Monday, November 23, 2015

My Thanksgiving Promise

When my youngest son told me I was going to be a grandmother, I had just turned 51.  I felt I was too young to be the oldest ranking person in the room, but I had no choice.  A baby was on the way and I was going to be a grandmother.
Memaw, Nana, Mimi, Oma – I tried them all on, and decided I wanted to be known as Grandma.  It was simple and descriptive.   
That little baby boy awakened in me a warm, strong, memory that I did not know I missed. He reminded me of a time when my own children were young, a time that slipped past too quickly because I was distracted with work and home and a difficult marriage.   
Being around this little boy allowed me to relive those moments; this time with a wisdom based on knowledge and appreciation.  
His little brother followed seven years later, and then we went through a baby boom. My daughter gifted me with two step-children and two more babies all within three years.  My youngest married a second time and I soon had another step-son and two more grandbabies.  Then last summer, my oldest had a precious baby girl. 
Ten beautiful grandbabies; all in a matter of fourteen years, and my husband’s two sons have not begun to add to their families yet, so there may be more.
People think I love my grandchildren more than my children.  No, that is not true. I love them each differently.  My children and my grandbabies are my legacy, my step into the future once I am gone.  
I have much to be grateful but my grandchildren are a blessing that fills my heart with joy.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Greatest Table

Back in 1994, I discovered a wonderful children’s book called The Greatest Table: A Banquet to Fight Hunger.  Printed on one side of a continuous sheet of paper, it folds into itself like an accordion and creates an amazing book. 
Sixteen children’s book authors collaborated with the charitable group Share our Strength. The money raised by the sales of this book went to fight hunger in America. Each artist interpreted what “the greatest table” meant for them and the editor Michael J. Rosen arranged it into a unique treasure.
Because I could not presume that all of my middle school students would be celebrating a traditional Thanksgiving dinner - nothing like those idealized and elaborate feasts one sees on television - I used this book to demonstrate that we each celebrate differently and to different degrees.
In the book people of all cultures and ethnicities sit around different tables; some are seated on mats or blankets.  Some are indoors; some are outdoors. Single souls or whole crowds, everyone is grateful for what they have. Some pages show two parents; others show several generations, but others have only one parent or none. On some pages groups of children sit together.  They might be siblings or they might be friends.
The food varies and not one page has the traditional American turkey and dressing menu.  Soups, fruits, and breads are served. Everything looks inviting.
There is no one definition for what makes “the greatest table,” except for one thing – the invitation to share.  Throughout the book, the message is clear.  The greatest table is one in which we share what we have with others.  

With Thanksgiving approaching soon, we are all reminded that the day is to show our gratitude, and what better way than to share our bounty with others.  

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Album

Born in the early light of day, the baby’s eyes are shut tight, so are his fists. Swaddled and lying in his crib, he wonders who this strange thing is that smiles at him, flashes lights in his eyes, and laughs so loudly.

One day he will understand why she props him up against the corner of the sofa and giggles when he teeters over and falls onto the soft cushions.  She tickles him, but he forgives her because she smells of milk and she is warm when she cuddles him. 

A crowd of people (for now he knows what these creatures are) gather around him.  Mommy dresses him in a scratchy outfit and there is laughter and jabber, things people do when there is more than one in the same room. They “ooh” and “aah” in one voice as one of them, he sounds like a daddy, pours water over his head and smears slippery stuff on his forehead. Doesn’t that usually go on the other end?

Pages turn. Birthdays and Christmases come and go. Some school day pictures capture smiles, others don’t. Only his family, his grandmother, or Farrah Fawcett gets a smile out him.  

He loves to swim, to eat potato chips, and to play outdoors. He doesn’t smile in soccer pictures.  He hates being a little teapot, and he hates the jerk who stole his bike when he was ten.

He dyes his hair purple and green, and the camera turns its attention on the baby sister and the little brother. Instead, Mother collects his stories, his poems, and his art in the album.  

The pages slow down, but that’s okay. Now a new face smiles on those pages. . . .  

Born in the early light of day, the baby’s eyes are shut tight, so are her fists. Swaddled and lying in her crib, she wonders who this strange thing is that smiles at her, flashes lights in her eyes, and laughs so loudly.  He tickles her but she forgives him because this person she calls Daddy is so warm and cuddly. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

In Thanksgiving

When the ex-husband decided he wanted a divorce, there was little I could do to stop him.  For almost thirty years, we danced to the same song: he left, he came back with promises, he broke the promises, and he left again.
My marriage and my patience were worn thin.
He swore he had never been happy with me and with his life. I could understand his displeasure with me, but what about his children, his home, his livelihood?  He said this was his one shot at happiness, and so we got divorced.
If you lost everyone and everything in your life, what would you miss most?  What would keep you going?
I tried to understand his motivation but I couldn’t. I liked my life.  I loved my children and my family.  I had friends who rallied around me. I liked my home, my career, and my things.  I had a bed, clothes, food, books.  I had a roof over my head, running water, and an alarm system that helped me feel safe at night.
Other than the divorce, little had changed in my life. I considered myself lucky and blessed.
When I expressed too much optimism to one of my friends one day, she gaped at me and asked why, after all that had happened?  I was surprised she didn’t know me better.  I had my health, my family and friends, my home, my job, my faith. The ex was the unhappy one.  Now that he was gone, I could shine again instead of constantly being blamed for his misery.   
And there is my answer.  I am grateful for my family and my faith. They keep me sane and hopeful. I have hope in my heart and determination in my soul. 

No one can make you happy; only you can find it within yourself. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Cucuy in the Nighttime

According to my grandmother, the cucuy (pronunciation: coo coo ēē) recognized a kindred lost soul when he saw one and would abduct the bad child at night.  He had eyes that gleamed in the dark and had fangs that tore through young flesh as if it were cake. No one would miss the bad child the next morning.  They would be too busy celebrating good times and lavishing all their love and attention on the good children the cucuy left behind.
On days when I was exceptionally bad, I slept with one eye open, knowing the cucuy was waiting for me to fall asleep.
I have used the cucuy on my own kids but not to the extent it robbed them of their dreams.   My children had their own bouts with night terrors.  As a little boy, my oldest tried to escape his by sleep walking.  I was always on the alert and followed him around the house until I could steer him back into his bed.  My youngest swung punches and kicked at his brother and sister in his dreams. We had countless family meetings about not bullying their little brother.
It was my daughter, the middle child, who suffered the worst dreams. A ghostly specter, she said, floated out of her closet every night and tried to steal her soul.  Similar in description to the Dementors in Harry Potter, her ghoul was all white – long white hair, gown, and fingers. The five-year-old begged to sleep with us but her father refused, so I sat guard in her room with the lights on every night. I promised her I would not leave her alone. At first she startled awake several times during the night, making sure I was still there, so it took her a while to believe me that I wasn’t going anywhere.  I slept sitting up in a rocking chair for over a month until she got over her fear.    
It doesn’t take a genius to see why we are afraid of the dark.  Humans are diurnal animals, not nocturnal. At night our vision and spacial acuity is limited.  It heightens our other senses and our imagination makes up what we cannot see. We feel out of control, defensive, and vulnerable. Emotions like loneliness, sadness, grief, stress, and depression double in weight, and the span of one night feels like a lifetime.
The moment we cycle back into the light, we regain our footing.  If we were to encounter the cucuy, we would take a club to it and finish that child-stealing sucker off.  If not, we would call 911 or raise a posse and hunt it down. In the daytime, we solve our problems, face our bullies, react with reason. We find hope in the sunlight and laugh at our insecurities.

We certainly would not drive into the spooky woods in a car that needs a new battery or is running low on gas.  We would not trek through the mud at night toward the creepy house that sits abandoned by the dilapidated cemetery.  And we certainly would not let something with a baby-sounding name like “cucuy” to scare the daylights out of us.