Sunday, December 22, 2013

The difference.

The following little story may make a bit more sense if you read this one, first.   But if you choose to read on without checking out the tiny back story, enjoy. 

Chicken breasts.  Soup.  Biscuits.  And chips to replace the bag of chips I opened and managed to make quite a dent in at about 1 a.m. Friday night, and then again yesterday while wrapping gifts.    Yes, I know they’re empty calories.   Boy, do I know.   But those couple of handfuls were exactly what I needed Friday as the clock struck 1, and I was – surprise! - not sleeping again.  They may not have been what I needed while wrapping gifts since scotch tape and chip crumbs don’t go together.  I can’t explain that one. 

Anyway, back to my chicken.  I pulled into Giant and noticed a couple – their backs were to me – standing at the edge of the parking area, holding up a sign.  “Great.  What are they looking for…..”  and I couldn’t read it – going the wrong direction.  I turned into a spot and made a mental note to find another way out of the lot so I wouldn’t have to pass them and their cause du jour again. 

Bought the chicken and soup.  Bought the biscuits.  Replaced the chips.  As I stood at the checkout, I contemplated paying with cash or using the credit card.  Me, to self: “We used up a lot of Best Buy points in the past month.  May as well start building that up again…” and I handed over my card.  

Back in the car, thinking that if I get home in about five minutes and get this chicken in the crock pot, we’ll have dinner at about 6 or 7.  Do-able.  Easy.   Then I can bake the pies and that batch of cookies; make the dough for the cut-outs and get that in refrigerator, polish the last couple pieces of silver I didn’t get to Friday night / Saturday morning and then finally create the outdoor greenery arrangements in our flower pots out front.  Yes, that all works.  I’m in good shape. We’ll decorate the tree tonight; and with one more run to Target tonight at about 9, I’m done.  Yahoo!

What the…darn it!   Fouled this up and took the same route out of the lot and now here’s that couple again.  He’s holding up a sign; she is simply looking pleasant and hopeful with every passing car.  This time, I can read it.  “Please help us at Christmas; we have two children.”  I think that’s all it said.  I found myself turning back into the lot, pulling over and tearing up.  

In less time than it took me to type this; in less time than it will take you to read it, I had every one of the following thoughts flash through my mind:  Do they need permission  to stand here?  Is this allowed?  Are they working?  Isn’t one of them working, for God’s sake?  Didn’t they save any money for Christmas..with two kids?  Are they even Christian?  They look middle eastern; maybe Indian…she’s wearing a sari of some kind….do they celebrate Christmas?  And who’s watching their kids today?  Answer me that.   They must have family or support of some kind if they’re both standing out in a grocery store parking lot, without their children, holding up a sign, announcing their needy situation to strangers who were filling their own pantries, basically asking us to fund their Christmas day. 

Thought all of that in a matter of seconds.  And then I pulled up near them, motioned to the woman, and handed her the money I had tucked back into my wallet when I used my credit card.  She smiled; the man turned to me and smiled.  She placed her hands in a position of prayer and made a slight bow as she said, “God bless you; thank you, thank you.”  The man said the same and I was off. 

I can’t explain why.  Maybe because while I was efficiently planning dinner and every lovely Christmas-y thing I would do for the rest of the day, and thinking about the beautiful tree that would stand next to our fireplace that night, with my three sons home, by my side, and filling up my heart with love, this couple was standing out in a grocery store parking lot, without their children, holding up a sign, announcing their situation to strangers who were filling their own pantries, basically asking us to fund their Christmas day.   

Maybe it was my way to pay the difference for the jacket.   

Saturday, October 05, 2013

My (impossible, overly-sentimental, ludicrous) run-dream

I can't say whether or not running inspires genius or if my mind is simply trying to distract me from the activity.  It's no doubt the latter but I have had some interesting thoughts occur to me on a run, including this one during today's 3-mile sojourn.  It felt magical at the time; admittedly less so now, but here we go:

Music re-inspires me to keep going every three or four minutes and today was no exception.  My playlist is an eclectic mix of my sons' solos over the years (my favorites), classical chorus, and rock, albeit mostly songs that are at least twenty years old.  It's also not the most heart-pumping music in the world but that's okay.  I'm not setting any pace records; let's just say it works for me.   

So when Peace Train started, I had this little movie play out in my head:

Scene:  Lincoln Memorial.

Just two miles away:  The Capitol Building. 

Imagine that this is the setting for shortest train ride on the planet.

Driving the train, Pennsylvania's own Charlie Dent, along with Wisconsin Representative Ron Kind.  Along with them, the car carries a few dozen representatives from both sides of the tracks, who see the train heading in the right direction and are making the trip.

As it moves along its very short route to the Capitol, everyone already riding the train reaches out a hand to the legislators lining the route, encouraging them to hop aboard.

Behind the senators and representatives, the rest of the country stands and cheers everytime one of them joins the train. 

Why must we go on hating?
Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again.

I'd be there, cheering collaboration, cooperation and compromise, I swear I would be.  Unfortunately, I doubt there would be many officials just waiting for a chance to hop on board.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Sometimes string may be all you need.

One of the annual rituals during our summer vacation is kite-flying on the beach.  We arrive just as dusk is on its way out and nightfall is on its way in.  For years, we guided the kites our boys held in anticipation.  Sometimes we found the perfect mix of wind, string and nylon that resulted in soaring specks of color in the night sky.  Other times, we couldn’t seem to catch the wind, or we pulled too tightly on the string and crashed the kite into the sand, or we somehow lost the string altogether and watched it drift away.  

We still carry on that tradition, mostly for my niece who is younger than her cousins and enjoys our mini-kite festival every year.  (Lately, my boys, their dad and their uncles toss around a football while my sister and I wrestle the kites into the air.)  The thing is, even when we’re successful, and one or more of our kites have reached a high point, we turn to each other and ask: now what?  Hold that thought. 

Last week, we moved our oldest child into college.  Because I can’t seem to relax about managing all the details surrounding situations like this, I spent a lot of time leading up to moving day checking off lists and times and logistics about the process.  I spent almost no time checking on myself and the new place I would move into once our son left home.    

So we packed and then unpacked.  Plugged in and wired up everything, made a bed, hung up clothes and found a new place for the bits and pieces of his life that he carried with him.  We met the young man - the stranger - who would share the dorm room and possibly share a lifelong friendship with him.  We met his parents, too, and tried to answer, in a matter of twenty minutes, these questions: who they were, what they believed, how they raised their son and whether or not they were people of character and principles.  (I told you I couldn’t relax about stuff like this.)  Thankfully, my first impressions told me the following:  friendly, approachable, bright people, who held the same values in terms of education and love of the arts.  They raised a polite young man, who was clearly dedicated to his studies, and they were committed to supporting him to help him succeed.  

As the moving in ended and the moving on began, my son and I hugged goodbye – and spent an extra couple of seconds hanging on while we did.  Then, just eighteen and half years after he arrived, my oldest son walked away in one direction and I in another.  

A few months ago, I received an email from a friend who read a column I wrote about my children growing up.  In it, Joanne artfully expressed the challenge we all face in raising our children.  She reminded me that raising children is kind of like flying a kite:  hold on too tightly, and a kite doesn’t get very far.  Give it too much slack too soon, before the wind has really caught hold so it can move freely without danger, and it comes crashing to the ground.  But when you can find that perfect ratio of give and take while holding the string that connects you and the kite, it soars effortlessly into the sky.  

I tried to calculate the “too much slack vs. too tight” ratio last week during the move into college.  It was tough; it almost felt like I’d dropped the string.  I’d given my son a generous amount of freedom.  He was ready for it; it was the right time to set him on his own.  He took off; maybe with a bit of shakiness at first, but he’s soaring now.

The kite is airborne.  Which brings the inevitable question: now what?  I don’t have that answer yet.  Maybe we’ll just enjoy the flight.  We’ll watch the kite flutter, even dive a bit from time to time, then help keep it moving ever higher, letting that string out even more; more than I would have believed is possible.  But never let it go.