To the Moms at the Library, or at the Store, or at Home.

Like almost everyone who pays attention, I see a lot of special needs children and their parents. I see a mom and her teenage son who still listens to Wiggles CDs. I wish I had a flower or a gift card for his mom. Can’t afford it, but I wish I could. Because I see that she is tired. She loves him, but she is tired, and some days she doesn’t smile. I don’t really understand, as my diagnosed kid is much higher functioning, but I have an inkling. I see the mom with twin sons who are older than my son, and I can only imagine how very tired she is. How hard simply driving them to school for their therapy is for her. How she longs for a way to speak with them. How she hopes.

I want to do some small thing for them. Thing is, I can’t do anything much at all. I am barely getting by, myself. But I wish I could. So, if all I have right now are my words, I will say it here.

For ALL of you who persist, who listen to the Wiggles (or who knows what else) over and over and over. Who take your kids to run errands because it’s good for them, even when people can be rude. Who take your kids because you don’t have the option of leaving them home. Who don’t take your kids because you just can’t stand it anymore, or because people are unkind, or because running to the library or the grocery store is as close to a spa day as you flipping get. Who only buy velcro shoes because nothing else is worth the fight, or can’t buy velcro because the sound sends kids over the edge. Who manage to smile when people are disrespectful because your child is different. Who watch family and friends drift away. Who see other kids going to college or prom or just plain eating “normal” food.

I see you.

You.

And I honor you, not only for what you are doing, but for YOU. YOU, a person of individuality and uniqueness. I honor you.

I know being seen doesn’t really help. I know wishing I had flowers and gift cards to hand out doesn’t help at all. And that the flower would fade, or the gift card would be used and gone.

But here and now, let me say again, I honor you. I wish you the grace and peace to get through yet another day.

God bless you, Mom, wherever, whoever, and whenever you are. God bless you.

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Barbie and the Dragon

I was fixing dinner a few years ago, chicken if I remember correctly, when I heard a shriek from my daughters’ room. I washed my hands as quickly as I could and rushed to the doorway. My younger daughter lounged in the middle of her floor, shrieking.

“What on earth is going on?” I demanded.

She looked up and smiled at me. “I’m playing.”

“There is no shrieking in the house,” I said, firmly.

She sat up and pointed at the toys. Her brother’s red toy dragon was holding Barbie in his mouth. She pushed down on its back, causing it to flap its wings and crunch on the poor doll.

“See?”

“And what are you playing?”

Her eyebrows scrunched down, confused that I did not find this self evident, as she explained: “Mom! He’s a DRAGON. Dragons EAT maidens.” She paused, slightly concerned. “You wouldn’t want him to go hungry, would you?”

“Well, try to be a little quieter,” was all I could think of saying.

“Okay,” she said, and she turned back to the dragon and made it start munching again.

I went back to making dinner.

 

Really, what else was there to say?

 

 

 

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Walking in the Woods, With Kids

I usually find a measure of restoration while walking alone through the woods. Watching grass bend in a spring breeze or bow under the weight of snow soothes my anxieties. The rustle of leaves or a rippling brook, the cries of crows or the sight of a fox, all these things quiet unsettled parts in me.
Taking a stroll through the woods is an entirely different thing when I take my children.
Don’t get me wrong: I love taking my kids out to the nature parks nearby. I think it’s much better for them than simply going to some plastic and metal structure with a passel of poorly behaved strangers. Not that all other kids are poorly behaved and my kids never are! Kids are, after all, human, with foibles and tempers.

 

I just happen to think that balancing on fallen trees or looking for crawdads under rocks in a stream is more beneficial than sliding down some plastic slide that was just peed on by the kid whose mom has left a packet’s worth of cigarette butts smoldering next to a picnic table smeared with evil, anaphylaxis inducing peanut butter.
And not that I think there aren’t nasties at nature parks, either. We found what I suspect was a placenta on a trail (though that doesn’t bode well for whatever animal left it) and any number of bizarre, potentially disgusting things. Dead rodents. Evidence of carnivorous behavior. (That is a euphemism for half eaten animals and their feathers and fur, in case I was unclear.) A deceased deer. Scat. (We went on a hike and found scat, which together with the paw prints proved to us that we were following a coyote. Yes, I had borrowed a library book beforehand and made the older kids look up tracks and scat. It might be a little gross, but it’s educational!)

 

And bones. We’ve never found antlers, but we were on a hike with a naturalist once and found a nice sized deer leg bone. Another time, we found a skull! Probably a fox. I have to say, though, that although the injured and dying mice qualify in my mind as a little nasty, the skull was after all, pretty cool.
Anyway, as I was saying, although the kids seem to enjoy a hike, and I enjoy taking them, it isn’t very restful for me. In addition to feeling like I’m herding cats, it can be exhausting.
For example, although in theory trail running sounds great, I had not intended to try it without any training. That time the four year old took off, shrieking with laughter and tearing up a hill, and I had to high tail it after him? That wasn’t very fun at all. I would highly recommend training up to a mile trail run through the woods up and down steep hills. I was uncomfortable for days. The four year old was fine.

 

There was that hike about 8 years ago, when they hollered that they’d found a snake, I hollered back to give it room and hurried up. They had indeed found one. It was a black rat snake, at least four feet long, moseying its way across the trail. They had given it plenty of room, and we let it go in peace. This past spring, we found a tiny snake. The boys sat on their heels several paces back, and we watched it go its way. Not bad, just a little nerve wracking.
It just wasn’t restful when the four year old held up a mangled wad of green leaves and asked, “Mom? Is this poison ivy?”
Nor was it particularly calming when the same kid grabbed a handhold on the aerial roots of poison ivy on a tree and asked, “Mom? Are these plant feathers?”

Especially when I forgot to pack the soap and water for when kids do such things. You’d think I’d learn.

 

When the teenager managed to twist an ankle while jumping off a rock into a creek, it wasn’t great fun either. (She’s fine.)
And when the giant beetle startled a child into blood curdling screams, and I had to prove things were okay by letting it crawl on me, it did not soothe my nerves. The spiders? That was worse.
All that being said, it might not be soothing, but it is completely worth it. Seeing them captivated by an orb web covered in dew, hearing them belly laugh as they plunk down into a stream with a splash, smelling the wildflowers they discovered. It more than compensates for the exhaustion and the occasionally stomach knots. I hope that it carries over, and some day, they’ll walk alone in the woods, comfortable and at peace.

 

Without wadding up any poison ivy.

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Tidal Pools

I lived in California for most of my childhood, and I was fortunate enough to make it to the beach with some degree of regularity.

 

My parents took the lot of us there on weekends, and there were field trips in elementary school. I remember walking under grey shrouded skies, jacket zipped against the chilly wind off the ocean. My third grade class studied tidal pools before our trip. Then, in high school, the beach meant baking in the sun or body surfing and getting cold Pacific salt water up my nose. I had less time in college, especially since I didn’t have my own transportation, but once I bummed a ride to the beach and saw a pod of dolphins swimming down the coast, which drew cheers from just about everyone there.
There is, however, no ocean in the Midwest. Once in a while a seagull strays too far from the Great Lakes, and I am overly excited about birds that used to be both common place and a nuisance.
A year or so ago I flew out to California for my youngest sister’s wedding, which was one of the loveliest I have ever attended. I have never seen her look more beautiful. My sister and new brother-in-law shone with love. It was a wonderful wedding up among the redwoods overlooking the bay, and I am blessed that I was able to attend. (And yes, I cried.)
The Sunday after the wedding, my other sister took me back to the beach.
I splashed like a kid through a shallow inlet, looking for shells and rocks. Rounding the rocks and turning north along the beach, there were tidal pools. Tidal pools! Of course I waded in.
The Pacific ocean was still cold, toe numbingly cold, but in the shallow tidal pools, the water had been warmed by the bright sunlight. From a distance, the rocks looked dull, but as I walked out further, everything was transformed. Toward the shore, the anemones were still closed, soft and brown, studded with broken shells. The seaweed lay on the rocks, dull brown in the sun.

 

The transformation began as the water washed over it all. The seaweed began to wave: translucent emerald ribbons fluttered in the turning tide. In another pool, thin grasses and long green strands with ruffled scarlet edges danced in the current. Rubbery brown ovals, though dull in the sunlight, shimmered iridescent as they pulsed in the tide.

 

Farther out, the water was cooler, laced with foam as the sharper rocks tamed the waves. Tiny crabs scuttled, black or brown, some small as moving grains of sand. Small shelled creatures, like rolly-pollies, scurried under the mussels. Purple snails held tightly to the rocks, while small things, borne in by the pounding surf, came to rest in a bed of tightly closed mussels. The mussels, a sharp living carpet, clustered in thick masses spread over the rocks. Holes and gaps in the rocks bore evidence of burrowing worms. Swarms of infantile creatures hid under and beneath the beds of mollusks.
Closer to the ocean, farther from the shore, the pools were cooler, deeper, more active. In one, an anemone had opened, a pale green star, waving short tentacles in apparent innocence, searching for food. It grasped a crushed mussel, enfolding the broken shell, collapsing itself around its prey.
The waves grew stronger as the tide came in. Wading back to the beach, the water swirled around my legs, numbing my feet. A cold foam raced past as the water pulled back and forth with the tide. The water squelched in my shoes as I waded up onto the sand. I removed the sodden things and let the heat thaw my toes.

 

Together with my sister and her boyfriend, I crossed the hot sand, and we loaded into his car. They had a big, orange bucket dull of freshly harvested mussels. I not only had pockets full of shells, but I’d loaded some shells into their bucket as well. When we reached the house, I carefully rinsed my shells and set them to dry on the deck railing. These small pieces of the Pacific were going to make it back to the Midwest with me. That night we had the fresh mussels for dinner with roasted cauliflower. (My sister is a very good cook!)

 

When I boarded the plane in the morning, I had shells in my bag, a faint sunburn on my nose, and new memories to share. It had been a very good trip, and it had been good to be out on the beach again, to splash through inlets and to investigate tidal pools, but I was so glad to be going home. True, there is no Pacific in the Midwest. 

 

Being back with my family is grander than any ocean.

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On Spell Check and Prawns: A Request for Leniency

I will not presume that my relationship with spell check programs is particularly unique. I’ve heard of some rather interesting replacements, so I know that I am not putting forward anything new and groundbreaking. That said, I think that the spellchecker on my Kindle seems to be out to sabotage my efforts. Thusly, I have decided to write a plea for understanding, should I include some egregious errors. Or even small ones.
You see, ages ago my laptop crashed. Last year, my husband resurrected it somehow using mad computer skills, but he had to remove the battery. Then the kids lost the cord. So at the moment, my computer access is limited to my Kindle and the few moments I can grab on computers at the public library. I do so appreciate this little thing. I really enjoy it. It’s a handy size, takes decent pictures, allows me to access my email and the internet, plays music, stores ebooks, and even borrows library books. On top of all that, it allows me to write.
My Kindle, however, has spell check. And since I need to watch where I’m typing, I sometimes fail to notice that it has selected an entirely different word from what I had originally intended. I am usually the sort of person who rereads and edits everything, including posts on social networks, so this isn’t always a horrendous problem. But when, as I used to say, the Muse is speaking, and therefore I must hammer out the words as quickly as I can, I don’t always notice what has gone wrong.
The little things, like it’s and its, or were and we’re, are irritating, but the random word substitutions truly get to me. This evening, for example, I was emailing some friends and too busy watching my thumbs tap away to catch “especially zinc eye.” I think I probably meant something much more prosaic, like “especially since,” but I can’t recall my exact thought. Zinc Eye, indeed.
Earlier this year, I needed to write a letter to a university on my oldest’s behalf. I meant to write the word “incorporates,” but Kindle, working in cahoots with the university’s website, wouldn’t allow me to adjust the word: Spellchecker kept changing it. Finally, when it read something like “incorinnocorpincoinincorpin,” Kindle offered the obvious correction to “mechanized.” I wound up deleting fancy words like “incorporates” altogether and writing what I hope was a coherent letter but probably sounded like babbling. I can only hope that the admissions office thought, “Great Scot! We must give the poor child a chance to escape this present mentally restrictive environment! Let us grant a full scholarship!”
My Kindle’s spell check is also a nuisance when I attempt to write fiction. I’ve been trying to get stories out of my head and onto a page, whether digital or paper, so I’ve been pecking them out on my Kindle with mixed results. Recently, I was attempting to write a scene in which a character is hoping to escape being manipulated in a political power play. Kindle didn’t like a word. Kindle added an R. So, a new scene is written: instead of a political situation, the poor character has become The Sacrificial Prawn, and a completely new story emerges…

In a dark cave lit only by flickering torches and a pit of fire, robed figures stand, chanting. Their tall, forbidding leader strides forward from the shadows. He holds up his claw-like hands, and his insane voice shrieks over the throbbing of drums: “Bring forth the Sacrifice!”
Slowly, carrying the giant chessboard, the henchmen present the Sacrificial Prawn, its tiny legs waving frantically…

Hmmm.

Perhaps the Kindle is onto something. Flickering torchlight or politics… Maybe I should take that particular hint after all.

Continue reading

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In Praise of New Books

Back in high school, before I had heard of In Praise of Folly and long before I read it aloud to myself late at night in the Student Union Building in preparation for Dr. Smith’s class, one of my friends gave me a framed quote. It read,

“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”  – Erasmus

I am very fortunate to be living in an age of inexpensive paper books, to say nothing of ebooks and the internet. I am sure that Erasmus would certainly avail himself of the public library, even if he should not be writing in the margins.
I’ve loved books my whole life. Books and stories and words. I still enjoy the library, even if I work there. (How fortunate is that?!?) I have been know to max out my library limit. Erasmus might be a little disappointed that I spend more time in fiction than in pursuit of knowledge and philosophy, but he doesn’t know, so I’m okay with it.
True, I borrow quite a few books from the 500s (math and science), 641 (cookbooks!), and the 900s (history). I also borrow a good number of inspirational  romances, science fiction, and fantasy. Occasionally, I dabble in mysteries, plain old fiction, or even audio books!
I think my favorite shelves at the library hold the new fiction books. It is not because of their newness, but their interfiling. The nonfiction, of course, sits properly in Dewey decimal order as it will later, but the fiction shelved by the authors’ names. In six months, the novels will be properly segregated: large type, fiction, mystery, science fiction, romance, etc. But for now, all the novels intermingle like a large mixed bouquet.
Some of the books are definitely not my style, but the contrast they provide is even more interesting. Later, people will miss the fun of epic tales of elves and dragons since they do not regularly visit the shelves in the back, where fantasy hides between mysteries and scifi. The romances will be relegated to the back wall where people furtively look through rather suggestive covers. While looking for an inspirational history, no one be drawn to a  cozy mystery with recipes in the back. But on the new shelves, who knows what might be right to the book you were looking for?
I like that juxtaposition of genres.
And, when I discover a new friend in the books on the shelves, I can invite that friend home. How lovely is that? After all, Erasmus also said,
“Your library is your paradise.”
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January

I went for a walk alone.

It was brightly cold, and a slow wind made the skeletons of last summer’s coneflowers, bee balm, and sunflowers shush. The bare branches of the trees at the edges of the meadow clattered in response.

The trail that meandered from the meadow through the woods and the wetlands was alternately a wooden walkway, frozen dirt, and ice. In what little shade the trees provided, the clear ice was decorated with a dusting of flakes, although the ground itself was free from snow. In more open spaces, the ice had lost its fairy dusting, as the clear, bright sunlight had melted that which the fingers of wind had not blown away. The cold of the air and the ice beneath had refrozen the water into a sharply smooth mirror of icy glass.

The trail led me through the stiff meadow grasses into the narrow woods and over the frozen mud, rich and dark from the decay of last year’s leaves. It led over the wooden walkways that bridged the marshy wetlands, where the moss still showed bright green through brown, fallen cattails and remnants of grass on the small islands of semi-solid earth. The trail crackled under my weight, but the ice was thick enough not to break altogether.

Few birds called in the soft clicking and shushing of the wind. The cardinals were silent. The crows sounded sharper than they had a few months ago when they were accompanied by red-winged blackbirds and robins.

In the frigid sunlight, a few blades of grass were stubbornly green, not emerald like the moss, but a drab faded green that still refused to surrender, just yet, to the grey-brown of winter. Nothing seemed to move. Squirrels hid in their nests on high. No robins searched the ground. There was only the hint of water, slowly trickling under the ice.

I stopped, as something small jumped out of the bushes, onto the trail.

It was a fox: small and grey; its tail bushy, thick, and black-tipped; sharp ears alert.

The fox bounded forward and dashed down the trail. It navigated a sharp turn back into the soughing cattails and the greying stalks of last year’s flowers, just before the trees thinned into the marshy wetland. The fox seemed to have melted silently into the dullness of faded summer.

I waited a moment, then tried to walk forward silently, but my boots crunched and cracked the glassy trail. The fox had left paw prints and skid marks on the narrow streaks of shadows on the snow dusted ice, right before the boardwalk resumed.

The quiet and stillness were again broken by the crow’s raucous call. Fingers of wind stirred the remaining cattails to sigh in response.

I smiled: in spite of the cold still biting my face, I felt warm.

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