Game Changer

We went to the ocean a few weeks ago. On our way out of town I realized that I had forgotten Kelly’s swim shirt–a must to protect his shoulders and back from the sun. I was trying to beat the Cape traffic, so I rushed into a store on our way out of town and quickly grabbed the first one I found in his size without really paying attention to the decal on the front. It wasn’t until the next day on the beach that I truly saw what I had picked for him. I laughed out loud when I finally took in how perfect that shirt was for my boy.

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First, there’s the obvious irony of the statement; Kelly is truly very coordinated and athletic. He can hit the hoop and bring the bat to the ball, but he doesn’t really care about the rules of the game. He might just run from first to third base, skipping second all together. He may change the game, but maybe not how the his team members were hoping, so having him wear this shirt made me smile.

And then there’s the other meaning of this label. Kelly was our family game changer in so many ways. He turned our “normal” family into one that was not. He opened our hearts. He gives our lives more depth and continues to teach us to see. He reminds us to lighten the hell up. Kelly completely changed this game of life for our family and we are so very glad he did.

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fireflies

My husband’s away and I am doing bedtime solo. It’s 9 o’clock. The twins are in bed and Grethe’s door is closed. In the chaos of getting two seven-year-olds quiet, I have lost my fifteen-year-old. This is my boy with Down syndrome and he likes to run on his own schedule. That is not how things work in our house, however, and tonight I am in no mood to play games.

He is not upstairs. I call downstairs and get no answer. I feel the tingle of anger in my chest. Dammit, I am tired! I am ready to be done for the day. I step out onto the front porch and stare into the darkness of the adjacent school playground, Kelly’s default location. I call his name into the night and listen…

“Alone!” is his exasperated reply.

Well, you know what, Buddy? I’m pissed, too. We live in a neighborhood so I try not to shriek back. I calmly and sternly inform him to “GET. BACK. IN. THE. HOUSE!”

The order is met with silence–a deeply frustrating silence.

I take a breath. My anger is now in my throat and is starting to feel like rage. I envision running onto that playground and dragging him home. He’s a solid buck-25 now though, and force does not work so well these days.

This is starting to become one of those times when I am worried about my temper. Every parent has their limit and I feel like I am close to mine. It has been a long day.

I decide to get myself ready for bed to calm down. I call out very reasonably into the abyss, “Come home now please!” and I head upstairs. I brush my teeth and start to massage my face and neck with my nighttime essential oils. I relax a bit, but then through the bathroom window that faces the school I hear the unmistakable sound of tires on gravel. There is a car in the parking lot. As I rinse my face, my tired mind starts to wander…is Kelly still over there? Who’s driving through the school lot on a dark Friday night? We live in a safe neighborhood but still…

Now I feel a different emotion rising: fear.

I finish as quickly as I can and rush back onto the porch,”Kelly!” I scream. Nothing.

I don’t really think anything bad has happened, but I don’t know that it hasn’t either. I don’t want fear to take the lead, so l let the anger rise again. And rise it does–I am furious. I race onto the
playground, “”KEL-LY!”

Two syllables now. That’s bad.

More silence again. I am getting really worked up now. Fatigue, mixed with anger, and a dash of fear is a dangerous concoction. A small, irrational place inside of me thinks about physically hurting him–maybe just a hard pinch or a yank of his hair–something to pay him back for putting me through this, but I know that’s my emotions leading me. I have been parenting too long to turn my problems into his.

Just then I hear a far off noise. A voice talking. It’s coming from over the cedar panel fence, in my own backyard.

“Aargh!” I bellow as I head that way, every step heightening my fury.

What the fogging hell am I doing running all over the neighborhood at 10 pm on a Friday night? I storm in the direction of his voice, spewing incomprehensible disciplinary mom obscenities into the night. As his silhouette comes into view, I see that he is frantically waving me toward him. One last, “Kelly get inside RIGHT NOW!” spills forth, but he just grabs my hand and demands I “Shhh!”

He throws his arms out and gestures grandly to the darkness all around, “Fireflies,” he announces with a whisper. “Fireflies!” he insists again, in a voice that implies, “Don’t you see??”

My blind rage lifts long enough for me to look around. Sure enough, the trees and bushes are putting on a show. Lightning bugs blink and float all about in the soft summer air. The beauty of it in contrast to my anger is like a sudden slap and my eyes sting with tears.

Kelly sits cross-legged on the damp grass and stares in wonder at the show before us. I drop to my knees next to him and lean into his sturdy frame. My tears flow openly now, my demons have left me spent. While I was wasting time with rage, Kelly was sitting in awe.

As we watch this gift of nature together, I drink the sweet, night air deep into my lungs and find my way to calm. We sit in silence until we have had our fill.

Finally, Kelly gets up and reaches his hand down to help me to my feet. “Time for bed,” he says as he pulls me toward the house.

I follow his lead once more.

“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore ~R.W. Emerson (and Kelly Thurmond)

 

wallow

A new life came into the world this week. I’ve known the new father since he was five and his mother is one of my best friends. This is the first grandchild in my circle of friends and her arrival has kind of knocked the wind out of me. It’s just that this cycle-of-life thing is so crazy–it seems I was just reprimanding this little boy for running through my house with muddy boots, and now he’s a father.

The new parents are young and blissfully, essentially, naive. Their ignorance acts as a necessary buffer to what life has in store.

But not me, I have been at this job for over 21 years. I sit on my 50-year-old perch and ruminate…

I start out and all I expect to do is have a baby. I just plan on holding a bundle–a cute, cuddly bundle. That’s it. That is the extent of my preparation.

I never expected that bundle to grow gangly and get those big teeth. I never imagined her being twelve and not fitting in with the cool crowd. I never expected him to yell at me or hole up in his room, not resurfacing for what seems like days. I never considered that someday my baby would wound me with his words.

“I didn’t sign up for this shit!” I rage

But no one is listening, because this is the story of the ages. Yes, you certainly did sign. You just never bothered to read the fine print. No hormone-crazed mom-to-be ever reads that damn fine print, nor do they ever remember the misery they put their own parents through. It never seems to dawn on us that things will eventually come full circle and we will actually have to raise this bundle into adulthood. We never see it coming.

I never stopped to consider that my little, precious bundle might someday smoke pot on the roof. Or my loving, joyful toddler would someday blame all her adolescent woes on my ineptitude as a mother…and then in the next moment collapse in a heap of tears because she was being teased at school–the real problem surfacing at last. I never expected the bedroom door (that I decorated with juggling clowns when he was two) to slam in my face.Yes, you did ask for this, the smiling clowns mock. You signed for the full, bumpy ride.

Parents have to hold it all. We have to keep all the balls in the air, even when we just want to lie down. Some days this job is just too damn much. If we had known it all beforehand, would we still have gone through with it? Would we still sign up so readily? Luckily for the human race, this type of foresight is unavailable to potential parents. Even with all the evidence floating around every day, pre-parents are still incapable of understanding just how complex this human-raising gig is. It’s like our creator left a black hole in our brain, leaving us incapable of comprehending this simple, elemental fact:

Parenting is really, really hard.

If we understood the depth of this pre-baby, life on earth would come to an abrupt halt. Procreation would end.

But it just so happens that parenting is something you have to experience to understand, so procreation continues. 

Because no one in their right mind would voluntarily sign up for this bullshit.

And that’s just it. We were never in our right mind. Love and hormones took care of that. Then sprinkle in some beauty and grace and we’re all goners.

Just when you think you can’t go on any longer, when you fall to your knees because you cannot and will not work any harder,

a set of skinny arms will wrap around your neck just because he needs to be close,

or a plump hand, with dimples where knuckles will someday be, will slide into your own,

or your door slamming boy will unexpectedly ask for a hug and whisper, “I love you, Mama,”

and you will soften. Love will do it’s work. It doesn’t take much of this potent elixir to bring us back to grace. The circuit flips and we are intoxicated once more. One hit carries us through the physical and emotional exhaustion, all the time anticipating the next glimpse, the next taste of that pure and powerful drug. Love is the most addictive substance there is. Love makes this impossible job Holy.

And while we are stumbling around, chasing after these elusive, intoxicating moments of grace, time spins out of control. One minute we are nursing a new baby and the next we are in labor and delivery watching our grand-baby come into the world. We stand by with our mouths agape and wonder: How? How did it all happen?

Life spins by too too fast and yet, it doesn’t. The minutes creep like stones and they fly by like dandelions on the breeze. How can this be? How can they coexist? But they do.

And all we can do is move forward. One foot in front of the other. Sometimes blindly. Sometimes with our eyes wide open.

But, oh, please God, let me see the glory in it.

Let me live in that place of awe.

Let me see the glorious ordinary.

Yes, parenting is damn hard work and it’s easy to wallow in the drudgery–in the work and the responsibility and the worry.

But a child embeds in your soul and with this comes an intangible magnificence–an essence so remarkable it alters your every cell.

I need to stay and wallow there. Yes, I must choose to wallow in this magnificence. I need to drown in the fleeting moments of beauty and grace so they can fuel me through the inevitable mess of this life:

This life that I created. This life that is here to stay. This life that is hard.

This life that is magic.

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I remember looking at this photo not long after it was taken and thinking, “man , that’s a lot.” Never did I imaging that someday I would consider this an “easier” time. Essentially naive is right.

Love perfected and whole, you arrive.
Words throng my soul but none come out.
A traveler meets his joy and his despair at once.
Dying of thirst, I stand here with spring water
flowing around my feet.
~Rumi

grasp

I was snooping around Facebook the other day and I found myself looking at photo’s of my first boyfriend’s littlest sister. You know how that goes: one minute you’re just gonna peek at your feed and the next you’re staring at the intimate life details of someone you last saw 36 years ago.

The last time I saw Mary, she was an adorable four-year-old that wouldn’t leave me alone with my boyfriend. Now, I’m looking at a young mother with three beautiful boys of her own.

She, of course, has no idea that I am invading her privacy, nor does she know that one of her photos brings tears to my eyes.

She is standing on a dock and her boys crowd next to her for the shot. She casually drapes her arms around the oldest two on both sides of her, as the youngest squeezes into the middle. Her right hand is the one that does me in: she has it resting on her middle boy’s shoulder and both of his hands have reached up and are grasping hers. His right hand is holding her wrist and with his left he has intertwined his fingers with hers. He is reaching for her with both hands. A simple thing. A natural impulse. Probably an average day for this Mom and her boys.

It makes me want to tell her.

I want to make sure she knows how special that grasp is.

And how fleeting.

Oh, her boy will always love his Mama, but the uninhibited instinct to blend his flesh with hers -the need of that little boy (that can feel so ironically oppressive to a young mother), that is a flash. A bright, blinding flash.

Why does so much have to come at once? Why so much need and so much love that the sweetness can be too intense at times- like a thick layer of frosting on a double-rich cake. Why can’t we spread it out and save some for those moments for when we need it most: for when that boy asks you not to kiss him goodbye at school anymore or when his hand pulls away as you reach for it in the parking lot or when it’s not there at all anymore, because that hand no longer needs to be intertwined with yours.

When I was 41, I found out we were having twin boys. I already had three boys and a little girl. I had plenty. Yet, there they were, growing inside me. I wasn’t quite sure I wanted two more boys-or any more kids of any kind- but for me there was no choice; they were a gift bestowed upon me and I would do my best to accept it with grace.

Sometimes it feels like I get a second chance at mothering. The first time around, while I loved my small boys fiercely, I simply didn’t know.

I didn’t know that one day they would stop grasping. I didn’t know that one day their physical need for me would end, and mine for them would go on forever.

And ever.

So I was given the precious gift of two more little boys. Other women my age stopped having babies at the reasonable cut-off date. Their boys (like my two oldest) have their own independent lives by now. The women tell me they can’t imagine doing bedtime stories or a first-grade field trips all over again.

I know what they mean, and I sometimes wonder if I’m going to make it myself.

But then a small hand reaches for mine

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and we both hold on tight.