God and Softball

I wrote this piece over a year ago, about our church softball team. I’m not sure why I did, but it was prior to having a blog and I guess needed some creative outlet for how I felt. I gave it to my mother to read, who promptly gave it to my Pastor, who asked if he could put it the book he was writing at the time about the homeless shelter. I agreed and thanks to his book, I actually was published and got to see my name in print, although looking back now, I inwardly cringe at the quality of the writing. However, the sentiment is the important thing and I wanted to share it. Here it is…

Trinity has a softball team. Although a church softball team is not unusual for many churches, for a homeless shelter this may seem a bit ridiculous. Most of the players we have had on our team do not have a job, a home or even a bed to call their own, so why would God think its a good idea for them to run around a softball field, chasing balls and swinging bats?  Maybe because he loves us and wants us to have fun and because he knows that not every person who is lost will find their way into a church. He seeks us out and comes to where we are and so, he uses the things that we love to draw us to him. Never this has been more evident to me, than with our softball team this year.

In previous years, we have had plenty of players. Usually, 15-20 young men show up to our first practices, some with sneakers and athletic skills, many with cigarettes, most with the energy and bravado of youth but none with a bat, ball or a glove. The team is unique in that the players come and go throughout the season, as some find jobs or get their “vouchers” for housing and others come in. Someone who might have been a home run hitter and star left fielder one week, might be gone and could be replaced by a man who has never played the game but who wants to be a part of a team or maybe just wants to get out of the shelter for a bit. Because our team is so fluid, we have not had a winning track record by any means. Trinity has always been known throughout the church league as a “bad news bears” sort of team. The kind of team that cheers not when we have won a game, but for when we have not lost too badly. For this reason, and because we are disadvantaged in many ways, the league commissioner and other teams have been very kind to us. One team allows us to use their field as our “home-field” and games are almost always scheduled there for us, as transportation can be a problem, sometimes requiring multiple trips to and from the shelter or coordinated efforts on the part of the non-residents to bring the players back and forth. We have also been given bats and catchers equipment, and one time, a player from the other team brought over two pairs of cleats. For the man who was wearing work boots at the time, as that was all he had, this was quite a blessing!

This year was a little different. For some reason this spring, there seemed to be far fewer young men at the shelter, a wonderful thing except when it comes to a softball team. Determined to have a team, my husband searched outside of the church to recruit some people from our town to play. He knew of a group of young men who enjoyed playing softball so much that they organized a pickup game every Sunday. However, these games did not always end well as the participants were at times “three sheets to the wind” and disagreements and fights often ended the play abruptly. Several of these guys were excited about the prospect, even though they were warned that this was a “Christian league” which would not tolerate drinking, swearing or smoking on the field and that weekly church attendance was a league rule. We didn’t worry about them following any of the rules except the last one, as at least one of the guys was overheard saying, “church would probably catch on fire if I went in.” We shouldnt have worried though because God provided the answer for us. Of course he did!

One of the guys who was recruited was a huge red-head, named Scotty, who was 6’6,  280 pounds with size 18 feet!  Despite his hulking appearance, he was an encouragement to all and was never hard on anyone when they missed the ball except himself. He was having a rough game one night, early on in our season. He missed a ball he thought he should have been able to catch and was upset with himself. Because of his competitive nature, the next time the ball was hit to left field, he ran and dove over a fence in an attempt to catch it. The fence tripped him up and this big guy, with all that weight, landed on his side and on top of the fence, nearly impaling himself on the spikes.  We all ran over when he did not get right up. We found him struggling to breath and in obvious pain. He was helped off the field and the decision was made to bring him to the hospital to be checked out. My husband ran to get our jeep to bring to the field as it was a long walk to the parking lot. While we waited, I asked if we could pray for him. “yes please, anything” he said, as we gathered around and laid hands on him. We finished as my husband arrived with the jeep and they went to the hospital. We continued on with our game, although we missed Scotty and wondered how he was doing. Later that night we heard that he had been discharged and that nothing was broken. We were relieved to hear this, but a few days later we heard from his point of view what had happened. He said that he was sitting on the stretcher in the ER, in pain and struggling to breathe, with what he was positive were broken ribs, when suddenly he felt the presence of God. Immediately, the pain was gone and he could breathe normally. He knew that God had healed him and from then on, he started carrying a pocket bible with him.

As happy as we were about Scotty, we were concerned about the fact that many of the players were not going to church. This had never been a problem in the past, as most of the players lived at the church. Now, we were saddled with the task of telling these excited guys that they either attend church or they couldn’t play. Although we knew we needed to be respectful of the league rules, this seemed like a lose/lose scenario. We needed them in order to play, and more importantly, they were being exposed to the love and mercy of God, all while having a lot of fun. My friend, our scorekeeper, and I were discussing this quandary when she said, “too bad we couldnt bring church to them, you know, like a bible study.” What a perfect, God-given idea! Excited by this, she contacted one of the church’s elders, a man who also stepped in to play with us when we needed an extra player, and he graciously agreed to help us by leading the bible study. We told the guys that we would now be having bible studies before games, and if they wanted to play, they had to attend. No one balked or complained, in fact this information was greeted with quiet acceptance.

Before our next game, the whole team sat in the shade, lined up against the back of the dugout like good little soldiers. We shared Bibles that I had borrowed from the church and helped each other find the scriptures. We took turns reading, even one man who said “I’ll try, but I’m not that good at it.” All 12 of us, including 2 from the shelter, listened quietly as God, through the message, brought Saul to life, with encouragement that no matter what you have done, you are never too far gone for God. Throughout those 10-15 minutes, everyone was quiet, focused and listened intently, taking all the information in. After the final prayer, everyone jumped up, ready to play our game, but Scotty seemed stunned and was overheard several times that night saying, “I can’t believe this! My mind is blown!” To top off the night, we actually won that game and took celebratory pictures after.

Luke 19:10

For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.

Since that time, we have continued with bible studies before games. The players accept this and no one complains, from the 19-year-old, fresh out of high school to the 55-year-old grandfather. Jesus came to where these people were, and because of that, they have been touched. We were given the freedom to observe the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of the law, and in turn, seeds of hope were spread. Scotty still carries his pocket bible around and has been known to spontaneously start reading aloud, especially from Psalms. He is the first to remind us that we need to pray after practice, even leading the prayer once, after which he said, “I’ve never done that before and I was so nervous!” Oh, and our team? We won more games that year than in all our years as a team combined. Of course we did.

 

Afterword: Originally published in the second of two books written by Pastor Richard Berry about the many miracles happening at Trinity Evangelical Free Church and Homeless Shelter, available on Amazon.

 

                                    

Nurse

 

Rushing down the hospital hallway on Sunday, to get a shivering patient a blanket from the warmer, I suddenly had a sense of gratitude for my job and the ability to perform it so strong and so powerful, that tears sprang to my eyes and I had to blink them away lest someone think something was wrong. It was so unexpected and so intense that by the time I walked back into the patient’s room and put the heated blanket over her shoulders, I think she could feel it, because she said, “this feels so good, I could cry.”

A day (or night) in the life of a nurse is piled high with tasks. Patients must be assessed, medications must be passed, doctor’s orders addressed, treatments performed. Patients must be admitted, educated, discharged, and ambulated. Conversations with physicians, other nurses, nurse’s aides, pharmacists, physical and respiratory therapists, social workers, and family members take up a large part of the day. Everything must be documented (“if you didn’t chart it, you didn’t do it!”), often at the end of a 13 hour day because there was no time to stop caring for patients long enough to prove that it was done. Intake, output, weights, and vital signs need to be obtained, monitored, and addressed on each patient. A nurse must know the proper and safe amount of medication for every affliction, and question when an order seems unsafe, but must never diagnose, only make suggestions. The nurse must stay up to date on the newest technology and operate complicated life saving equipment with ease (never appearing befuddled in front of a patient).  They must remember policies and procedures and signs and symptoms of hundreds of illnesses, or at least know where to find the information and absorb it quickly, and well enough to explain it in layman’s terms so that anyone from a child’s level intelligence to a genius can understand. In addition, the nurse must weigh intuition against objective data. At times, this means imploring the doctor to intervene and possibly order expensive and unnecessary tests, based on a “gut feeling” or say nothing, and realize too late that although the patient’s numbers were good, the instinct that “something isn’t right” should never be ignored.

Meanwhile, the nurse must nod, when well-meaning managers appear with the latest and greatest piece of safety equipment, or a process change and must implement these things with a smile. A nurse must wait to go to the bathroom while assisting patients who need help to go, must eat when it can be squeezed in around the patient’s meals and must only sit in between tasks.  A nurse must always appear calm and in control, even when faced with gruesome injuries, children gasping for air, families grieving, or when aggressive patients attack, verbally and sometimes physically. A nurse should not tell a patient, “I’m busy” no matter what the request, and should try not to appear harried or overwhelmed, even when the tasks are piling up, and that barely treading water feeling has dissolved to the drowning feeling that every nurse knows so well.

Why in the world would anyone do this, you may wonder. Why would someone want to work weekends, nights, and holidays and have so much responsibility and yet very little say? Why would anyone want to put the needs and wants of others above their own? The answer is easy for a nurse and it can hit us when we least expect it. It is a blessing to make someone comfortable, to ease their pain and their anxiety. We are the liaison between birth and life, dying and death. With this heavy mantle of responsibility, comes the pleasure of knowing that we have made a difference in someone’s life, every day. We see people at their best and their worst. We see tragedy and triumph. What the patient sees and feels in us, is the joy and passion that comes through in every thing we do, from saving lives to fetching a warm blanket. It is a blessing to make someone comfortable, to sit with them when they cry, to make them laugh and ease their pain. I may not remember this every shift, but when I do, I am flooded with gratefulness that this is the job I have been given to do and that I have the ability to do it.

Dr. Bean, Dolphins and Dancing With the Stars

My granddaughter’s birthday is tomorrow, she will be five. How this is possible, so quickly, I do not know. I remember when my kids were babies, while I enjoyed them at least half of the time, the other half of the time I thought, A. “How long until nap time?” B. “When is it socially acceptable to put this kid to bed?”  C. “Will I get to sleep in until 5 am tomorrow, or will we play the, it’s-still-dark-go-back-to-sleep game for an hour?”  And D. “When will they ever go to school?!?”  Some wise person once said of the 0-5 years, “the days are long but the years are short.” As a mom of adult children, I swear that this is true.

But I digress, this isn’t about me and my love of “free time,” of which there is none, with little ones in the house. Rather, it is about our girl, Bean, She was named for her string bean-like appearance on her mother’s first ultrasound picture. She quickly became “baby Bean,” and has carried the moniker quite successfully ever since, except for that short-lived assertion of independence when she demanded that we all refer to her as “Chloe Madison,” instead of her God-given, or at least Mama and Noni given handle, Bean. She has had a successful career as Dr. Bean, and has treated stuffed animals, her babies, and most enjoyably, Noni and Papa. This has become, by far, our favorite game. This is how it goes. Someone (Papa or me), lies prostrate on the couch, a position that is rare in and of itself with a pre-schooler in the house, and even less frequently encouraged by said pre-schooler. At this point, Dr. Bean comes to my bedside to assess me, removes my real stethoscope from around her neck, and laying it on my stomach, demands that I  breathe. She then moves to the appropriate field for auscultation, and pronounces my lungs “good.” She looks in my ears, and in my mouth and declares that she will write a “scription to take to the medication store.” Now, this part is crucial if we are feeling extra lazy that day. She will either march back to her desk, bang on an old keyboard, answer a defunct cellphone with a curt, but believable, ” yes! This IS Dr. Bean, ” scribble on a post-it note and then demand that the infirmed fetch it and be on their way. OR, she might do a more thorough assessment if vague symptoms present themselves. “my pinky toe hurts,” I might complain, or “my elbow is itchy.” This will buy the indolent grandparent a few more minutes with her feet up, but eventually, as all medical professionals do when faced with an obvious milker of the system, she will sigh, and in her most professional voice, assert that I am fine. “Now, go home and let the next patient lie down.”

We have called her Dr. Bean since the age of two, when she received her first kit, thus she has already spent half her life caring for others and it seems that the good doctor is starting to show signs of caregiver fatigue. She has wondered on occasion, if this a profession that she will stick with for her whole life and upon meeting an emergency room physician while visiting  her mother at work, and after having exchanged professional pleasantries, Dr. Bean announced that perhaps she might choose another career path. “It’s either that, or I might become a dolphin, I’m not sure which one will work out,” she said seriously.  He was kind enough to nod solemnly, as if he too, while in the throes of med school had nearly tossed it all out and dove in the ocean, never to be seen or heard from again. The last time she saw him, while visiting her mother at work again, he nodded respectfully,  one healthcare professional to another, and said, “Hello, Dr. Bean.” “I don’t think I’m going to be a doctor anymore, it’s not working out,” she announced.  “Ahhh, dolphin then?” Bean nodded, but her mother and I know the truth; Bean clings to us like a baby monkey to his mother even in a shallow pool. Swimming unaided in an ocean for a lifetime,  is an unlikely scenario, at least for her.

You have to hand it to the girl though, she has dreams. Dolphin fantasy aside, she is now entertaining thoughts of a career in the dancing industry. Her plan is to be on Dancing With the Stars, as one of the professionals of course, not one of the stars. To that end, she has just entered her third year of dance. This career choice, although not likely either,  is still looking much more promising than the dolphin avenue.

She will do something interesting though, mark my words. She is plucky, spunky and as colorful as the season she was born in. She can be a challenge but she is always a pleasure. A lover of people, conversation, and babies, she never sits still and she rarely stops talking. She is the type of child who hugs you when you surprise her with a piece of gum. She is as sweet as she is sassy, She knows what is right and tells those who don’t know, how to do things. She is smart, and a natural leader. Future dolphin? maybe not, but this girl is destined to be great, and I’m not just saying that because I’m her Noni! Happy Birthday,  Bean

Horses are Love

My daughter lost her horse yesterday. From the time that she got the first frantic call that he was sick, until he was gone, only a little more than 24 hours had passed. It was sudden and unexpected, he was in the prime of his life. Everything possible was done to save him and ease his pain, and if love alone could have done it, he would be fine now. In the end, it wasn’t meant to be. A tragedy with no faults, no one to blame.

Her love of horses started early, actually, she was born with it, although we didn’t become aware of it until she could talk. From then on, that’s all we ever heard about. We indulged her when we could, pointing them out as we flew past fields in the car, her little neck strained to raise her head above the car seat to catch a glimpse of beauty. We bought her horse books and movies and read and watched them together endlessly. Her father let her climb on his back every night and transformed into a “bucking bronco.” She would clutch his shirt and hold on until they would both fall laughing into her bed and I scolded him for getting her “all riled up before bed.” She would line up the kitchen chairs and loop ropes over them for reigns. My door frames nearly always had a broom or a stick lodged in them for her to jump over, and outside, she pretended to trot and canter around in endless circles. A work friend, and fellow horse lover, gave her an old saddle when she was about four, and from that time on, my couch cushion was always on the floor, and that old saddle on the arm rest.

She begged to ride, and although I called everwhere, it was hard to find a stable that would allow a preschooler to take lessons. Eventually, at the age of four, she was given the opportunity and has never stopped, all through her school years and into adulthood. Through many broken bones, surgeries and several concussions, at least one of which gave her amnesia for two days and a poor memory for months, she never stopped. My Mother-in-law admonished me after her second serious fall. She wanted me to stop her from riding because of the obvious danger. I told her that this was her passion and her joy, and as a mother, I could never take those things away from her. I could only pray for safety, which I did, every time she rode. Eventually, we went to a different facility, with safer horses and the injuries ceased, but the life lessons didn’t.

Now at 26, the obsession never having waned, she has seen many horses come and go. All have had a lesson to teach, some more painful than others. Some have taught patience, some courage, one, how to pick yourself up after a fall. Others have shown love and forgiveness. All have taught dedication, physical and mental toughness and how to work hard. She has loved them all, but none more than Sam.

Sam was a dark bay thoroughbred with a small star on his head, who had done a little racing in his first few years, with limited success. He really wasn’t the competitive type, maybe because he had a different reason for existing. My daughter acquired him at the age of 18, after a friend spotted him for sale at a barn she was riding at. He was only a few weeks off the track but was not high-strung or anxious. He was not a show-off and didn’t prance around nervously.  She was immediately drawn to his kindness and gentleness. Scraping up the money to buy him, although in college at the time, was a risk, but he was worth it.

He was a patient life coach and confidant. He saw her through hard times and never judged. He sensed when she was pregnant before she even knew for sure herself.  He sniffed her belly one day and was extra gentleman-like instead of being frisky from not having been ridden recently. He was patient and sweet with Chloe, her daughter and allowed little hands to poke at him and would bend his head down so that she could brush his face. IMG_1028

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

This passage in the Bible is one of my favorites. It came to mind when I thought of Sam, and of horses everywhere. If you substituted the word love for the name of a horse, in this case Sam, it would make perfect sense, at least to horse lovers. Horses are patient and kind, they do not envy or boast or are prideful. They do not dishonor, they are not-self seeking or easily angered. They keep no record of wrongs and do not delight in evil. Most of all, horses always protect, always trust, always hope and always persevere. They do these things for us, frail and weak humans that we are. They allow us to boss them around, although ten times our size. They let us borrow their freedom and allow us to soar through the air with them. They let us cry on their necks and are patient with us when we are learning. Horses are love. Is it any wonder that we love them back? Even people like me, not exactly “horse people,” can appreciate the beauty, majesty and humbleness that is a horse.

One of the last times that my daughter went to the barn, she brought her four-year old daughter with her to ride. Sam patiently endured her little boots digging into his back and no doubt too tight hold on the reigns. He was completely trustworthy and would never have allowed her to fall off his back, if he could help it. What he wouldn’t do though, was go where Chloe tried to steer him. Instead he followed my daughter, everywhere she walked in the arena, much to Chloe’s dismay. “Mama!! I want to steer him!! Make him stop following you!!!” He wouldn’t though. He loved her as much as she loved him, and although he would follow her anywhere, this time he went first, to Heaven. Because as any horse lover knows, Heaven would not be Heaven without horses there. Someday she will follow him, I’m sure he will be waiting at the gate for her. IMG_1029Addendum: After reading this, my daughter, ever the proud mother, would like to clarify that Sam was actually a decent racehorse, and actually did make some money. My apologies to Sam and his mother!

Purpose

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

My husband and I went to church two nights ago, and I must admit I really didn’t feel like going. It was a Saturday night, and although we are fortunate enough to have a Saturday night service, in addition to a Sunday morning service at our church, I was tired from a busy day at work. As a nurse, I have worked every other weekend for decades, so Saturday is just another work day for me, and since I had already walked over five miles in an eight-hour shift (Thank you for counting my steps Fitbit!), I really just wanted to sit on the couch and eat Cheezits. Anyway, he wanted to go, so we went, mainly because weariness trumps guilt, in my book, as the lesser of two evils. Like a trip to the gym, I never leave church feeling like it was a waste of time or that I wished I hadn’t bothered. This time was no exception as the message was just what I needed to get back on the blogging wagon.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
– Charles Dickens

For those of you who have read my blog from the beginning, you may have noticed that I have been a bit lackadaisical this summer. Gone are the twice weekly, or at least weekly published Spunkynoni rants, anecdotes or commentaries to be replaced with mental notes, half-finished drafts and slips of paper with cryptic words on them, meant to be future blogging ideas. Phrases such as, “youngest”, “Bean and the red balloon” or “sweater, sweatshirt, dress, skirt”, hastily jotted down on a scrap of paper and shoved into my nurse’s scrub pants or saved on my phone. Most weeks, this is about as far as I’ve gotten. Writer’s block? I really don’t know about that. I don’t yet consider myself a writer, although that is my dream. I consider blogging, or at least mine, to be an online diary, or a sort of diarrhea of my mind, which for whatever reason, some people read.

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:38 NIV

The newlywed period of writing a blog had worn off and the river of entries had slowed to a trickle by the end of summer. Never an overachiever, more a “just-getting-by” sort of person, I lacked the mental toughness and discipline to sit down and type, inspired or not. I felt guilty about it at times, but easily shrugged it off with the thought that there really was no reason to feel badly about it, after all, it’s just an outlet for me and a way to express myself, not a profession or a gift to anyone else.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. ” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sitting in church last Saturday night, tired, craving a salty snack and a little annoyed at my husband for a real or imagined offense that I can’t even remember now, I listened to the Pastor’s message with growing excitement and enthusiasm. It is a testament to the talent of my Pastor, and to clergy everywhere, or maybe it is simply God’s doing, that the sermon, at times feels like it was written just for me. This night he spoke of doing for others, each as we can, with what ever we have to give. He stressed the importance of not waiting until a huge act of generosity could be delivered, such as large sums of money being donated after a lottery win, and that giving to others sometimes does not even mean money at all. Quite often, it is the gift of time that is more precious than gold. He went on to say that we all have God-given talents and gifts. Some have money, some have musical abilities, some are good listeners, some can do no more than pray for others. Each gift is meant to be given away, not hoarded. He said he wished he could line up the congregation and tell each person what their gift was, that was meant to be shared, but that was not something he had the ability to do. I don’t think he had to though. I think each person there may have had a thought as to what they could give away. A few may have thought of money, after all my church is also a homeless shelter, and money is always in short, or nonexistent supply. But, some may have thought about a lonely person they could visit, or a struggling family they could buy a few items, or someone to add to theit prayer list.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” – 1 Peter 4:10 NIV

Me? I thought about writing. I don’t know if the words I type have any effect on anyone, except maybe my mother. But I believe that if God put this desire in my heart to write, there must be a purpose to it, and maybe someone, aside from Mom (LOL!!) might benefit from it. If that is the case, than the least I can do, is to put some effort into it. That means, weekly (gulp!!) entries. As my saintly (and overly referenced) mother always said to my sisters and me when we balked at housework or homework when we were little, “you don’t have to want to, you just have to do it.” I do want to. As is the case with a trip to the gym or sometimes church, writing for me is one of the things, that after I’ve done some mental foot stomps and whining, I always love. I come away from all three, feeling happy, satisfied and even a bit proud of myself. strengthening body, spirit and mind is not always an easy task but all are necessary for growth, and for me, happiness. The best of all though, is to find your gift within, whatever that is, and give it away because when your hands are empty from giving, you will have the ability to reach out and grab the Joy that God is handing you.

“Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again, and you will be filled with joy.”
– Buddha

P.S. By weekly posts, I mean that in the broadest sense, so please don’t hold me accountable. Actually, scratch that, if you have read all the way down to this point, you deserve the right to harass me a little! Thank you and God bless, dear reader!

Things Were Different Then

“She’s four going on forty.” I heard this phrase many times growing up, well beyond the age of four. My three older sisters and my mother, believed me to be confident, a bit bossy, and capable, so much so that my mother once left a four-year old me, alone with a two-year old for 20 minutes while she brought my father to work one day. This was 1976 and although my mother “minded” a few children in our home, she did not work outside of the house at that time. We had one car, as many families did, and she probably needed it for an appointment of some sort that day. Car seats were not a requirement and my mother describes us as “rolling around in the backseat” on the few occasions that we, as toddlers went on outings. For these reasons, my mom had no qualms about turning the household reins over to me. I actually remember the thrill of feeling that my bossiness (read: leadership skills), would finally be an asset rather than something to be laughed at by my older siblings. All was well, and my mother returned before any catastrophe occurred. Years later, my mother, when questioned by an incredulous adult-me, as I recounted the events for my husband, swatted away my disbelief,  “Ohh, I knew you would be fine. You were always very capable, besides, things were different then.”

Today, feeling a wave of nostalgia, perhaps because my sister is visiting from New Jersey, I asked her if she minded that I intended to use this information in my blog and would  she be concerned that she would be cast as unfit mother. “No, what will they do to me? They can’t take my children away now!”  My sister and I laughed, but she continued. “What?!?” She repeated what she said, years earlier, “things were different then.” This prompted a lively discussion regarding the rather questionable mothering practices of  the 1960’s and 70’s. Specifically, the medicating of children, with, what are now considered narcotics. Apparently, my oldest sister, had Paregoric applied to her swollen baby gums, a common practice in 1962. A quick google search reveals that Paregoric was actually tincture of opium, available over the counter until 1970, which allowed for multitudes of hapless, helpless babies to kick-start their lives with an occasional morphine ingestion, as advised by at least one family doctor, namely ours.  “Well,” My mother sniffed, perhaps miffed by our laughter and cries of injustice, or maybe to justify the fact that she gave us morphine, “my friend [name withheld, lol!] often gave her children Cheracol, to put them to sleep.” Perplexed by the sound of this old medication, which sounded like a toss-up  between a bubblegum flavor or a cherry flavored daily vitamin for seniors, my sister quickly googled it to find, far from a proper sleep aide for children, Cheracol contained codeine and surprisingly, was also available without a prescription in the 1960’s. My sister and I, apparently looking shocked, couldn’t help but laugh when my mother justified it with a shrug and a shamefully plausible explanation, if you are a parent that is. “What? She had five children, all very close in age, what else could she do?”  It is interesting to note, that none of the five “children”, now in their 50’s, are known drug addicts.

It also is interesting to remember, that along with my pre-school drug use, I also careened down hills and over self-made bike jumps, with no helmet. I spent hours outside, without adult supervision, tramping through the woods, crossing streams, and swimming alone, or with other young children. I could have fallen in an abandoned well (I very nearly did, a few times), gotten lost or drowned.  Thirsty? We drank from the hose, not a plastic bottle of spring water. In addition to that, my mother, claims she brought me home from the hospital in a card board box, provided by the hospital, although this seems a bit far-fetched, even for 1972. Not only that, but many times in my childhood, I had Mercurochrome applied to open wounds. For those who did not have the pleasure, Mercurochrome was a topical tincture, which had a very distinctive smell and unfortunately contained  mercury, a substance now handled by someone wearing a hazmat suit. Actually, mercury was always a good time according to my brother-in-law, who upon overhearing our conversation, recounted this now horrifying piece of information, “I remember coming home from the dentist with a ball of mercury in a paper cup, they gave it to you after you had a cavity filled. It was fun!” Now they just hand you a toothbrush. I too, remember having a good time with a ball of mercury, after dropping our glass thermometer on the floor. Come to think of it, that wasn’t the only dangerous thing about our old thermometers, maybe the worst thing was that it was an acceptable practice to insert a piece of glass, containing a hazardous chemical into a squirming, feverish, baby’s bottom. How in the world did we ever survive?

More frightening childhood memories surface: cruising around North Pond in a tiny motor boat with no life jackets, just those square, floating seats, my best friend at the helm, navigating around boulders as we approached an island in the pond, and I sat at the bow, calling out vague instructions as to how to miss these potential life changers. “There’s a big one! it’s on your left, like a foot away, no, actually it’s a few inches, watch out!” Island life, had its own dangers; campfires with no adult present, along with old-fashioned sparklers that burned your hand, or your foot if you dropped it, to spell out SOS, seeing as how we were “stranded on a deserted island.” Home the next day, for a quick tuna fish sandwich while watching the “Days of our lives”, we were back in the boat for the day. We were 11. Really, this was child’s play compared to my husband at 11, who, along with a pack of  ruffians, wandered the streets of Lewiston, seeking fights, cigarettes and alcohol. My husband, after I read this statement to assure accuracy, exclaimed “Hey! We were 12!”  Excuse me, I stand corrected.

Today’s moms, for the most part, are a little more concerned than the moms of my youth. My friend Dana, whom I lovingly refer to as “helicopter mom”, due to excessive worry and hovering over her children, has even extended her rotors to cover me, possibly because one of her two children is in college and now has the distance to shuck off words of wisdom like a coat, if he chooses. She routinely reminds me to renew my epi-pen prescription, sends me links to help me organize so I won’t miss important work obligations, and just the other day,  she shared a public service announcement with me, via Facebook regarding the dangers of looking directly at the sun during the recent solar eclipse without proper eye protection. I love this about her, and I am honored that she has taken me under her wing. However, it could not be more different from the laissez-faire mothers of my youth. Yet, here I am, typing away. I survived infant narcotic use, a cardboard car seat, potential drownings, burns, and deadly bacteria from drinking from the hose, blows to a helmet-less head, and bare hands handling of hazardous substances. I’m not saying that any of these things were a good thing,  just that my mother is right, “things were different then.”

Birthday Twins

IMG_0089.pngSo today, my girl turns 26, her father, 52. Not only were these two born on the same day, they were also born in the same hour, 1 am. How well I remember how furious I was, when at 1100 pm, the night before his birthday, with me in the throes of active labor, my husband, flush with excitement, sealed his fate by grabbing my hand and exclaiming, “you can hold on, you can do it, just one more hour.” Pulling my hand free, and waving him away,  with an angry expression was all I could manage at the time, but I have since mentioned several times, how annoyed I was and if I think about too much, still am. But, “hold on” I did, and although I really didn’t have much say in the matter, I’m happy that it worked out that way. And how fitting, as these two are very much alike in temperament, which has led to many arguments, tears, stomping of feet and slamming of doors, especially in her preteen years. It has also necessitated a still standing family rule that these two never sit side by side in any place that one cannot just simply move away, such as church, airplanes or movie theaters. In these cases, her brother or I sit between them to avoid potential squabbles.

Also fitting, that she was born on the same day that hurricane Bob whipped through central Maine. I wasn’t aware of what was going on in the outside world, my main concern was that when the power went out in the hospital, I was stuck with the head of my bed up in the air, trying to learn how to nurse (which although natural, does not come naturally and is not nearly as easy as it looks, at least at first), in almost complete darkness  and stationed with three other moms in a birthing suite. I think they did away with this room the year after she was born, in fact looking back, it’s incredible that they would house us all together even in 1991. Anyway, the other two moms were fine, both about twice my age, as I was a teen mom at 19, but the other new mom beside me, let it be known in no uncertain terms that she had no intention of feeding her baby, because that’s what the nurses were there for, while she groused about the food and was truly angry that she was not allowed to smoke in her room. Needless to say, I was quite ready to take my baby home and begin a lifetime of motherhood, my favorite job and the one I am most proud of.

My husband, for his part, gallantly gave up his birthday, for most of her childhood. His, was pretty much forgotten with the exception of our daughter’s one request for “peas for dad” tacked on to whatever  she had chosen for her birthday meal that year, usually tacos.  He doesn’t especially like peas, and so, this was another consession he made, not only eating them heartily, but thanking her profusely for remembering how much he “loves them.” Oh, the things we do for our children!! Anyway, If you are a very observant reader, you may have noticed that my husband, would have been 26 at the time of her birth, so that is cool. I’m not really into numbers or their meanings, but it does seem sort of significant that she will be the same age today as he was when she was born. However, I did not wake up at 0100 hours to celebrate. Actually, we have already celebrated with our traditional “guns and cake” party.  “What the…??” you probably are thinking. Simply put, we all go out as a family to a nearby sandpit, put up targets and watermelons, and shoot them with several different sorts of guns, then we go home and sing happy birthday and eat cake. Strange tradition? Not if you live in Maine. And for my international friends, this probably sounds like a bizarre way to celebrate a day of birth, and it also may lend some credence to the American Wild West stereotype. It is true, it is a tad bit weird but its a lot of fun, don’t knock it until you try it! We will get together at some point today, there is talk of going out, the birthday twins may go get a few drinks, while I tag along to drive and prepare to referee any potential quarrels that break out. But, that won’t happen today. These two, although at times, hot heads, also love each other dearly. They are both loyal, generous, and hard-working. I’m so grateful for them  and for the excitement and yes, sometimes even destruction,  that swirls around them, not unlike the hurricane winds that ushered our girl in and made us a family. Happy birthday loves. XOXO

IMG_0092.jpg

Mollie and Me

My niece Mollie was home recently for a visit. She and her boyfriend Blake, traveled from NYC to spend a few days in Vacationland, a final farewell before departing for a grand tour of their own design, a year-long, around the world adventure, chasing poker tournaments (Blake is a professional poker player), and bucket lists, all before the age of 35. My niece is a special person, sweet and humble with an old soul and a gypsy spirit. More like a daughter than a niece, we have been close since the day she was born, and although we only see each other once or twice a year, she is never far from my thoughts.

One of the many benefits of being the youngest in a large family is early Aunt-hood. Mollie was born when I was 13, I loved her immediately and took her everywhere. She went to high school games and parties (sorry about that, what did I know, I was only 16?!), we shopped and colored and watched movies together. When I was 17, I met my future husband, AKA Tiny. She accepted him and allowed him to join in on our adventures. Later, she acclimated to all of the apartments we rented through out the early years of marriage, sometimes sleeping on the couch, sometimes sharing a bedroom with our daughter. She came nearly every weekend and for most of the summer. Our household didn’t feel complete unless she was in it.

There aren’t many photos of the two of us together during that time, but I love the ones I do have, especially this one, taken when I was 16, and she was three. In it, we are at my mother’s house on her steps. The paneled walls and orangish carpet scream 1976 which means that it was already outdated for 1988.  I don’t remember why I was sitting there, or why she snuck up behind me while someone snapped a photo, but I love how comfortable we look together. It just captures our relationship so well.

When she came up this time, I had an idea that I wanted to take a picture of us, in the same pose, looking as close as we could to our younger selves, 29 years later. I’ve seen recreated pictures on Facebook, family photos from the early 80’s, with children in various poses, sticky smiles on their faces next to the adult versions, 20 or 30 years later. Grownups with sailboats on their shirts, ice cream grins and arms akimbo. I love looking at the differences, and adults in kid poses are usually pretty ridiculous. So, I was happy that she didn’t mind humoring me in this potentially humiliating endeavor.  I thought it would be easy, I had a brownish sweater somewhere, I still wore bracelets and I knew I could fix my hair to somewhat resemble how it looked that year. Fortunately for me, I was in a “granola” phase at the time. I listened to the Doors and The Who and eschewed the Aqua Net hairspray that the year before I could have bought stock in. However, this must have been only a year-long fad, because the next year, my senior picture shows  me clearly having a love affair with aqua net once again. I will not be recreating that picture, although my husband is in it, if only because I never want to see him sporting a pimp-like moustache like this that ever, ever again! IMG_9461

Anyway, we managed to get the picture taken although the whole production quickly turned into a movie-set like affair, starring Mollie and me as mere doll-like props, Blake as the cameraman, Nana as the producer and Tiny as the director. The cameraman gamely snapped 1000 photos using my phone while Nana, doubling as an assistant blasted a phone flashlight in our faces after someone noticed that we were back-lit by the window at the top of the stairs,  which necessitated a blanket be hastily thrown over it, thus plunging us all into darkness. The director and the producer, squinting at the original, grainy photo and back to the live set, offered helpful instructions and comments that were tossed about like confetti; “move her arm, it looks like a T-Rex”, ” Mollie you are smiling too much”, “bring your hands down more” and “Sue, put your chin down,” Obviously this instruction went unheeded as it was lost among the other commands. Unfortunately, in their quest to get the details right, the pros did not notice that Mollie, in an effort to seem even smaller than her 115 pound adult body, was hunching down in all but like, one photo. After about 10 minutes of  quivering smiles on our end, and several readjustments on Nana’s part, the cameraman handed over the phone to us, “I got tons of them” he said, as he wandered off.  He probably did not expect to hear squeals of disapproval as we flipped through hundreds of hunchy photos. The crew dispersed and Mollie and I were left to sift through 999 terrible ones until we found one that we both thought acceptable. Not perfect, but certainly good enough. Mollie claimed that her head was disproportionately large compared to mine, but I reminded her that just the other day, Tiny had requested that I cut my hair short because “it makes your face look bigger”, proof that I was the one with abnormal head size. This prompted a ridiculous but not atypical veer off topic and a name for our future fictional company; Small Face/Big Head productions.

Digression, and its cousin procrastination, is a family trait, one many in my family  come by honestly and may account, at least in part, for the lateness of this post. It has been a week and a half since they left and finally today, I have made myself sit down and write. Mollie, for her part, got right to work and with some hired help, magically plopped us down on those 1988 steps, darkened my hair, lightened the color of my sweater and may or may not have widened my face. There have certainly been some changes in 29 years, some that are evident and some that are not. But, our relationship remains the same. We do not see each other every day, sometimes one of us texts and the other doesn’t answer for days, even weeks. But, when we are together, nothing has changed. We pick right up where we left off, an easy companionship forged over years of laughter and carved from a thousand conversations. I am so grateful for the time we have spent together and the relationship we have. 29 years from now, we will have to do another one, I will be 74 and she will be 61, no doubt still small faced and big-headed, but together, and happy, nonetheless.

 

Guilt Trip

Have you ever been on a guilt trip? I have, and let me tell you that it is no vacation.  The cost? Too dear. Enjoyment? Not unless you are the sort who enjoys mental anguish. Guilt is a powerful tool when used correctly, and growing up, my mother was the travel guide to many a guilt trip.

When we were little, my mother, a sweet and mild woman, consistently used one weapon on my three sisters and me. But, what a powerful one it was. With two words, and one gesture, she could silence a whiny 4 year-old, or turn a sullen, foot-stomping pre-teen into a simpering fool. She could actually turn a surly teen from defiant to pleading in seconds. The reasons were varied but the effect was the same. Feigning casual indifference, tinged with sadness, she would say “suit yourself” and offer a slight shrug of her shoulders, physical proof that the burden was now on the offender’s shoulders and not on hers. Returning to her ironing, or cooking, the insurgent would realize that she had a choice, either pack her bags for a guilt trip and try to enjoy the ride, or choose the serenity and smugness of martyrdom.  I’m pretty sure that we usually chose the latter, I know that I did. The few times I decided to suit myself,  I realized in a hurry that guilt does not suit me at all.

If pleasing oneself is not all it’s cracked up to be, there is a reason. A happy life is not possible to achieve by always suiting yourself. As a mother and wife, I am thankful that I learned this lesson early. As a child, my mother’s happiness and approval was so important to me, that I was willing to give up what I wanted (sometimes), so that she was not unhappy. This was an important lesson to learn and has served me well. But, I don’t always choose the high road. I read this to my mother and she was not sure if she was happy about it. Ever a model of decorum, She simply said, “does it cast me in an unfavorable light?” “No, of course not!!” I scoffed, “Well,” she sniffed, “you know best” which is the grown up version of “suit yourself.” You know what? Thanks to her, I do, so I did.

Young Mom

 

Dear Young Mom,

I know that you are worried. I know that you are afraid. Being a mom is the biggest, most important job you will ever have, and so, it is right and it is good that you feel the weight of that responsibility on your shoulders. But, as someone who was a teen mom, I want you to know that everything will be alright, more than alright, actually. Someday you will look back, and be happy that things worked out the way that they did.

Maybe, you didn’t plan for this, or maybe you did. Maybe you are a young wife or still in highschool. Either way, you have felt the sting of judgement from your family and strangers alike. Maybe, people in your life looked down on you for your decision to keep your baby or are shocked when they learn that you planned this. It doesn’t matter.

But, it will be hard. When you are pregnant, you will feel large and ungainly around your tiny friends. They will be staying out late and you will be getting up at all hours with a newborn. They will be coming home from a night out, as you are getting up for the day with a toddler. It will be lonely and boring at times. You will tire of playing pretend, and Barbies, and cars, and you will wish for some adult company, but most of your friends are not moms yet, so your conversations will be strained and the choices limited. When you do have time to chat with your old friends, it will be hard to relate because their no-kid lives are as foreign to you, as your life is to them.  You might feel out-of-place and as if you are missing out.

Around other moms though, at school events, and practices, and games, you might feel awkward at times. You will look at the other mothers who seem so “momish” and assured. They have mom-bobs, clogs, and large SUVs with decals of stick figure families in the back window. They have giant, expensive purses and large coffees. They flock to the other “momish” moms. You will stand alone, afraid to approach the tight circle, worried that they might not accept you because your circumstances are different from theirs. You will feel out-of-place and like less of a mother at times.

Sometimes, you will feel jealous. On some days, you will wish that you were free and unencumbered, thin, and well rested like your old friends or at least financially secure with a gaggle of friends your age to commiserate with, like the SUV moms. Sometimes, You will wish that you did not have a toddler on your hip and a preschooler tugging on your stretched out t-shirt and wiping his nose on your yoga pants.Your hair will usually be in a messy bun and makeup? Ridiculous! You will long to get dressed up sometimes and have fun, then, sleep in. It’s ok though. This is normal, and someday you will do these things.

In the meantime, remember that you have this little person looking to you, adoring you and watching your every move. You have so many advantages as a young mom. You have energy and passion on your side. Play with them, be like the kid that you still are. This is what a child wants. They need structure and rules, yes. These things are so important for a child to feel secure, and to teach respect, and how to be a good person. But, they long to be with you. You can be a friend, and a parent too. Jump on the trampoline, chase them, play hide and seek, throw rocks in a puddle, play hopscotch and jump rope. Do everything with them now, and they will want to do things with you later, when they have grown. That’s what I did, and I don’t regret for a minute the parties and bars I didn’t go to. I felt like I grew up with my kids and now we are on the same level, like friends.

I recently saw a quote that said, “I wish I had met you sooner, so that I could love you longer.” Although this was probably not meant to apply to children, that’s what I thought of, and as a young mom, I am grateful to have been given the gift of extra time with my children, my children’s children, and God willing, my children’s, children’s children.

Young mom, don’t worry, everything will be fine. You are not alone, there are plenty of us out there, who for whatever reason, found ourselves there too and know how you feel. Your child will be fine, and someday, maybe you will be a young grandmother like me and you will realize that everything turned out as it should. Rocking chair and baking cookies? Sure, after I show my granddaughter how to do a cart-wheel, and race her inside. I have learned that God’s timing is perfect, hold on and someday you will know this too.

Love, (a young) Noni