On Behalf of a Grateful Nation…

Ed. Note: This piece was written both as catharsis on the loss of my grandfather, and as ethnographic research paper for Dr. Marvin Sterling‘s ANTH-E393 World Fiction and Cultural Anthropology class at Indiana University. It is both biographical and fictional. 

The sky is a brilliant blue. There’s a warm breeze drifting up over the hill from the river below. The beauty of this late summer day betrays the solemnity of such an occasion. I’ve always thought so. Some might complain about duty in the cold or rain or snow; to me, it always felt like the weather should match the mood. It’s as if the warmth of the sun is a slap in the face to a family in mourning.  Continue reading

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Thoughts from the wee hours…

Living with a dog with a small bladder is like having a newborn again. You sleep in short chunks with multiple mid-night wakings. After having just climbed back in bed after yet another late night trip downstairs with Molly, I have so many random thoughts floating around…

• Note to self: I sleep better if I claim my half of the bed from an Equatorial perspective (top half) rather than a meridian (right half) perspective. At least with the dogs… not sure about the pilot. 😆 These days when the Munchkin is gone to his dad’s, I end up with the Pug and the Bulldog in bed with me, while the lab is in the dog bed in the floor next to me. Did I mention they snore? They all snore…

• I am so behind on writing and homework right now it’s not funny… and I’m having so much trouble forcing myself to actually work. But the end of semester looms… and panic is starting to become a daily feeling.

• I miss my pilot. The worst part of this time in our airline life is not knowing when I’ll see him again. He’s working so hard to get through this challenging point in his career… and I’m so proud of him. But it’s hard. For both of us.

• My mother is so freaking amazing… she cleaned and reorganized my office this weekend and I can actually work at my desk now.

• There’s something really special, after having been blessed with a best friend for 22 years, to having a relationship with her daughter.

• The money for the semester never seems to last through the whole semester. I think one thing I miss about working, besides having a social life, is just knowing there’s a paycheck coming.

• It’s only 38 days until Rocky Mountain Christmas vacation! Hooray! I’m so looking forward to Christmas with both parents and my sister. It will be good to be away from Indiana over the holiday, so close on the heels of losing my grandpa.

• I don’t like having a friend living with chronic pain… but I do appreciate having someone who understands where I live who I can text at any hour to commiserate. My sweet friend in Georgia is dealing with a mess of back issues. I hate hearing how she hurts, how the pain is getting to her emotionally. But it is so comforting to be able to turn to someone who gets what it’s like to live this illness life, who knows how it feels to feel like a burden to others, who really gets how frustrating this can be and how much you just want to go back to “normal.”

• I had grand intentions on doing the “30 days of Thanks” thing this year… but lately I’m struggling to find the good. Not that I’m not very blessed and incredibly “wealthy” by so many standards. I have a home, a family, a beautiful child, an education, food to eat… but as I fight my own body every day, sometimes just to get out of bed, you get trapped in this internal place where it’s very hard to get outside oneself and recognize all that is there.

• Hypocortisolism is no joke. At a time when my pain is relatively well-managed, nothing is more infuriating than having to rest (or nap) after just a few hours… and on the days I force myself to get up and go all day, to then have to spend the entire next day (or more) recovering. I feel like I’m sleeping my life away these days, and I hate it. Thank God for my momma, who is helping me keep it together for my Munchkin. I’ll be glad when my new treatment starts working, in the hope that I can stay awake for more than a few hours at a time and maybe start to feel human again.

With that, I think I’ll try to catch a couple more hours sleep before class… hopefully…

On Ma’s porch swing…

Today was a busy day. But I couldn’t let it pass by without taking a moment to remember my “Ma.”

My paternal grandmother would have been 85 today. She left us almost eight years ago… the unexpected complication of a perforated ulcer. I had already been thinking about her birthday, four days before mine, for several days. This morning, my Facebook memories brought up a story I’d forgotten. 

A couple years back, the Munchkin and I were having a discussion about cicadas. He finds them creepy. I told him that, while I don’t like the way they sometimes divebomb one’s head, and I do agree that the empty shed skins are creepy, that I love the sound they make… 

Hearing the sound of cicadas takes me back to my childhood. When I was younger, every summer I would spend a week in Southern Indiana with my paternal grandparents, Ma and Pa. There was usually a trip to Holiday World, hitting golf balls into the back field with Pa, walks in Cox’s Woods, visiting great-aunts, and sometimes a drive down to Springs Valley and to the tiny hamlet about ten miles down the road where my grandfather grew up, to be spoiled with a trip to the old five-and-dime store. 

But in the evenings, we would sit on the front porch, eating ice cream, watching lightning bugs and listening to the cicadas. I remember one summer in particular when one of the 17-year cycles emerged… one evening the cicada song was so loud Ma and I couldn’t hear each other talking, though we were sitting next to each other on the porch swing. 
I got to know my father’s parents more in the last five years of their lives than I had in the previous twenty. You see, they did something remarkable for me. 

We live in the Bible Belt, and I grew up in two large families which both observe Christian faith. And although my parents, long divorced, were (and are) much more liberal in the ways of modern relationships, our extended families remain fairly conservative. So, when I became pregnant at age 23 with no husband, I thought for sure that my grandparents would disown me. I truly believed that I would lose them. I was so afraid, I couldn’t even tell them myself, leaning instead on my dad to break the news. 

A couple weeks later, I came home from work to find a bag on the front porch. Inside were groceries, gas money, and a sack full of baby onesies. And a note, scribbled on the back of a receipt: “Sorry we missed you. Ma and Pa” That was just the beginning. 

Throughout my pregnancy, the Munchkin’s early years, and through my divorce, my father’s parents were wonderful. They weren’t the emotionally distant old people I remembered growing up with. They were affectionate, warm, and doted on their only great-grandchild. They bought clothes and baby things. They helped with groceries when money was tight. They were never wealthy people, but they were generous. It was a surprising and wonderful gift they gave me, to be able to know them differently in their final years. 

This is one of my favorite pictures of my grandmother. Not because it’s wonderfully composed, but simply because this is how I remember her: sitting on the porch swing and caring for her family. I wish I, as well as my sister and cousins, had had more time with the woman she was in those last five years. But I will always treasure the time that we had, and how they didn’t turn their backs on me when I needed them. Whenever I hear cicadas, I remember them, and I smile. 

Happy birthday, Ma. Love you always. 

Up on the Roof

These days I find I have less patience for big crowds. If I’m being honest, I think it is related to my fibro, and being afraid of getting into a situation where I’m in pain and stuck… I should probably work on that. But it’s the Fourth of July, and I promised my Munchkin fireworks. 

Now, we live less than 3 miles from the local high school where tonight’s show was happening. We also live up on top of one of the highest hills in the area. So I suddenly had an idea: Can we see them from the house?! I wonder… 

I ran the idea past the Munchkin… who replied, “Can we watch them from the roof?” After a moment of thought, I said, “Why not?” 

Now, before you all think I’ve lost my mind… We have a split-level home, and the roof is actually just one step over the railing from the second-story deck in the back. And it’s not steep. So at five minutes before showtime, we doused ourselves in insect repellent, gathered an old blanket and a bag of chips, and headed upstairs. 

I should note here that about two steps onto the roof was when I remembered how terrified I am of heights. Specifically, FALLING from them. Which is why, even with an easily accessible roof, my gutters are sadly neglected. I can be in a plane, I can admire a gaze across the skyline from a 48th floor window, and I adore balconies. But in any situation where I feel like I could fall, I freeze up. The Munchkin wanted to go higher onto the very top level of the roof. It’s literally one step up, with only about a 5/12 pitch. I’d be nowhere near the edge of the house. And it was closer to the end of the house nearest the high school. It would be the best vantage point if we were going to see anything. 

But I couldn’t do it. 

Luckily, just then a neighbor sent up a shell a couple blocks away that could be seen perfectly from the end where we were. Thank you, sweet baby Jesus, for literal signs from heaven! I gulped down a lump in my throat, ventured to the apex, and said “Let’s just sit right here.” 

As it turns out, we were either too far away, or it was too hazy, to see any of the town fireworks from our roof. It had rained just a couple hours earlier, and everything was still damp. I could make out distant flashes and the low rumble of echoing explosions, but that was it. Fortunately, some neighbors due south of the house were setting off some pretty decent ones, so we sat up there watching for about 45 minutes. 

During that time in the dark, my son’s mind was going a million miles an hour. Commenting on every noise we heard, every shape he saw in the scattered clouds, every sparkling mortar shell that flew into the sky. He made up a song about sitting on the roof eating tortilla chips. We even FaceTimed my sister, using one phone to talk and another to light our faces in the night. 

Of course, the Munchkin wanted me to keep taking pictures. It’s what we do. But armed with only my iPhone? We weren’t gonna get much. My hair was a mess. But we had two phones for light, and a big moon, so why not? In between bursts of color in the sky down the street, I snapped a couple shots: 

As the fireworks started to slow down, my son snuggled up against me and said, “Isn’t this a lovely night?” 

Yes, baby… it’s perfect. I hope you remember it forever, because I’m certain I will. 

The Art – and Pain – of Compromise

An eloquent man of whom I’m a pretty big fan once said, “No democracy works without compromise.” When he said it, he was referring to American politics – a touchy subject that I’m not going to touch in this post with a 30-foot steel rod. But the idea of democracy, I think, can be applied to other situations in life, as can diplomacy. The life skill of “being diplomatic” was one which my grandmother prided herself on, and one she felt very important to pass on to her children and grandchildren… the art of getting along with others, even when you may not want to. Continue reading

“Hi. Welcome to our town. I’m glad you’re here.”

Tonight, Munchkin and I joined the “welcome line” at our student union.

This was the second time this week that the Office of International Services hosted informational meetings for our students, faculty, staff, and community who are affected by or concerned about the recent immigration ban. A group of people organized a team of volunteers to come line the halls before and after each info session to pass out snacks and hugs… to show these frightened “kids” that we are glad to have them as part of our university family and that we will stand up with and beside them.

I was SO proud of Munchkin tonight. He held his sign, shook hands, introduced himself, and spoke with confidence. Rather than being intimidated by those who looked or spoke differently, my Aspie was much more worried that he was making sure that he was showing his sign to the “right ones” (meaning the guests rather than the staff and volunteers).

Munchkin has been sad, worried, and maybe even a little angry since November 8th. I keep telling him that what we do now is to use our voices to stand up for people who need it. He seems scared. I won’t lie: I am, too. But I know that, if I want to teach him to be able to take a stand, to care for others just as much as we do ourselves, then he needs to see people (including Mom) who will look fear, hatred, and injustice in the face and say “Love wins.”

So far, we had just talked about the things going on around us. He knew I joined the Women’s March in Indianapolis. We’re talking about the March for Science (Munchkin LOVES science). But this was his first ‘official’ social activism event. I let him decide if he was ready and felt comfortable going, and he did great. I wish I could have captured the smiles on the faces of the students who stopped to talk to him, to thank him for being there tonight.

A while back, I did some sociological research into the failure of the “colorblind ideology” of the post-Civil Rights era… the well-intentioned philosophy that children should be taught to be “colorblind” to race. Unfortunately, more and more studies are beginning to show that this precept has backfired. It is but one reason we are finding our beloved republic in the state it’s in: fostering an undercurrent of racism that many of us believed – until November 9th, 2016 – to be a thing of the past.

But there is hope. Four generations ago, Munchkin’s ancestry included a “Grand Master” of the local Ku Klux Klan. Today, my child approached a dark-skinned young woman in hijab and, while carrying a sign that said “I’m glad you’re here”, confidently introduced himself, and asked if she would like a cookie.

This is how we change the world, folks. We don’t ignore race, color, or creed… we embrace it, and we teach our children to be “woke”.