Our Trip to Orlando

I’m still recovering from our trip, and trying to get my mojo back.

It wasn’t supposed to be about writing, but our Orlando trip — which was for the express purpose of visiting Disney World and Universal Studios — ended up having its measure of drama. (Thanks, Emma.)

Seeing The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was the main attraction. I read the books aloud to the girls when they were little, and being in Diagon Alley was just as exciting as this documentary promises.

Amazing to think that this all emerged from the imagination of a writer.

Father’s Day

dadI meant, yesterday, to post something about Father’s Day. Then I saw the Lynda Barry video and got distracted. I’m sure my dad would understand.

Yesterday was our last Sunday at Maplewood Presbyterian with our wonderful Pastor, Barry Keating. There was a video during the service, which my family was too distracted to have a picture included in. A section of the video was of different church members holding up a chalkboard with Pastor Barry Taught Me — and whatever they had filled in. Real footballs are round, for instance.

If I had been present the Sunday they made the video, I would have written, It’s All Sacred, something Pastor Barry told me when I was asked to lead a church retreat in Bellingham and came to him for advice. I had been teaching, at that time, for about 15 years, but not, I confessed, in a sacred setting. Pastor Barry leaned back in his chair and frowned. Then he leaned forward and said, in his lovely Belfast voice, “Bethany! It’s ALL sacred!”

So, it’s Monday, and not Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day, anyway, Dad. Thinking of you.

Home again, home again, jiggety jig

I’m exhausted. Six days in Orlando on our BIG family vacation — an average of about 94 degrees (plus humidity!) and 4 days of theme parks — and this mom is tapped out.

What has sustained me is getting up in the morning before my daughters to read Ruth Stone’s poetry. Reading her poetry in Ordinary Words (the only poetry book I brought), and writing in my journal…

So here’s a sustaining poem for you, courtesy of The Poetry Foundation. 

The Mother

BY RUTH STONE

Here where the rooms are dryly still
Who is this dustily asleep
While juicy children run the field?

Where is her ever deepening well
Whose buckets to a fullness dip
For needs compassion must fulfill?

Like freshets they themselves may yield
A little to the turned up cup,
But death is in the long dry spell.

Run children, run, the light grows dull,
And she who keeps the well must sleep,
And rain is unpredictable.

December 1951

Source: Poetry (June 2012).

What Commitment Looks Like

CAM00264One of my almost-22 year old daughters has been busy teaching me stuff about commitment. We’ve had a series of conversations about her life — precipitated by her dropping out of college (again), finding a job, looking for a second job, and navigating a relationship and life, generally, with her very busy boyfriend.

The conversations have led me to reflect on what commitment looks like in my life. In my definition, commitment is mixed up with faith; they’re the same in that you don’t worry about whether or not you should do it — you just do it. You know you’re committed to something when you don’t overthink it. You don’t agonize over what the outcome will be. You don’t take the time for agonizing. You just do it. I’ve always considered myself a fairly squeamish person, and I used to be a fearful person. But when my older daughters were little, I discovered that I didn’t flinch when they got hurt. Blood? No problem. Stitches? I was in the middle of whatever they needed, instantly. I don’t think I can call it bravery; it was just instinct. It helped me to discover a side of myself that was absolutely not fearful, and I stopped being squeamish entirely.

Understanding commitment saved my marriage. Back in the bad old days, when I was teaching full-time, trying mightily to be a good mom, and a writer (no small thing), I was angry at my husband — a lot. But I noticed that when I had a crisis, no matter how badly I had screwed up, my dh (which means either “dear husband” or “designated hitter”) was there 100% for me. He had my back. Noticing that helped me to stick with him (and noticing that having his back was my gut instinct) and, eventually, to come out the other side and back to the good marriage we had pre-children.

For a lighter example, when I realized about 10 years ago that I absolutely had to start flossing my teeth,P1050062 daily, I decided that my goal was to create a habit so strong that I didn’t think about it. Of course now and then I do catch myself hesitating, or with the words “I don’t have time” running through my brain, but my response is, inflexibly: “Flossing doesn’t take time.” And it doesn’t. (30 seconds? 40?) What it takes is commitment.

If I could get to that level with exercise — that would be beautiful. (I’m committed to the goal!)

It’s so easy to be committed to the wrong things — never missing an episode of your favorite TV show, never turning down sweets, spending time with that toxic person who makes you feel like crap. C’mon — do you think about those things, or do you take them utterly for granted? (Why would you do them, if you were thinking?)

We can be committed to our writing in the same way. You don’t get up each morning and decide whether or not to write that day. You write. I don’t decide whether or not to be a mom, or a wife, or a daughter. And writing is already decided, too. It might be a crummy day for writing. Maybe it’s only going to get a few minutes of my time, at least for now (carrying a notebook and pens, I’m ready for later). But whenever the moment presents itself, I’m 100% there. That’s what commitment looks like.

The Triple Crown and the Wheelchair Race

This is such a gorgeous reflection; I have to share it.

Reimagine and Thrive

Horses are magnificent animals.

The world is congratulating American Pharoah and his longed for Triple Crown victory, a celebration of highest respect and joy for being the one who has brought release and relief from the seemingly endless wait. With a combination of exquisite grace and strength, and so much more, he has earned all the accolades.

The race made me remember Barbaro, a hopeful for such a victory and the courageous battle he fought after being injured. I lived not far from where he as being treated so the local news was filled with stories of this brave creature. I remember tears as I read the descriptions of his treatment, his cooperation and grit, the high and hopeful anticipation of full recovery and the disappointment and ultimate grief when he lost the battle. He was a racehorse every single day in the highest meaning of the role.

American Pharoah…

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Writing It Down

sundialI spent Friday afternoon in Chehalis, Washington, with my two sisters, one brother-in-law, and my niece and great-niece, cleaning out my mother’s storage unit so we can stop paying for it every month. Saturday was dedicated to sorting through all of the boxes.

Last summer, when we moved Mom out of her apartment, and into a care facility near Hood Canal, we were hopeful that she would regain some ground and perhaps have another apartment, if only in an Assisted Living facility. We hoped she’d once again have a version of the independence she had enjoyed before her stroke. Even then, I think we knew it was a fantasy. In any case, it was a fantasy that allowed us to postpone a lot of decisions.

In addition to much of her remaining furniture (at least we had already downsized from the farmhouse to a one-bedroom apartment!), we had to wade through boxes and boxes of knick-knacks, clothes, and pictures. Mom used to be a size 18; now she’s about a 12, if that. So the clothes went to Good Will. The knick-knacks and pictures were more difficult.

My spell checker keeps telling me that “knick” is not a word, but when I looked it up I found this:

knick·knack

ˈniknak/
noun
noun: knick-knack
  1. a small worthless object, especially a household ornament.

Gewgaw? Trifle? Gimcrack? Worthless to some people, perhaps, but not to my mother. Of course there were a lot of strange things — keys no one recognized, for instance. But what does one do with little glass carnival-glass bowls that your grandfather bought, when he was a boy, for his mother? What about the bracelet my dad brought home from China in 1950? Or the sugar bowl that belonged to Grandma? Oh, and how about the bar of soap with which our grandmother washed the body of the infant she lost at 3 months?

When we cleaned out the farmhouse, three years ago, Mom kept saying, “Your Dad and I never threw anything away.” I repeated this a few times over the course of the two days, but no one laughed.

My favorite part of the entire proceeding was romping up and down the sidewalk in front of the storage unit with my four-year-old great-niece on my shoulders. (Standing still was not an option: I just said, “Giddy up!”) It may have looked like work, but it got me out of a lot of the heavy lifting.

Or, my favorite part was seeing Mom’s face when my sisters and I walked into The Haven together to visit her on Saturday. She may not always remember our names, but she really lit up to see us together.

More than the trinkets, baubles, and tchotchkes are the relationships and the memories that go with them. I’m keeping all of those.