Category Archives: Parenting

A Letter to my Children About Alcoholism

My darlings,

You probably will remember this Christmas as a time of joy over your new kitten as well as confusion over a missing family member.  Someone very special to us was not here this year because of a sickness.  I am sad to say that over the years the sickness had hurt us all, and we were together this Christmas to pick up the pieces as best we could.  Mindless of the adult tension, you played games and built a snowman. Your questions about the circumstances went unanswered, and someday when you are older, we owe you an explanation.  Christmas should be a magical time for children, a celebration of miracles when wonder and joy abound.  Children are too innocent to understand that in the adult world, there is no such guarantee for happiness.  You don’t realize it now, but you were robbed of the Christmas that you deserved, and I will make it up to you.

I know that for you, sleeping camp-out style in a cold, filthy building was an adventure.  I used to think that way too.  The meager Christmas tree that we erected in a dirty corner of a dusty room at the last minute probably looked better to you than it did to me. The broken ornaments found in an old drawer probably glistened a bit more in your eyes, bright with new dreams.  The food probably tasted better and the arguments probably sounded less vicious because you were counting down the minutes until Santa came down the chimney.

You went about life as always, preoccupied with watching all the Christmas cartoons, drawing pictures, and teasing each other.  You fixed a plate for Santa with no help from the adults, who were too busy anyway, shouting over each other and sloshing glasses of wine on the stained floor. I envied your oblivion, and yet I could not help but wonder how much you had already deduced.  After all, you are the smartest children I know.  How could you not notice that many things were strange this Christmas?

While you were gleefully playing with your new kitten, our entire family imploded.  I want you to know that it was a long time in the making, and it had nothing to do with you.  Actually, that is not true.  For me and Daddy, it had everything to do with you.  I don’t imagine that my childhood was like yours.  I grew up very quickly, learned to hide problems and make excuses for my loved ones, and tried to be the glue that held everything together.  The role I played is not the role that I want any of you to play.  Because it’s not how Daddy and I want to treat you, it’s not right, and it’s not good for you.  I want you to have a stable and healthy upbringing, but I have noticed that I am passing on to you some very bad habits that I learned as  a child.  You deserve better than what I had, and only I can make changes in my own life to improve the conditions in yours.

Someday I hope that you understand the decisions that were made, the lines that were drawn, and the boundaries that were established.  I hope that you are not damaged because of what I experienced, and I hope that I have the strength to change myself before it is too late for you to have the family, the memories, and the life that you want and deserve.  Your daddy and I had to make a very important decision this Christmas, and we both pray that our family will be much healthier by next Christmas.  It is January 1st, New Year’s Day.  My heart aches to speak to people whose ears have been closed, but I remain hopeful that it is not too late for us.  It is time for me to break a long and dangerous cycle, and to give you the best gift that I possibly can.

Your life is what you make of it, but without the proper tools, you cannot thrive.  You don’t know it now, but this year for Christmas Daddy and I gave you the gift of a better chance at life because we finally put you first.  We lifted the curse of a million bottles and cans, and we released you from the grips of a family disease.  The road ahead won’t be easy for any of us because we have been affected deeply by a sickness that hurts entire families, but we are working together to make our family better.  Daddy and I owe that to you all.  You will have a better life than your parents, because of the decisions your parents are making for you now.  This is my promise to you, my darlings.  I love you all unconditionally,

~Momma

Something to Think/Write About

2015-09-10 09.27.32Last night when it was time to read stories before bed, my daughter found a book long hidden in our collection.  I had gone downstairs to tuck her in and when I saw it at the top of her stack, I said “Oh, you found ‘The Librarian of Basra’.  Did you like it?”

She answered, “I loved it!  I am feeling so many emotions from this book right now!”  Wow.  I had never seen her respond to a book like this before. She asked many questions about it, so I promised to find out as much as possible for her about the librarian of Basra.

I hadn’t looked at this book in a long time.  It was discovered in the most unexpected of places, a scratch and dent store in Independence, Missouri.  I was cruising the book section, not really looking for anything at all, and then I found this book.  I stood in the store and read it, not quite believing the great fortune I’d stumbled upon.  Reading the story made me feel connected once again to people I had known and lost — friends on the other side of the world who I never would have met had it not been for a war.  People who did nothing to deserve the wrath that had been raining down on them.

The story is written and illustrated by American author Jeanette Winter, known for creating vibrant true tales about real life heroes in a way that is palatable for younger audiences. This story is about Alia Muhammad Baqer, the chief librarian in Basra, forced to give up her building and livelihood when the governor decides to use it as his new headquarters. Baqer’s courage and tenacity saves around 30,000 rare and valuable books from destruction when the library burns to the ground during the early days of the Iraq war.  Although she cannot save every book, Baqer’s efforts prevent the entire collection from being lost and she becomes a local hero.  At great risk of her own safety, Baqer chooses to rescue knowledge, because as a librarian, she knows how intrinsic books are to the survival of her culture.

American cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty, also depicts Baqer’s story in a graphic black and white comic book format, also child-friendly.  In the Amazon.com reviews section of Stamaty’s book, a reviewer by the name of Judy K Polhemus had this to say:  “As a girl, Alia had read about the Mongol invasion of Iraq and the burning of the Baghdad Library. She equates the burning of a library and its books with the destruction of the culture of her country. Burn a library and you burn a collective recorded memory.  Alia singlehandedly assumes the responsibility… She stuffs her purse and loads her arms under her shawl and walks out, loads her car, returns for another load.  City and military officials who now occupy the library, daring the enemy to bomb their library, pay her no heed.  She fills her car.

Night after night she comes home with a car full of books.  Her husband, bless him, unloads them into a closet, then guest room, then into other rooms.  (I’m a librarian and understand her distress and need to save the books!).  Then neighbors and friends, and those who hear about the effort, and then many other people help rescue the books.  The only books intentionally ignored are those about Saddam Hussein.”

Further research cemented my respect for Baqer, her courage, her passion for books, her legitimate concern that the destruction of the library would mean severe damage to civilization itself.  In Pam McAllister’s blog post Lawbreaking Librarians: A Legacy of Courage, Alia is the featured heroine who rescues a critical piece of her culture in the face of “the war against books”.  Not too difficult to imagine Baqer’s source of courage.  She is a book lover after all, and to her, books are the most important tools for building society.  Knowledge is power.

On women’s history site A Mighty Girl, Winter was asked in an interview how she made her stories, often about heroes in nearly impossible circumstances, accessible to young readers, and whether these stories are even historically valid to these readers.  Winter asserts that her works, especially ‘The Librarian of Basra’ depict stories in an “even-handed” manner, through strong, colorful graphics and easy to understand language, allowing young people to find meaning that they can comprehend.  Winter also states that despite the academic argument that children care little for history, it is possible to cultivate love of learning through “good, accurate story-telling”.

Illustration of Alia Baqer dreaming of peace and a new library, from Jeanette Winter's 'The Librarian of Basra'.

Illustration of Alia Baqer dreaming of peace and a new library, from Jeanette Winter’s ‘The Librarian of Basra’.

This morning I was well equipped with several sources to back up the story of the Librarian of Basra and give my daughter the information she wanted.  I know that she is a book lover like myself, and she also cares deeply for others, so she would find what my discoveries quite valuable.  We had a nice talk before school.  I showed her a photograph I found of Alia Baqer in 2013, on the tenth anniversary of her mission to save the books.  She is now an old woman, sitting at a desk, working with a large hard cover book.  She looks like she is happy and at peace.  This photograph made my daughter very happy.  It made me happy and sad.  It’s difficult to explain how books and stories can create common bonds from across the globe, but I hope that somehow, Alia Baqer can know that her story inspired a little girl in the United States to be a courageous person.

My daughter asked me about my experience in Iraq.  I showed her my collection of photographs — friends and places once visited and long since left behind.  I told her some of the stories of heroes I met there.  I told her why people were scared of Saddam Hussein, and why the bombs were falling on Basra when the librarian was trying to save all the books.  I explained to her why it is important to save knowledge and tell stories.  She gave me a hug and said “I love you Mom” when she left for school.  I looked at all my books and smiled.

~G

 

I wrote this post because I was so touched by my daughter’s interest in the story of Alia Baqer.  I have noticed that, as Ms. Winter asserts, children really are fascinated by history.  Effective tools, such as children’s books like ‘The Librarian of Basra’ and Mr. Stamaty’s true life comics, can help us teach important history lessons to younger generations.  More importantly, we as parents and educators also need to have conversations with children and answer their questions so that our history as people is not swept under the heavy, musty rugs of time.  

 

Links for more information about the librarian of Basra:

Iraqi Librarian Saved 30,000 Books During Invasion

Photo of the Librarian of Basra

Lawbreaking Librarians: A Legacy of Courage

Too Soon or Censorship?

Harcourt Books Interview with Jeanette Winter

 

The Good Summer

My son enjoying a quick climb on the Badlands this summer.

My son enjoying a quick climb on the Badlands this summer.

I almost titled this ‘The Good Enough Summer’, but changed my mind before typing one word.  When you hear good enough, regardless of the context, doesn’t your mind bend slightly to thoughts of something mediocre, like whatever turned out to be ‘good enough’ was still not quite satisfactory, and the party reaching said state did so under protest?  When my husband and I were discussing this year’s summer plans, our conversation ended with the blanket statement: “Well, it’s just going to have to be good enough.”  Everything was going to have to be good enough, each family member would have to pull their weight, and expectations would be lowered to get through the summer.   I didn’t know if it would work, but I wanted to be optimistic.

I wanted summer to be good because we were under stress.  We sold our house in Kansas and bought another home in Missouri.  The mortgage application process became a prolonged nightmare, but in the beginning we were oblivious to what lay ahead.  Our focus was on the six weeks of summer during which we would technically be homeless.  Although this was not a problem since we had family and friends to visit during our vacation time — very convenient for gypsies who like to travel — no amount of obsessive planning can totally prepare a person for the creeping feeling of general terror when facing the truth of simply being unable to go HOME.

We had to be ultra conservative to get through summer without going into debt.  I counted my daughters’ shoes and made a pile of nearly two dozen pairs between them.  After playing in mud puddles, running up and down dirt roads, cruising zoos and water parks, the pile would diminish to one or two usable pairs by the end of summer.  I expected most of their clothing to become outgrown or worn out, too.  My plan was that the kids would wear things out as we traveled so I could squirrel money away for back to school shopping in August.  I wanted them to learn that consumerism is not a hobby, that money does not appear on a whim, that we should use what we own, like old tennis shoes, reuse what we can, like ripped blue jeans, and replace things when the time comes.  This summer would be a perfect time for such lessons.

Our new puppy Teddy enjoying the beach on Lake Kampeska this summer.

Our new puppy Teddy enjoying the beach on Lake Kampeska this summer.

I have to constantly keep my children sane, happy, fed, entertained, and alive!  Are my treasured art investments actually in storage or on the Black Market? Did I remember to pack my jewelry?  There are 500 pairs of shoes in this car and it smells like there are 500 pairs of shoes in this car.  I have to schlep 1,200 pounds of the Most. Important. Things. Everyone. Owns. around for the next month. WHY do my kinds think they each need five stuffed animals, 18 books they won’t read, and 600 loose Crayons, which are presently melting all over my car?  These thoughts filled my head as we hit the road.  Two adults, three children, and one yellow Labrador puppy growing at a rate of 2.5 pounds per week crammed into my SUV to drive thousands of miles and live like nomads for the next several weeks.

My daughters looking at the geese at a botanical garden in Missouri.

My daughters looking at the geese at a botanical garden in Missouri.

Packing light was a goal, not necessarily a realistic concept.   Anticipating our temporary homelessness and wanting to be practical, two week’s worth of clothing for each person, all the shampoo that we currently owned, and a couple bars of soap. By the time we reached South Dakota, we had to ship an enormous foot locker and a large cardboard U-Haul box back to Missouri.  We were already overloaded before our trip had officially begun!  We had decided to travel in one car, which began having ‘technical difficulties’ in New Mexico.  So much for the money for my back to school shopping spree.  I kept telling my husband that we could get rid of an extra set of bedding we used at the Carlsbad KOA cabin, but ever the Boy Scout, he wanted to hold onto it in case we needed it later on.  That turned out to be a fantastic idea, since several strange things happened requiring ingenuity as well as sheets, blankets, and so many garbage bags.

Regardless of our agreement that this summer would have to be good enough (in other words, we would all have to tough it out), I spent much of the time worrying. I missed my friends and had no outlet to work through my emotions about being uprooted.  Everything that could go wrong seemed to.  The underwriters harassed us nonstop for proof to further prove our proof of various documentation (and I know how ridiculous that sounds, but it is exactly what they requested).  My car was in the shop during our entire visit to Texas, and it started to malfunction from new problems during our trip from Texas back to Missouri. Our dog almost drowned, our oldest child turned into a moody teenager, and we were always at the mercy of the family members who took us in.  Every day was a new mini drama.

A quiet moment of reflection at the Oklahoma City Bombing Museum.

A quiet moment of reflection at the Oklahoma City Bombing Museum.

All I wanted was something better for my family, because we deserved a really great summer.  Hell, I deserved a really great summer!  My husband and I argued a lot and fought a little.  There were days when I wanted to run away from my family and establish a life as a fabulous hermit/diva somewhere in Europe.  I stress ate, when I actually remembered to eat.  When we limped the broken SUV into our new town in Missouri, we were met with empty promises from the bank, so we ended up in a horrid little motel. Our room had a mysterious, overpowering odor later identified as the mold and mildew that spawns after extensive water damage.

We arrived at our house for the walk-through feeling dirty and dejected, smelling of mildew, sleep deprived and slightly malnourished (having eaten nothing but ham on white bread for what seemed like years).  The seller, who happened to be a realtor with nothing to lose, took pity on us because we had essentially become the delightfully comical Griswold family from the National Lampoons Vacation movies, and she agreed to a temporary rental until the underwriters were finally satisfied with their scrutiny of just about every aspect of our lives.

Food for thought at my favorite sculpture park in South Dakota.

Food for thought at my favorite sculpture park in South Dakota.

Everything worked out in the end, but more work and a lot of introspection was required to get to this point.  ISummer is winding down, and as I go through photos of the family, I realize that maybe we actually did have a good summer.  Maybe our expectations were exceeded, and we didn’t have a merely mediocre time.  Sure, on some days there was crying, swearing, and fighting, and sometimes we were quite miserable, even pathetically so.  Looking back, at more happy memories than sad, I have realized that I am an ignorant woman. It took me the entire summer to figure out that when it comes to family relationships, there is no such thing as ‘good enough’.  There is just love, and try, and care, and time.

~G

How Dr. Who Saved My Family

My kids know how to manipulate me. Doesn’t matter how busy I am. I could be knee deep in dinner preparations or trying to locate important documents for Tax Season. “Hey Mom, would you watch ‘Dr. Who’ with us?” I drop everything and sit on the couch with them for one or two, — okay, let’s be honest — five or six episodes.  We are becoming die hard fans, nearing hyperventilation level geekery each time we spot anything that is Dr. Who related.  My sister discovered this last time she took us to a Barnes & Noble.  I think we drooled on every single mini Dalek and fingered all the Dr. Who Magazines featuring the last three Doctors on their covers. It wasn’t always this way.

I recall last spring, when I’d vaguely heard of some show with a cult following based on the antics of some rather emphatic British guy and his assorted companions, with a cast of ridiculous aliens in tow.  Not my thing at all.  I should have known it would become my kids’ thing.  And then my thing.  And then our thing.  And then the mad, bad, crazy world would start to make a little more sense.  Which is probably the genius of the show, and why so many people adore it.  But this really is not a critique.  It’s a story about a family coming together and bonding through shared nerdery.

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Dylan’s clay TARDIS, ready for adventure. Geronimo!

So last spring my son and I were talking on the phone and he said “Mom, I need you to download this show for me on Netflix so I can watch it when I’m visiting.”  I am a noncustodial parent.  Not by choice, and not an ideal situation, but I make the most of it by bonding with my son however and whenever possible.  He comes to visit for the summer, and we try to strike as many wishes off his list before time is up.  So when he started talking about a show he likes, I promised to look it up and got my pen and a sticky note ready.

“What show is it that you want to watch?”

“It’s called ‘Dr. Who’.  Have you ever heard of it?” slightly condescending, because adults have NO idea about anything in a preteen’s stratosphere.

“As a matter of fact, I have,” which was about as far as I knew anything about the show, but I tried to be impressive, AND… I already have it downloaded!”  This was true.  My son was impressed.

He made me promise not to watch any of the newest episodes before he arrived.  No problem!  I am not a science fiction fan.  But curiosity eventually won the day and I watched the pilot episode from the reboot with Christopher Eccleston.  It was a bit campy, but I could understand why my son liked it so I watched the second episode.  Before I knew it, I had watched my way well into David Tenant’s stint on the show, chatting with my son on the phone in between episodes. “Oh, you’re watching the old episodes?” slightly condescending again. “Yeah, I don’t like any of those.  The special effects are no good.  I only like the episodes with Matt Smith.”  Okay then.  He is apparently an expert.

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My daughter’s drawing of Dr. Who during our Fall/Winter 2013 marathon episode watching.

We talked extensively about ‘Dr. Who’,  comparing what we liked and reviled, gushing over favorite characters and exploring plots we would like to see unfold.  We discussed episodes to watch together.  Then we just started talking about everything else.  My son was more open and willing to talk after Dr. Who broke the ice.  Now we have something in common, something neutral to dispel any tension and discomfort from external sources.

My daughters took an almost immediate interest in ‘Dr. Who’.  I was surprised at first, but we are a family of dreamers.  Why not come together to enjoy a show that reminds us to think big, be extravagant, and believe the good guys always persevere?  The idea of the Doctor as a theme of kindness, humor, and love has become  indoctrinated among my children. One day while feeling ill, I was surprised to find a Lego TARDIS on my coffee table after an afternoon nap.  A tiny Matt Smith made of cardboard was propped up next to it. It brought a smile to my face.  Best. Gift. Ever.  Inevitably, characters from the show show up in my children’s drawings and dioramas.  My son’s 3D scene of favorite things included Olaf the snowman from the movie ‘Frozen’ and…the TARDIS.  My oldest daughter has been planning the dimensions for her construction project of an actual TARDIS as soon as she finds a box big enough…we are forever on the lookout!

In our home, being active and busy is encouraged.  There is always something to do and somewhere to go.  Sometimes we are all so busy that conversation becomes a daunting challenge. But when we pause and spend time together enjoying this one show that we all really love, I am reminded that we are all connected by a strong bond.  And when my son has to go at the end of the summer, I know that there will still be many conversations.  You can argue all day long about the Doctor’s best act of courage and compassion, but I know that it was creating the greatest icebreaker and saving our family from frigid conversation and unfriendly silence for years to come.  Thank you, Doctor.  Because of you, my family and I will all have so much more to discuss about the great mysteries of the universe.

~ G

Post dedicated to my son.

Flying Lessons

last summer my children played a made up game they called Flying Lessons. My son would lift the girls in his arms as high as possible, spin them around, let them go, and whatever happened next was their problem. They loved it, no one got hurt, nothing got broken (that I knew of) and they laughed themselves silly. Our flight to San Antonio to visit relatives this week reminded me of the game, only the stakes were a bit higher.

2014-07-11 10.42.14We stumbled into the Kansas City International Airport at 5:00 a.m., bleary-eyed and as cranky as everyone else. It was a madhouse, even that early, with people racing across the ticketing area, pushing and pulling overloaded suitcases and duffel bags. Ticket agents shouted “next!” over the din of fussing babies, tussling siblings, and griping adults.  There was a constant crush of bodies moving to the next point of interest.  Our family got separated briefly when an impatient man pushed in front of my children, who were trying to follow my husband to the ticket counter.  That was when reality hit: no one else cares if my children get lost in this airport.

We were to go through TSA Precheck, an accelerated checkpoint for anyone with a Known Passenger Number, including military and dependents with DOD ID numbers and their children under age thirteen.  This year our whole family would be eligible, if for only one last time! An unpleasant airport employee stopped us at the Precheck line and harassed me because my DOD number had failed to print on my ticket.  Refusing to even look at my military ID, she told me I didn’t have an eligible ID for Precheck, and I must go through regular security.  She spoke to me as though I had done something unseemly.  In no mood to be trifled with, I called her bluff: “I called Southwest two days ago and requested that my number be printed on this ticket.”

“But you don’t have an ID!” she insisted, still looking at me as though I had crawled out of a gutter next to a neon encapsulated whorehouse.

“Yes I do, it’s right here!  This is my DOD number.” I attempted to point it out.

“I’m not going to stand here and argue with you” she snarled, “Go with your family, and see what they have to say at Precheck!”

The TSA officer didn’t give me any static; I didn’t see him even check for a DOD number!  I wanted to go back to the nasty old lady and contemptuously stick out my tongue at her.  But deciding to be humble in my victory, I continued onward.  The Precheck looked easy, too easy, so we must have done something wrong — too many somethings — because we presented as “potentially threatening” and a tall tan middle aged man with his TSA shirt tucked in tight shouted “RANDOM CHECK!” before half my family made it through the machine.  My son had a mostly empty water bottle in his back back, so it was ripped open to reveal other dangers to the nation’s safety.  Like Beanie Babies, packs of gum, and a book about werewolves.  Yes, very dangerous indeed!

And then there was Annie, my eight year old daughter, who was swabbed for bomb residue.  My eight year old daughter.  Bomb residue.  Total nonsense.  It’s hard enough getting my irate husband through security checks.  He gets searched.  EVERY.  DAMN.  TIME.  Don’t tell me it’s random.  Imagine the level of Zen I had to achieve by that point just to usher my angry, now burgeoning-on-threatening family to a wall to squat in the overfull terminal.  I walked my youngest daughter to the Starbucks to get Husband some coffee.  While standing in the slowly snaking line, I posted “Dear TSA, I think you suck” on my Facebook status and silently fumed over x-ray machines and bomb residue swabs.  By the time we got back with the coffee (just in time to board the plane) everyone had calmed down enough to enjoy the flight.

My children insisted on each bringing a big fuzzy fleece blanket on the flight.  I told them, “You can bring a blanket, but you have to carry it, and as hot as it is here in Kansas, add ten degrees. That will be the temperature in Texas.”  When we settled into our seats, and I was sending up a prayer of thanks that we had made it safely onto the plane with no catastrophic mishaps, it occurred to me that the blankets were security items.  Sources of warmth, easily transportable, and reminiscent of home, what better items for the kids to bring along on a trip full of unknowns?  Much like Arthur Dent’s highly functional towel in ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘, they served a purpose beyond that of a mere fuzzy blanket.

2014-07-11 10.43.54We all require specific security items for a successful flight. I brought my favorite flannel shirt and a small bottle of peppermint oil.  The shirt became an impromptu pillow; the peppermint oil kept airsickness at bay.  The peppermint oil came in a glass bottle, so I was relieved that it was not “found out” and taken away by TSA.  During our long layover in Dallas I watched people and tried to figure out their security items. One man sat reading a book with Japanese writing on the cover.  He pulled what looked like a passport from a small knapsack and scrutinized a paper tucked inside.  A handsome but smarmy man in a gray suit (clearly his item) leaned against a wall conspicuously and made intense duck faces, as if auditioning for a modeling job.  Many very well dressed women clutched at large Tory Burch handbags protectively and sipped Starbucks drinks.  I tried to imagine if they had anything more interesting in their bags than what I had in mine.  Probably not.

It’s sad that we — our bodies, items, and lives — must be thoroughly searched and picked over in order to fly.  Sitting in an airport terminal playing a guessing game that involves people-watching and being mildly nosy towards perfect strangers is one thing.  It’s quite another to have your personal life publicly violated by a team of ethically dubious busy bodies in police-y looking uniforms.

2014-07-11 10.45.34Allowing the kids to have their security blankets made the flights — and the entire trip — more pleasant.  Still so innocent and clueless about how big and bad the world can be, they need a way to wrap up in something that feels safe when strange things are happening around them.  I think about the game they played last summer.  Now the girls are too big for my son to spin them around and send them flying across the room.  Now they are big enough to go out into the real world and face real problems, like pushy, rude adults who could care less if their actions cause children to get lost in an enormous airport.  Or insensitive TSA officers who rip into personal belongings and treat military families like potential terror threats.  It’s not easy to watch my kids grow up, but it is a necessary part of life.  One thing we can do is provide them with tools to cope with stressful situations and teach them how to reach for those security items that give them the confidence they need to come out of even the most unpleasant situations with minimal bumps and bruises.

Don’t Panic and Carry a Towel (or Blanket)!

— G

Homecoming

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An imposing perspective on parent/child relationships. You can go home again, but it’s scary!

So here is a confession: my parents and I had a falling out recently.  The details need not be aired, but I will admit that I spent several weeks not talking to them, and it was brutal.  As summer neared, the mulish anger subsided, and just in time for the return of the prodigal daughter.  I placed a phone call to Mom to patch things up.

I was still skittish about coming home after making amends with Mom and Dad.  After only a few delicately worded conversations, it seemed that we were all walking on egg shells, and anything was apt to go wrong.  Visiting my parents is not like visiting other parents.

Mom and Dad live in a giant, ancient schoolhouse.  Correction: the third floor of a giant, ancient schoolhouse.  So a visit begins with the hauling of half a ton of belongings up three flights of slippery crumbling tile stairs, usually late at night, during a rain storm.  Can’t find your kids at Papa and Nana’s?  They are probably just playing hide-and-seek, aren’t they?  At my parents’ schoolhouse, which is roughly 45,000 square feet of mystery and danger, I have about as much chance locating my wandering children as the drunken transient who has broken into the building in search of valuables to steal and sell at the pawn shop down the street.  There’s a Hunger Games vibe.

In a town full of individualistic characters, my parents are the definition of characters.  Everyone knows them, and depending on previous encounters, the mere mention of their names can bring smiles and happy anecdotes or dark scowls of contempt.  Am I proud of this?  Damn right I am!  Does it make life a little harder when I come to visit?  Sometimes.  But while running errands around town today, something made me realize how important your family is, even when driving you crazy, making you mad, and causing you constant frustration.

It started at the dented can store — the kind of place where you buy cereal boxes that have the tops taped back on and cans of organic black beans with little dents in the sides — all at a discount.  We went to look for “good deals”, a longtime family ritual.  Inside the store a photograph of me is tacked up at one of the cash registers.  It has been there since 2003, when I left home to go to Baghdad.  Me in my Army uniform, with my infant son, who is holding a little American flag.

Every time we have gone into this store over the past eleven years, my parents have made a fuss over the picture.  Now my children make similar remarks, mimicking what they have heard my parents say for their entire lives.  “Doesn’t Momma look neat in that Army uniform?”  It finally occurred to me that the picture is still tacked up at the register because my parents have made sure I’m not forgotten.  They have made me into the hometown hero and carried on my memory long after I’ve gone.

Running errands around a town  this small, my main concern was finding sustenance to accommodate my annoying food sensitivities.  I had already fallen off the gluten-free wagon during a delicious but near disastrous lunch at a local sports bar, so I was thrilled to discover that one of the grocery stores features a new, impressive gluten-free section!  Arriving back at the schoolhouse (and after four trips up the three flights of stairs carrying 200 pounds of grocery items) I mentioned to Dad that the section was quite progressive.  He took  complete credit for its inception.

“I talked to the store manager for some time about doing that,” he said.  “I told him that you needed better food options when you visit, and that there are a lot of other people in the community who need gluten-free foods.”

I was, quite frankly, in awe.  It’s possible that my father was not the one person solely responsible for the gluten-free section of the grocery store.  However, knowing him, he probably spent a great amount of personal time lobbying the store on my behalf.  Just like he spent eleven years remarking on my deployment photo, making sure that everyone within earshot didn’t forget me.  It made me wonder if the reasons why I had been so upset with my parents were really worth being so angry after all.

 It makes me wonder something else too.  Will I ever be as good a parent to my children as my parents have been to me?

— G

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No More School! No More Work!

Or should I say, “no more work for which I shall get paid!”  I will still be doing regular Mom duties (chef, chauffeur, psychologist, play therapist, librarian, janitor, mechanic, tour guide, entertainment coordinator, nutritionist, and matriarch, of course).  But for the summer I am done being an education professional.  It feels bittersweet.

A peacock at the zoo.  Picture taken by my student.

A peacock at the zoo. Picture taken by my student during the field trip.

Today I was definitely ready for summer vacation.  Hell, I was ready for two months ago, shortly after I started working full time.  I got sick, really sick, and haven’t recovered.  So for me, a long rest — or what I imagine could be a long rest — might put me back on my feet for the next school year.  Just making it day to day seemed impossible, and with less than one month of school remaining, I managed to catch a nasty stomach flu and then develop bronchitis, which persists even as I type.  Today as I helped the children pack their backpacks one last time, I felt a mix of relief and sadness.  I desperately need to rest and regain my strength, but I will miss not seeing “my kids” every day.

The best possible consolation came as the class filed out the door.  My student, the one I had been hired to work with, turned and hugged me fiercely and said “Thanks Mrs. Van Delist!  I love you!”

Even if I never go back to work at the school, I can take that memory with me forever and be satisfied that I did my best job there.

— G