Karl and I had just sat down to take a brief reprieve from rigorous yard work. Lucy and Peter were across the street riding their bikes and we had just a few moments to ourselves before returning to the demands of landscaping and parenting. For our snack I had brought out full water bottles, ripe apples, and decadent dark chocolate for each of us. I started by savoring the chocolate first. Then, moved on to eating the apple. Mid-bite, with my feet reclining on the patio furniture, we heard Lucy scream that Peter had fallen. Naturally, Karl and I hopped to our feet and ran across the street to find him limping, crying and bloodied from a tough tumble he had just taken. Karl swept him up to carry him home and begin the doctoring and Lucy and I grabbed their bikes and helmets and trailed them not far behind. After leaning the bikes against the wall of the house, I rushed in to find Peter and Karl in the bathroom inspecting the damage. Peter’s lip was already cut and swollen and through his tears it was difficult to see what the damage was. Karl sat on the ledge of the bathtub and put Peter on his lap to calm and soothe him while I dipped a Q-tip in Vaseline to see if I could lift up his lip and see if his braces had cut all the way through. Surprisingly, they had not. However, he did have two splits in his top gums and would have a bee sting-like swollen lip for a few days.
Once my nursing was complete, I carried Peter out to the couch and got him tucked in with a blanket, a cartoon and an otter pop to numb the pain. That’s when I found Lucy curled up on the chair in the corner hugging her knees to her chest. Her tender heart can hardly tolerate anyone’s suffering, much less her baby brother’s. I worry about her as she will inevitably be exposed to the realities of this world where suffering is the norm. I asked her what was wrong and picking her up to sit on my lap, she explained how helpless she felt and that she just wished there was something she could have done, or could do next time. She explored the idea of always having an emergency kit with her wherever she went, including a wet rag. Those moments after she called for us and when we arrived were wrought with a powerlessness she wasn’t ready to encounter again soon. After she had been heard and understood, with a little extra squeeze and snuggle, I also tucked her in to her chair with a snack and her .mp3 player.
Karl had left the kids in my hands and rushed out to the backyard to finish cleaning up before the sun went down. I started dinner and was heading out to help him when I thought I’d save myself a trip and use the restroom before I headed out back. When I walked into the bathroom where the madness had been a half hour earlier, I saw it. There amongst the bloodied rag and Q-tips and toothbrush and toothpaste and other paraphernalia found in most bathrooms was an apple that had been half eaten. I looked and cocked my head to the right at the same time and wondered where it came from. Then, it dawned on me. I never set the apple down when I ran from the backyard to check on Peter. I carried it with me in one hand while I pushed the bike back to the house with the other. I didn’t set it down until I picked up the Q-tip and dipped it in the Vaseline.
The sight of a half-eaten apple on the counter in the bathroom struck me as so odd. Many thoughts and questions flooded through my mind. Why didn’t I set the apple down when I ran? Why did I hold on to the apple as long as I did? Was I being absent minded, or simply flooded with survival hormones that made my actions nearly uncontrollable? Or was there a fierce commitment to finishing the apple that I had started?
I imagine the apple is representative of many things in my life. I work hard as a wife, a mother, a woman, a therapist, an amateur landscaper. Then, when I attempt to settle for just a moment, to give myself what it is that I need, I’m often interrupted by ______________________ (fill in the blank). Yet, it is at that moment of interruption that I still must declare that I have a choice: to let go of what I need, carry it with me, or perhaps chuck it over the fence and grab another one later.
Finding that apple in the bathroom was representative of the choice I made in a moment. Something deep inside me chose to hold on to that apple. I chose to be as unwaveringly committed to my own pleasure, delight, rest, and sustenance, as I did the care, treatment and provision for another.
I choose me. I choose you. I choose both.
My daughter’s name actually means “bringer of light.” However, I’m wondering if I should have named her something that means “bringer of love.”
Before I embark on this week’s story, I’d like to share with you just a couple of ways Lucy loves. Whenever she sees a baby, she says “Aaaaaaawwwwwww!” for an unusually long amount of time. When I criticize our elder dog because he is snappy and grumpy and barks obnoxiously, she is quick to his defense and reminds me that I am hurting his feelings. Every school day she is roaming around the house looking for various things that she promised to bring for a friend: a new pencil, orange duct tape, minecraft creations made from Perler beads, candy for someone who couldn’t go trick-or-treating, to name a few. The last day they had off of school, she hand created a scroll letter and mini vase of felt and pipe-cleaner flowers to surprise Karl and I with breakfast in bed and was nearly heart broken when she woke up to find Karl already gone for his morning run. She is constantly carrying Gizmo around like a baby and then gently tucks him into his bed when its time for dinner. And whether out of fear or affection none of us in the family leave her presence with out a hug, kiss, “I love you,” and sweet good-bye. She is conscientious and kind; her compassion has deep roots already. Perhaps that in itself brings light along with love to everyone she meets.
So, imagine this girl’s concern when we drive all around Seattle and at many, many intersections, stoplights or off-ramps, we encounter members of a large homeless population. They sit in the in the rain and the cold holding signs and pleading for help. For the longest time, I didn’t know an age-appropriate response to her inquiry of why we didn’t give them money. I worked with this population for three years in a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center. The general consensus is that giving them money is not particularly helpful. However, food, warmth, kindness are allotted in spades. So, with that explanation, Lucy then asked why we don’t give them food. That was another question I had a hard time answering. Until finally I said, “We could and we should. I just need to remember to keep granola bars and water in the car.” Subsequently, each time after that when she witnessed someone sitting at a stoplight with a sign, she would remind me.
Then, one day we had a surplus of protein drinks that we couldn’t fit on our shelves with a new load of groceries (the irony is not lost on me). Those drinks then became the base for what would be Lucy’s new project. That night she asked if we could go to the store to buy the rest of the supplies that might be helpful. We brainstormed what we could fit in a gallon ziplock bag and she included needs and possibly wants, pleasure and something to pass the time. Her kits include: a water bottle, a granola bar, a protein drink, a mini maze game, a sucker, and some Bazooka Joe bubble gum.
Walking back from the store with our loot, her energy and excitement was palpable. She rushed in the door and began opening up packages and created a sort of mini assembly line. Every minute she enjoyed arranging the bags, making certain each one had every time. Lining them up in a row, counting how many she produced. There were 16 bags in all. We then decided to divide them up; 6 in my car and 10 in our van.
Since the genesis of her project, sadly, she has not gotten to hand out any of the bags, yet. We live in a city where we don’t have to get in the car and go very far very often. But, this week, I had the privilege of handing out two. During my first experience, I noticed the awkwardness first. Pausing too long at the stop sign. Handing someone a bag that they may or may not appreciate. For certain, they have no idea what’s inside, and may feel confused. But after the pleasant exchange, I found myself looking in the rear view mirror. I was delighted to see them opening the package and begin perusing its contents. The second time, the awkwardness still lingered, but the kindness triumphed in the end.
I recognize that this gesture is not grand. But it is more than anything I’ve ever done on my own accord. To remind oneself, plan, prepare and package something for the mere chance of an opportunity to be kind requires more faith, hope and love than my numb heart allows for. Someone wise said, “A little child shall lead them.” My 10 year-old daughter, with her fresh spirit and fierce tenderness, softens my hard heart and leads me to kindness, compassion and action. And that is just one of many reasons why I love Lucy.
Last year, after remarkably discovering the BEST neighborhood for Trick-or-Treating (complete with full-size candy bars and good-natured homeowners who performed a jolly good ruse), along with Chipotle’s offer of $3 burritos if you wore a costume, plus getting to watch a parade of dogs dressed up, I pronounced to my family, and now to the world, that Halloween is my favorite holiday. I hesitate to announce this sentiment out loud when considering that I wasn’t even allowed to Trick-or-Treat when I was growing up. The church always provided “Harvest Festivals.” These parties, complete with games and prizes, were provided as an alternative to going door-to-door carrying gigantic pillowcases inviting strangers to fill them with more candy than a child could possibly eat in a year. These alternative festivals were provided perhaps as shelter from exposure to the ghosts and goblins roaming the streets, or possibly to prevent cavities. Of which reason, I’m not entirely sure. Nonetheless, Halloween was not a holiday that my family capitalized upon in my youth.
Maybe I stumbled upon the realization that Halloween is my favorite holiday specifically last year because the weather was so unpredictably wonderful! We didn’t even need to cover our costumes with umbrellas on an autumn night in Seattle. Or conceivably, the 90% off sale on Halloween costumes and décor that Target offered the day after the holiday added to my admiration. And, undeniably, having our entire family eat at Chipotle for less than $20 did indeed concretize my fondness for October 31st. However, it was actually all that was not present that evening that illuminated my newfound joy.
Unlike many other holidays, there was no labor. Costumes were purchased online. Candy was bought pre-packaged and ready to hand out. Instead of toiling in the kitchen for an entire day before sitting down to enjoy fellowship around the table, dinner was made for us and happily served at a discount (because let’s face it, watching five high-school football players walk in either wearing a skin suit or a dress makes one happy to give a discount). Later that night, we walked from house to house giggling at all the costumes we witnessed and admiring all the decorations we saw. And after every “Trick-or-Treat”, the kids would run back to Karl and I waiting hand-in-hand on the sidewalk exclaiming what exquisite delight was just dropped in their buckets. Their mouths watered in anticipation of eating bite-size Milky Ways or mini packages of Skittles, or savoring my favorite, Laffy Taffy.
House after house, each homeowner opened the door grinning from ear to ear to see babies dressed up like Elvis, or a Corgi puppy wearing a taco, or siblings going as Batman and Robin. And those that didn’t want to buy candy or bother staying up late to pass it out simply communicated so by keeping their porch lights off. How is Trick-or-Treating anything but a win-win for everyone? Neighbors gave by passing out candy and received by witnessing youth being playful and frankly, quite entertaining. Even as I write these words I have a smile on my face remembering how much fun we had last year.
I wish every special day was so much more about pleasure than obligation; the “want-tos” instead of the “shoulds” and “have-tos.” There seems to be so many expectations for every other major holiday.
What about Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or birthdays makes me tired and overwhelmed and stressed out just thinking about?
My answer has little to do with anything but expectations – either mine or someone else’s. So then, what expectations are there for Halloween? I’m sure if I thought really hard, I could play the devil’s advocate (pun intended) and figure out something to retort. But instead, I’m just going dressing up my little owl and my little midnight huntress, put a curly multi-colored clown wig and red nose on Karl and jump into my own blue skin suit and hope that tonight will be as great as it was last year.
For as long as I can remember, my dad has taken every available opportunity to point out large birds of prey flying high in the sky or perched on telephone wires. We might be driving down I-25 from Littleton to Colorado Springs and see a number of falcons or hawks circling open fields looking for their evening dinner. Most people cruising down the six-lane highway would be oblivious to these remarkable creatures or mistake them for mere crows or vultures or even ospreys. But my father would rather easily be able to tell the difference between a red-tailed hawk and a peregrine falcon from a distance. Among other strange talents my dad has acquired in his lifetime, being a falconer is quite possibly one of his favorites. The story about how he trained to become a licensed falconer is one for another time. Suffice it to say that if we ever wanted to get my dad something for his birthday or Father’s Day, it would be some kind of bald eagle ornament or statue. He grew quite the collection of his favorite bird of prey.
This picture circa 1970s is of my dad with Omega, the official bird of the US Federal Fish and Wildlife Service. Because he so readily admired great birds of prey, their majesty and splendor, I too have taken to appreciating them as well. So, on our summer road trip, Karl and the kids often heard me shout that I saw some kind of hawk or falcon flying in the sky just out our window (though I didn’t know the difference unless I saw the fanciful tail feathers of the red-tailed hawk, I knew that one). We even saw one dive into the brush and come out with a snake dangling it its grip. It’s quite amazing what you can witness when you have particular eyes to see and know for what you’re looking.
Now, living in the Pacific Northwest, I find it both a privilege and an honor to see bald eagles regularly. In fact, there is one who frequents Green Lake, the neighborhood I live in. Perched high above the water in an amazingly ancient evergreen, you can see him from nearly halfway around the lake. Yet, even though I get to see these incredible birds far more often than I ever did in Colorado (in fact, some may never get a chance to see our national bird up close), the sighting never ceases to take my breath away, pull my car over and take a picture if I can, and just soak in the grandeur of the magnificent creature.
Unfortunately, it is illegal to pull my car over where I last saw a bald eagle.
The east side is to the city of Seattle what the Denver Tech Center is to downtown Denver. Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland are meccas for technological industries like Microsoft and Nintendo. Once a week at 4:00 PM, I drive from my home on the west side of town across Lake Washington to contract at a location other than my neighborhood office. That time of day is the worst time to be on I-5. Traffic is backed up even on the ramp to get onto the highway. Cars move at a ridiculously slow pace and one might find herself listening to the same CD over and over and over, just in one mind-numbing commute. And isn’t it odd when traffic is so slow, you imagine there must be an accident up ahead, only to find out there is zero reason for the painfully sluggish pace?
But once I hit the 520 going east, traffic speeds up and there is a sort of pleasant rhythm driving on the bridge passing over the concrete seams and whipping by the street lamps. I enjoy that part of my commute. There is something about watching the water that is soothing. When it is windy, you can literally see white caps on the waves to the south side of the bridge, and absolute calm to the north. Last week, I saw two people kite surfing on my left while the waves were aggressively chasing each other on my right. And up ahead, perched high above the road on top of a large streetlight, was the unmistakable white head of a bald eagle. I spotted it and gazed at it just long enough ahead of me before glancing in my rear-view mirror to see it one more time. The moment felt akin to seeing a shooting star. Maybe it was nostalgia. Or, perhaps it was relief coming off the stress of previous traffic. Maybe the feeling is what you get when you witness something that takes you by surprise. Whatever happened in that moment, seeing that wonderfully splendid bird felt like a gift – one that I strove to see as long as possible without veering off the road or causing an accident. I wonder how many other thousands of drivers were crossing the bridge at the same time and saw that glorious creature? Did they miss out on a moment of wonderful? Or are they just better drivers? I suppose both are possibilities.
But I conclude that I saw that bird because I wanted to see it. I look for birds of prey. I spot the differences between commonly found fowl and those that are rare and resplendent. How I learned to identify these creatures was just osmosis, something I picked up from my dad. But now, I see because I want to. My heart longs to witness the mysterious, surprising, unpredictable beauty that is all around but we so often fail to see. I desire to be captivated by the unusual, random acts of wonderful that are available for each of us to experience. But where are we looking? Down? Up? Ahead? Behind? Across? What are we looking for? Are we afraid to look because we will be so disappointed if we do not see?
Well, guess what? Later that night when I was returning to my home in Seattle, I was hoping, wishing and maybe even praying for a glimpse of that bald eagle once again. And wouldn’t you know it – I didn’t just see one, I saw two.
A few steps across that turf covered balance beam and I felt confident. I knew in my head that I had made a commitment and no matter how, I would cross that fallen tree trunk and prove to Karl, the kids, and myself that victory is for those who face their fears. While it wasn’t a pretty site to see me slowly put one foot in front of the other, I managed to make headway over the ravine and without looking down at the brook beneath, knew that I was almost to the other side.
When I reached the last eighth of the way, the bark had, in what I imagine was adolescent angst, split off from its parent trunk and remained only loosely attached. When I put my right foot down in that particular spot, the sole of my tennis shoes slipped off the bark and caused me immediate panic and instability. I gingerly found a spot for my foot to rest more securely and paused long enough to calculate my next move. I only had a few feet left to traverse before I would be on solid ground, but the question was how would I get there? I could have probably run, slipped and nearly slid to the other side. But instead, I chose to hunker down and get on all fours, grip the trunk with feet, knees and hands in order to guarantee my safety. As if I was being hunted by a bear and couldn’t make the slightest motion or sound I slowly bent over, crouched down and dug my fingers into the soft green moss for a grip that would ensure my safety. Behind me I heard cackles and giggles from Lucy and Peter who were extremely amused to see their grown mother act as if she were being hunted by a bear, knowing full well that she was not. Later, they would mimic my overly cautious stance by bending over, and moving to the ground at the pace of a chameleon. Once I was on all fours and felt more secure, I shuffled the rest of the way, broke through a large spider web and found myself solidly on the other side, jumping up and down with exquisite self-amusement, proud of myself and full of that terrifyingly awesome feeling in my belly.
I ran down the other side of the ravine, crossed the water and hiked backed up to where Karl and the kids were waiting. Lucy and Peter were jazzed and ready to go themselves. And while I had just accomplished what I felt to be a grand fete, I wasn’t so sure I wanted them to do the same. I looked over and saw Karl’s cautious face and asked him to step aside and have a conversation with me. He and I went back and forth over what would be best for the kids. He pointed out just how scared I had been and the slow motion hunkering down that happened at the end proved that it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. I agreed, the task was hard for me, sure, but I still did it. I actually thought that maybe the kids should just try, get scared, return and thus elevate my status as a brave and daring mother goddess; one whom they should respect and listen to more often.
Karl and I were torn. Of course, we would never want any harm to come to our children. But I also don’t want to spare them some of the exhilaration and excitement that can come when you don’t let your fears silence, petrify and numb you like they have often done to me. So, we brainstormed some more (actually, argued quite a bit) until we stumbled on the idea that Karl is so tall that he could walk underneath the trunk and be there to catch them if they were to fall. While he didn’t want to get muddy and wet, he would rather be safe than sorry, so with that, he agreed to let them do it. Lucy and Peter heard the news and were thrilled, fighting over who got to go first.
And wouldn’t you know it, something that proved awkward and difficult for me, was like a game of hopscotch to them. They both took to the trunk and walked straight across never once stopping, looking down or back or cowering in their fear. They traversed that thing as if it were a grocery store parking lot curb. It was fascinating, humbling, exhilarating, and awesome to watch. Full commitment. Full success. And what was more…their sincerest pleasure was poking fun of me the rest of the day for making it look so difficult.