Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth." – Robert Southey

I've been thinking a lot about friendships.  Several reasons.  

One, I have none.  I mean, here in Richmond.  We are starting over completely. After having my life swarming with people for years, this blank calendar feels odd.  I tell myself to appreciate the quiet, because it's a temporary state until we settle in.  And in many ways, I do...for the first time that I can remember, we have so much breathing-space in our life.  But my extroverted self itches for whom to call about dry cleaner recommendations...going jeans shopping with me...whatever. 

Two, Mikey's death was a loss of a friendship I thought I'd have for life. And it's lit this fire to go around collecting my precious persons...gathering them up...telling them how much I appreciate their lives and their contributions to mine...

Three, going through my tub of old letters, emails, cards, and photos of Friendships Past made me realize how many truly great persons have filtered through my life.  I've had people who really knew me...understood my illogical, often contradictory layers...and accepted me for that. 

I don't think I've appreciated that enough.  And Steve and I talk often about how complicated it is to develop those friendships now, with young children, careers....oh yes, and moving frequently.  That makes things tricky.  :)  But when I find those persons who really click with me, I want to find ways to keep them relevant in my life. 

Also...

I'm seeing how much writing played a part in my friendships over the years.  In the last 5 years or so, my collection of long emails just stopped.  Even with my closest friends.  We text or see each other in person over coffee or talk on the phone or Facebook.  But that era of delving into self on paper went away.  I assume that's technology, in part?  The same friends who were writing multiple-page emails 10 years ago now connect with me via Facebook, text, etc.

I wonder what this will mean for my children's future friendships? Will they ever write emails and letters the way I did with my friends?

The reams of emails between Steve and me during our dating period have turned into long talks after we're supposed to have gone to sleep...or talking in the kitchen, like tonight.  He's in tax season, so he gets home late...when the kids have been asleep for a few hours already.  I was cleaning up the kitchen and we just sat down at the table, instead of sitting somewhere comfortable, like the couch.  We thought it was going to be a quick chat about the boys' new school and then ended up spending over an hour, eventually delving into complexities of educational philosophy and what we most want to teach our children.

Those moments mean so much to me.  In this period of Steve not getting home until 10 or 11 at night, that hour or so of uninterrupted time can fuel my tank for the entire next day.  

But then I look at these written letters from 5-10 years ago, and see HOW MUCH I've forgotten of what I wrote. Or what others wrote to me.  They captured time in a way my memory would completely fail to do. 

I unearthed a 4-page letter from Mikey that nearly stopped my heart.  I didn't know I had it.  Didn't remember, anyway.  But what he wrote about and what he shared with me in it, I sat stunned and then started crying.  Not just with grief, but with gratitude.  That there was this part of him...this cross-section of our friendship...that I would have forever.  I knew at the time that the letter meant something to me - that's why I saved it - but I didn't know it would eventually be one of the few tangible keepsakes of my 20 year friendship with him.

Gil's emails...my god, nearly every one of them could win a Pulitzer...his writing is that freakin' amazing.  Mikey's wise, articulate, self-aware conversations...and always, always a post-script about fashion.  Larsy's quirky, purposeful misspellings that still make me smile ('czech your email').  Steph, Melissa, Kel, Kim...these great, chatty emails that tracked all sorts of details about our college life and into adulthood.  So many details I would have completely forgotten. 

What I'm seeing is that friendships evolve and change over a lifetime. Instead of sitting around on bunk-beds in dorm rooms, I'm catching a few hours at a coffee shop.  Comparing thoughts, insecurities, stories about our kids...instead of about professors or boyfriends or whatever.  And instead of long emails or handwritten cards, it's a text or Facebook message.  

But all of this contemplation in the last few weeks makes me realize how deeply important connections have been to me...strangely timed with realizing I have no Richmond connections.  

So...I guess I should do something about that?








Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Part 2: "Why being the 'normal' one doesn't make you the better person"

This is part 2 of my post from yesterday, so without reading that one first, this post will make no sense. 

I saw Abby's older sister again today. I came to pick up Jack and Andrew, and she was in the lobby with her friend.  When she saw me, she leaned over and started whispering to her friend.  And either she's a very bad whisperer or she wanted me to hear, because I could plainly hear her say: "I wasn't even doing anything or saying anything and she told me to be nicer to my sister."

I just smiled at her and sat down in a chair.  Waited for her friend to leave, and then went over to her.  All my upset feelings from yesterday had completely died down. I felt a sense of calm through my entire being. I took a deep breath and said to her in my softest, most non-confrontational voice:

"It appears there's some misunderstanding about our conversation yesterday.  I do know, though, that you remember calling your sister stupid and lazy before our conversation.  Right now, I have no interest in chatting with your mom or anyone else here about what you were saying to your sister - this is only about you.  But if you'd like to make this a public conversation with others here, filled with that much inaccuracy, I'd be happy to sit down with you and your mom and with anyone else you'd like to tell about happened yesterday.  Is that what you'd like to do?"

She didn't have the defensive side I was expecting. She was surprisingly open to listening, and shook her head no.  I took another deep breath and went on: "I want you to know... I have two brothers who are mentally handicapped.  I understand, more than you know.  I really, really do.  But you are better than what I saw yesterday, I know that.  That's not the person you want to be.  You don't want to be someone who calls others names because they're different, I really believe that."

And her eyes, when I mentioned my brothers, widened and locked into mine.  Really tuned into what I was saying.  And went completely soft.  I could see all the tension leaving her, and she nodded.  All she said was "Okay"...but I felt the change in her. 

A forever change?  Who knows.  Memory might just change our conversation back into the version she gave her friend - me picking on her for no reason.  One conversation can't really counteract the entire lifetime that went into how she treated Abby yesterday.

Her look of surprise...of connection, though...maybe she hasn't met someone with handicapped siblings?  Maybe she was hungry to see that in her life?  I understand that part. 

But I didn't talk to her yesterday...or today...just for her.  It wasn't just about changing her forever, although that would be nice.

I did it because I could never forgive myself for seeing that yesterday and not saying something... anything... to show that it wasn't right.  I needed to defend Abby, if only to let Abby know she deserved being defended. 

And I guess I did it for my brothers, because I hope within their lives and situations, there's someone who will step in and defend them when I'm not there.  

I remember every single person who showed kindness and acceptance to my brothers.  And I remember every single person who didn't.  

Maybe my brothers and our siblinghood have shaped me more than I give it credit.







Monday, January 16, 2012

Why being the "normal" one doesn't make you the better person

I am still upset.  In a way that means this isn't about the situation, it's about something deeper.  More intricately wound into my being. 

We were waiting for Jack to come out of his class, and this sweet-smiled little girl walked through the lobby.  There was a look about her that I recognized from my brother's Special Olympic games.  An undefined mental handicap -- not Down Syndrome, but something else. 

"Super-charged Science?" she asked, with this little-girl sweetness I also recognized from his games. She was maybe 7 or 8?  

I nodded and smiled at her: "Yes, my son is in it."

An older girl of about 10 or 11 came through the lobby behind her, and said to this little girl (eye-rolling in my direction, and this irritated look about her): "Were you talking to that lady?"

I didn't like the eye-roll...or the overall feeling I got from this girl...but I decided to ignore it at that point, giving attention back to the first girl.  I smiled and said: "You were a big help.  You let me know I was in the right place, didn't you?" 

I guessed immediately they were sisters.   They were helping clean out the classrooms; they must have been children of a teacher. 

The older girl went into a classroom and started sweeping, then started shouting back at her sister: "Abby!  Get the vacuum!"  

Abby started towards the vacuum, and I whispered conspiratorially to her with a smile, "She should say please, shouldn't she?"  I winked at her and she smiled shyly back.

When Abby came into the classroom with the vacuum, I heard a thud, like a broom knocked over.  The older sister started railing at Abby: "Abigail!  You are so lazy!  You are so stupid!" A few more things shouted, along those lines. 

I cannot tell you how difficult it is for me to feel a violent rage towards children.

I cannot tell you how much violent rage I felt towards that girl in that moment.

I left Simone and Andrew in their seats and walked the 10 feet into the classroom.  Looked that little girl directly in the eyes and said in my creepy-calm-dead-serious voice: "You do not know who I am.  You might not care who I am.  But you do not talk to another human being that way."

All of her bossy arrogance was completely smashed and she looked back at me timidly and said in a small voice: "She's my sister."

Still creepy calm and not taking my eyes off hers: "I...don't...care who she is.  Does your mother know you talk to her that way?  No person should be called those names. That is not how you treat people." 

I was literally shaking.  I wasn't convinced I wouldn't burst into tears from the anger I felt. 

I turned and walked out, scooped up my children into my lap, still shaking - and sat there waiting for Jack to come out just a few minutes later.

Here's the thing:  I get it.  I do.  I have two mentally-handicapped brothers.  I know the complexity of feelings and the complicated siblinghood it brings. 

Being the sister of a handicapped sibling can be really awful sometimes.  Trying to explain a developmentally-inappropriate brother to your friends is embarrassing, awkward, and socially complicated when you're in elementary school...middle school is the worst...and into high school.  I still cringe a bit when my older brother calls me, because I know our phone conversations will be hard to understand, last a long time, and not have much content.  

Anyone who pretends it's only fascinating or sweet or noble or other things I've heard, they have no idea.  And that's fine...they wouldn't. 

But never...ever...ever was I allowed to treat my brothers that way.  Call them things like that. Taught that they were to be belittled.  Yes: We had our sibling moments and they drove me bat-shit crazy sometimes.  So do Simone and Jack and Andrew with each other. 

Asking your non-handicapped child to never be irritated or frustrated (or yes, even embarrassed) with their special-needs sibling is asking them to be an inauthentic sibling.  I knew I could close the bedroom door and tell my parents about my frustrations with my brothers and have a sounding-board.  

Honesty meant everything to me. 

And maybe this girl doesn't?  Maybe she has to be the Perfect Sibling most of the time, so it's all unleashed when her parents aren't watching?

Or maybe Abby gets talked to that way by everyone in her life?  It breaks my heart into a million pieces just to contemplate that she's treated that way.

At some point, I'll come down from the anger and heart-break and maybe feel a sadness for that older sister.  That she's missing out on the chance to form a heart that having a special-needs sibling can bring.  If you can be honest with the bad parts about it, there are these really incredible things to teach you: 

That people are actually much more about luck than effort.  Mental abilities...but it also extends to geography, family circumstances, all of it.  Whatever it was in Abby's DNA or happenings that made her handicapped, it could have been the older sister too. Even at my most frustrated with my brothers, I always knew that all 3 of us had the same 50% chance of getting MD.  I couldn't gloat over my normal IQ anymore than I could blame them for their truncated IQ. 

That everyone brings something to the table.  My brother David, even though his conversations rarely have a topic, is one of the most incredibly kind and giving persons ever.  Ever.  He goes to the arcades nearly every day to win tickets for prizes to give to my children.  Every time we're in Minnesota, he has a box of carnival prizes he won for them.  He loves his family more than anything.

Honestly, looking into his life, there is a long list of things that he could be upset about.  His life is missing so many things he truly craved, like a family and career.  But he doesn't seem upset or bitter about it.  

My brother Craig always had a realistic vision for himself. He wanted to move into a group home and his girlfriend (of over 10 years) is mentally handicapped as well.  But David always wanted to be "normal" - and yet, I don't see the resentment I would expect.  He really does have a great attitude about what life has brought him.

And Craig...oh my goodness, Craig.  So intuitive, so wise in his own way, and a truly amazing spirit.  I wouldn't wish away a single thing about his child-like wonderousness. 

Seeing that today, I am so grateful for my parents.  They came into Parenting Special Needs children with no background in it.  But truly, they did a great job in fostering good things about our wacky family, and raising me through that experience that no one else shared with me. 

And y'know?  If that first moment... when she walked through the lobby and saw her sister talking to me... what if she'd just gotten that sheepish look of some embarrassment, but then kept walking past?  I would have connected with that, on a human level.  Gone out of my way to reach out to her somehow.  At that age, you feel like your family is a reflection of who YOU are...and having the handicaps somehow seems like it's about you. I would have understood that feeling more than she can imagine.  

But this.  This was not okay. 





Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Packing for Prague" - written when I was 20

In rummaging through my archives, trying to find letters and such from Mikey, I found this essay I wrote 3 weeks before moving to Prague when I was 20.  I was stunned by the details in it.  I've forgotten so much of this.  For a minimalist who tries to carry very little "stuff" through life, I'm so glad I'm a pack-rat with the written word.  These emails and essays from over a decade ago mean the world to me now. 

***

PACKING FOR PRAGUE

My green Samsonite that I got for graduation seems too corporate and glossy.  I had pictured a tattered brown carpet bag tied shut with string, or an army-green duffel bag that used to hold dusty uniforms in WWII.  

My hiking backpack is only wistfully vagabond.  It needs more dirt and character - but I guess that requires that I get more dirt and character. The only thing between cutting the price tags and now was that Spring Break trek to the Grand Canyon, where I felt more a victim to the elements than "at one" with them.

Fitting.  I'm wishing I was a well-traveled carpet bag with dust from Bangkok and Belgium, but I more resemble a Samsonite just off the shelf.  And in trendy hunter green, no less.  My wanderlust isn't about where I've been, it's about where I want to go.  It takes very little adventurousness to order travel catalogs and plan itineraries 5 years down the road. I'm finally here, three weeks away from Prague, and I want to cry and curl up on my mom's lap. 

It used to be more exciting when I was just talking about it.  Studying over in Europe.  It still gives me a thrill to say that part.  Saying it, I bear some resemblance to the person I want to be. 

But I'm scared to death.  I have no idea how to ask for bread in Czech.  Or how to say bathroom.  Or how to differentiate streets sings or ask where the nearest bank is.  

Those Czech language tapes have scared the hell out of me.  I can't even listen to them anymore, or I'll end up backing out of this whole thing.  

I have no friends there, no connections whatsover, and no real guarantee that I'll get any soon.  It will cost a fortune to call Kel or Kim, and email is closed down on nights and weekends.  

And of course, checking email won't even be "who wrote?" but rather, "did Steve write?"  I'm furious with myself to have reached that point.  Leaving control of the hands of anyone other than myself, in terms of human relationships, was never one of my strengths.  Actually, I always do it, I just never like it.

So I pack.  And unpack.  And re-pack.  In packing, I isolate the one known part of my sojourn to Prague.  In making up lists of clothes, photos, toiletries, and books I need to survive in Europe, I have some control over the experience.  Now, Prague isn't 6 months long, it's two shampoo bottles long.  Two toothbrushes. Three tubes of toothpaste.  One and a half body washes.  5 ballpoint pens. I can capsulate my life into a Samsonite, a hiking pack, and a book bag.  Hopefully.

How many books will I go through on my train rides to Vienna and Munich?  How many journals will I fill?  (I guess that also depends on how many friends I make.)  What is the minimum number of framed photos I can bring to include the key characters in my life?  The family photo, of course.  Kim and Kel and me. 

And the one good shot of Steve and me.  Theta "informal" night. He's in the gray sweatshirt at a 70's theme party, because he could never get hold of that guy to get the costume.  He looked incredible that night.  And he was mine.  I got to kiss him in the back of the bus and sit on his lap by the fire.  

Our night had nothing to do with the costume-clad people drinking and dancing inside the barn. We had finally reached a point where we were more "real life" than novelty, so we could be honest about having to go home on the early-bus so he could rest up for a double-header the next day.  Granted, we ended up fooling around in the girls' bathroom of College Street for two hours, but our intentions were good.  We meant to get him to bed early.  

I felt like we were a couple that night, not just dates.  And we look like one in the photo.  Chasing to make the bus at the end of the night, we ran past the photographer.  "Hey, Steve.  One more kiwi?" He laced his arm around the small of my back, we smiled for 2 seconds, and when the light flashed we took off running for the bus.  I felt so safe about us.  We were soft and comfortable, just like his gray sweatshirt and jeans.

I'm bringing only one photo of Steve.  Any more than that, and it would feel like the freshman floormates who tried to cling to hometown honeys, wallpapering with his photos as though relationship security was correlated to how many photos were up.  As time passed, a few more pictures would come down.  And then a few more.  And finally it was just one picture, and the rest were replaced by college friends.  

Not sure what that means that I'm starting from the bottom. Do I plan on working up from there, or just not feeling as foolish when that one picture comes down? 

Tucked in the corner is that stuffed dog that Mom gave me.  It's got these big warm eyes that look like they understand being lonely.  The tag calls him Dudley, so I guess I will too.  He's small enough that he can be massaged between my fingers, and also small enough that I don't feel guilty taking up precious cargo space for sentimentality.  I love the feel of the seeds inside of him rubbing against my palm.  I'm glad he isn't cotton stuffing; it always feels oddly frustrating to squeeze cotton-stuffed animals, as though I can never hug deep enough.  The seed stuffing is just right. He's just right.

When Mom gave him to me after the Oklahoma trip, I was a little surprised by how thrilled I was.  Maybe it was that she thought of me while she was down there.  And not in a maternal-authoritative way, either.  It was the kind of thing that Kel or Kim would get me.  A stuffed dog.  Perfect.  

And, it's the kind of thing you would get a child, which is kind of what I feel like being right now.  I don't want to be a twenty-year-old woman moving to Prague. I want to hug Dad and sit next to Mom on the couch and have people buy me stuffed animals and be able to curl up in bed and hug my pillow and cry without feeling silly.  

Or feeling like I need to close the door so that people don't see me and wonder why an adventurous world traveler is scared to actually travel the world and have adventures. 

I'm primed and ready to charge out into the world and have my travels, so long as I feel tethered to a home base.  And maybe I am growing up, because I feel like my home base is broader than it used to be. I feel like Mom and Dad and David and Craig and Grovner Rd and Oakdale will be around forever.  Not as though they're frozen in time, but that they aren't fragile.  I can't lose them.  We'll email and have sporadic phone conversations and I'll see them in October. And we'll be fine.

Even Kim and Kel seem cemented for life.  We've tested those waters.  Mikey, Towner, Steph -- they'll all be around for life. We may play "catch up"- but we'll never start from ground zero.

Lauren is now joining the same ranks.  We'll have a wild and crazy relationship the rest of our lives, I imagine, but I think he's going to be a keeper.  I'll probably have a chance to see him with gray hair and grandchildren.  Barring a huge falling out, of course, which I can also see - based on the passionate extremes of our friendship.  It keeps it riveting, but perhaps makes it more fragile than I give it credit.  But I'm not longer concerned when we have breaks in our communication.  We'll be back.  We'll talk again. 

Which leads me to the embarrassing conclusion that the only person I'm worried about is Steve.  Not because he's the only one whom I value, but rather he has the least insurance of being around for the long haul.  

I feel like this sounds like I'm ready to marry the boy, because that's how people talk about him to me.  I mean, when I talk about being scared to lose him. Quite honestly, I don't know what I think about marrying him -- I certainly don't want to decide that yet.  I just want to keep the door open for deciding that later.

What if he were the last guy I ever kiss?  That seems so limiting.  I'm only 20.  Granted, I have no interest in kissing anyone else right now, especially if I thought it would wound chances with him.  but I like the idea of hooking up in an Italian discotque, or having a crazy encounter with a Frenchmen in a hillside pensione.  

And beyond that, I'm not even sure that Steve is the kind of guy I want to marry.  His heart doesn't race at the idea of jetting off to Hong Kong or Kenya.  He hates to fly.  He likes comfort and security and routine.  Robert James Waller wrote an essay about his relationship Georgia Anne in one of his essays, with their similar imbalance.  "I grew up dreaming of rivers and music and ancient cities and dark-haired women who sang old songs in cafes along the Seine.  You were raised to be  and a beauty, and you probably would have been satisfied, maybe happier, with a more conventional man."
 
I'm the dreamer of far-off places, and Steve needs only a ball and bat and a few loved ones to feel like he has his whole world at his feet.  I wonder how often I would feel closed in by his security and unquestioning approach to life. 

It isn't that Steve is a simple person.  He knows himself and understands what he wants.  He has his passions, so he understand why I need to go to Prague.  His passion is baseball.  The same passions that are sending me to Prague are what fuel him through 100 degree double-headers, just so he can have the thrill of feeling the bat connect with the ball and knowing the team is winning because of him.

I guess the poet in me can see the correlation.  If he can't, however, perhaps we would both be frustrated by having to cater to the opposing forces.  Then again, I'd like to think I could be the independent spirit who could take weekends in Paris, even if my life partner didn't come with me.  Let Steve stay home with his baseball games; I'll day-trip to San Francisco. 

I'm hoping all this will become more clear after my time in Prague.  Who I am.  What I want out of life and who I want out of life.  

I've packed these books that excite my spirit. My Robert James Waller and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  People who've gone places and done things.  Things I want to do.  They look at life as huge and vast and full of opportunities. Life is about choices, and I choose this.  RJ Waller: "You understand the need to live with old furniture and rusted cars and only two kitchen cabinets and rough wooden floors and vacuum cleaners that don't vacuum and clothes washers that operate correctly only when the tab from a beer can is stuck just so behind the dial, so that a little money will be there when I yell over the side of the loft, 'Let's go to Paris!'"

So, Sarahbeth, swallow your fears.  You'll learn how to say "bathroom" in Czech.  And perhaps a few more words that will come to you in pleasantly surprising memories sometime down the road of life.  Washing dishes after the Thanksgiving dinner, where your children have all gathered for the once-a-year reunion, the Czech word for dishrag will come to mind....and it will seem like a far-off dream.  Not only the time in Prague, but the time when you were age 20 and life was about the future and dreams.  

And you'll be grateful.  That you had the courage to stockpile these experiences and memories when you had the chance.  That you took crazy opportunities and followed your heart's tugging, even when it meant sacrficing other things. And maybe even sacrificing people and relationships along the way

But if you can look at your life thirty years down the road and be confident that you took the chances and were true to your passions, even when you were scared to death, then it was all worth it. 

I also want to believe that experiences at age twenty will help fuel the ones at thirty and forty and fifty and beyond. You'll never have to wonder if you would have been capable of navigating Europe alone, or were strong enough to leave life beind for a short hiatus while you went and found yourself in Prague.

Although, maybe it isn't about finding yourself.  Maybe it's more about figuring out what was always there.  And, what you want to make sure is there to the end.  By paring life down to the basics, the basics become pointedly clear.  

There are so few things in life that are indispensable, but those that are...they're worth isolating and cherishing.  The rest is clutter at worst, details at best.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Please let cooking classes mentally occupy this child until he can climb Mt. Everest

I don't go into Parent Panic very often.  I mean, I have my insecurities and worries about my kids, definitely. I think that comes pre-packaged in the placenta.  And we go through phases where I'm at such a loss than I'm about to call in professional help (SuperNanny?  I don't know, it never gets that specific), usually right before that phase goes away.

But lately, I'm feeling very emotionally overwhelmed with how to raise Andrew, in a way I'm not used to feeling.  He requires so.much.  And it's really hard to explain to someone else what that is. It's more subtle than some kids, and I feel ungrateful feeling like he's a struggle to parent. There is so much about him that is truly joyful to parent.  I adore his intensity, I do. Which is funny, because it's actually the intensity in him that's most problematic. 

Clear as mud.  I know.

Here's the thing.  I am raising a fiery, passionate child.  A heart of gold.  It's not that he's got a temper or hurts people or things I'd think would stem from passion.  

Mainly, it's that he's got this passionate heart, but hasn't grown into being able to use it.  So all that passion is just running-in-place, because he can't send it anywhere. 

You ask him what he'd like to do, and it's triathlons (like dad), and being a doctor for poor people in Africa.  He also wants to climb mountains.

I believe him.

So I have a barely 5-year-old child who wants to save the world and push the outer limits of his physicality, but I'm asking him to live this very vanilla existence at home. No one to save.  No mountains to climb. 

He's bored.  Really.  All the jumping off couches and dangling from...well, anything that can be dangled from...is just the way of exciting his passionate brain.  He loves-loves-loves movies and action television. Again: Exciting his passionate brain.  If I want to really occupy him, I put him on Steve's stationary-bike and have him watch an action show at the same time. He needs that much stimulation.

He's this older-soul stuffed into a tiny body.  I think that's really frustrating for him.  Not "I think."  I know.  He's wants to do SO MANY THINGS...and really, he's not old enough for anything he wants to do.  Rock climbing, fencing lessons, etc...all these things he specifically requests, we look them up and he's not old enough.  

What I need to remind myself is that all of my current "struggles" with Andrew - a passionate child with nowhere to direct his passion - is an ephemeral state. He will age out of it.  He will start being old enough to do the things his mind can imagine. 

My parenting dilemma right now is how to help him find passions (or even just interests) that can keep him occupied while his little body catches up.

I look at him and see sailing camp...kayaking...yes, climbing mountains.  And then blink again and realize he just turned 5.  And the things that could really satisfy his spirit aren't really appropriate for him.  

When I ask him what he loves doing most, he says: "Eating, watching sword movies, and snuggling with you." :)  OMG. There is so much to love about this child.  

At the top of my To-Do list this week: Find him cooking classes and swim lessons.  Something to fill his brain (and his stomach), but also, move his body and make him think he's training for a triathlon.

And... just remind myself that it's going to be okay.  Frenetic-boredom aside, he's going to be okay.  I will make sure of it.






Monday, January 9, 2012

Saying good-bye to Mikey



1997: Mikey and Me
I flew home to Minnesota this weekend, solo, to attend Mikey's memorial service and reminiscence with friends.  Being there without my current family made it so easy to transport myself to high school again.  Those friendships made then will always mean so much.  It's still hard to believe that there's this Mikey-sized hole in the middle of all that, though, that will never be replaced.

I spent all that time on the plane without my Kindle coming back, as I forgot to bring the charger.  At first, I was annoyed -  but then I settled in with my thoughts and what Mikey's life and death means to me.  His life, there's no question there.  I want to make people feel the way Mike did.  I want to make laughter and side-splitting joy more at the forefront. 

But his death, too, changed me.  I want to say things to people before it's too late.  Those friendships that created the core of me, I want to cherish those and keep them current in my life.  There is always time if you want there to be.

At about 3:30 in the morning, I had to get out of bed to write to Mike's mom.  Part of it was my own sorting, part of it to reach out to her in her grief, and part of it because I want to say things to people NOW...not assuming they already know or it goes without saying.

Dear, Cindy - 

I know you heard this about 100 times today, but I wanted to share it again, as it's that important to me. 

Your son was one of the MOST incredible persons I have ever met. So filled with kindness and love for other people. So brilliant - with his wit, his insight. The way he could make any situation more colorful, more memorable just because he was in it.

Now that I have my own children, I see how important it is to know that their lives - whatever length - means something to others. That they leave this world a brighter, better place because they existed.


That is not a question at all with your Mike. No matter what his struggles and personal sadness, he never let it poison the way he treated others. The joy he brought to the rest of the world.


I cannot believe my last conversations with him were about bleaching hair and wearing SPF every day - and yet, in some ways, those are such typical Mikey moments that maybe they are the ones I want captured.


The world will never be the same without Mikey...but I think it's also important that the world will never be the same BECAUSE of Mike. That he came here and spread *that* much joy and love around in his 30+ years. He accomplished more in that category than most people do in much longer lives.
He had that gift that so few persons have - how to really make others feel valued and appreciated.


Thank you for the way you mothered that kindness and love into him...what he brought out into the world...and that you shared him with us all those years. I am a better person for having known your son. He will always be missed, and always be remembered.