Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Gift of Remembrance

I’m a bit speechless today, and that’s not a common problem for me.  Last night I was given a gift that left me in tears, yet filled my heart with love.  I’m used to the idea of thoughtful gifts.  Our family does a good job of gifting from the heart.  Gifts are chosen with care; they’re not just picked up off the $10 table.  For the first few years of our marriage, I made all of our gifts – partly for economic reasons, but also because I liked the idea of creating something special for each person on our list.  That tradition ended as our family grew and time became an issue, but we’ve still tried to create an environment where the giving of gifts is a thoughtful, caring, sometimes creative activity.

Last night I received very thoughtful gifts from my husband – all created by him from ideas in his heart.  There’s not a piece of jewelry in the bunch, but I treasure the gifts more than diamonds.  One child gave me a gift she’d made; others gave me special gifts from my wish list and my oldest child gave me the gift that has left me speechless.

I was blessed to have two wonderful parents who loved me whole-heartedly.  They both set an example of love, giving and kindness that greatly influenced the person I am today.  I loved them both immensely, but my dad was extra-special to me.  Other than my husband, he probably was, and still is, my all-time favorite person in the world – and he died far too early.  I was only 28 when he died; it was a crushing loss for me.  Our oldest son, who rivaled me as the apple of my dad’s eye, had just turned five.  Not only was my dad’s death a loss for our oldest son and me, but also, as each successive child joined our family, I grieved a little that they did not have the opportunity to know my dad.  He died in December 26 years ago, so Christmas has since had a little pall hanging over it.  Last night our oldest son, the only one of our kids who knew my dad, gave me the gift of honoring my dad and the special relationship they had.  His gift was a framed photo and poem.  The photo, one of our son at about three years of age standing next to my dad on my parent’s front porch, both of them wearing blue and white striped overalls, is one of my favorite childhood photos of my son.  The poem, The View From My Grandfather’s Porch, was written by my son and was published in Portland State University’s literary magazine, Pathos.  The pages from the magazine sit open in the frame, the poem on one page, the photo on the other, floating above a background photo of the beach and ocean my dad loved, in subdued, quiet, peaceful hues.  This is a timeless gift that brings my dad home to me – it makes my heart warm, but it also fills my eyes with tears.  The remembering is oh so good, but remembering also still hurts oh so much.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Embrace the Crazy!

Recently, my future son-in-law was busily trying to organize the proposal event with which he hoped to surprise our daughter.  It’s tough to organize an event with just one other person, but when you add in two families, it becomes crazy.  However, he was doing a pretty good job getting all of the details in place.  Then, the day before the surprise proposal, our daughter decided to change her plans for the next day throwing the proposal plans into a temporary tailspin.  As I texted with the future son-in-law about possible ways to salvage the plans, I added a P.S. onto one of my texts:  Embrace the crazy!

This was a cute, put-things-into-perspective plea, but the reality is, learning to embrace the crazy makes life so much easier because there’s so much that’s going to happen that can’t be planned, can’t be changed and, yet, still makes us feel crazy.  I know this feeling well with a family that includes one husband, seven kids, one daughter-in-law, one pending son-in-law, several dogs (including “grand” dogs), sports schedules, work schedules, class schedules – you get the idea.  Even going out to dinner with our kids is always a big deal, “Do you have a table for twelve?”

So, today, as we head off to the northern most city in our state (we live in the southern most city) for our middle daughter’s State soccer tournament, (my third trip north in four days) and after a date night with my husband last night which included a last minute dinner with our oldest son and our daughter-in-law, and knowing that we’ll be rushing back home to watch the Ducks’ game on TV tonight (DVR delayed because we won’t be home in time for kickoff), and even though I’ve been fighting a cold for the last three days, I’ll just sit back, smile and embrace this crazy wonderful life we lead.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Sunday Paper

This morning, as my husband and I sat drinking coffee and reading the Sunday paper, he made a comment on how he finds it interesting that, in today’s high-tech atmosphere, reading the Sunday paper is still an event.  For us, it’s a regular part of our weekend routine.  We used to read the Sunday paper while kids played on the floor around us; now, we read it in the silence of a houseful of sleeping teenagers and young adults.  While I was growing up, I read the Sunday paper in the early morning hours with my dad, both of us early risers, while my mom enjoyed her one day to sleep in.  After my dad died, the hardest times for me were early mornings when we’d visit my mom.  I’d get up, make the coffee, collect the paper and then sit  by myself sobbing.

My husband’s observation that reading the Sunday paper is still an event is, I think, probably a generational statement.  While this ritual has been a big part of our routine and the routine of our parents and generations before us, I’m not sure that today’s young adult generation reads a paper or has experienced the delight of sipping coffee in a quiet house while perusing a newspaper.  Today’s generation more often finds their information on their laptops or handheld devices, but I can’t imagine they get the same level of enjoyment I get from the ceremony that includes the feel of the coffee cup, the aroma of the coffee; the sound of the newspaper being folded, unfolded and pages turned; the quiet of the house broken only when one of us reads aloud something of interest; and the memories of other quiet mornings experienced throughout a lifetime.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Yesterday morning I woke up 45 minutes before my alarm went off.  I thought about getting up, but decided this would be a good time to try some calming meditation.  I keep reading that meditation is good for stress relief, satisfactory sleep, weight reduction – just general health, but I have a hard time sitting still.  I decided that I would spend these 45 minutes calming my mind, just being quiet.  I tried repeating a mantra (several actually), I tried focusing on my breathing, I tried relaxing my muscles from my feet up – none of it worked.  My brain felt like the ball in an old-fashioned pinball machine:   zing, ping, zing.  I’d manage to quiet my brain for no more than a couple of seconds before the ball took off again.

I’d like to be able to sit and relax, to meditate for calmness and clarity.  I’m sure the health and wellness claims are true.  My brain just doesn’t seem able to comply with this desire.  I’ve been trying to do this for years and I’m not giving up, but this morning when I woke up before my alarm went off, I got up and started the laundry.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Mommy Rock

Pre-Script:  I wrote the following a few years ago (2004), but after witnessing a friend's child's homecoming this past Friday, I think it's a good time to publish it.

The airport is busy with the arrivals and departures of mid-day travelers.  The number of people crowded into the waiting area makes it seem even busier than usual.  Before 9/11 these people would have all been dispersed to various gates throughout the terminal, but now we’re all confined to the one waiting area just outside the row of security stations.  I approach the waiting area, scanning the crowd for the people I’m meeting.  I’ve never met them before; often I haven’t even spoken with them, but I can usually pick them out from the crowd.  I’m a volunteer greeter for Holt International Children’s Services and the people I’m looking for are about to become parents, right here, in the middle of a busy airport.

For the families I meet at the airport, this is the end of a journey that began with an inquiry, “Is there a child for us?”  A journey that took them through weeks, perhaps months of research, leading them through application forms, autobiographies, certified copies of documents, fingerprinting, homestudy interviews and waiting.  They have waited for papers to be processed, they have waited for fingerprints to be cleared, they have waited for visas to be issued, they have waited for foreign governments to give clearance and they have waited for the arrival of their child.  For the past few months, they’ve had a picture of that child and they have fallen in love.  They have gone through the preparations that all parents go through anticipating the arrival of a child.  They have prepared the nursery, bought the car seat, arranged for pediatricians and they’ve waited.  There is no “due date”; they just wait for the phone call saying that their child is coming home.

As I scan the crowd of people at the airport, I notice a fairly young couple sitting quietly off to the side.  She is leaning against him; he has his arm around her shoulders.  There’s an older woman sitting beside them.  I approach.  “Are you the Holt family?” I ask.  Before they even answer, their faces tell me they are.

Sometimes families arrive with whole entourages of friends and family members.  The official word is to keep it simple, but my gut and my own experiences tell me that whatever works for the family is okay.  Some families want their supporting cast to be with them during this wondrous occasion – grandparents, aunts, uncles, special friends and clergy.  They bring balloons and video cameras; it’s almost like a party.  One of the most memorable arrivals I’ve attended included a three-hour delayed flight.  During those three hours, while we all waited – bored, tense, disappointed, a friend of the family who had brought her video camera went around the group and had each person gathered for this arrival say a greeting into the camera.  When she came to the grandpa-to-be, he looked into the camera and spoke with enthusiasm and anticipation of the fishing trips he and his new grandson would be taking, of the experiences they would have together – grandpa and grandson.  His love was so apparent that we all had tears in our eyes.  What a wonderful gift that friend created during those hours of waiting.

The family I’m meeting on this day has chosen to keep the arrival of their child private.  The only person with them is his mother, the older woman sitting by them.  She is thrilled to have been asked to accompany the couple and she is excited about the prospect of becoming a grandma.  The couple shares some of their story with me as we wait.  They are, of course, excited.  Within the next few minutes, they will become parents.  They confide that they don’t have much experience with children.  They want to know if they’ll know what to do with the baby.  The woman says something like, “I’ve never been a mom before.”  I assure her that it will be okay, she’ll do fine.

It’s time for the plane to arrive.  Over the top of the security stations, we can see a plane heading for the right gate for this arrival.  We begin to watch the emerging crowd.  We’re watching for someone carrying a child and a blue flight bag, the telltale bag that comes with all Holt babies arriving here.  There she is, a Korean woman carrying a baby and she has the bag.  We watch her walk past the security stations to the exit corridor.  She comes toward us down the corridor and I step out to point her in the direction of the waiting family.  She approaches the couple, gives a little bow and gently hands over the baby as if handing over a precious gift.  A minute earlier the man and woman stood there as a couple, married for years, committed to their life together; now, with the transfer of this child from the arms of the escort into the arms of the couple, they’ve become a family, with a new journey ahead of them and a commitment that now involves another person – their child.

I use the couple’s camera to take pictures as the baby arrives, to capture on film their first family “portrait”.  We talk with the escort to learn about the baby’s trip, when he ate last.  After much thanking and bowing, the escort goes on her way to catch the plane that will take her to her final destination.  After seeing her off I turn back towards the family.  Grandma is cooing over the baby, Daddy is smiling that big proud smile that we all know so well and Mommy is holding the baby – and she’s doing the “mommy rock”.  Ten minutes earlier she had confided to me that she wasn’t sure she’d know what to do with a baby, now she is standing in front of me, holding her child and swaying her weight from side-to-side doing that rocking motion that I call the “mommy rock”.  Sure she’ll have a lot to learn; parenting is a never-ending course at the graduate level, but she’d established herself as a worthy student – she had become a mom right before our eyes, right there in the middle of the busy airport.