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Posts Tagged ‘mother’

Last week, Anne Lamonte posted a blog on Facebook explaining her negative opinion of Mother’s Day. Anne is famous among writers for her book Bird by Bird, which reminds us that writing a book, like so many other things in life, is done one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time. I like most of Anne’s posts, even the ones I don’t agree with. And I enjoyed this one. But she got me thinking. Did I agree with her attack on a day that is more or less sacred because it is devoted to mothers?

Now, Anne’s post is not sour grapes. She is a mother, and she was quick to point out she did not raise her son Sam to celebrate the day. In her view, she would rather have a thank you 365 days of the year in place of just one on a day that is more or less sponsored by Hallmark and See’s Candy. (She is also not a fan of Valentine’s day, either.)

In theory, I agree with her point. And, in addition to my Smile Project (which I wrote about some posts ago), I have my own personal Thank You Project, devoted to random acts of thank you. I believe the world is too full of criticism and not full enough of letting people know what they’ve done right. Hence, I strive to use the words “Thank You” as often as possible. And you get what you give. My children are quick to thank me often. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t nice to have one special day to sit down with them at brunch (which has become our traditional celebration) and enjoy their recognition for my role in their lives. I would miss Mother’s Day if it went away.

Anne also finds the day discriminatory. She reads Mother’s Day as a message to women without children that they are second class citizens. I disagree. I had my children later on in life, after years of not wanting any. And I never, ever drew a negative inference about myself on Mother’s Day during my childless years. Of course I will not deny that for a woman who wants a child and who cannot have one, the day can be painful. But so is every other day when she sees a child and longs for one of her own, yet does not become pregnant. (A dear friend went through this and after giving up entirely found herself pregnant at last!) I don’t think Mother’s Day is a message to the childless, either by choice or by chance, they are less than.

Finally, Anne faults the inevitable commercialism that any holiday that involves gift giving creates. But that, I think, is too simplistic a view of the question. While Hallmark and See’s get their share of business, along with florists, why is it wrong to send a gift on a particular day to a special person? And Mother’s Day gifts do not have to be expensive. I was always happy with the handmade artwork, the $1.99 earrings from Walmart, or the “coupons” for dishwashing and laundry folding. (I never cashed them in, by the way. They live forever in my keepsake box.)

After thinking it over, I do see Anne Lamont’s point. Some aspects of Mother’s Day can be viewed as negative. But that is true of every other holiday I can think of. New Year’s means resolutions no one keeps. Easter is only about candy and stuffed rabbits. Halloween will rot your children’s teeth (and yours, too, if you steal their candy.) Thanksgiving in devoted to gluttony. Christmas is too stressful and commercial. And children’s birthdays are too expensive and pretentious, and your birthday is depressing because you’re getting older. So should we stamp out holidays?

No, of course, not. Nothing is perfect. Holidays are bits of magic interspersed into everyday life. They allow us to believe in magic, even if for only twenty-four hours. I would miss all of them, including Mother’s Day, if they went away.

Family Portrait

Family Portrait

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You can always tell when a store is offering a promotion that benefits them, not you. A few years ago, it was Costco. They came up with their “cash back” American Express card. Now, for anyone who wanted another credit card, I’m sure it was a THRILLING DEAL. But for those of us who don’t like plastic and who have enough already, it was not attractive.

The thing is, Costco would not take no for an answer. Their AmEx “specialists” aggressively chased me across the store so many times that I finally left written complaints in BIG LETTERS on feedback cards every time I shopped. Once I went lawyer on one of them and threatened to file a complaint for a PC 422. I hadn’t the slightest intention of course, but I was tired of being chased and harassed. (And it wasn’t a PC 422, it was a PC 245, but 422 sounded more intimidating and came out of my mouth first because I was working on one of those cases.)

Eventually Costco penned up the AmEx Card hustlers (I like to think it was because I complained), and I could just avoid them. For a while.

But then they started a campaign at check out for those of us who were holdouts on the GREAT DEAL. We still had the tell tale white membership cards. Put one of those babies on the checkout conveyor belt, and your fate was sealed. You were going to get a talking to from the cashier with all the fervor of a Southern Baptist street preacher who suspected Jesus Christ was NOT your lord and savior. Finally, I paid Costco an extra $60 bucks a year for a black card that is not a credit card, but that entitles me to a paltry rewards certificate every January. It’s enough to buy a couple of good bottles of wine, and so far it has been a stake in the heart of AmEx vampires.

Having lived through the Costco AmEx campaign, I was not thrilled when some baby B-schooler created JUST 4 U at my local supermarket. I mean, the title was an instant give way. It was definitely NOT 4 ME.

The whole thing began pretty innocuously with tables just inside the entrance doors where pleasant-faced employees gave out little flyers telling us how sign up on our computers at home. Ever obedient, I did just that. But I went no farther. Why, you ask? Because the object of the exercise was to get me to decide what I wanted to buy BEFORE I went to the store, click on a bunch of e-coupons and somehow magically have these on my cell phone to be scanned at check out. Do you see where this is going, Highly Intelligent Reader? Yep. You got it. The store was sneaking up on paper coupons and trying to make them extinct.

Now back in the days when all four of us were home, I did clip coupons like paper dolls from the glossy Sunday inserts. I had one of those cute little coupon organizers with wallpaper patterns on the front that I wagged with me every weekend. In those days, I often did plan my meals for a whole week in advance, created shopping lists, and executed them (in every sense of that word.) Only problem with this activity: it killed the whole weekend, EVERY WEEKEND. (Another form of execution.)

But as my children grew up and left home bit by bit, I had little need for an elaborate food plan every week. And, as a foodie, I love to roam the aisles and Impulse Buy. I may know three things I want before I hit the supermarket, but I don’t know the other ten. It is just not fun to sit at a computer and pretend I’m putting tunes on my iPod when in fact I’m hunting for paperless coupons for the Android for things I don’t even know I want yet.

Being Southern and polite, I just decided to silently drop the whole thing. But not the supermarket. Oh, no. The employees behind the tables now began to shout at us as we entered, DEMANDING we sign up They came armed with laptops to do the deed ON THE SPOT. They pushed free cookies and coffee to waylay unsuspecting victims. (That was an easy one for me to ignore, but no mom can get a kid past a plate of free cookies.) Still even if a shopper managed to run the entrance gauntlet, he or she still had to face to the Sign Up table in back across from the meat counter. (I guess vegetarians escaped this one.) And finally, the fresh-faced cashier would smile and demand the JUST 4 U info at check out like some sort of Free Mason hand shake that if I got right, would allow me to take the food home. Masonry went extinct in my family in my father’s generation. So, faced with leaving the groceries on the counter or finding a new place to shop, I learned to cleverly hand over my store club card and say, “This is all the discount I wanted for today, thank you.” (I mean the whole club card thing is a pain, too. Why can’t they just give you the low price to begin with?)

Lately, like the AmEx herd that got bullpenned, the JUST 4 U pushers are fewer and farther between. (I think the moms complained about the free cookies.) There are still plenty of customers with cute little coupon savers at checkout, handing over wads of rainbow-hued clippings. I actually haven’t seen a single phone scanned. I’m thinking the baby B-school genius who visited this plague upon us is Looking For Another Job right now. B-school genius has learned the hard way no one is going to deprive me of the extemporaneous fun of being an Foodie Impulse Buyer. Absolutely no one.

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Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist Conference after more than sixty years. He had been a deacon and a Sunday School teacher, and he is a profoundly and sincerely religious man. But his reason for leaving the Southern Baptists: the church’s increasing rigidity over the equality of women. Relying on certain passages of scripture, the Southern Baptists insist upon a wife’s subjugation to her husband. And they no longer allow women in the ministry.

Southern Baptists are the United States’ largest Protestant denomination, with 15.9 million members. I doubt that people who have not lived in the South understand what a powerful presence they are in Southern society and culture. My own grandfather was a rigid Southern Baptist who believed in eternal damnation for setting foot in any other church. As a child, I was bundled off to Sunday School and kindergarten at the Southern Baptist church that literally sat on our doorstep. (Eventually they would buy the house I grew up in and turn it into a parking lot, an act of destruction that has always left me profoundly sad.)

I was lucky that my early contact with the mighty Southern Baptist conference had nothing to do with doctrine and everything to do with my parents not wanting to go to church themselves. They shuffled me across the street, Sunday after Sunday, and then went home to put their feet up, read the paper, and drink coffee until it was time to pick me up. The perfect example of “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Eventually, though, being Southern parents, mine were forced to decide about their children’s Religious Affiliation. Southerners have to have some sort of Religious Affiliation to use on Easter and Christmas. And to get married and buried.

Since I had not been baptized as an infant – a practice my Southern Baptist father would never have agreed to and my Methodist mother had no opinion about – I necessarily would have to be baptized as a pre-teen or teen. But the point was, I was a daughter of the South and so I had to be baptized somehow, to avoid going to hell, of course. (Hell at that point was thought to be populated by Northerners, at least unreconstructed Southerners thought so. I didn’t give it much thought since I never planned to wind up there. And it did seem to me that the Civil War had been over for quite some time.)

My parents eventually lit upon a sect of Presbyterians who conducted services as if they were Episcopalians minus kneeling, the sign of the cross, and robes on the minister. For some reason, these Presbys were taken with the beauty of the Anglican liturgy (me, too, by the way) and they adopted it as their own. My father quit being a Southern Baptist and my mother quit being a Methodist, and I got baptized and turned into a Presbyterian by having a red carnation dipped into a bowl of water and squashed on top of my head. Whew! Eternal Damnation avoided! (I fully believe God has a sense of humor because He gave me one.)

By and by, to the absolute horror of my parents, I became an Episcopalian. This required yet another baptism for technical Episcopalian reasons. In their world, water on top of the head doesn’t save you. It has to cross your forehead. So to make absolutely sure I was good and baptized for all time, the priest poured water from a silver shell over my forehead. Killed the hairdo, but now Nothing stood between me, Saint Peter, and those Pearly Gates.

At first, I wanted to be an Episcopalian so that I could walk into any Anglican communion anywhere and hear the beautiful words of the liturgy. I loved that feeling of community when the priest intoned that gorgeous subjunctive phase, “The Lord be with you.” And we answered, “And also with you.” If I went to a Presbyterian church, other than the one I grew up in, I would not hear the liturgy. Then, by and by, my first child turned out to be a daughter. And I wanted her to grow up in a church where women could be priests if they wanted to be. I couldn’t see the point of a religion that told women from the get-go, you’re not good enough.

I have admired Mr. Carter always. He is a man of integrity in a world where integrity is in short supply. And I know what a hard decision he had to make. A Southern Baptist heritage is like being bound by tentacles.

For me, I chose well. You can be anything, anyone, anybody and be an Episcopalian. We have women priests, men priests, gay priests, lesbian priests, and yes, married priests, hetero and gay. Oh, and Bishops, too, come in all varieties. We are the ones the Catholics come to when divorce makes them ineligible to be Catholics anymore. We don’t have to stand on street corners and preach (Southern Baptists did this when I was growing up) and we don’t condemn anyone else’s religion. We are pretty sure God doesn’t either. And we are absolutely sure that women are equal in this world and the next. Back in the day, the Baptist Sunday School taught me to sing this song, which doesn’t say anything about having to be a male child to gain the All Access Pass to Heaven.

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They’re all precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Love Comes in All Shapes and Colors

Love Comes in All Shapes and Colors

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I went to an estate sale on Saturday and acquired some
items that mean the world to me. No one knows why. Here’s why.

A few years ago, the woman who gave birth to me had a stroke that
changed her personality so drastically that I found myself an
orphan in mid-life. She had always been a difficult person, and I
had labored for my whole life to have a place in hers. I had
acquired all the academic bells and whistles, had become a
respected professional, and had done a sometimes heroic job of
raising three children as a single mother. But nothing I ever did
impressed her or was enough for her; and in the end she showed me
the door because I was, in her terms, a poor specimen of a human
being.

She survived the stroke; but our relationship did not. And
that is enough said about that. I found great freedom in accepting
my situation and moving on with my life. She wanted me gone; I gave
her what she wanted. For the first time, there was no voice whining
in my ear that I wasn’t good enough.

A few months later, a story on Good Morning American snagged my attention.
A lovely young woman in her mid-thirties, also cast out by her birth family without
justification, had actually put herself up for adoption. And she
had found a lovely second family. I considered the ad I would have
written. “Lovely little family of four, all outstanding over
achievers, seeks parents and grandparents. Looking only for love
and companionship, holiday celebrations, loving phone calls.”

It was only a fantasy, of course. But fantasy has often gotten me
through some of the harder places in life.

Perhaps the central difference in my birth mother and myself is the ability
to nurture. I’m not quite sure how an Earth Mother like me sprang from an Ice
accept her as she is.

Queen, but I did. I don’t fault her for what she didn’t have. I
But as a born nurturer, I have to have someone or some thing to take care of.
Of course there were my children when they were little. And even now they
are adults, I can still give them some nurturing, although not as much.
But now they are on their own, my days are bracketed by the need
to care for my two Golden Retrievers, Melody and Rhythm. Every morning
and every afternoon, I feed them and walk them to the enchanting
little pond that some of the condos in our development back
up to. And this routine was especially comforting in the days
when I was still hurting from my mother’s ultimatum and
wishing I could advertise us for adoption.

The path to the pond winds through a grove of lacy
eucalyptus trees, past a condo in our development with a greenhouse
window facing the path. Now all these units are rather old. They
were built in 1978 when greenhouse windows were quite the “in”
thing. As Melody and Rhythm and I passed by day after day, month
after month, I noticed that this particular window’s display
changed with each month and often featured ducks, a tribute to the
mallards that inhabit the pond. At Christmas, the window had
caroling ducks in tiny Dickens outfits holding tiny song books. At
Easter, there were ducks and bunnies and pastel eggs. For July,
teddies dressed in red white and blue and lots of those .99 cent
flags. At Thanksgiving the window held a blend of pilgrims, ducks,
and autumn leaves. Then Christmas and the web-footed carolers would
come round again. In between, the window defaulted to a display of
tiny lighthouses, rustic bears, bald eagles with spread wings, and
a pair of tin lanterns. And now and than a new trinket appeared.

The person responsible for this fascinating whimsy was a tall,
thin, grey haired woman, well over eighty. Just about the age of my
former mother. She lived alone, dressed elegantly in expensive
subdued slacks and blouses, and always wore pearls. There were skis
in the garage and a set of golf clubs. In those days, she still
drove. Her regular routine was a trip to the grocery store around
four o’clock each day to decide what to cook herself for dinner.
She first noticed me because she loved my beautiful Goldens, and we
often passed by just as she was beginning or ending this daily food
shop. She’d wave when she saw us and would smile and say something
sweet to Melody and Rhythm.

I learned that her name was Lenore. I caught glimpses of her mahogany Windsor
chairs in her dining room as I passed each day. I saw the tiny beautiful
antique table in the perfect spot in the hall, the tiny spoon
rack above her miniature sideboard, and the glass-fronted
curio cabinets in the living room. I guessed she was a collector,
and that she was not from California. Her condo was an exquisite
blend of Williamsburg-style furniture that few people in
California are drawn to. But I, of course, loved it.
She was just the sort of mother I would have chosen.

Her monthly displays inspired me to decorate my own front
entrance each month. I didn’t have a greenhouse window, so I made a
front door wreath for each month and hung appropriate wooden signs
and ornaments on the tree by the door. Even the grumpy Homeowners
Association wrote me a letter complimenting my charming entrance.
Little did they know it was all because of Lenore and her
greenhouse window.

Lenore seemed to draw people to her. Most afternoons when the weather
was nice she would put off the store trip, and she would sit at the table
on her patio with several of the ladies who lived in the condos. They
would sip white wine from thin-stemmed crystal glasses and chat.
Their ritual included feeding the ducks who would come up to
her patio, flapping their wings if Lenore was late throwing
out their food. Often, Melody and Rhythm and I would be
walking by about this time, and Leonore and her friends
would wave as they threw food to the ducks.

Then, a couple of years ago, Lenore had a stroke. A widow from Connecticut,
she had moved to San Diego when her husband died to be close to her
children living here. So she had plenty of support from children
and grandchildren. She recovered enough to go on living in her
lovely condo with a live-in care giver; and even though she no
longer drove, she steadfastly maintained her old routine. Store in
the afternoon. Friends and duck feeding on the patio. Waving at me
and the retrievers. Church on Sunday. Always beautifully dressed
with pearls, but now she used her ski poles for support instead of
a cane. And the window changed each month just as before.

I came to count on that window. Her creative additions were mini surprises in
my day. Sometimes a new duck. Sometimes a single flower in a vase.
She was obviously a woman of great charm and creativity. Then, this
October, a month after she turned ninety, she died. I didn’t know
for a long time because nothing changed at the condo. There was
even a Christmas tree at Christmas. And the window displays went on
as before.But in early January, I began to see lots of picture
frames in the trash and a woman in the garage going through albums.
Eventually, I learned that these were her children deciding what to
keep and what to let go of.

I was profoundly sad, but her daughter staying at the condo kept
up the old ways. Window decorated. Afternoons with the ladies and
white wine on the patio. Ducks fed. I half hoped Leonore wasn’t really
gone but was on a long visit and coming back. Silly fantasy.
But the day I saw the blue glass vases were no longer in the window
in her bedroom, the truth became very real to me. She and I had loved blue glass vases.

This Saturday, I was one of the first to arrive at the estate sale. I knew exactly
what I wanted. And there they were, still in the greenhouse window,
with tiny price stickers on each one. I don’t know where the
caroling ducks went, or the bunnies or the patriotic teddies, but I
bought the default bears and lighthouses and lanterns. And a tiny
little Limoges heart box to remember her by.

Lenore didn’t really adopt me. But it was a fantasy that got me
through a sad time in my life. I don’t have a greenhouse window,
but I rushed happily home from the sale and arranged my treasures on
shelves in the guest room. And I go in often to stand
in front of them and smile. They mean the world to me.

And something else came from the estate sale, too.
I met Lenore’s son and his wife, and I got to tell them how
much Leonore inspired me. Yesterday I was out walking the
retrievers at the usual time, and they were leaving after closing
up her house for the last time. They made a point of waving to me
just as she would have done.

So prayers are answered. A part of my own family reconnected with me
after my wish went out to the Universe to belong. And now I will always
be able to look at Leonore’s little treasures and remember how
much she inspired and cheered me during a sad time in my life.
The ducks, too, are being looked after. One of her friends comes
by each afternoon about four to feed them as Melody and Rhythm and I go by on our walk.

Lenore's patio just as she left it

Lenore’s patio just as she left it

The ducks and the pond

The ducks and the
pond

The window empty for the first time.

The window empty for
the first time.

Lenore's eagles and lanterns


Lenore’s eagles and lanterns

The light houses

The light houses

Her bears

Her bears

Her January cardinals

Her January
cardinals

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Last week, on the day before Valentine’s Day, my son called home from college.

“Mom, I need the fudge recipe.”

Now here was a bit of family lore that had drifted silently into dry dock, and I’m not quite sure if I can say when. Back in the day when all three kids were home and fairly small, fudge at Christmas was our special family treat. Even in the years when Christmas had to be celebrated on a shoestring, fudge was always affordable. It was our go-to gift for their friends, for their teachers at school, for their music teachers, and for anyone else who happened to cross our paths at the holiday. And it was blissfully appropriate across all religious lines as long as I remembered to buy only “Happy Holidays” tins at Walmart. (None of the kids’ friends had a problem with the ones with Santa Claus on top, either.)

Now, candy was an interesting subject at our house. I do not know if modern Southern mothers raise children who are forbidden to have candy, but I was not raised that way, and it never occurred to me to banish candy. Perhaps because it was so available, my children were never particularly interested in it. The miniature candy bars in the toes of the Christmas stockings became petrified wood by the time I remembered to throw them out at Easter. Similarly, the pastel foil wrapped chocolate eggs thoughtfully provided by the Easter Bunny languished into melt down as summer approached. And my children would politely nibble an ear off a chocolate rabbit and then wrap it up forever more. At Halloween, they counted their loot and put it away until Christmas. It is amazing that we didn’t have more ants in the house more often.

So because candy was never forbidden, it never made anyone’s heart beat faster. On the other hand, when the children who were being raised Sugarless came over, I’d find the little jars of Hershey’s kisses on the kitchen counter empty by the time they went home. Which was fine. The kisses were there to be eaten, and we probably weren’t going to eat them. And I would never inform the Sugar Police on our little visitors.

But fudge at Christmas was a different story. Maybe because fudge is creamy, gooey chocolate like none other and maybe because it appeared but once a year, every fudge crumb ever concocted on our stove was consumed.

When Michael called last week, I panicked. Where was the recipe? I had once known it by heart, and for a full ten minutes I could not even think where the written version was. Losing it would be like losing the baby teeth the Tooth Fairy had taken out from under their pillows and hidden in my jewelry box. Some parts of family lore are just too precious to lose.

“I’ll have to hunt for it and call you back,” I told him. (Southerner’s “hunt” for things; we do not “look for” them.) As soon as I got off the phone, I sat quietly and tried to think it through. I had no idea where the written version was because I had made it so many years by memory. Yet I knew it was written down. I am careful to keep important things like that written down.

I closed my eyes and thought about how ordinary things are no longer ordinary when they are woven into the fabric of a family’s life. There are the special ornaments that have to be on the Christmas tree each year. There is the Thanksgiving stuffing that must contain sausage and oysters, but no mushrooms. There is the one and only birthday cake with chocolate butter cream to paste the layers together, and vanilla butter cream on the outside. There are the Easter Bunny footprints stealthily stenciled on the front walk at midnight with flour. There was our first dog’s birthday on July 4, and now our current dogs’ birthdays on February 2 and March 3. These things and these dates and these memories are sewn together to make the quilt of our unique family story. And each is important and never to be lost or forgotten.

So where, oh where was the fudge recipe? Of course, in the binder of family recipes that I had put together over the years. Within fifteen minutes, I had typed it into an e-mail, and it was on its way to my son who called shortly thereafter.

“Thanks, Mom.”

“No problem. Glad you reminded me where it was.”

“Well, I’m being cheap. Instead of buying chocolate, I’m making it for her.”

“Oh, no. That’s not cheap. Any gift from your own hands, of your own time, is never cheap. You guys have a very Happy Valentine’s Day!”

And so a bit of our family lore was recovered, renewed, and passed on.

Holiday Tin

Holiday Tin

The Good Stuff

The Good Stufff

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Happy New Year

Happy New Year

When I was a child, New Year’s was a sad holiday. It was the day the now shabby and wilting Christmas tree came down; the day we were forced to eat black-eye peas swimming in bacon grease for luck; and the day before the dreaded Return to School. Whereas December had been filled with class parties, cookies, gift exchanges, singing carols, and a Christmas play that the entire elementary school presented, January was a bleak, cold month in Tennessee filled with homework and early bed time. No magic allowed.

New Year seemed an even more hollow celebration as I grew older. Even though by high school the December lead up to Christmas no longer carried even the slightest celebratory trace of magic, still the idea of two whole weeks without six periods each day, homework to match, and avoiding the Popular People in the halls was anticipatory nirvana. But New Year’s once again marked the end of freedom and the return to drudgery. Nothing joyful about that.

After I graduated to career person, I used to hang out at various New Year’s parties, trying to feel festive and not sad. I never developed a circle of close friends, so I always shouted “Happy New Year!” among strangers. Despite being happy to be included, a holiday with people I didn’t know just reminded me I was pretty much rowing my little boat alone in the big wide ocean. No magic there.

But after I became the mother of three, I began, at last, to see New Year’s differently. It all changed about the time my oldest hit preschool, and I encountered the hurdles that face a Mom with Kids in School between October and January 1. First came Halloween, and sewing costumes. Three children, three costumes, a night of trick or treating, and then scraping my exhausted little ones off the bed and back to school on November 1. Then came Thanksgiving and preparing a feast alone while making sure three children under the age of five did not vaporize themselves while I shopped, chopped, baked, served, and counted the silver forks when it was over to make sure I hadn’t thrown one out. Next came Christmas. More sewing: matching mother, daughter, and sons outfits to wear to church on Christmas Eve. Decorating the house, including hauling a tree home on top of the car. And last, but not least, doing Santa’s work for him – and realizing that Santa Claus was just another way to keep women from earning credit for their own hard work. (On Christmas morning the kids never knew not only had I bought the toys, I had spent the night assembling them!)

When New Year’s rolled around that first year of being a Mom with Kids in School, I took a big breath (after the Christmas tree was down) and realized that no more holidays were in sight until Easter. Yipee! Suddenly New Year’s was not the drab little elf sitting on my shoulder after all the glittering Christmas fairies and angels had departed for warmer climates. No, New Year’s was the well-deserved break I had earned! Thankfully, Valentine’s and Easter were fairly minor holidays in the yearly pantheon, leaving me time to rest up before the onset of serious Birthday Season in our family: May, July, August, and September. Followed, of course again, by Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and – at last – the well earned rest New Year’s!

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I am asking myself if it’s time to take down the Christmas tree. The answer to this question used to be set in stone: on New Year’s Day, it came down. But gradually over the years, especially after the kids grew up and lost interest in the tree, I stopped adhering to the hard and fast rule. Sometimes, if it feels right, I take it down before The New Year. When I got up yesterday morning, I began to feel as if it is about time to put it away.

Of course, I always resist taking it down. Night after night, I like to sit in the livingroom with just the light from the tree and the glitter from the ornaments lighting the dark. Face it, you only get a limited number of nights per year to bask in Christmas magic.

And, every year, as I begin to think about boxing up all the shiny eggs and balls and bells that look as if Faberge colored them and jeweled them and iced them with glitter, I ask myself how it would look to put them on a fake Ficus and leave them up all year round. If I did that, I could also keep my tiny skaters and shoppers, bears and llamas, felt birds and reindeer right where I could see them! Oh, joy! Maybe.

That train of thought always brings me inevitably to one conclusion: you can’t imitate a Christmas tree. Sadly but truly, the magic of the season yields to the new broom that sweeps everything clean on New Year’s Day. As much as I love Christmas, seeing my neighbor’s wreath on the door in late August (yes, he never takes it down) does not fill me with Christmas excitement. It makes me sad, as if I’ve arrived at a party where everyone else has already gone home.

Over the last couple of days, as I have mulled over the task of putting each precious ornament away for another year and boxing up my beloved fake pre-lit pine (don’t gasp in horror, I can’t put up a real five foot tree by myself because it is as big as I am but I can whip this one out of the box in five minutes flat unaccompanied!) I am thinking about the coming year. I often look back at this time, but I have discovered looking back only brings a profound sense of loss. Like the wreath on the door in summer, looking back at the New Year makes me sad.

The point of changing that digit in the date is fresh opportunity. New and wonderful things have been ahead every year but looking back has kept me from anticipating them with joy. I see the point in the Biblical story about Lot’s wife who turned to salt when God told her not to look back as they fled Sodom.

So, I am going to take my tree down with joy and put up my sparkling, fantastical New Year’s decorations with joy, and I am going to embrace the New Year and change and be happy! And I wish everyone of you a happy and prosperous 2013, and thank you for being my readers!

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

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I have been crying since mid-day on Friday. I came home after brunch with my oldest child, my lovely now grown-up daughter, to hear the horrible news from Newtown, Connecticut. For the rest of the day, I sat at my computer writing an opening brief in another heartbreaking case – a father’s trial for the abuse of his six-week-old baby – and I cried as I worked. It was all I could do.

I kept thinking of Jeremiah 31:15: “Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.” So I thought of Passover and, then, later of Herod’s massacre as he searched for the Christ child. Matthew 2:18, writing of Herod, parallels Jeremiah: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
There is no grief deeper, I think, than the loss of a child. Jeremiah and Matthew capture that. A born Southerner turns to the King James Bible in times of great grief, even if he or she hasn’t been in a church for some time. It is our heritage and our culture. So the words haunted me.

As I worked and cried, I looked over at the Christmas tree in my living room. News like this never comes at an acceptable time. But it’s particularly hard at Christmas when children of six and seven still believe in Christmas Magic. When my own children were small, I taught Sunday School; and every Christmas, I taught them about the coming of the Christ Child and about the shepherds and the Magi, who traveled to witness the miracle of so much love entering our world. Children of six and seven can believe in the magic of Santa and the joy of Christ’s birth whole-heartedly in a way that we, as adults, can only marvel at. And bask in its glow.

The conundrum of human love is that it inevitably leads to loss. In what form, we cannot predict. But from the beginning of any loving relationship, we know there will be an inevitable end. Some people – and I have known my share of them – refuse to love so they cannot experience loss. To me that choice is the equivalent of refusing to live. For only by loving others can we be truly who we were born to be and be truly alive.

When my grandfather was 104 and still as sharp mentally as anyone could be, he said one day that he was not afraid of death. He said that to him, death was simply another part of life. I have lived from my beginning knowing that we are immortal spirits. I will not tell you how I know. That is too personal. But I know. And so I know that the twenty-six amazing souls from Newtown have been separated from us, but they have only been transformed, not lost. Still, the separation is a great grief. Yet as I watch and experience this profound sadness, I see how this unthinkable loss unites us, and I marvel at the strength and the good that comes from human beings in the face of great tragedy. The word that Emilie Parker’s father used in his moving speech about his lovely child is the touchstone for all of us: Compassion.

I cannot travel to Newtown and place flowers or candles or stuffed animals at the memorial. I cannot tell every parent how I how hold them in my heart, and the tears I have shed with them. But on Saturday, I did finally think of my own private way to create a memorial in to these amazing souls. And it goes like this:

I was buying food at Trader Joe’s. Our TJ’s is also next to a Chuckie Cheese, so on Saturdays the little food store is full of families who have completed the Chuckie Cheese adventure and are buying groceries before heading home. Tiny people are whizzing tiny shopping carts through a highly crowded environment and, at the same time, looking for the Trader Joe’s Monkey, hidden somewhere in the store. Finding the Monkey nets a child a sticker or sometimes a gold coin made of chocolate.

As I began trundling my own adult-sized shopping cart through the store, I dodged several pint-sized shoppers who were bent on finding the Monkey and definitely were not looking where they were going. And suddenly I realized that I was not all inconvenienced by having to look out for them. No, I was inspired by their joy and happiness, and by their confidence they would reap the prize at the end of the adventure. And I thought that if the new little angels from Newtown were powering those shopping carts, they would be excitedly on the same adventure. And I was happy at the thought.

If you let it, the joy and magic of being a child can still rub off on your adult self. My own personal memorial will be always to enjoy and give thanks when I am in the presence of the magic of children. I have to say, I have always believed in this. Kids and dogs come to me spontaneously – I guess because I never grew up. But I don’t say think you enough for being in the presence of so much joy. And from now on, I will. And I will remember Newtown and its children, whenever I do. Thank you for the magic of being a child and for letting those of us who have grown up be touched by your magic. We love you.

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I spent the day yesterday as a cock-eyed optimist. The optimist part was deliberate. The cock-eyed part was not.

I wear different contacts in my left and right eyes. My right eye is corrected for distance. My left eye does the heavy lifting up close. Yesterday morning I switched lenses. Oops.

Now, I’ve done this before. The little packages of disposable lens all look the same – particularly when I don’t have my glasses on. If I squint, I can see the 3.50 power that goes in the left eye and deduce that the remaining 1.25 goes in the right. But yesterday, I was rushing to get started on work, and I didn’t bother to squint. So I slapped the wrong lens in the wrong eye. And I didn’t notice my mistake for a quite long time.

Well, that’s not true. I knew at once my eyes felt strange. But I attributed it to dry-eye because I’d spent a long day the day before at the computer writing a brief, but complicated, brief for the California Supreme Court. (Yes, I did just use the world “brief” twice in the same sentence, once as a adjective and once as a verb.) So to counteract my “dry eye,” I grabbed the bottled water and started drinking. Pretty soon, I was counting the birds on the wall paper in the bathroom and wondering why my eyes still felt weird.

It was not until I walked into FedEx to leave my brief to be copied and bound around two p.m. that I realized my distance eye wasn’t working and my near eye wasn’t reading fine print. It felt weird, and the world looked weird, too. All at once too bright and too sharp but oddly fuzzy around the edges.

I was supposed to go to Costco for a major munch through of food samples and to buy household must-haves such as gigantic packages of paper towel and plastic wrap, but I dashed home and relieved my eyes of their cock-eyedness. Whew! Just in time, the world came back into focus when I switched the lenses.

This morning, I was super careful to get the proper lens in the proper eye. But I thought about yesterday. How many times in my life have I rushed to the conclusion I understood something, when in fact, I didn’t have all the information? How many times have I thought a situation was in focus when it wasn’t? Probably not often. I’m pretty cautious when it comes to drawing conclusions because of my professional training. But my eye experience yesterday reminded me that sometimes the universe is telling me to slow down and listen, something needs attention. Next time, I won’t wait all day to rearrange my contacts. And the next time my intuition says listen, I will.

The usual suspects.

The usual suspects.

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So from my last post, you could pretty well guess the Windows Phone was not going to be a part of my life for very long. On Monday afternoon, after I brought it home on Sunday, I boxed it up and headed for Verizon with my youngest son, Michael in tow. The phone itself was wonderful, but it did not have Google Maps; therefore it did not have Google navigation. We had downloaded the Garmin Navigation app, but it wasn’t knocking our socks off.

Still the Windows Phone gazed at me and Michael from its box and begged for one more chance that Monday afternoon. So we left the Verizon store unvisited that day.

The charms of the Windows Phone were so seductive, Michael went out and got one, too. Now he has interned for IBM and MicroSoft and will be with Google next summer. So I kept telling myself, this Windows Phone has got to work out because Mikey likes it.

For the rest of that week, I gave the Garmin Navigation app a chance. I even turned it on to take me to places I knew how to get to. And I discovered a couple of disconcerting things about it. One, it took the most indirect route it could think of. Two, it loved U-turns. I mean it REALLY loved U-turns.

Michael flew back to school on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. He flew into Pittsburgh and picked up his girlfriend, so they could drive back to Virginia Tech together. On Monday he called to let me know the navigation app hadn’t been reliable on the trip to Blacksburg. I have to say, after just tooling around San Diego with it, I wasn’t surprised.

Well aware our Fourteen Days to Take the Phone Back were rapidly expiring, me and Mikey headed to Verizon stores in California and Virginia to divest ourselves of the Windows Phone. In its place, I got a the 4G version of my old Incredible. Needless to say, I am happy to have the new version of my little Droid sidekick back.

This whole episode has impressed upon me just how dependent I have become on my Goolge Maps Navigation. Back in the old days, I’d print directions off the computer, and then struggle to read them in heavy traffic in unfamiliar places. I once had to kidnap a couple of Michael’s friends to read the directions to LAX because my daughter was returning from Ghana, I had to pick her up, and I could never have read the printed directions and executed them in the traffic that perpetually surrounds LAX. (The boys were highly rewarded for their reading skill, I might add. We stopped at In and Out for the best burgers this side of the Mississippi – and probably on the other side, too. I mean, these burgers ROCK!)

My flirtation with the Windows Phone is now history. I am back to plugging in my little Droid friend and sailing off into parts unknown while I listen to its ridiculous, flat computer voice calling the shots. I take this experience to mean, it is good to try new things; but it is important to know when to go back to the old way if that turns out to be the best way. Life is not just about old and new. It’s an ebb and flow of the tide between the two. And besides, you have to love a phone that belches “DROOOID” at you whenever you get a voice mail!

4G HTC Incredible

P.S. If you like to read, check out my book review blog,at deborahsbookreviews.wordpress.com.

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