Thursday, May 26, 2005

There was a bombing in Madrid yesterday...

I don´t know how many of you heard anything about it on the news. Over 50 people injured, but fortunately no one was killed. ETA, the Basque group seeking independence from Spain, planted a car bomb near an office building in the northeast section of Madrid. They are kind and gentle terrorists who call ahead and give people time to evacuate the building. But the glass, the percussion of the explosion, and the ignorance of innocent passersby still caused many injuries. Only five people were taken to the hospital, so that´s a relief.

Interestingly enough, we didn´t find out about the bomb ourselves until we were watching the news at a friend´s house while eating Pizza Hut pizza last night. It was a brief news broadcast during halftime of a soccer game. We all oohed and aahed while savoring the ham, mushroom, and garlic-laden pie. Plus there was the ponche segoviana for dessert, a creamy cake soaked in rum. The news about the bomb was sad, but the food eased our pain a little.

If I sound flip, it´s only because I would hate for anyone to worry about our safety here in Madrid. We were no where near where ETA has planted bombs in the past few years. And even if we were, we are no farther from the protective custody of God here in Madrid than we would be in Charlotte.

I think back to the fall of 2001, just a couple of weeks after September 11th when I was taking my first solo trip to Italy. Friends and family pleaded with me not to go to Europe so soon after our nation´s more horrific and fierce attack. Steve and I talked it over and decided that I would go ahead with my plans. Off I went. On one of the best adventures of my life to date.

The verse that flowed through my mind at least a dozen times per day was a common one, an often quoted one: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou (My Lord, God, Savior, Provider, and Protector) art with me." I was not alone for a minute. I was not unprotected for a moment. Plus there was the collective chuckle of all the passengers waiting for that AlItalian flight that October evening. As all the Rome-bound travelers sat quietly and tensely at our gate at JFK Airport following what I imagine was the most intense search any of us had ever undergone, a group of 20 to 25 nuns filed into our waiting area and found their seats. I was certain that our flight had been prayed for several hundred times in the past few days and would continue to be rosaried and incensed for many hours yet to come. On the way home ten days later, I sat beside a woman who prayed, thumbed her rosary, organized and reorganized her saint cards for the entire flight. I think the only time she wasn´t fiddling with her religious paraphrenalia was when she was eating. I was "prayed up" and in good hands.

Anyway, I was safe then. I am safe now. Bombs will drop. Perhaps not here in Madrid again, but certainly in Iraq and in other places around the world. Muggings will take place. I will do more bonehead things like letting this morning´s teapot full of water boil out completely. Thank God that Kristiana found it before a fire started. But no matter what, no matter how deeply into the valley of the shadow of death I wander, I will not fear for I am not alone. Actually, as Ian Cron said so well just days before that Italian sojourn back in 2001, I am alone; but I am alone with The Alone. The Solitary One. The Only One who can walk through the valley with me and bring me safely to the light on the other side.

Change of topic: For anybody keeping score, we still don´t have Internet access at the apartment. However, we have become friends with the lady who gives out change for the computers in the second floor of Rodilla, the one on calle Fuencarral in the Bilbao area of Madrid. You can find the three of us here nearly daily.

Yes, we are well. Life is good. The kids are learning more Spanish, enjoying their rides on the Metro (Madrid´s subway system), and have even left me alone in a local coffee shop so they could ¨go home¨ on their own with the keys to our apartment building and apartment. They are getting comfortable with city life. I am thrilled.

It seems impossible, but we have been away from home for two weeks already. Time is flying. Just over two weeks to go.

Hasta pronto, Gail

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

I ask myself many questions these days...

Do I complain a lot when God gives me good things?
Do I forget to say thanks to my friends when they love and support me?
What would it take for me to trust that someone else, Someone Else knows better than I do what is best for me?
Do I accept that even the things I think are boring or inexplicable or not my "cup of sangria" are worth my attention and effort?

I love my kids. But they are doing far more complaining than I would have expected on this trip. Sure they are out of their element, but so am I. Sure, it´s not our house or our way of life, but so what? Try something new. Taste something new. Take a nap. Spain has lasted for many more centuries than the USA with its siesta habit. Take a load off. Rest. Relax. And stop questioning me all the time.

The good thing about our time here (well, one of many good things) is that I have lots of time to listen to them, to watch them. No big house to clean. No cars to drive. No classes to prepare for and teach. Just me and them. In a tiny apartment, cooking over a tiny stove, sleeping in one room. And with everything they say, every question they ask (the good ones and the sarcastic ones), with every discovery they make, I try to hear myself in their words. I try to see this amazing country through their young eyes. I try to imagine what this place would have looked like for me as a young child.

And I wonder how much better I could be in how I accept what my Heavenly Father gives to me. Do I give thanks? Do I expect more? Do I look over His shoulder for the next great thing around the corner, the next ice cream cone, the next trip to the amusement park?

If so, sorry, Lord. And thanks.
And thanks to all of you for reading this, for supporting me.
For encouraging me.
Thanks a lot.
Hasta pronto from Madrid, Gail

Sunday, May 22, 2005

What can I say?

It´s so strange to be sitting at an Internet cafe in Madrid with less than ten minutes to write. But I guess I have to keep my thoughts concise. I am well. The children are well. I was told there would be an Internet connection in our apartment. I was not told the truth. So we roam the streets like three drug addicts looking for a fix. I asked several people where I could find a computer. Several recoiled with disgust. Several more sent us to the wrong place; the internet-crack house had been shut down. Finally we found this place.

We are learning to enjoy life in Spain. Our apartment. Our friends. Making new friends. Eating new foods. Doing lots of word search puzzles. I´ll explain that in a future blog. Reading the 6th book in the Chronicles of Narnia series: The Magician´s Nephew. Doing a lot of walking and talking and kicking the soccer ball. Last night we went to the Real Madrid soccer game. Over 75,000 fans watching the equivalent of the Yankees v. the Mets. Bedlam. Noise. Screaming. Cigarette and marijuana smoke billowing. But we had a blast. At least the parts of it that I can remember...

Seriously, life is good. God is good. And next time I´m gonna buy more time on this computer. In the meantime, write to me. Think of me. Pray for us. I´ll be back as soon as I can rustle up a few more euro coins. I will be back for a fix within 48 hours.

Hasta pronto, Gail

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I´m still alive...

It´s been a far greater challenge than I ever expected to get access to the Internet. But here I am - with only about 15 minutes to write. We are well. I am well. Spain is fantastic.

However being a single mother in Spain is a lot more more challenging than I expected. There is the issue of food; the food in Spain is wonderful and flavorful - but it is not what we are used to eating. Finding meals that meet everyone´s needs and desires is time and energy-consuming. Travel by bus, subway, taxi, car, airplane - we are trying them all. And we are only in the first week. What was I thinking by bringing a boy who spends 3 or 4 hours playing outside everyday to a place where there are no kids his size within blocks? And where I haven´t had a moment alone - except for in the powder room - for nearly a week? But we will figure it all out. We shall overcome.

The night before we left Charlotte - which is less than a week ago, but feels like a month already - our hamster got out of its cage, crawled down the hallway, and rolled itself into a neat little ball just outside my bedroom door. As I walked past the ball (or what I thought was a ball) it began to run. I began to scream. And everybody came running. I told a friend of mine that story on the morning of our departure, and she made a fantastic observation. My kind of observation. She reminded me that I too escape from my cage every time somebody leaves the cover off. I seem to be ignorant of the danger, or rather I ignore the danger and venture out into the big bad world of giants, of steep staircases, and of complete lack of concern about where the next meal would come from. She described me perfectly.

And here I am: a mother hamster far from home with her two baby hamsters. Missing the comforts of our nest, wishing for the familiarity of the wheel we are experts at running around in, but also off on an adventure from which we don´t yet know how we will return. Keep an eye out for us. Don´t let anybody step on us if you see us running in your direction, and leave a few seeds out for us to find. Okay, so maybe I took the analogy too far, but you know what I mean.

Keep us in your thoughts and prayers. For safety. For good food that we all like. For a good internet connection in our apartment. For fun together. And for more great stories to share. That last one is a done deal, I´m sure.

Hasta luego, amigos.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The day of our departure...

is tomorrow. Sorry to be so quiet this week, but it's been quite busy as you can well imagine. Packing. Unpacking. Repacking. We travel only with carry-on bags, so we've gotta keep things to a bare minimum. The children are finally in bed. I'm going to be up for a while still. Tomorrow we leave here around noon and fly to Miami. Then at 6 in the evening, we take off for Madrid. After months of planning, the day of our departure is upon us.

Fortunately, I will have access to a computer in the apartment where we will be staying, so I hope to post blogs on a regular basis. More regularly than I have in the past two or three weeks. At least, that's the plan. Actually, let me revise that. We will arrive on Friday. We will then leave Madrid for five days from Sunday until Thursday. After that, I should be able to regulate my posting a little more.

Please bear with me. Please feel free to write to me at Please ask questions. I will try to answer them. Please give sage and timely advice on travel with children. Tell me of your favorite haunts in Madrid, little towns you loved in Spain, shops you returned to again and again. In return, I will describe our apartment, our neighborhood, our new food selections - all that kind of stuff. What an adventure this promises to be for all of us!

I am so looking forward to this trip. So much to see, taste, learn, and experience with the children. I am going to try not to teach them a whole lot; my goal is to let them learn a lot on their own. If they have questions, I will do my best to answer. Otherwise, I want to keep as quiet as possible and watch them figure a lot out on their own. This is going to be tough for me. I'm a talker. I'm a teacher. I want to tell all that I know - hence, the blog. So I'm using this trip as a test of my ability to take off the teaching uniform and just be a Mom. Be a loving and generous travel companion for my two youngest and most dear friends on this Iberian journey. Be a fellow explorer. Be a listener. I hope and pray that I will be able to bring those newly learning skills back home.

Well, I'm off to clean the toilets one last time, find our money belts, straighten up and clean off the homeschool table (our school year is officially over!), and do some serious journaling before bedtime. So much to write. So much to wonder about. So many questions to pose - then upon my return I will see how many of them have been answered. Perhaps I will return with only more questions - and no answers at all. If that happens, the trip will have been a success. Living the questions... That's the true story of my life.

On the road again, Gail

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Dreaded "D" word...

Today on Oprah, Brooke Shields bravely told the story of her severe post-partum depression following the birth of her daughter. As she lay on the operating table after her emergency c-section, as her doctors tried to put her uterus back into place, as she watched her husband bond with their newborn daughter, Brooke was overwhelmed with rage and fear, and went on to harbor feelings of self-loathing for months. Eventually she was able to find a doctor who helped her, advised her to take medication, and she has emerged from those dark months of dark moments willing to tell her tale and encourage other women to seek help, to not try to manage their anguish alone. Oprah and the studio audience applauded her courage to tell her story not only on television but also in a new book called Down Came the Rain. There she sat, the Hollywood beauty, the tall, thin one, the model, the actress, the one I have come to admire over the years – there she was on international television admitting to having visions of the death of her child, her own suicide, and eventually wishing her daughter lived somewhere else. Anywhere else, just not in her house. The audience was quiet. Oprah was quiet. I was quiet. And from the midst of the quietness, the truth rang out loud and clear.

We all have times of severe depression. We all have times when we can envision the deaths of those around us, even the people we love most dearly. We all have times when it seems like the best answer to the biggest questions in our lives is: escape. We all wonder about our career choices, parenting choices, our choices of spouses or significant life partners. We look back on childhood and wonder if we were adopted. We look at ourselves in the mirror and wonder who it is that is gazing out at us. What brought us to this position in life? What mistakes have we made that landed us in this place, with this job, in this house, with this spouse, and with the future that seems to loom ahead?

Okay, Gail, enough with the “royal we” thing. I will tell the truth. I too have suffered from depression. Way back when I was a sophomore in college, I broke up with my first “real boyfriend.” Well, he wasn’t so much a boyfriend as he was a college professor I had gotten involved with. Anyway, it was over. He moved on, and I moved into the gloomiest basement suite of Hotel Depression that was ever rented out. I spent countless hours weeping in my dorm; I’m glad I had a single room. I stayed awake many nights in a row with an aspirin bottle in one hand and a pillow in the other. I screamed curses at him at the top of my lungs into my pillow and kept the aspirin close at hand in case the need arose to take 20 or 25 at a moment’s notice. I was in a bad way for weeks. I lost weight. I missed classes. I spent several nights at the college infirmary talking to a nurse who assured me that if I allowed myself to cry freely eventually the tears would stop and I would be better. At first, I didn’t believe her. Then I gave in to the sorrow, and a few weeks later, I emerged from my period of mourning as a new woman, brought back from the very brink of death.

While I have never felt that type of despair again since then, I admit to many bouts of post-marital, post-motherhood, real life depression. There are mornings when I wake up that I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t want to cook or clean or do laundry or homeschool. The only thing I want to do on those days is run away. I want to pack a bag, grab a few books, my journal, some pens, and hit the road. No turning back, no turning back. There are times when I look at my husband and wonder why I married him. Or more accurately, I wonder why he married me. I look at my children and wonder what I was thinking when I begged Steve for children. I look in the mirror and wonder what on earth I’m here for. Perhaps I have kept Steve from marrying the woman he was really supposed to be with. Perhaps these children would do better with a different mother, a more loving, kind, more interested mother. I sit with my Bible on my desk some mornings and wonder exactly what would happen if I stopped pretending that I love the Lord and that I believe all that is written in the Bible. What if this really is a colossal waste of time and energy? What if I reneged on my life and walked away from all of it? I could find an apartment in a small city overseas, find a job, buy a few new skirts, a great pair of boots, a good hat, and get on with what my life was really meant to be.

On those days when the dark clouds roll in, I make a big mug of tea, eat a lot of chocolate, cry a lot, watch television, write in my journal, and wait for night to fall so I can try again another day. I write in my journal a lot about the life I would live if I ran away from this life. I write about the man I’d be shacking up with somewhere in Europe, the fantastic life we’d lead, the motorcycle we’d buy and zip around on, and the trips we’d take around the world. Because of course he’d be filthy rich, I’d be free of the stretch marks that make me look a lot more like a zebra than a human being around my midsection, I’d have bigger breasts, a smaller waistline, and he’d adore me relentlessly. When I finish describing my fantasy in all its sordid details, I close my journal, finish my tea, cry a little bit more, and then I get on with my life. This life. This wonderful life. I remember that my depression doesn’t change the fact that mine is a glorious life.

Fortunately, the bouts of depression don’t last long. Most of the people who know me have no idea how deeply I go during those tough times. But if Brooke Shields can tell the truth publicly, so can I. Life doesn’t always look like what we think it will look like. It doesn’t always work out as we expect and plan that it will. Perfect pregnancies end in emergency c-sections. Good marriages end in divorce. Nice Christian girls contemplate suicide. Hard working students cheat at school, get caught, and lose college scholarships. Kids get cancer. Friends disappoint. Churches fall apart. Yet we try desperately to keep our secret moments of despair to ourselves because we are convinced that no one else feels as we do. And since we are convinced that they don’t, we know that they will be really disappointed to find out that we do.

Let me rephrase that: there are many moments when I am convinced that no one else feels like I do. No one else looks at their children and wonders what would happen if I left them asleep in their beds and headed for the airport. No one else loves God as much as I do but still struggles with repetitive crises of doubt and fear of completely wasting my time with this “religion” thing. No one knows the trouble I’ve seen. Today Brooke reminded me that many people have known the trouble I’ve seen. Many have suffered the same sorrow. All of this is the stuff of life. Some write books about it. Some write blogs about it. We all need to come out of the closet about it. I just did. Who’s next?

Monday, May 02, 2005

It's a Wonder-Full Life

I cannot believe it has been over a week since my last blog. These days have flown by, and they show no signs of slowing down. If today really is the 2nd day of May, then we have only ten days before we are off to Madrid for 33 days. The kids are concerned that a month is too long to be away, that they will miss their friends, and that life will cease as they now know it. I reminded them that it’s been over a month since we returned from England, but it doesn’t feel like very long, does it? Silence. They nodded. I assured them that the month will absolutely fly by; in the end, it won’t feel like long enough.

Let’s see. What has happened to me in the past week? What has happened that is worthy of comment, worthy of the time of my faithful few readers? The grandfather of my dear friend Karen passed away. Yup, that’s right; her grandfather! How awesome for her and her two sisters to have moved fully into adulthood with Grandpa still alive. Even my children, who have already lost both grandfathers to death, were incredulous at the news. I certainly mourn her loss, but I envy her many years with him.

Three friends sent me reading materials in the past week. An article about self-publication (Thanks for the hint, Virginia), someone’s beautiful, but slightly exaggerated Christmas letter, and that kind person who patiently packed my order at sent me two books I will take along on our Iberian adventure. And the week before last, another friend sent a book with recommended sights for our next trip to England. It’s such an honor to be remembered by my friends, to be thought of on a trip to the post office, to be fondly recalled as stamps are posted on envelopes. To receive mail is a miracle unto itself, but to have mail sent with my face and my spirits in mind, that is sublime. As is the heartfelt email. I receive many forwarded stories, poems, jokes, and accounts of political foibles that are usually quickly forgotten. But several recently received tales of forays into Italy, Cuba, Norwalk, Sandy Hook, Wilton, Atlanta, and even my beloved Charlotte – those are the most cherished of all. Thanks again to all who write to me and encourage me to write.

Earlier on this gloriously sunny and warm day, the children and I walked to the home of a neighbor and pried open the door to the tiny little home of six tiny baby bluebirds erected in her backyard. Mama Bird was in the nest with all her babies tucked beneath her, protecting them from the intrusive and noisy Belsito investigative team. We peeked in, wished them well, and then closed the door behind us. On our way past the house, we decided to check on the gecko that lives on her front stoop. Green where his body intersected with the tree and black where its tail crossed the wrought iron handrail, that little crawly critter moved us to giggles as he withdrew haughtily into his leafy loft when we bent in close to stare at him. Just across the street from our house, another neighbor is harboring baby birds in the bush outside her kitchen window. We checked on those slightly older bird-babies on our way home. The sun was shining. Birds were chirping. Three women were trying to figure out the best way to aim wayward sprinkler heads so as not to water the street, and Rocky, the immovable Husky, basked in the sun, expending only enough energy to wag his tail and invite the kids over for a quick back scratch. What a way to begin our homeschooling morning!

After lunch and a trip to Sonic for strawberry limeade, we drove to Kristiana’s horseback riding class. Rolling hills, horses nibbling on grass in the field, cats curling around the feet of watching and waiting parents, and Kristiana trotting around the dirt track atop Gray Master – there was a quiet majesty in that meadow as I stood there smelling the heavy, horsey air, watching planes streak across the clear blue sky, and wondering what could possibly make that moment more wonder-full.

On the way into the house, I grabbed a bag of shrimp out of the garage freezer, sautéed them with butter, olive oil, and garlic salt, and served them with brown rice and spinach salad. The meal was cooked and on the table in less than half an hour. It was a rare culinary moment: no one complained. With the last grains of rice still on his lips, Daniel sprinted outside to join his friends for one last game of basketball before everyone headed in for the evening. Kristiana picked up her pen to continue writing her latest novella: a story of intrigue, defiance, and family ties in a slave cabin back in the 1800’s. I cleaned up the kitchen, took out some garbage, dusted the hardwood floors a little, and then I remembered.

I remembered that in the midst of the most mundane, the washing of dishes, the filling of empty water bottles, the sorting of laundry, the vacuuming of beige carpet, and the drinking of sweet white wine – in the midst of the ordinary, life is extraordinary. Nope, there aren’t always deep lessons to absorb and impart. There aren’t always life-altering conclusions to draw.

Sometimes just being alive is the lesson. To stand there in that field, to watch Kristiana ride her horse, to listen to Daniel’s basketball bouncing on the driveway, to smell the residual shrimpy smell even as I sit her at the computer, to feel the hard plastic of the keys beneath my fingertips, to thank my husband for bringing me this glass of wine, and even to join a friend in weeping over the loss of a loved one, to be aware of all five of my senses – every last bit of it is miraculous.

One of Kristiana’s basketball coaches had a great response every time I used to say, “It’s good to see you.” He’d always say, “It’s good to be seen.” You are absolutely right, John. To be seen, to be above ground, to be breathing and typing and cooking and cleaning and loving my children, even yelling at them for giving me a hard time this morning because hot chocolate and banana bread for a midmorning snack weren’t enough – they wanted the morning off from school – even then, angry and resentful that they weren’t more thankful, I knew that there is great value in the unimportant. Every simple, recurring, monotonous moment of life is to be celebrated. As one of my favorite cinematic characters wrote to her children in her final journal entry: “There is great beauty in the world. Go well, my children.”

That is my daily dream: to see the great beauty that there is in this world, to go well in it and through it, and to celebrate even the most commonplace occurrences. This last blog-less week gone by, I have done just that.