Friday, December 23, 2016

Snapshots of us at Christmastime

She took the last of the cookies from the oven and set the baking sheet on top of the stove. On each cookie she sprinkled red or green sugar, alternating the colors evenly, and pressed the granules down with her fingers. She washed the sticky residue from her hands and, from the window above the sink, looked out at the dark street, how it was punctuated with flickering white lights that moved with the wind.

Every light on the main floor was on. Cliff held his iPod and sang loudly, the lyrics indistinct to her ears so that the song he was listening to was unidentifiable. Max sat on the couch watching the Patriots play, with a bottle of Sam Adams in his hand. 

“Cliff! Too loud!” he shouted.   

Her husband entered the kitchen and hugged her close. “Smells good.” He pulled away, smacking her rear.

“Hey!” She rolled her eyes at him.

Cliff had gone quiet, draping himself over the back of the couch. His eyes were partially closed, one hand  tapping the side of his headphones.

Her husband called to her. “Looks like he’s almost ready for bed. Want me to take him up?”

Their daughter rushed down the stairs, her curls falling delicately around her face. She wore sweats and a t-shirt, and held a thick textbook against her chest. “Wait! We still have to bring Cliff outside to feed the reindeer.” 

Her mother pointed to the family room and Olivia went to sit next to her big brother. He roused himself and smiled broadly at her, “O-vilia!”

She pretended to tickle him and he giggled, jumping up to sit next to Max on the couch on the other side of the room. “Brudder boy”, he said.

“Hey, Cliffy, do you know what it’s time for?” Cliff leaned into him, and Max put his muscled arm around his shoulder.

She called them into the kitchen and handed each of them a plastic baggie filled with a mix of Quaker Oats and red glitter.

Her three children pulled on their boots and coats, and stepped gingerly down the icy steps holding their big brother’s hands.  She and her husband wiped the frost off the glass, and watched them toss small handfuls of reindeer food over the snowy lawn. Some of it reached far into the yard, and some, thrown awkwardly from Cliff’s grasp, landed at their feet and on their coats.

The baggies empty, the three of them stood huddled together, looking up at the multitude of stars in the sky.

They took their brother’s hands again, and turned to lead him back up the front steps, their hair sparkling with red glitter.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

What Comes to Pass

It's a sad day when waking up to see the new president puts pain and fear in my heart. There is a tightness in my chest that makes it hard to breathe. I'm not looking forward to trying to explain to my mentees why America doesn't care about them and how they need to protect themselves. So many of them dream of becoming president now that they've seen it's possible, but will they still believe it's possible after today? … this really feels like the world is ending and the world feels like a very scary, lonely place right now. I didn't expect to wake up in tears and hurting like this.”--Olivia Taylor

The day after the presidential election, I kept checking Olivia’s Face Book page for any sort of response from her. Her post from that morning had reflected the unease in which she was mired, her deep disappointment in the results, and the difficulty of finding the right words to say to the young girls she mentored.  There was a meeting of her Strong Women, Strong Girls group that afternoon, and my intention was to provide her a hopeful message, something positive she could consider when she met with them. 

Oh Liv, my heart hurts that you are so devastated. I want you to feel my arms around you today, assuring you we will all be okay. I'm proud of you for bravely and eloquently speaking your mind these last few months. Now you have to concentrate on changing your own part of the world. You have that in you. Tell your mentees that they need to always have hope and that they DO have the power to dream. There is nothing in their way when it comes to effecting change. You must remain positive for them. Reframe this thing for them to remember to maintain knowledge of their own strength.❤ Mama

My daughter feels everything deeply, both joy and pain, but like her mother, she tends to hang on to hurt the way a drowning person clutches a life preserver. My post to her was heartfelt and encouraging, I thought, except she hadn’t replied to it, not even with a “like”.  Her silence was anathema to me. I began to worry when she posted a second time, announcing she planned to take a ‘mental health day’.  

My husband texted her.  “Are you all right?”

 A couple of hours went by before she finally responded. “What, you mean mentally?”

“Mentally, physically, emotionally…"

We went to bed that night without hearing back. Worrying kept me awake. I would have been satisfied with “I’m fine” or a simple Emoji.

The next morning passed with no communication between us, and I began to feel less conciliatory towards her.  For hours I couldn’t shake the irritation I felt, and I made an assumption that her lack of response was a judgment against us for not having voted for her candidate.  I resisted a second post, and instead kept busy with various jobs around the house, not the least of which was cleaning out the attic.

Our attic is accessible from a heavy tri-fold-out ladder built into the ceiling in the upstairs hall. Over the last few days, I’ve pulled the ladder down and pushed it back up five or six times. There was twenty years worth of stuff that needed to be sorted and either thrown out or condensed to make room for the HVAC people to replace our old furnace.

I had gone through a dozen boxes when I discovered a letter rolled up scroll-like and secured with red twine. I slid it off and unrolled the paper. In Santa’s voice, I had written to Olivia in response to the very important questions weighing on her mind. She often wrote letters to magical entities-- Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the mischievous Leprechaun who left our house topsy-turvy every March 16; it was how she made sense of things, and she enjoyed the encounter with celebrity.

It was dated December, 2002, and typed rather than handwritten so the real writer would not be discovered. Yes, I will bring the note you wrote to Sammi’s angel, who I’m sure will deliver it to her. I hear she is so very happy and she is glad when you remember her; No, I don’t think you’re greedy when you want things. I think a person is greedy when they won’t share what they have. It’s true some kids don’t have much, but just try to remember to give to charity as often as you can; Yes, I do think Mrs. Claus will love the picture you drew of her. It looks a lot like her!

I rolled the letter up and slid the string back on, placing it in the pile of precious things I had already gathered together. I climbed down the ladder holding a few items for donation and at the bottom I shoved it back up with my (arthritic) free hand. It did not spring back up into the ceiling.  The ladder unfolded, its entire weight landing on the left side of my head, leaving a quarter-sized, rather painful bump.

I iced it awhile, and followed the first injury with a second one. This time I hurt my hand trying to open a can of paint. In true ADHD style, I forgot about the paint and dragged a box inside that had been in the garage for six months. The box contained a shelving unit for the laundry room.  I pulled out the components—2 top connectors, 4 middle connectors, 2 bottom connectors, 4 shelves, 8 horizontal tubes, 12 vertical tubes and 4 footing covers. I read the directions three times before I successfully created the bottom assembly, but despite a lot of trial and error, the middle and top assembly directions were beyond imprecise and ambiguous. I couldn’t figure it out, my hand hurt and my head wasn’t feeling too hot either.

I sat on the floor, let a few expletives fly, and cried like a baby.

It’s true that no matter how old you are, you never lose all the ages you’ve been, and in that moment I was a frustrated, angry, sad ten-year-old. The upshot is that my ten-year-old self and my wiser fifty-nine-year old self starting working together to bring some clarity to my situation. I wasn’t crying because I got hurt; the flying expletives took care of that. I was crying because I realized something important: Olivia and I were out of sync for the first time in twenty-two years, so much so that she couldn’t bring herself to reply to either her father or to me. I missed her, but more pointedly I missed the way we were often of similar minds about almost everything. Suddenly, we’re miles apart, politically and ideologically speaking, and it has put a temporary, albeit no less painful, distance between us.  

My late father was a lifelong Democrat, and when I became a registered Republican at the age of forty, I hoped I didn’t disappoint him. He never questioned my decision. Even when my sisters and brothers suggested I had been kidnapped and brainwashed, my father stayed silent. Occasionally we would get into a discussion of one candidate or the other, one issue or the other, but he listened without judgment. He trusted me to have the courage of my convictions, and respected my opinions when they differed from his.

He was a wise man, my dad. He didn’t lecture or argue. He wasn’t angry or self-righteous. That’s what you call teaching by example; it was his way, and one of the most loving things he did over and over throughout his life.  

When Olivia and I are able to talk about the events of the last couple of months, I’ll listen to her side. I might learn a few things.

Once upon a time, she found letters from Santa by the empty plate of cookies, and believed in magic. I just hope she understands how much I believe in her.


Text messages from November 11—two days after the election:

Olivia: Sorry I fell asleep last night, I’ve been falling asleep super early cause I couldn’t fill my Concerta prescription for the last couple weeks until today!!  But I mean (I assume you’re talking about trump being elected) I’m physically fine, I’m hurt and afraid for my friends and mentees and people I love.

Ken: Well, we want you to know that we love you and are thinking about you. We can’t wait to see you, and hope that you can always share what you are going through with us, even when times are bad. I’m hoping that there will be a time for healing soon.

Olivia: That means a lot to me <3<3 thank you & I love you!! I can’t wait to see you too, I have a bunch of good new music to share too!! It was really hard to see my mentees crying yesterday. I tried to assure them and I encouraged them to stay inspired and get involved and remember they have power. I think it went over well…