Mercy Me! I've got work to do.

Mercy Me — I've got work to do! making the world a better place – starting with me.


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How to parent your teen — the manual that made it in the trash

My son turns 13 years-old on Black Friday. Could there be a more ominous sign than that? While hoards of shoppers are waking up at 3 a.m. to suffer through lines and duke it out for deals, my sweet baby, ever so dear, will be entering the darkness that often accompanies the teenage years.

As if he is already rehearsing for the big day of black, my house has recently been filled with a cacophony of slamming doors, woeful sighs and whispers under the breath that I am pretty sure do not include any sweet nothings. It sounds like a coarse symphony that does nothing to evoke my sympathies.

I called a friend a few weeks ago and in a prayerful plea, asked in the name of all that is holy, all that is sane, and all that is merciful, to lend me every parenting book she owns.

She brought me five.

The small stack of books sat in my office and my younger son asked me why I had so many teenager books. Before I could even formulate a response, he answered his own question — obviously remembering his brother’s upcoming birthday.   “Oh yeah, it’s going to be a long seven years…,” he said prophetically.

Seven years? Why do the terrible twos get all the notoriety? That’s one measly year and they are still small enough to be restrained.

As I read, I began strategizing, thinking of systems to implement and solutions to employ. I realized that, if necessary, doors could be unhinged. He would inevitably realize that not loading the dishwasher would be to his disadvantage.   And, I felt hopeful that discussions could be facilitated without anyone actually dying.

Ah, I was going to be the most brilliant teenage mother ever.

I started writing a sort of manifesto for the teen years. I clicked away at the computer thinking to myself that I was doing the holy work of writing the instruction manual for parenting that I always wished I had.

Although my business interests have never evolved passed retail and at that, only on the paying side of the cash register, I had ultimately written my first business plan.

It read like a contract, with caveats and consequences included for clarity. It featured equations for various if/then scenarios and it clearly proved that my naiveté is boundless.

I actually believed that what I had written would be embraced – that is until I proudly emailed a trusted friend with the teen manual, which I intended to present to my son. She is tactful to a fault, so when she suggested that my glorious parenting plan would evoke a middle finger response I was stunned.

Really?

I reread my work. It was so beautiful. It had italics and bullet points and fancy words like parameters, privileges, outlined and occasionally.

I guess I could see where it was kind of bossy pants-ish, but it did include a smiley emoticon and an I love you.

I signed it not with the slang, Yo mama, but with the sincere, sweet, your mama that was so obviously me.

Later that night, with my two-page, single-spaced manifesto by my side I sat down and spoke with my son. Maybe it was because I was lulled by the soothing sound of the dishwasher that my tween ran without my mention, but I was uncannily calm. We talked about grades, basketball and ways he could earn extra money.

We didn’t hold hands, or hug or do anything that would invoke Norman Rockwell to paint us, but we talked. I didn’t boss or dictate either, yet I didn’t digress from making my expectations clear.

When we finished talking, he kissed me goodnight and there I sat – the manifesto, a mostly-read parenting book and myself.

I thought about ripping up my beautiful plan I had written about how the teen years would unfold in our home, but I didn’t have the energy to be so dramatic.   I simply folded it into a little square to put in the trash.

I guess what I realized is that maybe the reason children don’t come with instructions is because parenting isn’t meant to be precise. It might be insightful to read some books, or even to write your own plan about how you intend to parent, but often intentions and plans don’t really have much to do with raising children.

Like the rest of us, children are unique and, like it or not, have plans of their own. They will make their own path in the world and it’s our job to guide them as they do. It is a delicate balance between letting go and holding on. Sometimes it’s letting pieces fall where they may, and sometimes it means picking up the pieces and starting over again.

Maybe parenthood could best be described as prayer – a combination of something we hope for, ask of, praise, repent, and offer thanks. It is an active petition that is said every time we discipline, praise, share affection, or just sit and talk. The prayer does not end, like love, it endures time, tantrums and even teenagers. It is an offering of the best of ourselves so that someone we love can become the best of their selves. It is sacrifice, surrender, forgiveness, and humility.PatanganFamily2014_107

Parenting may be described as more gut-wrenching than glorious, but it is no doubt the most Holy work we can do.

While my son may turn 13 on a day dubbed Black Friday, it’s no coincidence this falls the day after Thanksgiving. After all, he has been a blessing everyday of his life. He is a prayer and a gift.

Of course, I know the years ahead won’t be easy, but I can’t help but feel excited about all that awaits.  The spectrum of joy, discovery and promise that lies ahead is sure to be anything but black.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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5 Things I learned from my middle-schooler about life

I don’t think I ever learned in school a fraction of what I learn from my children. Childbirth alone was an education – even with the epidural.

From their birth on, my boys continue to enlighten me. Recently, my 7th grader switched middle schools and in doing so taught me a few new lessons about life.

  1. Change is okay. You know that song by Davie Bowie, Changes? Ch ch ch ch changes – turn and face the strain… Well, first off it turns out I have been singing it wrong my entire life. Who knew? I thought it was “strange” not “strain!”

 

After all, change is strange. My son had been at his school since pre-school and only had two more years left before he would graduate to go to high school. He loved his friends. He did well academically. I did not see any reason to change.

But he did.

He was open to the experience of an academic magnet school, to be the new kid, to start over.

Starting down a new path is probably one of the bravest things we can do. To risk the unknown is scary. To walk away from the safety, the comfort and the convenience of our situations to try something unfamiliar can be daunting. But by allowing the possibility of failure we also allow for the greater possibility of success.

Ch ch ch ch changes…

  1. Listening is really important. While we did not consider the magnet option until the beginning of the summer, I could hear the need for change throughout the past school year.

 

Only I didn’t listen.

When he talked to me about being bored at school, I thought he was just being a typical adolescent. I was not as open or as patient with him as I should have been. I thought the problem was with him. Rather it was with me.

We all go into situations and conversations thinking about our own point of view, and often are not very open to hearing anything, which doesn’t support that. However, listening to another perspective with the intent to understand is often more enlightening than interpreting conversations into our own viewpoints.

  1. Pigeonholes are for desks, not for people. I assumed my son would never consider leaving his school because I thought I knew him.

 

After all, he is my child and we have spent a considerable amount of time together.

I would have told you that he would NEVER switch schools. And, that he would be traumatized from that kind of change.

But I saw him from my own perspective, which is colored from my own experiences. I would have been devastated to switch schools at his age so I assumed he would have too.

One of the greatest things about life is that we can start over. We don’t even have to wait until tomorrow. We can start anytime we want. We tend to get stuck in our labels and in our self-defined regimens. Worse still is that we pigeonhole others.

We fail to see the multi-dimensions of our neighbors and ourselves. I am a mother, a Christian, a writer, a friend, a wife, however I am not singularly any of these things and together I am more than the sum of these parts.

Free yourself and the people in your life from the constraints of what you think you know. If you want to change, then change.

Fly free, little pigeon.

  1. Fight for what you want. Once I realized that my son needed something different than what I planned for him, I dedicated myself to making sure he had it. It wasn’t easy. There were forms, rules, bureaucracy and waiting lists. So, I made phone calls to guidance counselors, principals, county school administrators. I showed up uninvited and unannounced – I asked questions and asked for prayers (from the people working in the public school office no less — they probably prayed that they would never have to see me again.) I did everything I knew to do that remained in the bounds of sanity.

 

But the truth is, it was out of my hands once I turned in the application. Still, I couldn’t be complacent when my child wanted this so badly; when he felt like it was what he needed.

So I fought.   Often, it really isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about knowing you did all that you could. It’s about showing someone else that you believe in them; that they are worth it to you; that even if you don’t prevail, you persevered.

There is really no losing that kind of fight.

  1. Endings are really just new beginnings. I hate when things are over. I get nostalgic and weepy. I cry until my eyes burn and my head aches. I don’t know if that is normal, but it’s just what I do so I try not to beat my self about it.

 

So of course, this was no different.

But I realize he couldn’t embrace all that awaited him and remain where he was. He was indeed giving up a very special community of friends and teachers, a place where he had been loved and cherished, a place I knew he would miss.

Still, at the moment of his goodbye he was on the cusp of a new beginning.

Sometimes in life we have to let go of something so we can make room for something else– new experiences await, new friendships, new ideas. The possibilities are endless and they begin with an ending.

So those are the most recent lessons I have learned as a parent. I am all the wiser for what my son taught me and only hope to be so brave as “I turn and face the strange… ch ch ch changes”

I really think “strange” sounds better than “strain.” I think I am just going to keep on singing it wrong.

Sorry, David Bowie.

 

Often children are our best teachers.  What have you learned from your miniature-guru?  And, perhaps just as important, do you think strange makes more sense than strain?!  Ch ch ch changes…

 

 

 

 

 


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One word you need in your life right now

The transition from summer to fall is always difficult for me. September through December is jam-packed with, you know….everything.

Seriously, if I listed it all out, you would be breathing into a paper bag right now. I know because I just wrote about half of the activities here and had to run to the kitchen to look for a bag. Of course, I could only find plastic bags, which seems like a suffocation hazard. So, I decided it would be better to just delete that paragraph and save you all from hyperventilating and searching in futility for a paper bag.

Bracing myself for the upcoming chaos, I tried something last month that I had not done before.

I picked a word.

It was not just any word, either. It was a word that conveyed a feeling of “you’ve got this, boss.”

To find your word, ask yourself what you need in your life right now. What do you want more of – or less? What do you want to remember? Or forget? What do you wish to cultivate in your life and what do you need to make that happen?

It could be peace, friendship, forgiveness, faith, gratitude, strength, compassion, healing, or determination. It could be anything. But, it has to be yours.

What is it that you need?

I love all those words. Still, the word that I thought of was confidence.

I knew I needed confidence to juggle all I had to do during the upcoming month – not just the to-do lists, but all those unplanned moments both welcome and unwelcome which make up a life.

Confidence was my word. It was my comfort. Everyday I would think about it. I did not set aside time to do it. I simply kept it in my company – a polite companion with which I traveled.

Whenever anything went wrong, I thought of confidence.

For instance, I was on deadline to turn in a news story and had 3 percent charge left on my laptop. I went to plug my computer into the charger, only to realize that my darling cat used the cord for a chew toy. A tantrum, a trip to Best Buy, and $90 later, I had a new cord and turned in my article – with confidence.IMG_1443

During the same month, I also made a huge decision to switch my middle-schooler from the school he had been attending since pre-kindergarten. I needed confidence that I was making the right decision, and that if I wasn’t – if I was making a huge mistake, it would be okay. I could come up with a new solution.

Because the truth is, I knew I could. I always step up. I always get things done. Most often, things work out. I needed to honor that and have more confidence in my abilities to juggle the demands of life.

It’s not like having the word changed the way I handled anything, but it made me believe more in my capacity to cope.

I told a friend of mine with a recent cancer diagnosis about what I was doing and the word I chose. He thought it was a great idea and chose discipline as his word. He needed it to follow the healing regimen assigned by his doctors.

His daughter heard us talking about it and decided her word would be strength. As an athlete she meant it in the physical sense. But she also said she wanted strength to deal with the pressures of high school.

I thought the simple act of picking a word worked so well that I decided to do it again this month.

I chose positive. Three days in – I can tell you, I hate the word.

However, the fact it challenges me to understand what I am supposed to feel positive about when I am cleaning my child’s vomit off the floor at 5 a.m. (because nothing says back to school like the stomach virus) makes me feel like I chose the perfect word.

So what is your word going to be? I hope you will share it in the comment section. I would love to check back next month and see if choosing a word helped any of you.

I am positive it will.

See, it’s working already.


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The 10th circle of Hell – school supplies shopping

Dante wrote about the nine circles of hell; but I discovered the 10th – school supplies shopping.

I admit, I used to enjoy it. After all, the limitless possibilities of a blank sheet of wide-ruled notebook paper are boundless. But, there is a downside to the scavenger hunt to find plastic folders with prongs, binders by the inch, and a pencil bag for the 72 mechanical pencils on the list. (Am I shopping for a small village or a 4th grader?)

School supplies shopping means summer is over.

I had many reasons for waiting until the day before school starts to go, and every one of them began with the word denial. Admittedly, denial is a beautiful place to live. Every time I turned away from the school supply ads that bulked my Sunday newspaper, I felt as if I stretched my summer a little further. I wasn’t going to let those same marketers who put out Christmas decorations before the Halloween candy has even been bought steal one day of summertime bliss from me and my boys.

But on the eve of the first day of school, reality beckoned.

So after an hour in the office supply store searching for all the notebooks, pens, highlighters and calculators – making sure we had the right colors and the right quantities of each, I was kind of over the limitless possibilities of a blank piece of notebook paper.

We had crossed out most of the items on the list. We still didn’t have a pencil bag. Apparently, all of the pencil bags which are not glittery pink or SpongeBob Square Pants had been sold to the moms who shopped for school supplies right after the last sparkler burned out on the 4th of July.

While the thought of driving across town to another store to find just the right pencil bag that my son could live with for the next 9 months of the year seemed outside the bounds of sanity, I agreed.  After all, when you invest in 72 mechanical pencils and the lead refills that are required, you’ve obviously seen crazier.

I was almost out of the school supplies circle of hell, and I was comforting myself with thoughts of soft-serve ice cream at the McDonalds across the street. I estimated that I just had to get through 10 more minutes of indecision until my son finished picking through all the fun-shapped flash drives in the bin, deciding which surfboard design he liked best.

Meanwhile, the store salesman came over and asked how we were doing, and unlike most people, he actually waited for an answer. I had so many thoughts at this moment that had nothing to do with the appropriate responses of fine, good, or woo-hoo we are about to buy 72 mechanical pencils and a flash-drive that looks like a surfboard!

Instead, my mouth felt like it had been sealed shut with non-toxic Elmer’s glue and I couldn’t seem to make a suitable response.

I stood there frozen thinking of all the things I wanted to tell him about the lengthy school supply list and the skimpy selection of pencil bags. I wanted to tell him about our amazing summer — how we stayed out on the beach until the sun went down and the moon came up;IMG_2241how we played Monopoly as a family and I lost every single game, but had a really fun time anyway and even got the get-out-of-jail-free card twice; IMG_2291how we watched all the Harry Potter movies and ate popcorn and stayed up too late; how my son went to sleep away camp for the first time and I survived; how we found kittens in my neighbors yard and became so smitten that we now have three cats; IMG_1438how my boys have grown so much taller since the last time they had to use a mechanical pencil;IMG_1740how my husband and I went on long walks and I told him how badly I wanted time to stop and the togetherness of our family to remain; IMG_1773and how we went to so many cool places, but what really made it all so wonderful was the precious time we had with one another at the slower pace summer allows.IMG_2224

But since I didn’t want to have a breakdown in Staples, I just smiled really big.

It was kind of awkward.

I never could get any words out, so he just spoke to my boys whose mouths seemed to work better than mine and then he went on his way. Alas, my son had picked out the surfboard-shaped flash drive that two months from now will be lost either somewhere in his room or in his locker.

I liked the design he had so carefully chose and hoped it would remind him of our lazy days at the beach.

Summer has become such a sacred time. There’s no juggling overloaded schedules and we are not in such a mad rush to get out the door, or finish assignments or participate in the myriad of weekdays extracurricular activities that fill the calendar.

Everything seems to stop in the stillness of summer, and what we learn are simple but important lessons about who we are as a family. I know summers with my children are finite, and I guess shopping for schools supplies every August is too.

So as the cashier is handing over the ribbons of receipts, it is a bittersweet moment.  I am thrilled to walk out of the warehouse of mechanical pencils and highlighters in neon colors, but I am sad to see summer end. I picture myself riding out of the 10th circle of hell on my son’s surfboard flash drive and onto one of the 1,000 sheets of blank notebook paper I just purchased.

The possibilities are limitless.IMG_1697

 


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Pretty in Pink

I took Home Economics my freshman year in high school and a large part of our quarter grade was to make boxer shorts.  I was excited about the assignment and picked a pretty pattern of pink flowers on a pink background.  The only thing that wasn’t pink was the pale lime-colored leaves that formed under each tiny rose bud.

It looked very vintage and still very chic.  I thought for sure Molly Ringwald would want to borrow them if she did a sequel to Pretty in Pink.  But to my dismay, there was no sequel, which considering how my boxer shorts came out, I figured it was just as well.

It’s a shame what I did to that pretty fabric in the name of sewing.  I cut, poked, and stitched in all the wrong places.  As the end of the quarter approached and I saw the impressive results of my classmates cute little boxers, I resigned myself to sleeping in old t-shirts for the rest of my life.  I begged my mom to take me to her alterations lady and have her fix the mess I had made.  She refused – probably because she was so horrified at the mutilated fate of the pretty fabric.

I barely got a D that quarter, which was a little bit crushing since it was Home Ec, not rocket science.  Apparently, I had about as much proclivity towards domesticity as I did algebra.  Why couldn’t I have Molly Ringwald’s life?  (Of course, I mean her life the last five minutes of the movie.)

Anyway, that is my experience with sewing. I don’t even do buttons.

Last year, when I heard about a new nonprofit that involved sewing, I was skeptical.  I pictured a bunch of old grannies sitting around in their embroidered dresses threading needles.  And while my own Granny was dearer to my heart than just about everybody, this concept seemed as unappealing to me as a 1986 Home Economics class.

How ironic then that Rethreaded’s mission is anything but antiquated and everything that is beautiful – no matter what your taste in fashion. According to their website, “Rethreaded seeks to unravel the effects of the sex trade, whether it takes the form of human trafficking, prostitution, pornography or strip clubs.”

That hardly makes me think of sewing.  Yet women affected by the sex industry are taught self-worth, dignity, and a new way of life by becoming seamstresses. These castoff women who have experienced addiction, violence and prostitution transform old donated t-shirts into something new that they can sell – clothes, bags, purses and scarves.  They call it up-cycling. I call it uplifting.

Up-cycled merchandise for sale.

Up-cycled merchandise for sale.

When you see the beautiful items they make and sell, it’s a marvel to think its physical transformation pales compared to how it changes worn, tired and broken lives into the vibrant colors of hope.

Rethreaded trains these women to become artisan seamstresses, pays them a living wage and most importantly, redresses them with dignity, compassion and love.

My boys and I spent part of an afternoon working with them and some other volunteers in a warehouse downtown.  I explained to my children that we were going to a place that helps women who have had a hard life, maybe been on drugs, homeless or somehow hurt by other people.  I told them that Rethreaded teaches them a new skill and gives them a job so they can start over.

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One of the thousands of t-shirts waiting to be up-cycled. I love it’s message!

The warehouse was clad in both old and new.  There were worn t-shirts of every size, color and logo ever imagined.  They lined the walls, filled bins and hung from hangers like a rainbow.  There was also the up-cycled merchandise patched together from discarded garbs into beautiful boutique quality merchandise for sale.  Weaving in between old and new were me, my children, other volunteers, staff and the women sewing a new story for themselves.

We sorted t-shirts by color, following a Pantone chart with names like vivacious, koi and turbulence.   Their fall and winter merchandise would be derived from these colors.  If the t-shirt wasn’t on the new chart, it was put away in bins.  T-shirts that conformed to the chart’s palette were hung on wire hangers.

The air was stifling hot in the warehouse and almost immediately little beads of sweat formed on my son’s nose.  While it was uncomfortable being that hot, it seemed somehow cathartic to sweat alongside and in honor of women who have been degraded, and yet are brave enough to choose a different pattern for their lives.

As a parent raising children in an over-sexualized culture, it is important to me that my boys understand the proper context of sex.  Within love and marriage, it is a gift.  It should never be violent or forceful.  Nor is it something to sell or give away without regard to its sacred nature.  Sex is also abused when we assign judgment to others for their choices or circumstances.

It is a challenging message to convey in a world where sex is a commodity, consent is ignored or given too freely, and pleasure takes priority over people.

It scares me as both a woman and a mother how sex is debased, rights are violated and lives ruined.  So it was empowering to volunteer on behalf of an organization whose mission is to counter the effects of the sex industry.

Of course, my boys don’t understand all that now.  But someday, they will recall how they sweat alongside their mama amid the myriad of colorful t-shirts.  They will understand why what they did was so important. They will know what it means to respect women’s bodies and their own.

Among the countless other people who realize the true beauty of sexuality is based on love, I pray my children will be part of the color of hope in the bleak world of sexual exploitation.

Rethreaded enables women to rediscover the vivid colors unique to their lives, so they can begin to create a new tapestry sewn with love into a timeless story of hope.

Maybe these women will title it Pretty in Pink.  No, that wouldn’t quite do. A story like that would have to begin with beautiful.

If you would like to support Rethreaded’s work to offer hope to women affected by the sex industry, please visit their website at http://www.rethreaded.com/ You can either get involved by volunteering, donating or my personal favorite, shopping!

I bought a colorful bangle for myself that was made out of parts of broken bracelets. It is a reminder to me that something broken can be turned into something beautiful – if it’s just given a chance. 


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Keeping up with the Joneses

The first book I remember reading as a child was titled Kitten Jones.  The Jones family was perfect — unlike my own.  But that’s another story for another day.  Or, as a dear friend of mine says, it’s another story for another glass of wine…

Mrs. Jones wore an apron and baked cookies.  I could almost smell their chocolaty sweetness coming off the pages.   I don’t remember much else except that they adopted a little gray kitten.  It drank warm milk from a saucer and made the Jones family perfection complete.  The story delighted my six-year-old heart.

Not long after that, on a Saturday trip to the grocery store a woman had a cart full of kittens that she was trying to give away.  There was a tiny gray and white kitten and I begged my mom to let me bring it home.  I was thrilled when she said yes. I immediately named the tiny grey ball of fur, Kitten Jones.

Never mind that we were the Campbell family.

Books have the power to take us to places that we never dared to imagine.  They can help us heal and inspire us to share the goodness within our hearts.  They make it possible to both escape our lives and engage in them more fully.  Books impart the kind of knowledge which can build the infrastructure of entire countries.

More so, they offer wisdom and insight into our relationship with a diverse group of people so that we may better understand that our differences are not so vast.  I don’t think there is much that books can’t do — including giving a little girl the sliver of Jones family perfection she craved.

The local mayor recently proposed a $61 million budget cut which will devastate many city services and prompted our Library Board, in an effort for compliance, to propose the closure of six local libraries.

One of the six slated for closing is my neighborhood library where I took my children to story time every Wednesday for at least six years.  That’s a lot of Wednesdays.

We read countless books extending the duration of my boys’ bedtime routine with “just one more book” until I was so sick of characters such as Froggy, that I would blissfully recall high school biology class where I dissected the poor formaldehyde-soaked frog.froggy

Unlike trips to Target where I often had to say no to things they wanted to put in the cart, I never had to say no at the library.  I would carry my weight in bags of books that they picked, each filled with colorful illustrations and vibrant words which brilliantly combined to bring to life an amazing array of adventures.

Books were so much more entertaining than the countless aisles of toys at Target – and much easier on my feet than the tiny Lego pieces that otherwise invaded my house.

And whenever I was absolutely at my wit’s end with parenting – totally overwhelmed and desperate for information on how to survive motherhood, discipline my children and take the blob of life I was given and mold it into a recognizable contribution to humanity (preferably one who ate with a fork) I would go to the library and get a book.  I didn’t always read all the parenting books I checked out, but nonetheless having them made me feel a little more equipped during the times when ketchup was dripping off my dining room ceiling.

In honor of my neighborhood library, I volunteered to collect petitions that would let voters decide through a straw ballot initiative whether they want the opportunity to consider creating an independent tax district for local libraries.   The designation would prevent city government from continuing to cut already skeletal services resulting from years of budget reductions.

One of the spiritual works of mercy is to instruct the uninformed. Most of what I have read about this work involves our call to parent our children, and this certainly provided an opportunity to do that as well as inform others of a way that may eventually save our city libraries.

My boys and I met with the attorney spearheading the effort to collect the necessary 26,000 signatures to get on the 2014 ballot. He instructed me of my responsibilities because these were legal documents which had to be verified by the Supervisor of Elections Office.

On our way home, we drove by the library and my older son optimistically said, “That’s the library we are going to save.” I thought about how neat that would be if it were actually spared, and he could take his own children there someday. He could tell them the part he played in saving his neighborhood library. They could check out books about Froggy together and my son would finally realize that frogs don’t wear clothes or play golf, and that making bizarre repetitive sounds like zonk, zoink and zzzz is torturous when all you really want to do is take a shower and wash his younger brother’s spit up off you.

How amazing would it be though if, in a few decades, I could bring my own grandchildren there on a Wednesday and share once again the wondrous world of books that I shared with my own boys?

When we got home, my youngest son chanted in protest around the house, “Don’t mess with me or the librar-y!” While I appreciated his zeal and attempt at poetry, I told him he would not be allowed to say that when we went to the library to ask people to sign petitions.

He asked me whether we would be arrested.  I explained that we had the right to voice our opinions as long as we did so peacefully and respectfully.  Library closings are foolish and contribute to an ignorant and polarized society; we have to do our part to protect them.  I continued with a brief monologue on how it is our responsibility to fight for things we believe in, and thought regrettably how rarely I have done that in my own life.

048I was never that girl holding a sign to protest anything or collect petitions until I embarked on this endeavor to do works of mercy.  I had been more interested in holding shopping bags and collecting shoes.  But in life, if we are fortunate enough, we evolve.

So there I was actually happy to be in the sweltering mid-day heat with my boys and our homemade posters sitting outside the library greeting patrons, informing them about the details of the petitions and encouraging them to sign.

We were there for three hours and had gotten more than half of the petitions signed.  People thanked us for our advocacy and shared their own stories of what the library met to them.

I took the rest of the unsigned petitions to a restaurant where we were meeting a large group of friends for dinner and what remained were signed on top of menus, over drinks and by candlelight.  I even got some of the wait staff to participate until the entire stack was finished.

It will be a while before we know what the next chapter holds for these six libraries.  I hope that it ends well because truly it’s a sad day when we shutter libraries, and all the stories they contain never have the chance to open hearts and minds.

As far as my cat, Kitten Jones, he died of a bladder infection when I was in the sixth grade.  Hardly a happy ending — but like so much in life maybe it’s not the ending that is so important.

Perhaps what matters most are the pages in between — where lives are lived and characters evolve to embrace their responsibility to make the world a better place so that ultimately lives aren’t lived keeping up with the Joneses, but instead showing them how it’s done.


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Out of the ash

I remember exactly where I was when I heard that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I bet you do too.

It was a profoundly sad day – a day that changed lives and an entire nation.  I will never forget the unthinkable, unimaginable horror as I huddled around the television watching the ash of innocence unite a country in the most anguished grief it had ever known.

As the morning went on, the plane crashes went from one to three, each one an almost unrecoverable blow of terror – multiplying devastation into exponential heartache.

A new commitment to patriotism rose up like a phoenix out of the ashes of that pivotal day.  We were certainly less naïve than we were before, but we were more united too.  There was a surge of people who stepped out of their air-conditioned offices into the heat of the desert.  They were willing to trade the comforts of their civilian life for the trials of war to ensure the freedom we had long taken for granted.

I don’t doubt the urgency of the call to serve which those soldiers must have felt.  I was almost eight months pregnant with my first child on 9/11.  Things that mattered to me before that day – the décor of the nursery, the name I would choose, decisions about going to work afterwards and finding a pediatrician, were suddenly inconsequential.

Somehow, life as we knew it was in jeopardy.  My body was full with the promise of new life, and the sky was falling.  All I wanted to do was have my baby.  I didn’t care about the epidural anymore or even a hospital bed.  The need to bring my baby into the world — even as crazy as it had become, was stronger than any urge I had ever known.

It’s hard to believe that almost 12 years have passed since that day.  Harder still, to think of all those service men and women who have died while my little baby celebrated birthdays, played in countless baseball games, and brought his family an immeasurable amount of joy.

So it seemed fitting for us to give back to our armed forces.  We volunteered to participate in Operation USO Care Package last week and spent hours helping to put together small comforts to be sent overseas to the men and women in our armed forces.

Each of us wrote several notes to be included with the packages.  It’s hard to know what to say beyond thank you.  Thinking of the uncomfortable conditions they endure, the families they leave behind, the fellow soldiers they have watched die; thank you seems kind of feeble.  Still it’s a start, and the only one I knew to begin to convey my depth of gratitude.029

My sons included words such as brave, kind and helpful on their notes, and like mine each one began with thank you.  We stuffed bags with military precision.  In formation, one beside the other, we filled our care packages with razors, toilet paper, a toiletry kit, a small bag of peanuts, some beef jerky, a little coffee, a bandana, keychain and a Reader’s Digest magazine.

We were outside in the middle of the day in the middle of the summer and the sweat had started running down my oldest son’s face, his hair matted and saturated underneath his ball cap.  I thought about how much hotter it must be in the desert.  Because my children looked a little faded, I thought it would be a good time to take a break for lunch.

On the way to the restaurant, I asked them if they could surmise what military life is like overseas by the contents of the packages we put together.  My youngest son piped up with “hairy” referring to the need for a razor.  My older son and I talked about what a treat the peanuts were and how they didn’t have access to books and magazines the way we do.  In the middle of the conversation he interrupted me and asked, “Are you going to cry?”

I laughed.  First, as hot as I was and as much as we had sweat, I don’t think I could have mustered up a single tear.  Second, I didn’t feel sad.  I just felt grateful and seeing how my son was beginning to know me not just as his mother, but as an individual (yes, perhaps a quirky, emotional one) made me feel even more so.

042Rejuvenated and rehydrated from lunch, we returned to the cadence of stuffing care packages.  I don’t know why my children didn’t complain, or ask how much longer, or act like the silly boys that they so often are, but we continued to work in silence.  Maybe it was in reverence to the soldiers who would be at the receiving end of our deed as we have enjoyed the receiving end of their service for years

When I think of the comfort those small items will bring and the words of encouragement, gratitude and praise that will be opened with them, I am even more humbled.  I have so much that I take for granted.  I hardly consider a small bag of peanuts a treat, and an almost smaller wad of toilet paper seems like a bad joke.

Yet for those in service overseas, these are luxuries, small but important tokens to let them know we are thinking of them and we appreciate their sacrifice.

My son will turn 12–years-old this Thanksgiving and I still remember the urgency I felt to bring him into a world that suddenly seemed so fragile.  I think how he asked me if I was about to cry and the laughter that his question evoked.  There has been so much laughter in the years since his birth.

No, I am not about to cry.  Instead I look skyward and remember the ash that fell that day and the country that rose up from it, spreading its wings to fly high once again.

No tears, just gratitude.