My friends call me Ellen…

maryshadowI cried off and on for 24 hours after I saw Saving Mr. Banks; a mix of happy and sad tears.  From the movie, Pamela Lyndon Travers appeared to rectify the ugliest parts of her childhood by crafting Mary Poppins and releasing her to Walt Disney. We saw her catharsis at the premiere. She wept. She smiled. She changed.

Its not a true story. She loathed the film; that’s why she cried. In 1995 she released the rights to Broadway only after they conceded to portray the darker stories written in her books. The darker stories were about her former self, Helen Lyndon Goff, who she left behind in Australia when she became an author and actress named P.L. Travers in her 20’s. In her books, a magical governess saves Mr. and Mrs. Banks  from their misery. Though you won’t find this in the film nor book, the truth is that Mr. and Mrs. Travers Goff (Pamela’s parents) needed saving from stress, addiction, suicide, and influenza.

In her story the children did not need to be saved. They were fine. Always fine. Tough. Impermeable. The children did not start out that way. They were fun-loving and enjoyed the story-telling and indulgent illusions of their father. But after his tragic death by alcoholism and influenza and their humiliated mother’s suicide attempt, they no longer relaxed into fantasies like frivolous love, dancing penguins or spun stories. Mary Poppin’s role was to prepare them for a harsh world where they would always be safe, sober and under control.

Ellen is my very own Pamela Travers; as tightly wound as Pam’s pin curls. Ellen has her other defenses too; self-deprication, perfectionism, fear, care-taking–all drives to distract from the toughest parts of my childhood. Ellen is a joke among my friends, as she should be. Our defenses aren’t who we are and I am all for poking fun at them, needling them, forcing them to dance with animated penguins. When my friends call me “Ellen,” its a reminder that the better parts of me deserve their fair shine. It doesn’t really matter they don’t know where Ellen came from; they know the real me. Ellen is at war with humor, softness, emotionality, spontaneity and lightness. Like Pamela, she wants to go to the bar and have friends. But if her guard goes down, the pain surfaces, and Pamela mustn’t allow that. I wish not to become Ellen the way Helen Lyndon transformed herself into Pamela. She left behind the little girl behind who laid eggs on the steps and road horses like the wind.

But that also successfully stamped out Mr. Banks, the alcoholic, and Mrs. Banks, his distraught wife. After the movie, I  thought perhaps crafting an adorable children’s story to repaint the harder years of my childhood would be therapeutic for me too. But here, again, is the truth of her story; Pamela was never super happy. Helen Lyndon surfaced enough for her to author whimsical children’s stories, study Zen Buddhism, fall in love with her flatmate, and live for a year with a Hopi tribe. But sadly, Pamela won. According to Emma Thompson and the New York Times, her grandchildren claim she died “loving no one and with no one loving her.”

And here is my truth: I value love and happiness.  My dad, who fought depression for decades of my life, is absolutely heroic for surviving and for helping others who hurt like him. My mother, who remains at his side, is absolutely My Hero.  Fiction couldn’t paint a better story. Given the tools they had, their dedication to parenting, their commitment to joy, and the effort it takes to parent at all, I am blown away by their ability to raise two happy, stable, thriving teenagers who felt loved and supported by their parents. My dad carried that burden, and as a psychiatrist he fervently and brilliantly served the needs of thousands of depressed and anxious people, and still managed to love his wife and his kids to pieces.

I am happy to say that Ellen is not always present in my life, especially when things are smooth, and definitely when things get busy. I love busy. I love exciting. I love stress. We all do, us adult-children-of-parents-with-miscellaneous-battles. When my guard falters; when I have pain, grief, disappointment or limbo, I am surprised by my resilience, but I am also surprised by my anxiety. I am surprised by Ellen’s attempts at toughness, control and safety. She fears friends knowing she has weaknesses. She’d rather appear angry than sad. She craves stability. She wants to throw a pillow over her head and unhear the arguments at night that plagued some yucky years of her life. She wants to run away. Ellen actually believes people are angry with her when she feels down and exposes wounds. Some of them might be, especially the ones with a little inner Pamela, but we all have our better sides.

So please, call me Ellen. I want to remember she is there. I want to remember to subdue her; to remind her that I am fine. I don’t need her help anymore. I want her to hear my friends laugh at her; the ones that call her out, and love the real me.

I am amazed by my mother’s levity during the hard times. Her sense of humor, overarching love, and willingness to talk made everything ok. I see everything that is wonderful in my dad, without hesitation, and find inspiration in his tenacity.  I hope they feel incredibly proud of the adversity they overcame and the life and love they gave me. I am delighted to say that I am not really Ellen or Pamela, though I cried buckets for them both. In the end of my story, I choose happiness and love. And on the very hardest of days, I sneak a spoonful of sugar or two. See my list.

Spoonfuls of Sugar:wtie
1) Hugs
2) Sunsets/sunrises/sun on snow/warm sun/all things sunshine
3) Snowfall in trees
4) Kids in ties at inappropriate times
5) Handfuls of 
chocolate chips
6) Kids outside with rosy cheekssunsetmpls
7) All songs, Paul Simon
8) Inexplicable things in nature
9) Poems by Mary Oliver
10) Puppies and babies
11) Brightly colored fabric
IMG_0001_312) Hats, all types
13) Singing
14) Swimming in lakes
15) Snow days that force people to help each other
16) YMCA camps
17) Young people listening to old people
18) The things kids say, e.g., “do you think I could be the next Michael Jackson?”
19) The OlympicsKidsbooks
20) Tea
21) NeighborlinessIMG_4126
22) Falling into deep snow
23) Whiskey with honey
24) Down comforters
25) Friends
26) Family
27) Reading 
28) Theater
29) Evergreens
30) Mary Poppins

What are your spoonfuls of sugar?  Please comment.

Happy Love Day–take a risk

Vulnerability is the act of willingly walking into a dark, cold space, knowing the benefits will outweigh the risks. We walk into dark spaces on accident all the time. Vulnerability is going in with purpose. The purpose is healing, connection, gratitude, wholeness, empathy and love. One reason to choose vulnerability when possible is simply so that you’re better prepared the next time the lights go out. But the outcome of vulnerability is access to your best self.

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I am on the naughty list…

IMG_1737 IMG_1559 IMG_0001_3 IMG_9038 IMG_5603 IMG_2616 IMG_2202 Yesterday I was taking our food processor down from a high shelf when the blades careened to the ground on which my kids stood. I yelled “crap.” My five-year-old and nine-year-old looked up at me with cheeky grins and Tennyson responded, “now you’re on the naughty list.” So, I replied, “shit.” They covered their mouths and brightened their eyes and threw their heads back, shocked. We laughed our heads off, together. It was worth it.

I miss my dog. My mom is back in the hospital. And, miscellaneous. Arguments, let downs, fears. We’ve all had those weeks. Months. Years? Some weeks just kick us in the ass, right? I can write that because I’m already on the naughty list. I have learned an invaluable lesson in the worst of times; we don’t know each others’ pain. We care. We show up. But we can’t know the specific hues of what others go through, even if we love them. Understanding this gives us a greater capacity for community. I’m constantly mind-boggled by human endurance. With all the LIFE that keeps happening, how is it people smile again, laugh? When my son was crying for his dog the other night he asked me in his 9-year-old words, how do we do this? I told him the only way to get to the other side of pain is to go through, and we go through it together.

For those of you who are friends and family, I’m there. I will bring baked goods and hot dish and I will listen. I have amazing friends, family and neighbors, so I try to pass it on. For those of you who I don’t know, I will be here. I will never claim to truly understand your journey and tenacity. But I will put my heart out here as something you can cling to, attempting to find the 2 percent of life that might make you laugh, weep, ignite, and continue.

A couple winters ago I lost my favorite left mitten and kept its right counterpart. A few days ago I found the left, pink stain and all, laying on the ground beside the path where I walk most days. A little voice said, “be open to the gifts of this year.” Sometimes you need a little magic to feel brave enough to keep going.

I used to lead backpack trips, One of my 17-year-old campers once said to me at the end of a grueling 13-mile hike up and down cliffs, over waterfalls and across rivers, “I must store a tiny reserve of energy in the smallest part of my baby toe.” All life contains 2 percent magic. What’s your magic?

Sometimes I hear voices in my head

IMG_1211The best part of a hot week in September is that it makes me excited for jeans weather and tires me of swimwear. We need the full thaw, the torching heat, in 6-month mitten-land. A month ago, however, we awoke to 50 degrees across the mid-north. Crisp air calling for hoodies; not July. My kids slept in. My dog remained curled in a knot on my rug. The sitter was late. I didn’t mind. I got on my bike and headed to the coffee shop to write under gray skies. Sunday mornings usually beckon a long line. No one came until the sun came out. I ordered my favorite iced tea, hot. Then today, 30 days closer to equinox, I poured myself a hot cup of coffee to escort my kids to the bus stop and within seconds outside my face was uncomfortably sweaty. I swear the cream curdled by the time I sent them off. I felt confused; out of snyc. It takes me back to other unseasonal days this year.

April;

This morning we awoke to glistening snow-laden branches; undeniably and implausibly beautiful. Despite the frenzy of media predicting our wintery April weather patterns, the visual of the snow’s arrival keeps catching me off guard. Last night as I watched the flurries out the window, my brain perceived an irregularity well before I was conscious of it. Late evening light doesn’t usually bounce off snow; its supposed to be dark early when snow is on the ground. A nostalgic inkling takes me back to 8000 feet in Montana where sun hits snow at angles much sharper than it should here in Minnesota, unless something unusual happens. The feeling is eery.April freeze

Yesterday I drove home in flurries and stopped at a red light despite a nagging feeling I need not stop. I’ve felt compelled to stop at red anything since I was 6; its hegemony. Why not today? No other cars were around. The houses were dark. Then I realized the red light was a reflection off my headlights; the power was out. I had known before I knew. I sat there for awhile feeling vulnerable, like a firefly in the woods. Conspicuous. The scene felt hushed, and measurably more comfortable when I turned my lights out. An oncoming car entered the intersection. She turned her lights out. Hush. Hide. We both drove through. I forgot my lights were out as the snow and the moonlight were more than enough to see the road clearly. I met another car. Before I remembered to turn my lights on, sure enough, he turned off his as well. Weird.

Back to September:

I saw nearly 50 robins in one tree in my backyard last week. A duck keeps quacking from the apex of my roof. A squirrel climbed so high in our pine that the entire tree bowed to the ground this morning. Why? Because spring isn’t here yet. Because animals compensate for that which is untimely. We know without knowing, just like the robins on layover await clear and warmer passage to Canada.

A Reiki practitioner and friend of mine, Anne Murphy (www.athousandhands.com), once said to me, “We trust cell phones and wireless. Why do we doubt we can pass energy between us?” Interesting point. Even when we claim NOT to believe in silent communication, we count on it. We know so much more than we are aware. When my 15 year old dog doesn’t greet me at the door, I know his hips hurt. After he is gone, my brain will think its him when I hear scratchy sounds on the wood floors. My brain will deliver the message “Gebo” when something enters my peripheral vision at 2 feet off the floor for years. When I hear jingle bells I might even walk toward the back door to let him in. But he won’t be there. My senses know him better than I know him, and what my brain knows will both dismay and comfort me in my grief when he is gone.

I wake up most mornings at 7:00 to the minute. Some would call that intuition, some would call it intelligence. If you have an older sibling, you might understand when I say I would know if my brother’s finger was a 1/2 inch from the bridge of my nose even if my eyes were shut. I know when my best friend calls how her day has gone when she says “hi.” That’s all I need. My husband has predicted the gender of 12 babies accurately; he’s been wrong twice. How many times have you picked up the phone to call a friend and she rings at that second? We all know when rain is coming because of the smell of the wind. My mommy sense tells me when the baby is about to wake up from a nap even if I’m outside in the garden. And man, if you thought you knew when to leave the party, you certainly know now when its time to leave the playdate.

My father is a psychiatrist and has been for 40 years. He also has a tender, nonjudgmental heart. My cousin is an “intuitive” healer. Some people claim they hear the voice of God. Animals just know stuff. My dad uses his training, my cousin uses her heart, others consult Oracles and animals have instincts. Whatever we call it, more information is undeniably available to us than we give credit. When we quiet down, say on a day its cloudy and unseasonably cool, there are voices in all of our heads. We’re not so different than the robins, we’re not so distant from each other, and we’re not so intelligent we can live well without listening.

Things are not always what they appear…

This week friends sent us a care package that contained bakery bread, brownies, snack foods, cookies, and coffee cake.  Most importantly, it was a big box of understanding and compassion.  Though I still haven’t gotten around to putting it in a card, the gift inspired an immense “thank you” and gratitude for my friends.  I have dear friends, which I bask in the glow of regularly at times like these.  Receiving sour cream and cardamom coffee cake in the mail the afternoon before the first day of summer vacation felt like I was being offered a deep breath; no thinking, no prep, no dish washing; breakfast, day 1, had arrived.  I slept well, secure in the future success of a morning made easy.

At 8am, I heated water.  So many of the best things in life start with boiling water.  I set out plates and napkins.  I hummed.  The kids asked for tea (adorable.)  We prepped our first-ever tea party.  Sun shined through the windows.  I put on classical music.  We beamed.  See photo.

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Tea party

I could leave it at that.  I could post this photo to facebook and other parents would “like” it with a little chagrin.  I could fool you all, like I fooled myself for the hours between the arrival of the box of peace, and approximately 7 seconds after the slicing of the small miracle of walnuts, brown sugar and white flower.  But here’s the truth; miracles don’t come in boxes.

I snapped the photo and before I sat down they skipped their forks and dove into their slices of cake.  Crumbs flew.  Their tea was “watery.”  I went for honey.  I swirled it into their cups.  I sat down and took a bite.  The cake was warm and delicious.  The tea was “too hot” so I went for ice cubes.  A teacup flew.  Upon my return one child was playing games on my phone (do I have games on my phone?) and another was crawling across the table to him.  The 3rd had evaporated.  I swept up the shattered teacup.  I said nice things like “its just a thing” and “I’m glad everyone is ok.”  I removed the child from the table lest he flew as well.  I took a 2nd bite; cold.  I warmed my tea.  I smelled dirty diaper.  Diaper sequence.  I re-warmed tea.  Chase sequence.  I re-warmed tea again.  Freaky mom sequence.  Children sit on bench in shock while mom tries one last time to consume re-warmed coffee cake and tea.  Dog throws up.

The reason my friends sent the care package is because I have been devoting lots of time and energy to my mom, her recovery, and my feelings about her stroke this month.  They wanted to make life a little easier for us, and it absolutely brings a little joy everyday it lasts.  Our 15 year-old dog is also not doing so hot (see next post).  The truth is I am sad, I am tired, I am irritable, and I am behind.  I am also grateful.  I’m grateful I have an amazing mom, even though it’s hard to take care of her now.  I’m grateful I found an amazing family pet at a farmer’s market when I was a single girl.  I’m grateful for my supportive friends and family.  I am grateful that I don’t remember the chase sequence, or the freaky mom sequence from my childhood, though I’m sure it happened.  In the end, or the long progression of ends and beginnings and the forging of memories, we filter.  For the rest, there’s therapy, nostalgia and some good laughs.

I think back to the photo; the one I shot before things fell apart.  Perhaps my kids will remember the 7-second tea party like it lasted for hours.  They certainly will not remember I never actually drank my tea.  Hopefully they remember I had enough sense of humor to document our entropy, broken teacup included.  And if I can look back at that morning and say to myself, “I am a good mom, too” perhaps miracles do come in cardboard boxes.IMG_0009

Mother’s Happy Day

IMG_0156My grandmother attended my wedding.  She held my first born and died 45 minutes later.  I believe she waited to meet him.  I know most people don’t experience the gift of great grandchildren, but I have always anticipated my parents would grow very, very old.  Watching my mom hooked up to tubes and monitors now numbs my brain.  Abandoning my routine to be here all day and much of the night has been exhausting.  Sounds like I am complaining.  But my mom is alive and she’s actually getting pretty good reports.  I won’t fuss.  The future still lies ahead of us, and I do not care so much about its length anymore.  A teacher at my son’s school wrote me a supportive email today, saying she understood because her mother had had a stroke.  She also lost her brother and her dad recently and reminded me; “what I take away from that is to live each day fully with as much love and compassion as you can muster-because it could all be gone tomorrow in a blink.”

I haven’t spent this much time with my mom since I was six, yet I miss her.  I keep picking up the phone to call her and tell her about how much I hurt and how scared I have been.  I think somehow my brain thinks the woman I am spending my days with right now is my grandmother who passed away at 98.  This couldn’t be my mom.  My mom sparkles.  Actually, my grandmother sparkled too.  I can see why my brain thinks I am with Louelle.  I was with her when she was diagnosed with heart failure and she looked at the doctor and said, “how dare you call my heart a failure after all these years.”  Now the tiny woman in the bed keeps waking up to crack jokes with her nurses in this low, distorted, slurred voice that is absolutely unrecognizable other than the wit in reveals.  Day 1 in the hospital she said, “I’m all for an adventure but I think I went too far this time.”  Day 2 she could really only open one eye, but I’m pretty sure she winked at me.  Day 4 we left ICU and when we made it to her room we shared our first post-stroke mother-daughter knowing look.  Day 6 the doc told her the MRI showed many strokes in her brain, like a shower of little lights; she said, “I’m a meteorite.”  Day 7; when I walked into her room she was sitting in a chair slowly talking with one of my close friends about fixing my brother up with her single friends so that he would move here to Minnesota.  My friend is a Reiki Master and I don’t know what she did, but I will be forever grateful to her for helping my mom out of her neurological shell for an hour.  Today my big brother and I gasped and squealed and clapped and hugged when we both heard her true laugh for a split second; just one twitter.  She was back.

But just for awhile.  When I leave the hospital the panic creeps back in through my pores.  The fear of losing her.  The terror of her being tormented by her body.  Back to Day 1.  The call from dad.  Seeing what I thought was her corpse in that E.R. bed.  Waiting for news.  Hearing the echoing voice of the neurologist say, “your mom’s health is very complicated and I can’t tell you yet which way this will go.”  Holding my husband.  Listening to my friend say, “breath, Shawna” on the phone.  Trying to breath.  Trying to feel the ground under my feet.  Trying not to throw up.  Crying, which I don’t do.  Feeling vulnerable.  Wanting to hide.  Holding dad’s hand.

In medical first responder training we learned about “core-shunting;” when the body sends blood to what is most essential in order to survive stress like cold, blood loss, shock.  I felt that way until we left ICU, and now I just revisit the feeling a few times everyday.  Its better because she is better, but there are still unknowns.  When I lapse back into fear my chest feels heavy, my arms feel tickly, my hands can’t grasp, my legs feel empty and awkward and my feet feel pins and needley on the ground.  On day 5 I felt this way as I left the hospital because I had determined the stroke was all my fault.

Luckily, I have a few friends who are doctors.  I sent a frantic, “what if I had known” text to one of them and she responded, “it wouldn’t change the outcome.”  I sent another and he said, “its not your fault.”  Another showed up in ICU like a bald, beautiful angel in nice shoes and said, “she’s going to be ok.”  Hearing that from someone who knew her before meant everything to me.  And one more just happened to have lit a fire in his backyard, scrounged his fridge for 3 beers, and had open chairs ready before my husband and I even called him at 10pm on night 5.  He talked me down.

The night before her stroke I pulled over on the way home from choir, ready to turn around and drive to my parent’s house.  Something felt wrong.  I talked to her.  She had a cold and this had been a tough month with a chronic condition she has battled; maybe just dehydration.  She and dad agreed; we’ll call the doctor again tomorrow.  We’re going to sleep–don’t come.  I didn’t follow my instincts.  By morning she had had “a shower” of strokes.  Panic.  My feet tingle.  I could have saved her.

But we sat by the fire and he told me about medicine and how it works and how it fails sometimes.  He gave me medical reasons why spending the night in the E.R. might not have kept her from having a stroke.  He gave me human reasons for not always being able to protect the people closest to me.  And we ate some chocolate and cheese and sat by the fire in the rain and felt better.  Blood returns to feet.  Hands grasp.  Strength returns.

I haven’t always trusted my husband to be the supportive type.  I figured he would fill many, many needs but my friends would supply the shoulders I cry upon.  And they have.  They have watched my kids, called, texted, shopped, hosted, prayed, sent light beams, prayers, cards, and watched my kids more.  I love, love, love my friends.  But it was good for me to realize that I was wobbly at the hospital without my husband there.  As soon as he showed up, I was grounded.  If something good comes out of this it is knowing I can be vulnerable, and “there is still joy,” as one of my very first friend’s wrote today.  In fact, my cousin watched my littlest guy today and took him to visit his horse.  He came home dirty and smelling like hay and I loved my cousin for the joy he rendered during a week like this.

Another cousin came to see us.  She brought a flower for mom and her beautiful smile and she brought me tumeric and ginger for my nervous stomach.  She has been here before.  She has been darker places, actually.  She gave me a teary hug that felt like a blanket I could hide under for awhile, and together we made mom laugh a little.  Actually, in truth, I think mom made us laugh.  And then she was tired and slipped away again.  She felt present for a little while when her dear friend visited.  And she smiled when I told her Teddy had come with flowers and when we told her that her brothers and sisters wanted to visit.  I read her the emails and cards and prayers everyone has sent and she cried, saying she couldn’t die yet.  And I sat in disbelief looking at her crooked face and one good eye and feeling the love she eminates.  All I could do was hug her and all her wires as tightly as she has always hugged me.

But our best Red-Tent moment came a few days later.  She had a painful test involving a needle being injected into her bone to sample marrow.  If I had any doubt in her strength before we held hands for this test, it vanished as she squeezed my fingers (unfortunately/painfully donned with the rings they removed from her fingers in the E.R.)  She had to lay on her side, and I sat at her bedside inches from her face.  We locked eyes and breathed together.  I am sure it was an awful point in time for her, but for me, it was a turning point.  I found my place as her support.  I found something I could do for her.  I found my role in all of this mess, and my blood returned to my limbs and my belly and my head.  Lesson learned; if I remain in my body I can be helpful to my mom.

So, here is the update; she truly is doing a remarkable job recovering from her stroke.  She is exhausted.  Her underlying health issues remain complicated so she will be in the hospital awhile longer.  For more and more of the day everyday, she is  her funny and sparkly self.  Everyday she is strong.  When I went to visit her on Mother’s Day my oldest said, “wish her Mother’s Happy Day.”  I started to correct him and then realized he had said it on purpose.  This year, my mom and I needed to celebrate Mother’s Happy Day instead, and he knew it.  So in celebration of Mother’s Day this year I hung pictures of her at carefree, outdoor times on her hospital room walls.  I want her to remember being her, but I also want her nurses and doctors to know what she will look like when she recovers, and who she has been to all of us.  I want everyone to know that she is special;  my mom is a meteorite.

Unpredictable

IMG_1283This morning in Minneapolis we expected to wake up to the unusual glow of spring sunlight bouncing off 3-9 inches of snow.  But the branches were bare and crocuses bloomed despite dire predictions.  I got up to make breakfast and cracked an egg into a blue bowl.  Two yolks poured out of one shell.  At the kids’ gymnastics school I went to pay my bill.  Hallelujah; my account was paid in full.  I smiled, embracing the unpredictability of this day.

I was not an ambitious mom this morning.  I left the house with 2 kids and no snacks, each of them just barely fed and minimally dressed for the chill.  We were late, we were crabby and we were hungry.  We hit McDonald’s after tumbling class.  I ordered chicken nuggets for my 2-year-old but had little hope he would be satisfied (fast-food is generally unpopular in my family).  I had to pull over 10 minutes later to decipher the out-of-control screeching “caniavsom morkickin?!!?!” in the backseat.  “Take your thumb out of your mouth and ask nicely, Wes.”  He responded, “Can I have some more chicken inside-voice please?”  I ended up at Burger King this time and 4 more nuggets down, he was still screeching,”caniavsom morkickin?!!?!”  I drew the line at 2 stops and he fell asleep still crabby, still hungry.

Which brings me to the most predictable element of life with kids; sleep.  If I stay up late the kids will get up early or puke in the middle of the night.  If I go to bed early they will sleep in and I will wake up anxious at 4am.  If I have something important to accomplish without my hands full that day the napper will not nap.  If I have nothing on the agenda everyone will nap for 3 hours and I will panic; paralyzed by the possibility of wasting precious free-time!  Sound familiar?  But today, Wes napped peacefully, I accomplished things, and the big boys played nicely; there is no possible way I would have predicted that outcome for any given day.

Our last event of the day was Kindergarten Round-Up.  Wilder, of whom you have read, was about 97% enthusiastic.  My oldest has been in school for 3 years so I jumped in without forethought other than a little uncertainty about his readiness.  Then I read his school supply list.  Something about Wilder needing his own glue sticks grabbed my heart and squeezed.  Simultaneously it was time for the yellow-sticker kids to go with the yellow-sign teacher.  His eyes got a tiny glossy and he held his breath in an adorably determined way like a kid on the high dive.  He went.  He followed her.  Lump in throat, grabbing the hand of his neighborhood buddy.  He looked so little to be so brave and I had to hide my tears from him.

So after class time and a bus ride, I asked him what he would like to eat for a special celebratory dinner with mom.  “Meat,” responded my kindergartner-of-largely-vegetarian-upbringing.  We went out for his first steak.  He dove into his summer homework packet while we waited–not prediIMG_1290ctable!  He tried his first hearts of palm, first curry, first onion rings, first pierogies.  He was voracious and adventurous and beaming.  We “cheersed” with our drinks, our forks, and pierogies.  He exclaimed “yehaa!” with a fist-pump.  He thanked me for the haircut to get him ready for school today–I hadn’t made the connection.  I offered a toast and he interrupted, “to King Wilder!”  When we were done eating and toasting and snapping pictures of our wonderful dinner, he walked out of the restaurant in his socks.  I laughed so hard I cried and told him, “Wilder; this has got to be one of the best nights of my life.”  He said, “me too mommy,” with a kiss; a joyful outcome to an unambitious day.

Wilder, Age 5

IMG_0537On a snowy April morning in 2008, I awoke with little tiny pangs of labor.  Too much, in my opinion, to head to the hospital at 7 a.m. for my scheduled induction.  Wilder/Louelle was on his/her way.  My oldest son weighed in at 9 pounds, 4 ounces and was purple and breathless at birth.  He spent his first few moments with a NICU team ventilating him to life; something we would not chance repeating.  But on April 11, 2oo8, I was getting signals that this little one was only a day or two behind what the doctors ordered.  At 7 a.m. in a warmish and sparkling snowstorm, we decided a rigorous walk held better potential than Pitocin.  And it worked!  After a beautiful walk from our front doorsteps around the lake and a stop for hot cocoa, we were ready.  With subdued excitement and a call placed to our doula and friend, we were on our way to bring baby 2 into the world.  Eight hours later after a textbook labor (pain, water, yelling, water, pain, hand wringing, massage, pain, vomit, pain relief, rest, pushing, yelling, baby), we were a family of 4.  Between pushes I actually said out loud, “this is kind of fun!”  So far, that has been an illustrative metaphor for parenting young Wilder.

I can say now that Wilder was appropriately named.  Ironically, age zero to age one was a halcyon year.  This sweet child placidly tucked himself into my sling and stayed there minus one pudgy hand for hours every day.  He nursed, he slept, he laughed.  Wilder glowed; people could not pass him by without smiling.  I remember when I swaddled him at night and laid him in his crib Wilder would just turn his head to look at me and drift off to sleep.  He did everything short of saying “thanks for another great day, Mom.”  Then he learned to crawl.  He has not sat down for more than 17 seconds since.  His personality has always been game; charming, agreeable and adventurous.  He just has an intense case of the wiggles.  When he was 9 months old I came downstairs for breakfast to find him standing on the kitchen counter (escaped from the crib), naked (removed his own diaper), and opening cupboards (did not yet walk).  Wilder is industrious, zealous and passionate.  When he eats he involves every limb, sense and surface on his body.  He swims in his food and leaves a wake.  When he cries he falls to the floor and waxes prophetic about friendship, love and injustice.  When Wilder tells stories he gleans attention and delights listeners (perhaps baffles is more accurate, actually, but he woos the crowd).  Wilder has the same mischievous smile as my mother, which garnered her the nickname among her 3 brothers and sisters, “the foxy one.”maricktots

Until Wilder was about 3, I was happy to have him along on most any excursion.  We were very attached at the hip.  I hope that we are still attached, but he is a classic middle child and a little bit of an enigma.  He likes his leash long, but loves constant reassurance I adore him.  He has big, big feelings, but they never last long.  He longs to be treated just like his older brother, but occasionally steals my lap from his baby brother.  He spoke “cool kid” from the moment he could say  his R’s.  He winks at people.  He employs his eyelashes and baby blues at will.  He knows his numbers and letters and colors, unless you ask him.  He expects the world to be his oyster, but he is more easily crushed than I want for him when his world doesn’t provide pearls.  He is bold with a tender heart.  He isn’t easy-going these days, or easy to parent.  He sticks his fingers in his ears when I discipline him (even if I hold him and whisper).  His emotions ramp up from zero to sixty faster than Lightning McQueen.  He moves too fast and breaks things on accident and injures me inadvertently 5 times a day.  But he gives the best hugs.  He squeezes so tight.  And he says “mama mia love you” in his sleep.  He is a fantastic dancer.  His self-authored songs are insanely creative and his voice is cherubic.  And, perhaps best of all, he says “uffda,” and then all else is forgiven.

Wilder; you are 5 today.  Your first 3 years I was with you every step of the way.  Since then I have just barely kept up.  But I am always here, right behind you.  Your dad and your baby brother are too.  Your big brother is just ahead.  You are surrounded and we are all attempting to predict your next move.  I know you want to take this world on boldly on your own and I am so proud of you.  I can see you now in your sheriff’s hat, your blue leather fringed vest, and your duct taped sword racing to save the day.  I can see you because I am hiding behind a tree.  And I will always be behind that tree keeping my eye on you.  As much as I trust your wisdom and admire your courage, you were born into my love and my protection.  When you can dress without putting anything on upside down or inside out or on the wrong foot in time for school, I will grant you a little freedom.  Then when you can read books and write stories and figure equations and play drums on your own I will let you go a little more.  When are old enough to have your heart broken and mend it your own way, I will offer you a little more space.  I also know that you will always love my hugs, my cookies and my lullabies.  And I will always love your songs, your stories and your perspective.  Wildman, grow.  It’s gonna be awesome.  And I will be right here.

Addendum: when my birthday boy awoke this morning he sat in a chair upstairs quietly looking out the window at the snow and listening to the thunder.  I watched him for a moment and asked, “How are you doing, buddy?”  He lifted his shirt, rubbed his belly and said, grinning, “I don’t feel any bigger, but I am feeling right here kind of birthdayish.”

Mama, I want to marry a boy…

My four year old, who trusts me to love him unconditionally, pulled on my sleeve yesterday morning. From the corner of my eye I had just seen him, donned in sheriff’s badge and rubber band gun, staring at an orange sign. He pulled me down to his height and whispered, “Mama, I want to marry a boy.” I said “You can marry whomever you love.” He responded, “uffda.” If you aren’t from around here or Scandinavia, “uffda” is not so much a word as an exhalation. It is also a call to feel someone’s pain, suffering, fear, or relief. The closest expression to “uffda” I can recall I learned from my students in the 90’s; “you feel me?” The only appropriate response from a loving mom to her son’s “uffda” is, “I feel ya, baby. I feel you.” Someday he may want to marry a Jenny or a Jake, but what I felt from him yesterday was a natural desire to be free to follow his heart.

Today, I rest assured that 51% of Minnesotans voted in favor of freedom and we celebrate that Minnesota was the first state in the U.S. to defeat a Marriage Amendment. I am proud we will continue our evolution toward legalization of marriage for all. I am thrilled we chose to protect our Constitution from being used to restrict rights. But I will admit, I am also sad about the 49% who voted in favor of the amendment. I believe we will someday look back and see that voting “yes,” was a vote for separate but equal. I know it’s important to understand the views that oppose mine. I live by the philosophy of honoring differences in points of view, culture and religion. But I can’t get to the other side of this issue without seeing discrimination. I will not accept that asking our government to define marriage exclusively as one man and one woman is practicing the “freedom” of religion. In truth, it is the imposition of religion upon state law. Religion cannot be used to write law nor justify segregation. I believe it is possible to calmly and warmly say to marriage amendment proponents, “I think you are making a mistake.” My hope is that by the time my son is falling in love, the 49% of Minnesotans who voted “yes” will have new views on love and freedom. I would like to have a conversation with my son someday where his brow furrows, he recalls our orange sign, and he asks me, “Was equal rights to marriage really debatable? Uffda.” And I will say, “I feel ya, baby. I feel you.”