A 13 Year-Old’s Holiday Plea

Milly, my 13 year-old daughter, is a very serious girl.  She always has been.  Yes, she is on the autism spectrum, but it doesn’t seem to be much of an issue anymore.  Sure, she has an IEP.  Yep.  She has a social skills class.  Of course, she thinks that it’s all a big ol’ waste of time.  She experiences the world differently.  Why do her peers preen and wear make-up and worry about their hair? Why bother impressing the boys? They are so unimpressive right now anyway according to her.  They are nothing like the totally impressive K-Pop boys of EXO and Super Junior who Eadaoin, Milly’s sister, has been more than happy to introduce us to.

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Super Junior

Milly prefers to watch Good Mythical Morning , read books, build massive LEGO structures, and watch important documentaries that make her feel “uncomfortable”, as she puts it.  She says, “Mom, I know that this is hard to watch, but I feel that it’s important for me know this because I’m a part of the world.  And, I need to know about things even if they’re hard to know.  How else will I ever be able to help?”

Something crystallized for her this morning when she saw the photos on the cover of the New York Times.

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A starving Sudanese girl in 1993 (Kevin Carter/Sygma via Getty Images)

 

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Phan Thi Kim Phuc after an accidental South Vietnamese napalm strike near Trang Bang in 1972 (Nick UL/Associated Press)

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The body of Alan Kurdi in Bodrum, Turkey (Agence France-Presse)

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5 year-old Omran Daqneesh in Aleppo in August (Mahmoud Raslan/Aleppo Media Center)

My daughter saw these images this morning as we sat in our local Caribou waiting for school to start and asked, “What…is…this? What is happening?”

I explained.  Syria.  Civil war.  The refugee crisis.  She started crying as she looked around.  She banged her fist on the table.  She then asked, “May I take this to school? I need to show my teachers.  They aren’t telling us any of this! We aren’t learning about this! Everyone talks about wanting new this and new that.  But this? I bet things would be different if my peers knew about this! I might get in trouble, Mom.  Is it okay if I get in trouble for this?”

“Knock yourself out,” I said.

She came home looking defeated.  “No one seemed to really care, Mom.  Everyone just wants stuff.  People are dying.  People have died.  I can’t live with it.  The school wants us to buy gift cards for all the staff.  What if we donated all that money to the refugees instead? Wouldn’t that do something?! I’m so angry.  I wrote this in class just to get out my feelings, but I have nowhere to put it.  I wish I could post it or something.”

“I’ll post it,” I told her.

This is what she wrote:

SCHOOL: “Shower your staff with gift cards!” NO! Donate to Syrian Refugees. YES!

Kids here want new phones.  They want new outfits and hate school.  Why wouldn’t parents educate their children about this? They’re teaching their kids to be racist and unkind (there has been racist language used in Milly’s school by other students).  There are kids in Syria who are being killed and left for vultures.  I think at least half of the kids at my school don’t know anything about this.  They say that they hate school.  Look at our school.  We have iPads! Kids in Syria would do ANYTHING to go to school, to have nice clothes, to be SAFE.  We need to do what we can to help.  Donate.  Do something.  Or at the very least learn about it to understand what’s going on and how privileged we are.  We need to make a change.  Our school wants us to “shower our staff with gift cards”.  Why do that when we could help people who need it? Children are struck with terror running for their lives and being publicly humiliated.  And our school wants us to donate gift cards to the staff.  Our staff already has homes, clothes, food.  We should be giving our money not to our staff but to help Syrian refugees who need it.

Donald J. Trump doesn’t want to help them.  He says that “they will steal our jobs”.  They don’t want to steal our jobs.  They just want to be safe and to survive.  We should be letting them into our country and we should help.  Our country should create more jobs and that would help the economy grow.  Kids say that immigrants are bad and that they will take our jobs.  They say these things because this is what they were taught.  We need to make a change, to be kind, and help other people who are less fortunate than we are.

The 7th grade Social Studies curriculum is ridiculous because there is no current events taught.  Instead we learn about the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and the presidents which are all important, but we could at least talk about what’s going on a little bit.  That’s why it’s up to us, the students, to make a change.  Before today, I barely knew anything about what’s going on in Syria.  No thanks to our school who didn’t teach us anything about what’s happening there.  Today I looked at the New York Times and was shocked to find out what is happening.  In school we are supposed to learn.  It doesn’t have to be a part of our curriculum.  If more kids learn about what is happening, the more help Syrians could get.  So, do your part.”

Strong opinions from a strong-minded girl, but she’s a girl of action.  She asked me to forgo giving her this month’s allowance and donate it instead.  She also asked me not to spend any money on gifts for her this holiday season.  Instead, she wanted any money I spent on her to go to the Syrian refugees.  She didn’t need anything.

All politics aside, she is right.  If we have more than we need, then we are blessed.  Stop for a moment and think about what you might be able to do.  Donate $10? Do it then.  Millions of human beings have been displaced.  They have lost everything.  They are no different from you and me.  It is our obligation as human beings first, all other views and opinions second, to come alongside them and help.  As Milly said, “Do your part.”

This is how you can:

The White Helmets Hero Fund

The White Helmets captured international attention through their bravery, and were reportedly in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year. The 2,900 strong group of civilians have been carrying out rescue missions after government airstrikes since 2013, united by their motto of ‘to save one life, is to save all of humanity’.

The International Rescue Committee

IRC aid workers are meeting people who have fled Aleppo as they reach the nearby town of Al Dana, one of the many neighboring areas bracing themselves for the influx of displaced people driven from their homes in the city. Donations will go toward providing families who have escaped the city with food, fuel and emergency supplies including mattresses, blankets, soap and towels.

Hand in Hand for Syria

Hand in Hand for Syria was set up soon after the beginning of the war in 2011, and uses its extensive networks on the ground to implement aid in some of the most difficult-to-reach places. Some of the organization’s members living in Eastern Aleppo were forced to abandon their work after pro-government forces took control of the area. Donors can contribute toward the emergency appeal for families fleeing from the city, which will provide food, medical aid and winter supplies.

International Committee of the Red Cross

The ICRC and its local partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), have remained committed “to act as a neutral and impartial humanitarian intermediary” throughout the Syrian Civil War. Donations to the Red Cross and the Red Crescent have enabled food and medical deliveries to those in need, and the two groups issued a plea on Tuesday to those involved in fighting “to put humanity ahead of military objectives.”

Save the Children

Save the Children has been working to provide children and their families with warm clothes, shelters, protection, clean water and emergency care. In a statement on Tuesday, the charity said “Families who are desperate to leave are being shown no dignity or humanity. We must at least now end this carnage and safely evacuate the remaining civilians.” (courtesy of TIME)

Milly’s originally penned Letter to Everyone

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A Meditation

I was pondering the state of the union last night (i.e. thinking about my marriage).  This blog covers a lot of ground.  Keeping the magic alive is easier when you aren’t caregiving.  I’ll be honest.  Caregiving sounds almost pleasant.  Even when I think about caregiving, I picture bringing a piece of pie to my grandmother.  That’s what the word conjures in my imagination.

Say the word ‘caregiver’, and I see myself offering gentle care to quietly needy people.  Or, nurses offering water to patients.  Or even mothers and their young children–the primary caregivers.  These images are not congruent with reality when it comes to giving care to an individual with mental illness.  I don’t know what life is like for someone else.  I can only speak for myself.  Mental illness is a game changer.  A permanent mental health illness diagnosis like schizophrenia is a life changer for everyone.  Schizophrenia diagnosed in a child? Our entire family has been changed by Grace’s diagnosis.  Doireann’s personal essay for college entry was about how her life and Weltanschauung had changed since schizophrenia entered our family.  She, too, has been a caregiver.  Eadaoin has been a caregiver.  Even Milly has been a caregiver.

We have all had to learn to offer care to Grace despite our own abilities in the moment or even desires.  We’ve all had to give things up.  Caregiving becomes 24/7, or, at least one parent has to step into that primary role.  That’s me.  I am the case manager, caregiver, and on-call emergency contact at all times.  I can makes plans, but those plans are subject to cancellation at all times.  There is no family to call for back-up.  My husband is my back-up, and if he’s out-of-town or unavailable…

A few years of this creates bone-deep exhaustion, and my husband and I just want to lie down and vegetate.  We’ve achieved something spectacular if our feet touch.  “Oh look, our toes are touching!”  It takes concentrated effort to make knees touch.  Caregiving is exhausting when you’re the therapist, the case manager, the heavy, the parent, and the end all and be all for a vulnerable person.  It’s even harder when there are others standing in line behind that person who need you, too.

But, this is life.  How do we make our circumstances work for us to propel us forward rather than oppress us? This is a question that I ask often.  Not everyone cares for a mentally ill child or even a child with special needs, but everyone has a battle to fight.  Everyone.  Every single person with whom you cross paths has a personal dragon to slay.  Some have more than one.  Some people’s lives are overrun.  In any case, this is what makes humans alike–suffering.  Your station, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and anything else don’t preclude you from suffering.  In this, we can all come together and agree.

The view I have chosen to take then is one of personal development.  It’s easier to see it in my children than in myself.  My daughters are now keenly aware of the mistreatment of others particularly those who are vulnerable.  Doireann, who learns empathy through experience, is now almost ferocious when others make ignorant remarks about mental illness.  She has made it her goal in life to educate others admitting that she was once a person who knew nothing about mental illness.  Eadaoin has always been sensitive to social exclusion, but she is far bolder now with her friends if they mistreat a peer in school with special needs.  She goes out of her way to befriend and express affection to her special needs peers, educating her friends and acquaintances on how to treat everyone.  Milly is the biggest surprise to me.  Milly has begun to defend her special needs peers at school.  Elementary school is very difficult socially for anyone who is different.  It is not uncommon to see children running away from a child with Down’s Syndrome yelling, “Monster!” Something like this happened in front of Milly, and she scolded her neurotypical classmates explaining that all special needs children were just like they were.  They just had different needs.  It was wrong to mistreat them, and then she played with one of these children during recess.  She explained to me that one of her friends apologized for making fun of a particular child and never did it again.

Compassion.  This is the fruit of suffering.  There is really no other way to learn it.  Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes.  Compassion is the drive to do something about what you feel after you’ve done so.  It is active.  It is never passive.  Suffering and ordeal grow compassion in us.  When we can approach our painful circumstances through the lens of character development rather than a “Why me?” paradigm, then we are far more empowered to move forward rather than stagnate.  The members of our family who are as affected by those circumstances can learn to see themselves as empowered as well.  Suffering can be looked upon differently–a portal to greater understanding, kindness, patience, and personality development.  We can’t really give that to our children.  Life develops that in us, but we can frame it for them so that they can see it more quickly in themselves and others so that ordeal becomes valuable rather than loathed.

If we are looking for opportunities to become better and more mature with a better developed character, then suffering is your gateway into that process of development.  This is what I’ve learned.  Resisting that process leads to more suffering.  Embracing it and going with the flow quickens our development leading us to the most unlikely place.  Gratitude.

At some point, we will actually be grateful for the events that we once tried to escape.

Life is so brilliantly odd that way.

 

 

Breaking Cycles Can Be Fun

Yesterday was a very cool day.  Doireann and I were touring colleges.  Two colleges to be specific.  We live in a college-saturated state.  I don’t know if people think of colleges and universities when they think of our state, but we’ve got ’em.  So, we headed an hour south yesterday to the little town that’s home to two of our state’s very well-known schools.

We were only scheduled for a tour of that school, but it was thorough.  It was two hours, and it was a gorgeous day for walking around.  This college is known for its beautiful campus.  It’s seductive in its natural beauty, and there are fireplaces everywhere.  There was a rooftop garden created by a collaboration with the environmental science department and the art department.  They win in the aesthetics department.

The first tour ended at noon.  The second tour began at 1.  Doireaan was infatuated with the first college.  It was impossible not to be.  Our second college, however, is in the top ten of liberal arts colleges in the country.  They are a highly selective college with a 20% acceptance rate.  The first college has a 60% acceptance rate.  It all became a question of what made the second college so outstanding.  I was dying to know.

There was an informational meeting first.  The Dean of Admissions himself led the meeting.  He was a soft-spoken, avuncular gentleman with a white beard that reminded me of Santa Claus.  He smiled a lot, and, to his credit, he had a way with helicopter parents.  There was a father and daughter pair from Illinois that had come to see the college.  They were in the meeting with us along with a boy from Oregon.  Strangely enough, we were the only people from within the state.  I heard this man talking to his very meek daughter.  He was loud and obnoxious, going on about the benefits of a research university vs. a teaching university.  Once the meeting began, we were all to introduce ourselves–even the parents–and the kids were to state their interests.  His daughter was so quiet, and he bossed her around without hesitation.

 “Tell them your name.”
“Tell them your interests.”

She was only a sophomore.  According to her father, she was interested in genetics.  I kept an eye on her peripherally, and I watched her play with her hands and blush every time her father hijacked the meeting.  The dean, however, handled him with aplomb.

The tour was similar to the other tour, but the second college was vastly different in its culture and attitudes.  At the end of the tour I looked at Doireann and asked, “Well?” She declared, “I’m going here.  I will go here.  I will live here.  I’ll apply to both, but this is where I’m going.”

We had an early dinner in this little town’s downtown area at a place called The Hideaway.  They have little niches in which you can hide yourself while you eat, and Doireann told me that she finally realized that life didn’t end after high school.  She saw that she could survive the rest of her high school experience because a much broader experience was waiting for her.  Also, why have her teachers been lying to her? For the most part, her teachers have made college sound like another level of Dante’s hell.  I’ve been trying to tell her that it’s not, but she had to see it for herself to internalize that.  Now, she can finish strong.  She’s worked hard.  She deserves to do that.

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The Hideaway’s dining niche

We found a darling boutique on our way back to the car.  Totally girly.  Men might break out in hives if they stepped foot in this place.  I bought Doireann a necklace as a reminder of her day, and I serendipitously found a bracelet that I brought home as well.  It had metallic beads strung together that spelled ‘gratitude’.

Doireann played DJ as we drove home.  There was a moment in the car that I know I’ll never forget.  Last year during Doireann’s finals, she became overwhelmed and very frustrated.  I found her lying prone on the floor.  So, I told her that she needed to let off some steam.  Have a 5-minute dance party.  Doireann glared at me.  She does not dance.  I told her that she misunderstood me.  The choice of music mattered.  She needed to choose music that would let her get out her stress.  Her response? “There is no such music, Mom.”  Au contraire, my daughter.  There is one band that will do the trick.  I am a closet fan.  No one really knows this about me except my husband.  I brought my iPod upstairs, plugged it in, and played Rage Against The Machine’s “How I Could Just Kill A Man”.  Not very positive music, but it will get you off the floor in no time.  It worked.  “Ohmigod, who IS this?” She sat wide-eyed and listened.  Then she tapped her foot.  Then she looked at me.  “Do you want me to just leave the room and leave my iPod up here with you?” She nodded.

She was going to dance…or jump around.  What else can you do to Rage Against The Machine if there isn’t a mosh pit around? Throw things?

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Also great for helping with stress due to final exams

Well, on the way home yesterday, she put on Rage Against The Machine.  I laughed so hard.

Eadaoin sings songs from broadway musicals.  Grace loves the Muppets.  Milly likes Demi Lovato and gospel music.  Doireann and I? We have Rage Against The Machine.

I never had this sort of relationship with my mother.  When I went off to college, I did it alone.  When I looked at colleges, I did it alone.  When I graduated, no one acknowledged it.  So, it is a real pleasure for me to break that cycle and create a different life for my daughters and even for myself.

Sometimes it’s hard work, but sometimes it’s just fun.

What am I thankful for today?

  • that I had the forethought as a young parent to know that I had to do it differently…and did.
  • spring weather
  • a working vehicle
  • my iPod
  • a day with my daughter

 

The Power of Gratitude

I joke around a lot on my blog.  I may even kid about whining, but that is only in the blogosphere.  I don’t whine in reality.  I’m probably more like a Scandinavian stoic muscling through it whatever it is.  There is, however, a better way to get through life than relying on stoicism much to my Swedish grandfather’s disappointment.  There is gratitude.

That’s a weird thought to have particularly when one is suffering, but I’ve found that cultivating gratitude during times of suffering is probably one of the best ways to navigate the white waters of uncertainty.  Oftentimes, when we are struggling with pain, we don’t know what’s going to happen next.  Pain comes in so many forms.  Long-term unemployment, for example, can lead to homelessness, bankruptcy, loss of community and friendships, divorce, PTSD, and long-term financial and mental health issues.  How can one be thankful in circumstances like that? That’s a valid question.  Each person lives in a situation unique to them.  The effort to cultivate gratitude will be their own vocation.

“Many scientific studies, including research by renowned psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, have found that people who consciously focus on gratitude experience greater emotional well-being and physical health than those who don’t. In comparison with control groups, those who cultivated a grateful outlook:

  • Felt better about their lives as a whole
  • Experienced greater levels of joy and happiness
  • Felt optimistic about the future
  • Got sick less often
  • Exercised more regularly
  • Had more energy, enthusiasm, determination, and focus
  • Made greater progress toward achieving important personal goals
  • Slept better and awoke feeling refreshed
  • Felt stronger during trying times
  • Enjoyed closer family ties
  • Were more likely to help others and offer emotional support
  • Experienced fewer symptoms of stress” (online source)

Clearly, gratitude has an impact on our physiology.  It’s important.  So, how do we do it particularly if we are facing trying circumstances? I can only speak for myself, but perhaps you will find my approach helpful–or not.

When Sarah Ban Breathnach’s book Simple Abundance hit the bookstores over a decade ago, I read it and thought, “Huh.  I take a lot for granted.”  I wasn’t judging myself.  It was just a fact.  I, therefore, set out to try to pay attention to what I actually had vs. what I wished I had.  Think in terms of something that you really need breaking down…like your toilet.  Go three days without a toilet and, suddenly, you could not care less that you have that awesome flat screen TV you always wanted.  All you really want is your toilet! Just a nice, clean toilet to call your own.  That is now your definition of bliss.  Milly did flush a popsicle stick down our one and only toilet two years ago, and we did lose the use of our toilet for three days.  For our entire family, the definition of heaven on earth became having a toilet.  Granted, we gained a new appreciation for our neighbor who granted us access to his basement toilet at all hours of the night, but there’s nothing quite like having your own toilet.

This is how the seeds of true gratitude are planted–often in loss however small that loss might be.  We go without something we love or need for a time and realize the value of what we had.  Even if it’s just our favorite t-shirt being lost to the washing machine.  Some people have sensory integration disorder and must wear the same shirt daily.  It’s very hard for them to change out of certain items of clothing.  When they must wear something else, they experience tremendous gratitude while waiting for their beloved item of clothing and an almost euphoric rush when donning their favorite garment again.  Perhaps it is going without that much needed and favorite cup of morning coffee due to running late.  All at once, coffee becomes the apple of your eye.  The beloved.  The one thing in life for which you are temporarily most thankful.  It is lost to you for a few hours, and your pounding headache is reminding you just how much you love and miss your favorite morning beverage.  You feel grateful and, of course, desperate.  It might sound silly and “first world”, but you have to start somewhere.

With that reframe in mind–that we can learn to cultivate gratitude in the face of loss–how might we begin to feel thankful now even if we are in trying circumstances?

Well, when Grace was in the worst of her decline, daily life changed.  Every day felt like a weird, scary, new day because I didn’t know what each day would bring.  Would we return to the Behavioral Health ER? Would she try to stab herself? Would she have a good day? Would she be able to leave the house? How would my other daughters be affected? What about my other daughters? There were so many other factors to consider.  I felt fear, but I didn’t have the luxury to indulge it.  I had to get up, face each day with whatever courage I could muster, and be present.  I had to be Mom even if I didn’t want to be.  How does one do that? How does one not start out in a negative head space if everything looks so bad? Gratitude.  I had to start finding things for which I could be thankful, and, after making that a discipline, it became a habit.

Initially, it looked like this:

What am I thankful for today?

  • Running, potable water that will be cold when I want it to be cold and hot when I want it to be hot.
  • Hot showers
  • My Keurig
  • Peet’s coffee for my Keurig
  • Whipped cream
  • Vanilla
  • Sunny days
  • My cats
  • My friends
  • My husband.  He picks up his underwear and his dirty socks.  He also fixes my laptop when it misbehaves.  
  • My bed.  I have a soft bed to sleep in.
  • My house.  I have a home and so do my kids.
  • My health insurance.  I have access to great doctors and so do my kids even though we have to wait our turn sometimes.
  • My Kindle.  I have a veritable library with me at all times.

When you actually take the time to write out a list, even in the middle of walking through something horrible, you can see light again.  No, you are not suddenly Pollyanna.  That’s not the point.  The point is that nothing is black-and-white.  Just because your life is overtaken with something tragic or even catastrophic, life still goes on.  We must still construct and create a life worth living.  We must still find our joy.  Gratitude is often the foundation for that.  Gratitude is actually how I have flourished through Grace’s illness.  It’s how I did well after Milly got her autism diagnosis.  It’s how I kept going after Eadaoin told me she was cutting.  It’s how I will find my way through my current health problem.

What am I thankful for today?

  • Green tea
  • Turmeric
  • Coffee
  • Dr. Terry Wahls and her willingness to blaze a trail for the rest of us
  • The possibility that it might be 70 degrees on Wednesday
  • Health insurance.  Always health insurance
  • My husband’s sense of humor
  • “Parks and Recreation”
  • Netflix
  • My daughters
  • My friends
  • Thong underwear (no panty lines!)
  • Coconut milk
  • Maple syrup
  • Paddywax candles particularly the one scented Chamomile and Fig
  • Open-enrollment
  • The ingenuity of 3M

Sometimes, when the day has been particularly rough, my list looks like this:

What am I thankful for today?

  • that today is over.
  • that tomorrow is a new day and I get to start fresh.

 

Gratitude might seem like a first world luxury to some people, but it’s actually foundational to living a healthy life no matter what your life looks like.  Make your own list! Pass it on.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” –Albert Schweitzer

 

 

 

Almost Perfect

It was recommended that I take a computer break on Spring Break, but I am documenting our holiday with photographs.  What can I say? I’m a writer by nature.  We are currently lazing about in a rather spectacular cabin after gallivanting about town all morning, and I’m listening to Joshua Bell play “O mio babbino caro” which is about to send me into a pleasure coma.

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Our cabin

The view from where I sit at this moment is rather awe-inspiring.  The ice is breaking apart and has formed what looks like a blue and white patchwork quilt, undulating upon the waves.

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The view

These cabins are perched directly upon the rocks…

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Another view

This morning we found an independent café while waiting for an antique store to open.  They were roasting their own beans, cute hipsters snuggled up in the corners, and the dude behind the counter was ever so charming.  Doireann ordered the White Chocolate Mocha.  Charming Dude told us to take a seat; he would bring us our beverages tout de suite.  We wondered what was taking so long.  This is why…

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White Chocolate Mocha…and, yeah, it tasted as good as it looks

Doireann sucked down her coffee in five minutes and said, “We are coming back here tomorrow morning right? This is the best coffee I’ve ever had! Plus, you know, it’s art!” I ordered the Café Miel…

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My Café Miel…it’s food porn

Doireann was right.  It was the best coffee I’ve ever had not to mention a pure pleasure to behold.  Grace drank her hot chocolate before I could photograph it, but it was probably the most beautiful.  We felt kissed by the Divine in some way, blessed by beauty in the midst of the mundane.  That is what our entire day has been like.  We ventured forth into little shops, chatted with shopkeepers, and everyone has extended kindness upon kindness to us.  One woman even let each of my girls pick a piece of beach glass with a word etched upon it as a reminder of who they are.  Grace picked a piece of blue beach glass with the word ‘courage’ written upon it.  She said that she really needs that.

And here we are now, in our very temporary but beautiful home away from home enjoying Divine kisses, blue ice, and food that looks like art.  I couldn’t have planned a better holiday.  If only my husband were here.  Then it would be perfect.

A Day in The Life

It is total insanity around here! We are preparing to take what Bridget Jones would call a mini-break.  My husband is on the East Coast for business so I am flying solo, captain and co-captain as it were.  I have been doing a pretty good job of it, but the crescendo has begun.  He’s been gone for two weeks now, and we’ve another week to go.  I have what feels like a million tasks on my To Do list, and my children have suddenly decided to stop behaving like stoic Swedes and indulge their other half–their father’s side…the fighting Irish.

My lovely accountant dropped by this afternoon in the middle of the mayhem to get our taxes underway.   I took Grace and Milly to Costco and Target to pick up necessities and made bread to take along because we’re a household of Celiacs; I have to check the oil on the Mystery Machine, and I’m terrified of leaving something important behind like Grace’s Lithium or my migraine medication…or an Epi-Pen…or someone’s inhaler.

Every time I sit down to do anything like, say, pee someone stalks after me, and arguing has broken out amongst my daughters like a bad rash.  Are they arguing about anything worthwhile like whether or not homework helps or hinders one’s education or the pros and cons of universal healthcare? Nope.  Doireann decided to confront Grace on the ridiculousness of the possibility of a sasquatch living in St. Croix, WI at which point Grace’s claws came out.  A cat fight ensued, and I had to metaphorically turn the hose on those two.  In the middle of the Cryptid Kerfuffle, Grace hurt her hand on her own tooth (I have no idea how that happened) and, henceforth, needed a Band-Aid.  I have come to the conclusion that a Band-Aid gnome lives in my house because as soon as I buy them, they disappear.  The other Band-Aid gnome that I know for certain lives here goes by the nickname ‘Milly’.  That kid steals Band-Aids particularly if they have characters on them.  As soon as Grace sought out a bandage, she yelled out, “They’re gone! All the Muppet Band-Aids are gone!”

I sighed and quietly muttered, “Well, shit.”  I took a deep breath and hunted down Milly who undoubtedly had all the Band-Aids.  “I just wanted to make sure we had enough Band-Aids for our trip in case someone got hurt!” she explained as she handed me the contents of the entire box.  Planning.  She was planning ahead.  That’s good.  Grace quickly followed up that conversation with an announcement.  “I’m hearing voices.”  I sighed again.  “Are you stressed or anxious about something?”  She nodded.  I heard Milly and Doireann arguing about something in the background.  Eadaoin was suddenly playing Wii Fit.  “The Wii says I’m fat! Can you believe this?” Eadaoin snapped.  Doireann marched out, “Oh great.  That’s all we need.  A teenager obsessed with her weight! Come OOOOON!” (as if she’s not a teen herself).  Eadaoin inhaled a breath and prepared to fire back, but Doireann continued, “Don’t even! You are so NOT fat! Did you make adjustments for height? Our culture is obsessed with youth and appearance, and there isn’t one image you see in a magazine or an ad that hasn’t been photoshopped.  I don’t even want to hear you say the word ‘fat’ in this house.  I’m not having it!”  Eadaoin pointed her finger at Doireann and yelled, “I didn’t say I was fat! The game did! I know I’m not fat! Geez! Stop lecturing me!”  Do all 16 year-olds and 14 year-olds argue like this? It’s like being back at my all-women’s college for Pete’s sake! The Theatre Geek vs.The Prep…I’m just waiting for Doireann to discover Naomi Wolf and begin quoting directly from The Beauty Myth.  God save us all.

Once the Gruesome Twosome worked out their issues, I headed back into the kitchen to finish making the bread.  The atmosphere in the house was decidedly stressful so I was practicing some deep breathing, and that’s when Grace found me in the kitchen.  “That’s right, Mom.  Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.  That helps with anger and stress.  In through your nose…out through your mouth…” I just stared at her, my mouth agape.  Grace was giving me tips for handling stress.  It was ironically funny.  Speaking of irony, she is now in the bathtub trying to relieve her own stress as she broke down not long after she found me in the kitchen.  She appeared with tears streaming down her face, “I miss Dad!!!!” She’s not the only one.

I’m trying to tell myself that I can do this.  I can drive up North and take care of everyone for another week.  Alone.  This is tough.  I think I took my husband for granted.  I won’t be doing that anymore.  I think I believed that I was in this alone.  It’s pretty clear to me now that I wasn’t…now that I am.

I think our mini-break will be good for us.  Lake Superior and a log cabin.  A fireplace, natural beauty, and, hopefully, a bit of peace.  Plus, the time will go by, and he’ll be home all the faster.

Give your special someone a hug today.  Let them know how much you love them.  It’s important.

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