1. The kids and I are alone for a few days this week as my husband is in Boston for work. It's both a blessing and a burden to be home alone with them. Little things, like going to the supermarket and leaving them at home, feel completely different when he's not around. I am far less comfortable with doing my thing when I can't call him and ask him to be at home and cover for me if the car breaks down. It is during the times when he is away that I realize how blessed I am to have a loving partner to share my life with.
2. Having said that, there are times when I wish I could run away from all of this: the homeschooling, mothering in general, dealing with whining and complaining, cleaning up after the dog, cooking, doing endless loads of laundry, dusting, vacuuming, and then sitting down in my favorite corner chair only to look up and see dust on the ceiling fan. Calgon, Roma, Gin and Tonic, take me away!
3. This week, we passed the three year anniversary of the war in Iraq. Over 2,500 American soldiers have died there, and many more have died of their wounds, but because they didn't die in Iraq, they are counted differently. My heart races even now as I think of their pain their families and loved ones must feel because of their loss. Patriotism and service to country are high ideals, but the death of someone dearly loved is deeply, eternally painful no matter what the reason. Plus there are all the thousands of Iraqis who have died and been wounded, not to mention the soldiers and workers of other nations whose numbers we only rarely hear. Sorrow upon sorrow. No end in sight.
4. We have also passed the six month anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and inconceivably, it was only yesterday that the last of more than 5,000 missing or displaced children was reunited with her mother. Six months of searching for her four-year-old daughter ended yesterday. Here I sit, realizing that countless days have gone by when I haven't thought about New Orleans even once, but that woman has never stopped thinking about it. Many tens of thousands of people are still homeless. Most of the homes devastated by that hurricane and its aftermath remain untouched, uncleaned, unchanged in any way. Sorrow sorrow upon sorrow, with no end in sight.
5. In thinking of those two tragedies, I realized that there are far more similarities between them than most of us would care to admit. In both cases, local and national government officials assured all who listened and watched that the resolution to the crisis would be quickly found. Democracy would be established; law and order would be restored; the presence of occupation soldiers wouldn't last long; in fact, life for all affected would be better afterwards than it had been before. Rebuilding would be efficient, complete, and imminent. In both cases, those promises remain yet to be fulfilled. Thousands remain at the mercy of those over whom they have no control or influence. In both cases, most pre-event warnings - as in pre-war protests and the predictions of severe coastal damage - went unheeded. All criticism of the actions of those in control has been and continues to be considered betrayal, negativism, and anti-patriotic.
6. Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of my father's death. I miss him terribly, his gentle spirit, his laughter, his warm hugs, and his insatiable hunger and thirst for righteousness. He made the best apple pie turnovers! And sweet potato pies that brought cousins, aunts, and uncles from miles away. How did he eat so many Snicker bars, so much ice cream, put sugar and honey in his tea, eat some combination of sausage, bacon, and nearly eggs every day, and still manage to stay so thin?
7. I was not one of those parents who looked up the meanings of their children's names and meditated on them long before their births. In the case of my daughter's name, many years ago an Italian friend of mine explained to me that if she hadn't chosen the name Stefania for her own daughter, she would have used Christiana. That name stuck with me. Steve and I weren't even married at the time that I heard that name for the first time, but I told him that if we ever got married and had a daughter, I'd want to call her Christiana, but spell it with a "K."
This morning I decided to look up the meaning of our names. Kristiana means annointed, follows Christ, and her middle name, Nicole, means victorious people. Daniel was given his name because of the faith, the strength, and the godliness of the Biblical character by that same name, but today I found out that his name means "my judge is the Lord." His middle name is the same as his father's first name - Stephen - and it means "crown." They both have very strong names. A lot to live up to. When I shared the information with them, both of the children were excited to find out what their names mean and didn't seem the least bit intimidated by the prospect of carrying those weighty mantles. By the way, Gail means gay, lively. My middle name, Nadine, means hope. Nadine, however, was connected with the name Bernadette and Bernadine which mean: bold as a bear.
8. Last night, I watched a show on television called, "Super Obese." The group of patients being chronicled on the show weighed in at 600 pounds or more and struggled to walk, breathe, and in some cases, even move. They lived at a facility in Ohio that specializes in helping the morbidly obese lose weight, regain their health, and eventually be able to go back home and take care of themselves. I was mesmerized, saddened, and sometimes horrified by the sight of the skin problems, the lesions, and the layers of fat that, in one case, literally dragged on the floor as the woman walked.
That woman had been at the facility for sixteen months and had lost 344 pounds. SHE LOST 344 POUNDS - but she still had a lot more to lose and was looking forward to greater progress during her ongoing residency there. Her newfound excitement about life's possibilities was clearly evident. One man who weighed well over 600 pounds had been there for ten months but had lost only 18 pounds. He, on the other hand, made the decision to leave the program and go home to try to do the work on his own. Like all the diet commercials say: results may vary.
9. As I watched, I wondered what switch in the mind gets turned off when one tips the scale at 250 pounds, then swells up to 300, 350, then 400, 450, 500, 600, 700, eventually 800 pounds. How much does one have to eat to maintain such enormous weight? What are their family members doing? If they can't walk, who's buying, cooking, and presenting them with all that food?
I wondered: where are the switches turned off in my own heart and mind? What am I ignoring and allowing to grow so disproporionately that it literally drags on the floor beneath and behind me? Would I be willing to do what they did, expose my glaring addictions and lack of self-control to others to be judged, criticized, but also corrected? Would I take that much of a risk? How much energy do I consume in order to maintain the bloatedness of my ego, my self-centeredness, and my excessiveness, no matter how it manifests itself?
10. Maya isn't feeling well today. She threw up this morning, like her little five-pound self can afford to lose any weight. Poor thing! It's amazing that, no matter how large the crisis may be that looms on the international horizon, her shivering, shaking, retching little body brings this entire family to a standstill. A few minutes ago while the children were eating lunch, she barked loudly at them, was given food to eat, and seems to be holding it down.
11. Yesterday I had the opportunity to be the speaker for a group of African-American stay-at-home moms. I had no idea what to talk about, but the woman who invited me assured me that any suggestions, wisdom, or advice I might have about motherhood would be welcome. So I kept it simple: I told my own story of how I became a mother, how I decided to become a homeschooler, and how all the answers I think I have about motherhood often morph into doubts and questions under the duress of actual day-to-day parenting. I began and ended the talk with the Rilke quote: Learn to live the questions now... then someday, perhaps you will live your way into the answers. And while they are at it, I added, learn to love the questions. Embrace the contradictions of life, and march on.
12. That group, known as Mocha Moms, consisted of women in many stages of being at home. One is a widowed mother of three children who is figuring out how she can work for much-needed income, but still be at home whenever her children need her. Another is a 38-year-old mother of a 2-year-old, who'd had a child during her teenage years. Her family consists of herself, her husband, a two-year-old son and a nineteen-year-old daughter. Many others had very young children in tow, older children in school, and one was caring for her own two sons as well as a young nephew for two months following his mother's surgery.
But there we all were: sharing our stories of the road of life, encouraging each other to not grow weary in doing good, and assuring one another that asking for help, admitting a mistake, and correcting one's life course are not signs of weakness. They are signs of humanity.
13. I am enormously grateful that I get to share my life with so many struggling, searching, sometimes triumphant, sometimes despairing people. Even though I struggle, search, and I am alternately triumphant and despairing myself, neighbors still invite me over for a glass of wine on the occasional Friday afternoon. Church friends still invite me for coffee or tea. My children ask me to sit with them and read, create art, or play games. My husband asks me to sit with him on the couch and hang out for a while. Even little Maya follows me around the house and wants to know everything I'm doing, especially everything I'm eating. I admit that sometimes I just want to be left alone.
But when I think more closely and carefully about my life, when I list the many sources of abundance I enjoy, when I pay attention to all things bright and beautiful, and give thanks for the many people who love me and call me "friend," I realize that I am blessed indeed.