The Crash

I was out of state at a writer’s retreat. My husband was texting me the lyrics to Dave Matthews’ Crash Into Me, followed by a bouquet of flower emojis. I never responded because I had a migraine, and instead sought the solace of a dark room for 11 hours. The headache clung on, as they so often do, refusing to go away completely until 5 days after.

My writer friends and I left the warmth of the lakeside cabin, and started the long white journey home. The day before, Saturday, we had passed several cars in ditches, and turned around on the side of the road. I, myself, had narrowly missed hitting a deer that ran out in front of me, followed closely by its baby, another baby, and another female deer. Single Moms Unite, I had thought, glad I had been able to stop in time.

I was grateful that the roads were clearer Sunday morning. Not of snow, but of stranded people. Glad that my people were home safe and warm.

Opening my phone, I saw that I had so many missed texts. Call me. I need to hear your voice, babe. Baby. Sweet words from my husband, that seemed so out of place, given that I had been gone less than 30 hours.  I texted back, he didn’t respond.

Sitting in my friend’s driveway, I called him. Do you want to come get me and go out to lunch, I inquired. No, he said, you better come home. Something in his voice made my stomach lilt. What’s wrong, I asked. There’s been an accident, he answered, just a fender bender, but we need you at home. A few blurry questions later, and I was being dropped off. Trying to act casual, not being able to feel my knees. My husband revealed that my Suburban was totaled, two of my daughters had been in it. But were safe.

I said goodbye to my friend, at least, I think I did.

My girls were clamoring at the open door, dresses swaying. I’ve maybe never been so happy to see them, my own little four seasons. Walking up to the door, he kept saying, no one was injured, as if on repeat. I heard him viscerally, eyes on my babies. Counting, always counting, for the number my heart needs to keep beating.

They are really there, I had to tell myself, you’re not just seeing what you want to see.

My six year old sat on my lap and told me her version of the story: “I closed my eyes when the semi truck came at us, then I kept my eyes closed because it was really scary. But then Naomi started crying and crying, and so I knew she was scared too. So I opened my eyes and played tug of war with her until the car stopped spinning and spinning and spinning. Then Naomi yelled, Again! So I played with her until the nice police man came. He said we were miracles. And I am.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when my heart broke into pieces. When I was humbled by the kind hands of grace, instead of the steel-toed kick of tragedy. That is when my selfishness, and materialism, packed their bags and left this place.

The mechanic’s report said total loss, completely ripped apart undercarriage, frame not fixable due to severe damage and four points of impact. Yet the pictures taken afterward, reveal no body damage to the sections where my husband and children sat. No damage. No injuries.  Wrap your head around that.

So now we’re holding, and thanking, and praising, and dancing. We’re I love you-ing, and being grateful, and keeping our mind away from other outcomes. What-If is a dark and dangerous place, and I can’t allow myself to wander down it’s littered paths.

It was only a car that was taken from me. A car. So, nothing, really.

I asked my husband if he realized what his last texts before the accident said to me. He hadn’t, but laughed, because the song he meant to quote was Dave Matthews’ You & Me. “You and me, together, we can do anything, baby. The two of us together, yes, yes……Eyes closed, we’re gonna spin through the stars, our arms wide as the sky, we’re gonna ride the blue all the way to the end of the world….”

And so, we keep on riding.

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Pillar of Salt

I always empathize 

With Lot’s wife

Spend most of my time

Looking back

At what I’ve lost

Gaze longingly

At what I thought

I wanted

Empty hands turning

My smooth skirt 

Into wrinkles and pleats

Swallow gravel

Around what is

No longer mine

I ache

I burn

I am frozen

In time

Feet facing starward

Heart churning back

The promised land

Lies ahead

But I can’t move forward 

Feast or Famine

I watched as your little faces crumpled. Saw the lines of Overwhelming begin to etch themselves on the place where your perfect nose wrinkles. You listened, as it was my voice, the one you’ve always heard- first from the inside, warm and muffled, reverberating from my chest down to where you were- then on the outside. I said, every hour in this world, our world, 300 children die of starvation. 300. It is 12:40 now, and by 1:40, 300 more children will be gone.

You looked stunned. And I did not know it was possible to speak that kind of truth, without choking on the gravel harshness of those words. We sat in silence for a moment. At that point, the strength is stripped from words.

So, I asked, what are we going to do about it? This is our problem, and we have a responsibility to fix it.

Transfixed, I bore witness, as the little bit of light that had left their eyes, was replaced by a torch of righteous fire. We can do something, we can. We can do anything, except sit idle. Then a torrent of ideas and words, flowed like a tsunami, into the tide pool of our living room. Voices raised and receded, innocence crested, white caps of belief frothed and spilled soapy, over the conversation, as if to clean it.

We came up with a plan. Or the start of one. Found ways to cut some of our excess spending, in order to give that money where it belongs. To take it out of our selfish hands, and place it in far emptier ones.  We huddled together, my team and I, safe and well fed, in our living room. We remembered again, to put on our glasses of gratitude. That the only way of seeing this life clearly, is through the bifocals of action and thankfulness as a verb.

They got out their Language Arts journals then, and began to write a week’s worth of diary entries, as if the famine were happening to them. I didn’t want to read it when they were done. Didn’t want to see those things written in the penmanship that I love. It is painfully obvious that no parent does.

And yet…

And yet, they do. They watch with eyes, filled with the same intense love, as flies buzz, and bellies swell from all of the nothing to eat. As tears, cannot fall or form, because there is not water enough left in the body. There are places on this planet where crying is a luxury.

This place, is the place we have stumbled upon. We, who are safely situated, in the land of milk and honey. We are learning about ecosystems and lifecycles, our dependence upon water, and on each other.

I wanted my children to know the difference, between receiving their education and claiming it. I wanted them to make it their own, to take ownership, and play an active role. Now I find myself, only 3 1/2 months in, heart sore, and dirty from this road we are blazing. I am the one who is finally learning. I am one of six, understanding, and growing.

THIS is the way I am meant to be leading. Mud-caked and hands calloused from the tug-of-war of changing. This, stripping of selfishness, this molting of ME. Like a snake, shedding, as they continue on their way. Let my pathways be littered with the ecdysis of vanity.

They wake. My children stumble, bleary and sleep filled, into my room. Outside, the dew clings heavy to grass, making it bend as only new mercies can. We move. This is a day that calls for action.

The Thing I Most Greatly Feared…

So, it’s late. I should be in bed. Sleeping. I should be sleeping. I should not be on the couch, with my laptop open, typing as if my life depended on it.

And yet, here I am. Clickety-clacking my way into oblivion.

I am tired, but can’t sleep. And when I can’t sleep, I write. No warm milk or shot of whiskey for me, just getting my thoughts out of their frenzied turnings, and onto paper. And by paper, I mean computer screen.

In less than 10 hours, my 6 yr old will be taken back for surgery. Then one of my 9 yr old twins, followed by the other. A couple of hours later, and we should all be home, resting somewhat comfortably in the safety of our living room.

I have done everything humanly possible to prepare for this day. I have filled the pantry and refrigerator to the brim with Costco’s entire line of frozen, liquid, and semi-liquid goodies. If you don’t have to chew it to get it down, we have it. All favorite pajamas have been washed and folded. Educational and not-at-all-educational movies have been added to our Prime Watch List. Math for the week, has been done in advance. The meal plan for the rest of the family has been created with my playing nursemaid 24 hrs a day in mind. Favorite stuffies are ready to comfort. All the paperwork has been completed, even the insurance forms, in triplicate.

And yet. I am not ready.

And I know, I KNOW, that other people are dealing with worse. I fully realize that I am blessed beyond measure to have healthy children, whose biggest current health concern is their scarred tonsils. There are a million women out there, dealing with daily hard things, making it through what would bring most of us to our knees, and doing so with grace and a kind of dignity that has yet to knock at my door. I get that. I just also get that this is harder than I thought it would be.

Can we all just agree on the fact that children are amazing? Can we stop arguing long enough to come to the same conclusion that our kids are the very best parts of life? Yes, sometimes hardest, but still humblingly awesome. They are THE BEST, right? Of course, right! Absolutely right.

Whatever they need, I’m game. I’ve been like a giant, live, gelatinous blob, ever since my first positive pregnancy test. And I don’t just mean my midsection. Moms are changlings in high-waisted pants. Whatever cards are dealt, we can turn it into the winning hand.

So far, my 5 little darlings and I have made it though (for them, not me) a total of 7 surgeries, 4 cavities, 2 horrible seizures and resulting hospitalizations, 2 lost big toe nails (bouncy castles are brutal), 1 swallowed lithium battery by a then 18 month old, exactly 34 ear infections, and approximately 1,896,203 colds. I purposely did not include or tally the bouts of diarrhea or flu, because that doesn’t need a number, it needs a moment of silence. Or two.

So, this, should just be par for the course. But it isn’t, because nothing with your kids ever is. It is still surgery, still anesthesia, and still my babies. And, yes, it still hurts in a why are my hands so cold and my chest so shaky, kind of way.

But now, I’m thinking. I’ve always been afraid of a million things, and most of them have never been valid. So maybe, just maybe, if I type them out, and add tomorrow to the list, it will seem a little less daunting. Let’s try it together, shall we?

Sharks. Sharks in all forms, including but not limited to, sharks that somehow find their way into dark swimming pools and large bathtubs. I don’t know how they would do that, and yes, I understand freshwater vs. saltwater vs. chlorine. But any shark that could bottleneck its way into a pool to attack you, is clearly a hybrid and doesn’t play by your water rules, mkay?

What else? Mice, obviously. Every scene from the 1970’s Left Behind movies that my parents made me watch as a kid. And while we’re here, the Rapture happening without me. If you ever need to laugh at someone else’s pain, I have more than one story about packing my bags as a preteen, when my parents stayed out later than expected….you know, before cell phones…which was great.

Spoiling my children, or not hugging them enough. Letting them make the wrong decisions, but also, protecting them too much. Getting foot disease from my vain pedicure habit. People thinking I’m racist, or facist, or anything other than what I am. Falling in public, that’s a big one. Also, it totally happens, pretty regularly.

Oh, let’s see… anything that pertains to gas in social settings. Mine, not yours, you didn’t offend me.

Not knowing the puzzle on Wheel Of Fortune, even though I hardly ever watch TV. Failing, ever, at anything. Never being carded again. Certain kinds of technology. Wasting our resources on things that don’t matter. The way people drive around my children on the freeway. Being arrested, for any reason. Running out of coffee. No one liking me. My hair staying this frizzy. Buying everyone at Christmas the wrong thing. Hearing my own voice on answering machines. The day that my children no longer ask me to sing.

Yep, I think that about covers everything. At least, most things. But not tomorrow, which is now almost today. Tomorrow will have worries of its own. But if life with five kids has taught me anything, it’s how to be brave. How to keep going, even when I feel afraid.

 

 

A Senseless Act

I can’t sleep.  I don’t think any of us can. 

We are all restless.  Reading articles, or talking,  trying to distract ourselves with apps like Cookie Jam.  Because maybe,  just maybe,  if we read enough,  or say enough,  or align the shapes just right,  it will protect us.  

But,  of course,  it can’t.  

We are all hurting. 

All heart sore and red eyed from crying.  All heavy chested,  and raw in the throat,  from trying to make sense of the senseless,  and explain to our children what isn’t right.  

We are all grieving, tonight. 

We all tucked our babies in a little slower.  Read one more story,  hugged even tighter,  and waited a few extra beats,  before having the courage to turn off the light.  

We waited in the hall, outside of their rooms,  crushed by the weight of gratitude.

We listened to hear our babies breath, as they eased into rythmic rest. And then we doubled over and clenched our chests. Leaned heavy on the wall,  mouths open and closing, silently,  in anguished torment. 

It is not enough that my babies are safe.  That they slumber only feet away from me.  

Today a mother lost her only son.  Not misplaced,  he was taken,  without justice or reason.  

Everything changed,  in an instant. 

A sister became an only child. A high school became the scene of a crime.  A sophomore became a murderer. And three people are still hospitalized.  Just sit for a minute,  next to the weight of that. 

I want justice. 

 I want grace.  

I want redemption and healing to flood our hearts and  space.  

I want walls knocked down,  glass ceilings shattered.  I want a river of mercy to invade our planet.

I want the darkness out,  the light brought in.  I want Goliath taken down,  and the underdog to win.  

I want joy in the morning.  An end to grieving.  I want children to grow up,  without fear or trembling. 

 I want for the good guys to win,  the bad guys to get right. 

 I want  the weak to be strong,  the chained to be free.  I want my heart to feel unweighted, like it belongs to me. 

 I want to be able to bear watching the news again. 

I want senseless deaths to come to an end.  

Most of all, I want each parent to be right,  when they think it won’t happen, couldnt happen, to them or their child.  

Loving My Neighbor(hood)…

So, here’s the thing, or maybe a whole lot of things… you know how in the Bible it says to love thy neighbor? Yeah, it actually says to love thy neighbor as thyself. Welp, I love myself a whole lot. I probably have Pinterest boards in my soul about how much self-love I have. And, I don’t mean to brag, but they’ve probably been re-pinned, and shared. A lot.

Just kidding.

I get the whole love thy neighbor thing. In theory.

I live in the Perry District, a cornucopia of wonderful people. Rich, poor, middle class, self-employed, unemployed, and deployed, all within walking distance. We have a Buddhist temple, a safe haven for LGBTQ youth, a weekly farmer’s market, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians,  Non-Denominational churches, and even a church of missionaries TO the United States FROM the Philippines.  If that’s not telling, I don’t know what is.

But, still. Perry. It’s where Atheists, Agnostics, and Christians all walk the same cracked sidewalks, drink the same delicious coffee at The Shop, and avoid the same over-sharers at the Thursday Market. I love it.

I did not, however, realize how much I love it, until recently.

Now, we have had this house for over 9 years. I have seen a lot of people come and go. The well-meaning, and kind, Scott, with his harsh and unfriendly, pharmacist fiancée. The amazing gospel singer, who told it how it is (seriously, one of my favorites). The drug dealers that required multiple calls to the police because of butcher knives in the front yard, but still said hello and wished us a Happy Easter. The family where the kids wore clothes two sizes too small, ate every bite offered to them, and still had hearts of gold. The single mom who brought home a different guy almost every weekend for sleepovers, for two years, but never looked happy. And let’s not forget, the woman in her fifties who threw all-weekend keggers,  but never forgot to invite us. Beer is good for breast-feeding, she said, repeatedly. She even named her cat after our daughter, and came over to tell us so. Many, many, times.

When she left, a very nice man who had PTSD, from fighting for our country, moved in with his son. They were amazing. Like, the kind of people you bake for, just because. But eventually, he moved after buying a house with his fiancée, who I am not kidding you, is a sweeter soul than I will ever be. And a classical musician, who put up with my family playing our piano much, much poorer, than she could have.

There are new families, just finding their way. And older families, where just the parents are left at home, who are sifting through their new reality of empty nests, and empty arms; together, but still alone.

There is joy, and acceptance, and nods between neighbors.

We sit on the front porch, and say good morning and good evening to passerby. Friends walk or ride their bikes over to my house for tea, and leagues of deep conversation.

This place, this rickety wooden porch, has become my adult diary. It has born witness to thousands of conversations. It has heard the whisper of secrets, held sun-soaked bodies sharing wine and stories. It has stayed quiet, and sure, during heated conversations, refusing to fall under stomped feet and the slinging of angry arrows. It has groaned, obligingly, under the weight of my large family, as we decorate for Christmas. Too many cold bodies, over and yet under dressed, all clinging to strands of light in the darkness.

It is where I sit in the mornings, coffee and journal in hand. It is where I end the day, tired, but unafraid. This place is the alter where we lay down our burdens, where the weary find rest, and new mercies are waiting. It smells like tomatoes, and sunscreen, and Starbucks. It is surely the messiest corner of Heaven.

It is the blind I sit in, as the world rushes by. It is the welcome and goodbye for all of my children’s coming and goings, the arbor under which my babies are growing.

It is quiet one moment, a rush of loud conversation the next. A dance between wet and dry, comfort and splinters, our alternate living room during summer’s tempestuous run. It is the vantage point from which we view the changing of the seasons. It is the orchestra pit from which we bare witness, as the trees shake and sway, in eternal dance, to the wind’s barely audible symphony. It is where we sit still, and learn to listen.

Perhaps, this is where I will gather the strength to be kind to my most annoying of neighbors.

Perhaps.

Maybe this is where I will sit when I learn to forgive.

Or maybe, this is where I will be when I grasp how to turn the other cheek, to stay silent when others rage, butt in, and proclaim themselves the saviors of a neighborhood that didn’t need saving.

 

 

Why. (The Big Announcement)

My family and I have big news. Like, life altering, bigger than big, news. Drumroll please…

We have decided to homeschool. (And, no, I’m not pregnant.)

Now, before you get the tomatoes out, before you boo and jeer and wave me off like an annoying housefly, I will explain myself.

First, I am just as surprised as you are. Okay, maybe a little less, but still. This is not what I had pictured. I am the girl who never played house as a child. Instead, I played businesswoman. I took imaginary phone calls that my imaginary secretary put through to my imaginary desk. I yelled orders into invisible phones about profits and lawyers, and selling enough of our latest fashion line.

Where other girls were imagining themselves in an apron, I dreamed of large, firm, shoulder pads, swathed in expensive fabric. I can’t help it, I was born in the eighties. I wanted to swim in the waters of change and commerce, to wade deeply into my own education, and out lap the competition.

I did not want to be a mother, unless maybe I lived in New York and had a fulltime nanny. The husband was optional. Eh.

So, when this all came about, I was more skeptical than optimistic. Just, stay with me.

Many months ago, we started looking into a place for our soon-to-be seventh grader to receive his middle school education. He’s a sensitive soul, not cut from the same cloth as most of his peers, so we knew it would have to be different. He is smart and funny, brave, and kind. He is shy in a way that belies all that he has going for him. He has struggled for the last several years to stay on task, not fidget, and complete assignments.

He has trouble comprehending simple math problems, but can pull out abstract solutions from some unseen hat. He takes more time to write a paragraph than most children, but learns quickly in a one-on-one setting. He knows the backstory to every Star Wars character ever created, and has empathy for their alien struggles, as if they were his own. He is emotionally aware, and has a truly good heart. He has morals and ideals, and is brave enough to share his struggles. He compiles pages of notes, data, and summaries on non-school subjects that interest him. But if he’s not interested, well, you better get ready to dig your heels in.

Here’s the thing, that’s just him. And I love him, just as he is.

While I want to refine him, I don’t want to change him. I want him to be his wonderfully artsy, creative self. I want him to explore the world and fulfill his destiny.

So after a bazillion, which could be a slight exaggeration, dead ends, we landed on the path that had been sitting in front of us all along.

Then, after that was settled, someone said, “You know, Jessica, I think you should just homeschool all your babies. And here’s why….” And everything she said made sense.

My husband and I spent night after night talking about it, but he was instantly all in. Which is crazy, because he has always been against home education. I, took longer to be convinced. This was after all, going to land mostly on my unpadded shoulders.

We prayed and talked to people on both sides of the fence. I know several trusted teachers and homeschoolers, all of whom were open with me, and invested their time and experiences to answer my questions. I took tests online to find out my children’s personality/learning styles, and my personality/teaching styles, to see if we were a match. It felt a bit like trying to donate a kidney. I looked into Online Schooling, Homeschooling, Un-Schooling, Unit Studies, Charlotte Mason, Classical Education, Part-Time Schooling, Private Schools, and more.

It’s enough to make you have to stop and catch your breath. So I did.

I said a child-like prayer with my balled up fists, that if this is what I am supposed to do, then I want this and this and this. And you know what? All of those things happened, exactly as I asked. Cue the Twilight Zone theme song…

My daughters had been asking to be homeschooled for months. One had even announced to her class that she was, in fact, going to be homeschooled, before we had ever even discussed it as a possibility. Kids. But also, kids.

My kids are amazing. And so are yours. That doesn’t mean that you have to homeschool to love them. It’s like everything in parenthood, we all just do our best.

I am a big believer in public education. And private education. And, when done right, in homeschool. It’s like breastfeeding or formula, I have my own say in what goes into my kids, you do whatever you think is right for yours. No judgements. Kids are all different, so different educations just makes sense.

Eventually, we landed on a pretty awesome combination of Unit Studies and Un-Schooling. We found an awesome co-op that offers everything from sign language classes to aerospace education, as well as art and socialization. And, I’ve got to say, I am pretty excited about all of it. Like, I haven’t had this much peace or excitement about something in a long time.

We’ve been doing trial runs this summer, with little breaks in between. Just 2 hours, five days a week. And here’s what I didn’t expect: it’s changing everything. Already, my kids are being kinder, and more respectful. They are looking out for each other, and being accountable. I had a great lot already, but you guys, things have just gotten better. I literally cannot wait to spend time with them. I can see the wheels turning in their beautiful minds, watch as they connect dots and concepts. I get to be the one to see their eyes alight with knowledge for the first time.

Now I get it! This is why people teach, isn’t it?! This is why people grow up to be teachers. It’s magic. It’s like breathing rarified air, and then getting to share it with the future.

This has been the best summer we have ever had as a family. I’m not just teaching, we are learning together. We are a family of explorers, on an adventure. I can’t believe I missed out on so many years. This is wonderful. And also, a lot of work. Kudos, seriously, to all of the teachers.

The other day I got to be the one to explain a concept about direction to my son. Then we hopped in the car and showed him firsthand, and he got it. Like, really got it. I felt unstoppable. Not just me, but US as a whole. Like there isn’t anything that we can’t learn or do or become.

And yes, we are over $900 in, already, for curriculum and variables. But my kids are excited to learn, and I can’t think of a better use for our money.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no.

No, I will not suddenly start wearing long denim skirts, or button up dress shirts, or comfort shoes.

I will not change the way I vote, or learn to churn butter. Okay, I might learn to do that because, well, home-made butter(!). But I won’t be raising twits, or socially awkward nerds. I will be expanding hearts and minds, and laying down a hypothetical shoulder padded life, for what really matters. And I know it’s going to be worth it. Not just for us, but for all of you. Because I will teach them the curriculum, but also to look for the truth. I will teach them to love, to help the poor. Will do my best to instill character, and moral backbone, to fight for immigrants and the marginalized, to see beyond circumstance and value all lives. I’m not just teaching them one plus one, I get to intensively show them what it means to have compassion.

Childhood is short, and I don’t want to waste a minute of it. These, right here, are probably the best years of my life. These are the days people wistfully look back at and miss. I don’t want to miss it while I am still in it.  And this is my chance.

So, you guys, I’m taking it.