

Then she'd get up and snuffle her way to the shade of the baby Aspens that encroach, ever further, on the beach, and attempt a few full-body shakes that sometimes shook her right off her  feet, and collapse in a heap of panting hair, flesh, bone and devotion.

And there she stayed, panting and whining, until  it was time to go back home. She had found her people. Her work was done.

I usually carried her back. Her damp, pungent warmth pressed through my thin bathing suit and propelled me onward, helped me to ignore the cumbersome weight of her that made my back and arms ache. My kids did not get carried that far when they were that big.

She surrendered to the ride. And I know she would have said thank you if she could.

We've been back to that pond a few times this summer.  And every time I'm there I find myself expecting, against all reason, to see her sweet face, black head and patches around her sad eyes split down the middle by a white blaze, followed by her insistent white paws,  paws that she used like hands to reach out to us with,  and her careering caboose of a back end, coming over the rise of the hill.

But she never does appear. She's chosen to stay, wherever she is.

Good dog, Ruby. Good dog.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Papa's new perspective

I only just noticed, now that it's on the big screen, that my dad is holding a dandelion, or two, in his hand in these pictures. I'm quite sure he didn't actually bend down to pick them, but Isla, his grandflowerchild, gave them to him as an offering of love and kindness and, I'm guessing, respect.

Their affection is mutual and not remotely affected by the fact that my father's short-term memory has been riddled by the degenerative effects of Alzheimer's.

In fact, my dad is more on the level of his grandchildren than ever before. More able to be and stay in the moment, each moment as it comes to him in steady increments, unfurling like a ball of string he's released from his own hand.  He has no agenda, at least not an inflexible one. He's always free to engage, to detain, to entertain. The perfect Grandpa.

There is no longer any pesky recent past to mull over and stew and discover regrets about. A blessing and a curse.

Be here now.

He is my walking Bhudda, gratitude- master of a dad. Stopping, always stopping, to remember what's gone right in his life, smelling the apple blossoms, accept the Dandelion bouquets, and comment on the pervasive green, the teeming perfection, that surrounds him.

Content to admire the miracle of trees that have been here, rooted deep, as long as he has-- standing straight and present, the model of persistence, in the woods, meadows, and hillsides he calls his own.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Why we live in the middle of nowhere

Isla was begging me, as she so often does, more often than I care to admit, to let her "watch something" the other day. Like Pavlov's dog, the minute she steps over the threshold of this house, she begins to feel the pull of the screen, in our case, the computer monitor that connects her to the world of Netflix, or PBS Kids,or Scooby Doo reruns on YouTube.

I watched TV as a child. I have vivid,visceral, memories of staring, thumb in mouth, shoulder's slumped, glass of milk and pile of Oreo cookies by my side, at the TV screen as Bobby Brady attempted to run away but only made it so far as the back yard.

I'm nostalgic for the days of television now, what with the built in governor it had, given the simple fact that TV programming ran on a schedule.

You watched a show. The show was over. You turned it off. The TV stayed in one room. You went to another. Or outside, beyond the reach, and the pull, of the screen.

There is no "over" on the internet. There is no fixed place where we engage with hand-held gadgets. Today our screens follow us wherever we go, if we want them to. Unless, of course, you live in a place that still has no cell-service.

Anyway, even though I dreamed of getting something done, I bravely told Isla "no," when she asked the inevitable question. When the next question came--"then what can I do?" I was prepared.

"Read, draw, climb a tree, look at birds, go outside, watch the ants, ride your bike, go to your room and be bored, be a kid, look around you, life is full of things to do, or not do," I said.

A well- practiced rant.

"Hey, I've got an idea," she said.

"Let's go to Maria's pond and catch some frogs."

"Okay," I said. "Let's go to Maria's pond.

  And so we went.

And Isla leaned in. Unafraid of the muck and mire. And the frogs seemed to be waiting, for a fearless little girl, just like her.

To tease.

But Isla persevered. Did I spell that right? It looks funny.
And Isla was rewarded for her perseverance.

And she never tired of the sensation of slippery frog in the palm of her hand. The Vermont version of a hand-held gadget.

Over and over again. She let the frog go, she caught the frog. She let it go. She caught it again. I wondered if this frog might possibly be Esther's old friend, Bernadette.
She seemed familiar. And almost as if she was enjoying the game of catch and release.

She'd jump away from the shore, then swim back directly towards Isla. Several times she jumped right out of the water near Isla's feet on the grass.

I had the rare of experience of watching all of this, without once feeling as if I should be somewhere else. Without once saying, "C'mon, Isla. We'd better get back."

I squatted on my haunches, or sat on a rock, at the edge of the pond, and waited.

Until she was done. And we went back home again. 

Leaving the frogs, of course, behind. With the unspoken promise that we'd be back.

Oh, we'd be back. You can count on that.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

On a runaway train to join the global motherhood movement

I'm on my way, via Amtrak,  to New York City. The trees are whizzing past and every once in a while I can look out and see the wide, slow moving Hudson River on my right. Each time the train whistle blows I find myself swooning with some strange primal sense of nostalgia mixed with the pure excitement, anticipation, of moving through time and space from one place to another.

To travel.
I like it.

But I like even more that I'm going to the Mom+Social global motherhood summit to take part in a collective pow wow about how to make the state of the world's mothers as safe and healthy and filled with hope for the future of their children as can possibly be.

The thought of people taking the time to put their heads together to figure out how to better spread the word of the importance of mothers around the world inspires and encourages me beyond words.

One day and a lot of walking later:

Now that I'm here, I don't know where to begin to describe what I've seen and heard.

I've seen Christy Turlington, 80s supermodel turned women and children's health advocate. Her youthful beauty was distracting only in that it made me insanely curious how old she was. She's 44, apparently. I was hoping I'd find out she's at least ten years younger than I am though I knew that was impossible.

I saw Robbie Parker, the father of Emilie Parker, one of the six-year olds shot dead in the Newtown school shooting, cry several times onstage as he explained just how much his daughter changed his life and made him a better person.

I heard Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children, speak of the fierce determination of all mothers to ensure our children the best future possible future. I also learned how she came to devote her life to non-profit work. She described the day she locked eyes with a mother in the Phillipines and became profoundly aware that that woman's baby, just like Carolyn's baby at the time, had no less right than did her child to the very best future he could possibly have.

I listened to Fortunata Kasege talk about the sorrow of learning she had HIV and the joy of learning, a few months later, her newborn baby tested negative for the virus. 

I heard Jennifer Lopez and her sister, Lynda Lopez, banter on stage about being pregnant together and the importance of sisterhood, be it blood sisters or simply a tribe of supportive women around you. I experienced another superficial moment, ala Christy Turlington, when I could not take my eyes off sister Lynda's legs, which I described as leaving the stage five minutes after the rest of her body did. They were that long.

I was moved by a woman, a Latina blogger, named Jeannette Kaplun, when she said
"The fear of losing your kids can paralyze you no matter where you live, no matter what kinds of luxuries you can afford."

I learned about a United Nations campaign called Girl Up that inspires American girls to become global leaders and channel their passions to global issues.

We were presented at the beginning of the forum, with the question "What one thing, as part of the global community,  can we do to support the world's mothers?"

Can you answer that question?