Here’s what I’ve come up with for my silver linings (as well as a few “rusted metals” that couldn’t be ignored).
This is a time when we are seeing the very best AND the very worst of humanity. I’m so pleased to say that the bests are winning over here for me. I went out walking yesterday, enjoying the 60 degree temps that were quickly replaced today with snow, and was so struck by what I saw. Everyone I passed, and there were several given the perfect spring weather, gave me the appropriate 6 feet of distance and followed it up with eye contact, a smile and a wave. Every. Single. Person. It was comforting and made me feel so welcomed. I wasn’t the newcomer who didn’t know anyone, but rather, felt like I had become a part of the fabric of the neighborhood simply by our shared experiences. People were out on their porches listening to music or were enjoying the springtime temps while working in flower beds and gardens (all covered up by a good 6 inches of snow now). It was the boost my gloomy mood needed.
Kids are so resilient. My grandson, Arlo, is connecting with his preschool class via Zoom and is able to listen to his teacher read to the class via this program as well as see what the other kids in the class are doing in their homes. I FaceTimed later in the day and he told me he has school on the computer now because everyone has a “birus”… He seems totally fine with the new way to do school because he’s almost 3 and that’s how almost 3 year olds respond to things. Life goes on. Easy enough.
Thank goodness for Netflix. Thank goodness for my computer and the internet. Thank goodness for shelves of books. Thank goodness for yarn and needles and knitting patterns.
It may be time to start writing letters again, because why not? And because in cleaning out desk drawers, stationary seems to be something I buy frequently but use rarely.
Thank goodness for FaceTime. I feel so much more connected simply by seeing faces on my phone.
It feels good to have raised kids who are showing their love for me in their protection of me and daughter who is providing me with a wealth of knowledge on building my immune system.
My heart melts at seeing the community service for the small businesses my daughter has put into place. I woke up to a bag of goodies that she had delivered to my back door from a local shop we both enjoy. Her already huge heart has grown 2 sizes and mine has grown 3 just hearing about what she’s done.
Productivity seems to be proportionate to time. The more time I have, the less I am accomplishing. My mojo from early few days has waned. I’m working on resurrecting it, but am not sure exactly how to do that.
Cooking is more fun when you pretend you’re on a cooking show with a live studio audience (not like I’ve done that, but am just guessing…)
I weave in and out of being lonely during the day and content and seem to be on an every other day with my mood cycles. Yesterday wasn’t great and by the end of the day, the emotions of myself, my neighborhood, my town, my state, my country and my world, started to feel heavy. There’s really no way I can escape it except by distraction…. and I know there’s a world of people in the same boat. There is so much comfort in the collective energy of that! And so I write. I knit. I watch old movies and new series. I read and I dance when the mood hits and the music is right and today, I spent a lot of time simply looking out the window because regardless of how dark life feels right now, I still have a view of the Flatiron Mountains from my window, made even more beautiful by a half a foot of big, fluffy flakes of snow.
Even after 8 days, this still feels very odd…. Groundhog Day kind of odd, and even after 8 days, I still wake up and moments later think, oh, yeah… this. Again. And again. And again. So far, I’ve not rolled over and simply gone back to sleep. So far…
The good snacks are going fast and I seem to have forgotten what a single serving is.
Thank goodness for online exercise classes from my local studio and a flight of stairs that I’m thinking of pairing with a National Geographic program in the background to simulate hiking. I may even throw on a light pack and my camelback to hydrate. Yeah, things are going just fine over here…
This forced slow down, simply because so much of our lives have been cancelled, is showing its light on a lot of creativity. For instance, I’ve got a running thread with some girlfriends whose subject now is “Covid 19 playlist”…. you know…..”Help”, “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “Get Back,” and so on. These are connections that are keeping me sane and laughing. And the laughing is so darn important.
In the time of social distancing, I’m seeing an increase in connections and more depth to those connections. We are all learning how to stretch through uncertainty and find comfort in the smallest of things that I may not have even noticed before and THAT is how we will all come out of this better people. I know I’m not alone when I say that I feel like a reset button has been pushed and I’ve got the time now to actually contemplate what that means for me and my place in this community.
I’m surprised by what brings me to tears these days and it’s not what I thought it would be…. seeing neighbors talking to each other in their yards while standing 6 plus feet apart, or seeing Arlo sitting in front of a lap top next to his Dad looking at his friends and his teacher on the computer screen or the photo of the man on the patio talking to his elderly father on the phone who is sitting in a chair on the other side of slider doors. These things bring tears to my eyes because they show so much heart. It’s that heart that is propping us up right now when we’re all starting to slump into postures that look like question marks.
One day at a time…or one hour if that sounds more do-able, is how I’m keeping a forward pace. There’s a lot of growth that’s silently taking place right along side the fear, the frustration, the loneliness and the worries in homes across the world right now. We are finding out just how innovative, creative and motivated we can be when we have little to work with and that is how a wheatie with a dab of peanut butter spread on it becomes a peanut butter crispen, my friends (reference previous post if this sounds like nonsense…and even then it still might….)
Oh and Andy Griffith re-runs? They still hold up in a simple, homespun, apple pie, conflict always resolved, kind of way and is a nice way to off-set some the more pulse racing and conflict-filled shows I’m also watching. Aunt Bee would have no problem whatsoever staying at home baking pies. Be like Aunt Bee.
Onward and upward. Tomorrow’s another day. Stay healthy.
Day 6. From “Corona what?” to “there’s no hand sanitizer OR toilet paper to be had in Boulder County”
I know that accurately this isn’t day 6 of coronavirus hitting the United States, but it is the 6th day of behavior changes for me. 6 days ago, after talking to my sister, Susan, who lives in an area of western Massachusetts that has been hit hard, I thought that maybe it was time to make a major grocery store run, just in case. This is not my usual style for two reasons. First, I haven’t lived in a house with a decent sized pantry since I divorced 14 years ago, at which time I started shopping and planning my meals on more of a day by day schedule. Second, I’m not much of a planner so my first reason has worked well for me. But, in trying to be responsible and ahead of the curve, I went to the store, to fill up with the predictable staples and followed the crowds that seemed to be gravitating to the toilet paper aisle because that’s what crowds do. They follow. Much to my surprise, I realized that I was a day or two or maybe even several days late on this then quickly learned that the hand sanitizer situation was the same. I did find some disinfectant counter cleaner, which is really pretty awful on hands, but it is better than nothing and has been delegated for outside of my house only (I’m using good ole soap and warm water while home, which is 99% of the time now). I stocked up on beans, rice, stock, canned tomatoes and the like on shelves that were getting noticeable thin, buying more than I had anticipated simply because of the diminishing stock and because it seemed to be what every one else was doing. I had a sinking feeling when I left the store. Moods were somber. People were anxious and afraid. This is real.
Once home, I started cleaning because that’s what I do when I’m not sure what else to do. This isn’t cleaning floors, walls and surfaces, but rather is cleaning, sorting, stacking and re-stacking every vessel in my house that holds stuff. Given that I only moved in 7 months ago, I don’t have a lot of excess or unstacked stacks, but I had enough to keep me busy and my mind distracted for most of the morning. Some may wonder why I didn’t immediately go to my computer to start writing – anything -just to write, because that’s my other go to but when I did, I discovered that my spacebar no longer worked, making for a challenging read. Seriously computer? Now? How’s that for timing? (I’m typing this out slowly and with difficulty on an iPad while I wait for the external keyboard that I ordered). Organizing and reorganizing was a good stand in for my writing and as a Virgo, it’s what I do. A messy drawer turning into an organized wonder raises my pulse and gives me tremendous satisfaction. It’s an odd addiction, I know, and one that’s not always visible as I seem to like the process of tidying up more than keeping things tidy. Again, it’s what Virgos do for fun when no one is watching. I was also trying to stay away from the news as I have a tendency to not be able to pull myself away once in its grip. This is a time when Friends reruns are much more suited for me than is any news show, even NPR. An episode of “That Girl” keeps coming to mind….Ann (played by Marlo Thomas) was having a New Year’s Eve party and had more people come than she anticipated so her snacks were in short supply. Wanting to be a good hostess, she turned to the backs of her cupboards and came up with a dab of peanut butter on individual wheaties cereal flakes. And voila! Peanut butter crispens were invented. Although I have plenty of food and am not finding the need to dig around the bottoms of cereal boxes for snacks, I feel like I’m in a peanut butter crispen situation right now. It’s time to get creative and find things to occupy my day that hopefully will turn out much better than anticipated. I’m looking for my own version of the now famous peanut butter krispen ( or at least famous in my family as it’s become code for getting creative with very little.)
So, with the tv off and the music on, I cleaned, I sorted, and I organized my closets to within an inch of their lives until I wondered what I was going to do the next day and the day after that and well, the next few weeks. My daughter, my son in law, my 5 month-old granddaughter and my almost 3 year-old grandson are all in self-isolation after spending time in Aspen, an area that’s been hit hard, and since I spent time with them when they got home, I’m reluctant to see my son and daughter in law and 1 year-old grand daughter who also live in town. That, added to the fact that I’ve not formed a strong social network yet in Boulder have left me in a definite place of isolation.
I like living alone, but have to say that when I realized that 4 days had passed and I hadn’t spoken with another human, face to face, this extrovert is struggling a bit. We are social beings and although I like settling in for some alone time as much as the next guy, this is a whole lot of a lot. There is great comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in my aloneness though and I’m in a constant search for linings that are silver, or even brass at this point.
We are all facing a new reality and I’m learning a lot about myself during these quiet days, starting with how much I need nature to maintain a modicum of sanity. Daily. I’m fortunate to live in a town that’s surrounded by nature – mountains, streams and several trails are a short walk straight down my street. This morning I walked down my street, to a gentle trail that fronts the Flatiron Mountains. I walked at least 15 minutes before I passed another human being. This is not normal in my neighborhood. I’m two blocks from downtown and normally there are bike riders, runners, skateboarders, walkers and even the occasional hover boarder. The street is never as empty or as quiet as it was this morning. There was a definite awkwardness when I got closer to the first person I passed as we scooted as far away from each other as possible, which had me stepping over the curb and onto the street to give each other the 6 feet suggested. I hiked up a mountain trail for a short while (I wasn’t prepared for hiking so didn’t even have water on me) and realized as I began to encounter a few other hikers that I feared them more than the mountain lions that have occasionally been spotted in the area. How odd. How terribly odd. Yet as awkward as it was to move as far away from a passerby as I could, while they followed the same protocol, it was a gesture that felt touching to me as it was showing such respect for one another. We truly are all in this together.
I’m trying to settle into this new reality, that seems different by the day according to my mood. I hit a low spot yesterday afternoon, feeling the heaviness of the isolation and loneliness like a` weight sitting on my soul. We are social animals and to have to isolate in our homes simply is not our nature. I can’t afford to start spinning in a downward cycle this early in the game so knew what I had to do and turned on some good ole rock and roll and danced. Alone. In my kitchen. Ladies choice. Dancing around my island for 3 or 4 songs was the energetic reboot I needed. It’s the smallest of moments I’m clinging on to these days. Another new routine that I’ve come to covet is my Face Time with my sister, Susan, in Massachusetts. We’ve always liked good phone chat but adding the visual to the call has added so much.
New sweater?? It’s cute. And your hair looks good today…
Thanks! And doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you know… good hair day when I’m not leaving the house at all. Sigh..
She gets up and walks me into the kitchen to stir the soup. I can almost smell it. (Susan is a good cook.) I wish I could stay for lunch.
I’m almost right there with her. It feels good. I will take what I can get and that little bit of face to face on my small phone screen feels like a lot right now.
This isn’t easy. The isolation is foreign to me and has come at a time when my calendar was filling up with lectures and classes and group hikes, all of course now cancelled. There is comfort in knowing that I’m not alone and when I think that so much of the world or at the very least most of my town is sitting on their couches wondering what next in between times of cleaning and sorting and creating and cooking. I’m alone but I have great company in all of this. I can’t get too far ahead of myself as it’s too daunting, but am trying to savor the joy in the small moments. The Doors playing L.A. Woman while I danced around the island in my kitchen was a good start. Oh, and speaking of L.A…. I was supposed to go in a few days to see Philip Glass with Grant and Katie. The concert is cancelled and now my flight is cancelled too…. a decision that was tough to make and that I shed a few tears over, but it was the right and the safe thing to do. I’m blessed to have 2/3 of my kids here in Boulder but desperately miss the other third. Especially now.
I’m trying. I’m digging deep within myself to access my sanity reserves that I know are there as I’ve dipped into those pools before. Rain is coming, which will make my communal moments with nature a bit more challenging but thought that maybe with some National Geographic programs on in the background, maybe I could run up and down my stairs for a bit to simulate a nice hike. The Met has operas online that I can access, there are Broadway musicals online and the same Spanish programs that I’ve visited off and on for years are still there for the taking. Susan said she could possibly be en pointe by the end of all this if she decides to go with the online ballet classes with fluency in French to boot. There really are a lot of creative options that organizations have generously provided, but the one that seems most appealing to me right now is simply the quiet exploration of self, and taking note of the process as there’s some pretty rich stuff in there to uncover. I say that today, on day 6. By day 10, I may be doing online ballet in my slippers.
My silver linings today are :
There are a lot of places to “go deep” when in quarantine…. and not just my closets and drawers. I’m pulling back some long drawn curtains into parts of my soul that I’ve not visited in a while. There’s some good exploring going on.
When you move slower, you see a lot more and things you never noticed before suddenly become relevant, like the fact that there is one chair in my front room that when seated in I can see 11 pieces of art and or photography. It is now my favorite chair in my house.
My connections to people, although not face to face or in person right now, are seeming far more meaningful as their importance has soared.
Crocus have impeccable timing.
I don’t do well when I have stockpiles of good snacks when it comes to what a single serving size is… this is not a revelation of quarantine as I already knew this about myself, but it is a new challenge given the well-stocked kitchen shelves I now have.
Even when I have little, ok nothing, scheduled, I still struggle to get my laundry out of the dryer in a timely fashion. After 2 days, serious wrinkling sets in. I think I hate to do laundry.
Eye contact. It’s pretty important. So is smiling.
Aren’t old photos just the very best??? I’m going to start texting them to my kids. I’m not sure they even know what my prom dress looked like my senior year! Time to share.
Laugh. Move. Laugh some more. Find your peanut butter crispen and reach out to those you love.
After my first year of college, I decided not to go back but had full intentions of returning at a later date, when I was ready. At that point in my life, I wasn’t. I was uninspired, unmotivated, indecisive and without focus. I changed my major so many many times during that year that my Dad began to refer to it as my “major of the month.” The only decision that seemed right to me was my decision to not return.
My parents were on board, especially my dad, which surprised me, as he was a high school guidance counselor and part time community college counselor who promoted higher education, yet at the same time was able to recognize when a student was struggling. If I wasn’t going to return to college, my parents said I needed to have a plan. I wasn’t good with plans. I wanted to see what would come my way without having to put a lot of effort or decision making into it. The wait and see attitude was realigned when my landlord parents started pushing me to find find a job with a little more permanence than what I had shown them thus far. I had landed a temporary job as a nanny in Chappaqua, NY for the summer, but once back home, was in need of something more permanent so answered an ad in the local newspaper for a position as a receptionist at a nearby regional airport/flight school. It wasn’t at all what I had in mind, but my landlord parents were happy so I said yes and started working at KC Piper. I didn’t care for the job – answering the phone, booking flight lessons and taking money from pilots who bought fuel, but I told myself that I’d make it work until I could find something more suitable. I felt disconnected and out of place in the place where I spent most of my day until one of the flight instructors asked me if I had ever been up in a small plane and if I hadn’t, I should definitely take advantage of the $5 introductory ride. He, and his staggering good looks, were my point of interest, not the 15 minutes of being airborne, and so I agreed. It didn’t take long once in the air to realize that I was far more captivated by the act of flying than I was with the handsome pilot and before we even began to taxi back, I decided that although it was far beyond my reach financially, and I had no idea how I was going to make it work, I was going to learn how to fly, and the cute instructor that sat to my right was going to be the one to teach me. And so that’s how it started. For the next several months, I begged, borrowed and stole every left seat hour I could muster, while saving every single penny of my hard-earned low wages. I had a plan. It wasn’t exactly what my parents had in mind, but it was a plan.
I was young, barely 20, and idealistic. My dreams were as big as my check book was small but somehow I knew I could make it work. Unquestioning optimism at its finest. I was at the right place, at the right time and in that short 15 minutes of flight time, there was never a question as to what I wanted to do. I wanted to become a pilot.
It was hard. It was exhilarating. It was inspiring and I loved every minute of it. I was a good student who became a good pilot and was often complimented on how strong my “seat of the pants” abilities were, which I would later learn had nothing to do with how my seat looked in pants but rather, was a measure of natural judgement and instinct without the use of instruments. Did I mention that I was barely 20 years old and terribly naive? I didn’t even know to be embarrassed by the many faux pas I would stumble over as I truly didn’t know what I didn’t know. Case in point, my first experience of night flying. As I was taxiing in after landing, my instructor asked me why I was hugging the far edge of the taxiway and not in the center of it where I should be. Was I having a hard time seeing it?
“Oh not at all! I was trying to avoid the light bulbs as I didn’t want to break them.”
The lights I was referring to were the ones that were embedded into the surface of the taxiway, but honestly, from where I sat they seemed to protrude from the surface, which was why I was trying hard to avoid them. I’m guessing he hadn’t encountered this situation before or he would had advised me ahead that I could taxi right over the lights and they wouldn’t break. A few days later, and with the same instructor, I couldn’t help but notice that he was fixated on something outside of the airplane. After being in the air for only a few minutes, he turned to me and with a very puzzled look on his face asked me if I had untied the tie down ropes on the plane and if so, how did I do it? Planes are tied down to the ground with heavy ropes to keep them steady during storms and winds and when untying a plane during the flight pre-check, the ropes are untied from the wings. Given that it was my first time pre-flighting the plane alone, I did what I thought was the right thing and I untied the ropes from the heavy ground anchors, which left the tie down ropes flapping from the wings of the plane as we flew rather than remaining on the ground where they belonged.
I answered by telling him that yes I untied the plane and boy were those ropes ever hard to get undone! He chuckled, kindly, so as not to make me feel embarrassed but no doubt the story had worked its way around the break room by the end of the day. Obviously, I hadn’t been paying attention when that section of the pre-flight operation was being explained. Evidence that sometimes I learn things the hardest way possible. Again, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and honestly think that bit of naivety is what kept me in the game. My parents worried about the large financial investment I was making, especially if I didn’t follow through to actually obtaining a license. They had every right to think that as quitting before finishing was an established pattern for me. But this felt different. There was just something about flying that touched my soul of souls and awakened a part of myself that I had never felt before.
After what seemed like a very short 6 weeks, my flight instructor told me it was time to take to the skies alone – time for my first solo flight. Student pilots aren’t told this ahead of time simply because of anxiety issues but I knew it was coming. There were a lot of emotions that day, but I have to say, fear wasn’t one of them. I was ready. Although this is a very big deal for student pilots as there is no instructor sitting right seat for security, the initial solo flight is a short one that consists of a few trips around the airport landing pattern doing touch and goes – a touch down landing then immediately taking off again and repeating the process. It was recorded in my log book as .4 of an hour – 25 minutes of just me and the airplane. 25 minutes of pure joy, and tremendous pride. 44 years later and I still smile when I think of my young, very naive self in the cockpit of a Piper Cherokee 140, tail number N5606U, chatting nervously to myself with a constantly nodding of my head up and down in a HOLY COW, YOU’RE DOING THIS!!!, manner. The tradition that follows a student pilot’s first solo flight is to cut the shirt tail off the student’s shirt, which is then labeled and displayed as a “trophy.”. This tradition originated in the days of tandem trainers when the student would sit in the front seat and the instructor behind. Because there were rarely radios in the planes, the instructor would pull on the student’s shirttail to get his (or her) attention then yell in his ear. A successful first solo flight is an indication that the student can fly without the instructor so a shirt tail would no longer be needed and so the tradition of cutting it off began. I proudly backed myself up to my scissor holding instructor, while wishing I had worn one of my own shirts and not my sisters, who by the way was more angry about her ruined shirt than she was thrilled about my new accomplishment. It was a navy and white checked, long-sleeved, broken in with love and now damaged shirt that I wish I still had, even though it was never mine, missing tail and all.
6 months after soloing and 7 months after my introductory flight and after passing a grueling written exam, a physical exam and flight exam, I got my private pilot’s license. The next day, I rented a plane and took my younger brother and sister up flying. We flew to Topeka, Kansas, a mere 57 miles away, to get a coke because that was the kind of stuff you could do when you were a pilot. My little brother got sick, but fortunately for me, my sister was wearing a bandana and as the pilot in command, I instructed her to take it off immediately so her brother could throw up in it. I was learning that passengers bring on a whole other set of responsibilities and worries when you’re the pilot in command, and that bandanas or maybe air sick bags would be a good thing to have on board. The following day I flew my parents to Emporia, Kansas, farther than Topeka by 30 miles. This journey was my debut – to show off my skills, but even more importantly, to show off my completion of something I had started on a whim and a hope. A start to finish completion. Finally.
Two years later that license that I earned was far more relevant than the college degree I hadn’t earned and I landed a job as a regional sales manager in the avionics industry. Instead of a company car, I flew the company airplane to various airports to demonstrate, sell and basically show off the King Radio avionics systems that I had in my airplane. The most challenging part of the job wasn’t the flying, but rather, was earning respect from the dealers who questioned who was making the sales calls every other week. I was too young (24) and the wrong sex. More than once I was told by a shop manager that he was just going to wait until the following week when my partner, a man, would be visiting. There wasn’t much I could do in response but leave politely and make the note in my follow up report that I tried. I knew I was adept at selling the product and offering any customer support that was needed, but getting in the door was often my toughest challenge. It felt like I was working twice as hard as my male counterparts before my job even began.
Management decided that I needed to adhere to a dress code as all the other sales managers did when out in the field, which I totally expected, but what I didn’t expect was that my dress code was a dress or skirt and not the more appropriate slacks, which was what I had hoped for. This made for awkward situations when I’d enter or exit the plane while trying to maintain a modicum of modesty. I never knew how I’d be accepted or regarded when calling on the avionics shops at airports for the first time, but the one thing I could always count on was the handful of men staring with curiosity as I carefully stepped out of the short narrow doorway, onto the wing then onto the tarmac in a dress and I’m guessing, as I can’t recall, most likely in inappropriate shoes because I was 24 and that’s what 24 year-olds did. I was the first female regional sales manager at King Radio and the management wasn’t exactly sure what to do with me as I didn’t fit the mold they were used to – i.e. men in suits, hence the dress requirement. I didn’t have the confidence to question why I had to wear dresses when my counterpart were wearing slacks, but I was one person, and a girl no less, going up against a company of men and I knew I’d lose so dresses it was and comfortable when entering and exiting a plane, it was not.
My daughter asked me recently if I had bigger plans when I set out to get my pilot’s license… you know, to become an airline pilot some day perhaps? I’ve thought about that a lot even though I gave her the first answer that came to me, which was no. I did have a job in the field of aviation, just not one that held the perceived glamour of passenger carrying jet pilot. Although I did get a lot of kudos and “atta girls” during my short-lived dip into the field of aviation, there didn’t seem to be room for a female in the all male, good ole boy network that I had become a part of, leaving me feeling like I was always flying solo without a guide, a mentor or even a map most of the time. I’ve saved the articles that came out in avionics magazines and newspapers that introduced me as the “first female regional sales manager in avionics” that went on to add that there was “something prettier on the runways to look at these days.” It’s hard to believe today that those words were even written. Even though I was still very young and somewhat naive, I was learning a lot and not just about avionics. I had to wonder, if King Radio was so happy to take the credit for being the first avionics manufacturer in the country to add a female to their sales force, why weren’t they willing to stand up for that female and mentor her in these new, unchartered waters? The evening I spent in a topless mermaid bar with a group of “fellow sales managers” somewhere in the southeast, because I was told that was what sales managers do, with nary a warning or an apology to me, was the beginning of my end at King Radio. I realized that as much as I believed in the product and loved getting to fly in an overly-loaded top of the line airplane, I was never going to feel totally comfortable in the environment I was in, regardless of how much I tried. I lasted 2 years then left King Radio for new horizons, packing up my ’74 VW for a move to Phoenix, where my sister with the ruined shirt lived. After a year, I left Arizona for a job in Alaska after realizing that I really did hate hot weather, but that’s another story.
Before I worked at King Radio, flying was a time of dreaming and complete freedom for me and I cherished the moments during a flight when it was clear skies ahead when nothing needed attention except the unfettered beauty that would surround me at 3,000 to 6,000 feet above the ground. Those were the moments – almost as if time had stopped for me simply to take it all in. And I would. My imagination would soar like a Piper Cherokee with a tailwind as I scanned what felt like the entire world through the windshield of the small plane.
It was also the time when I met Leigh, my kindred flying spirit. She was taking lessons at the same time I was and we immediately bonded over our passion for the new hobby we had both immersed ourselves in. We’d go to the airport at night, park as close as we could to the runway and with Judy Collins wafting from the radio, would watch the bellies of planes as they descended onto the runway while laying on the hood of the car. It was our entertainment, our inspiration and a connection that remains today. Neither of us talked about aviation as a career but instead simply embraced it with our eyes to the skies and our souls in the clouds. We could recite every line of John Gillespie Magee’s “High Flight” poem that began, “Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings,” the line that always gave us pause. Leigh was in the very small group of people who understood what I was doing and that we didn’t have to have a reason why or an end goal, because flying was enough. We carried our pilot’s licenses in front of our driver’s licenses in our wallets because it was the piece of paper that held more pride for us than any other and spent far too much time (or not enough?) fantasizing about piloting a hot air balloon across the country in celebration for the bi-centennial that was approaching. It was the period in my life that I call my aviation experiment and although the last time I flew alone in a small plane was in 1979, I still crane my neck around to get a better look at the instruments when passing by the cockpit when I step onto a plane and am stopped in my tracks when a small plane flies overhead, simply for the pause to capture a memory.
Learning how to pilot a small airplane was less about acquiring a skill that could open doors for me and more about slipping my own surly bonds and seeing what flying on my own wings felt like, with or without an airplane. I’m often asked if I miss flying and if I’ll ever get current so I can fly again and to that I have to answer yes and I don’t know. Those wings that were discovered in the small cockpit of a Cherokee 140, are still with me, holding me aloft and giving me strength and a continually changing prospective. I not only learned how to control the parts of an aircraft to make it fly, but I also learned how to find my own wings with the confidence that my internal compass will always direct me towards clear skies and tailwinds.
I loved my 3rd grade teacher, more than any other teacher I had in elementary school. I loved her kind face, her gentle manner and the way her eyes would smile before her mouth would even catch on. But what I loved the most about Mrs. Faires, was the way she talked. Her words came out slowly and syrupy almost like she was reluctant to let go of them. I held onto her every word, even the ones I couldn’t understand due to her strong southern accent. She made our unusual circumstances of being housed in a cramped and crowded temporary trailer, more of an adventure than a hinderance, and even though elbows knocked when we did our lessons and I was seated to the sweatiest boy in the 3rd grade, I wouldn’t have changed one thing. We were the only class in the entire school who learned cursive writing, long division and the tales of Sacagawea all within the confines of an aluminum box. Unfortunately, all of the cozy love went out the louvered window when the lesson on apostrophes began.
It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the concept of ownership and apostrophe placement, it was that, unknowingly, I didn’t understand my Alabama-bred teacher’s accent, ironically, the one thing I loved about her more than anything else. When she gave the explanation of ownership, what I heard was “on a ship,” which to this Kansas girl, who could count on zero hands how many times she had actually seen a ship, had to wonder if ships were really important enough to warrant their own grammatical symbol in a sentence.
After hearing Mrs. Faires’s explanation on apostrophes and possession, my conclusions were to use an apostrophe when whomever or whatever was ON A SHIP, or showed “ON A SHIP” as was explained, yet what did “shows on a ship” even mean, short of the visual of people on board a large water vessel. This seemed easy enough until the worksheets were handed out with nary a mention of ships or boats or even water for that matter.
My 8 year-old self, who usually did well in school, was discouraged when worksheet after worksheet was returned to me with an embarrassing amount of red ink on them. No one else seemed to be struggling with the placement of the flying commas but me, so I kept my frustrations to myself and kept searching, for the ship in the sentence. More than once, Mrs. Faires would call me up to her desk and explain, yet again, the “on a ship” concept to me and I would once again share my frustrations of not understanding what “on a ship” had to do with most of the sentences (while unknowingly mimicking her accent.)
I eventually shared my frustrations with my Mom, who knew nothing of the situation as the red-marked papers never made their way home. Not surprising, she cracked the code, as moms often do and reported her findings to my teacher. That accent, the one that had me hanging onto every syllable, had become the culprit to my biggest 3rd grade frustration.
Years later, when in Jr. High, I had a Brazilian algebra teacher who spoke with a such a strong accent that most of the time I had no idea what he was talking about, which given that it was Algebra, could have happened without the accent. I have to wonder if I had had a teacher I could have understood, would I feel more comfortable with the x’s and y’s to this day? Thankfully, my stumble with apostrophes in the 3rd grade didn’t ruin me for writing like my incomprehension of a Brazilian accent did with me for Algebra. Still, after 56 some years, I have to thank Mrs. Faires for bringing a smile to my face when I confidently place ownership apostrophes on the needed words, whether or not a ship is present.
Yesterday afternoon, on New Year’s Eve, I stood in my neighbor’s house, a house I had never been in and a neighbor I had only met in passing once, and sang Auld Lang Syne while raising a glass of whiskey to ring in the New Year, 7 hours before midnight. A totally unexpected celebration that was both quirky, memorable and most of all, welcoming. My neighbor, who I met while shoveling snow the week before Thanksgiving, has a Scottish husband and their tradition of many years is to celebrate on Scotland’s clock, with neighbors, whiskey and a traditional Scottish buffet, complete with haggis.. I found the invite to the Scottish New Year’s Eve celebration in my stack of mail when I got back from Christmas in Kansas City, a timely find for someone who had really started dreading the upcoming holiday. A new city, a new state, a new house, and new year and if that wasn’t enough, a new decade, felt like a few too many news for me at this moment in my life when i’m craving familiar.
To steal words that a dear friend of mine recently posted on Instagram, “I have a happy personality with a heavy soul. Sometimes it gets weird.” That sums up a lot for me. Couple that with the nostalgia, sentimentality and reflection that comes with the turn of a new year, heightened by a new decade, and things weren’t looking good for my turning of the calendar page at midnight.
And so there I was, on December 31 at 5:00 pm (midnight in Scotland), with the words of Auld Lang Syne in one hand and a raised glass of whiskey in the other, (which I don’t normally drink but when in Rome, or Scotland…), in a roomful of people I had never met. I couldn’t help but smile and even chuckle silently inside. Never, ever would I have predicted that was what my entrance into a new decade would look like, but everything about it seemed exactly perfect and just what I needed.
I spent much of the “late afternoon” conversing with a woman who just so happened to love hiking and had all sorts of trails and trips to share with me. Now not to sound desperate, but I had to seize the moment with this new found friend and make sure we had a roughed-in plan for a hike in the near future before we parted ways. My behavior reminded me of the summer I rented a condo in the mountains for 2 months and not knowing a soul went into the bookstore, met the owner and was determined to not leave the store until we had a rough semblance of a friendship in the making. This all sounds very odd to me as I reread what I’ve just written as I consider myself to be an extrovert, but walking into a situation when you know no one and rather than taking the easy exit, literally, with a sneak out the back door, are forced to do something with a reality that plain and simple, is not easy. It’s being the new kid on the first day of school or showing up for a Junior High dance feeling like a brown shoe amidst a sea of strappy patent leather. I had a heightened sense of awareness as to my presence and its awkwardness, while navigating the discomforts of “Where should I stand? Am I acting too eager? And is it too soon to reload my plate?” It didn’t take as long before I began to feel like I really was at a social gathering and lo and behold, I was enjoying myself and the very interesting people I had struck up conversations with. One such man, my neighbor on the other side, happened to be a historian and told me he had seen the city records of Mapleton Street in Boulder from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s and all of our houses in our immediate neighborhood were included, outhouses and all. I loved hearing the history of my street, my house and several of its previous owners, dating back to 3 or 4 sales ago. Several commented on my house adding that they liked the changes I had made and that I was sure an improvement to a previous owner a few sales ago who was happy to knock on doors when sidewalks weren’t shoveled in a timely manner. To that, I might add, that the past 3 times I’ve gone outside to shovel, I’ve been surprised to see that someone had done the job for me. I’m happy to return the favor but looks like I’ll have to get a much earlier start! I’ve got nice neighbors and am happy to hear they’ve place me in the improvement category. It all felt very welcoming.
After my previously mentioned new hiker friend left ( and yes, plans for hiking were set in place), I found myself in that awkward spot of a roomful of people actively engaged in conversations, while I stood panning the room for an entrance into a conversation that I could join. I didn’t pan long, but instead, at 6:30, decided it had been a good afternoon/evening, gave my thanks to the hosts and made my way home, two houses down the street.
Having put off a grocery store run that day, I went when I got home from the party, while still in my not so fine New Year’s Eve finery. Of course most of the people in the store were loading up on traditional drinking snacks as they were still in preparation for the evening ahead. Me, on the other hand, was on the other end of it and saw a fire, some knitting, a glass of wine (because I don’t have whiskey in my house), and maybe some Netflix in my future. It felt deliciously right. It ended up being me, some good Phillip Glass music, 2 glasses of wine then a bad Netflix series that I couldn’t stop watching so maybe it wasn’t that bad after all. No teetering between the nostalgic and the hopeful, with journal in hand and pen at the ready, but rather, a normal, I really should turn off the TV and go to bed, kind of evening. New decade and all. It felt comfortable and easy.
All of this, this moving to a new place where the only people I know are the ones I gave birth to and their partners and offspring is tough, especially when everything in my previous life felt nicely broken in and easy. These new life shoes I’m walking in, these incredibly beautiful yet new and yet to be broken in shoes, felt just a little bit more comfortable last night when I walked the very short distance home to my house from the Scottish New Year’s celebration. I’m grateful for these small moments of achievement because right now, they really aren’t small at all. I live in a good neighborhood with good neighbors. I felt welcomed.
While going through my stack of books on my nightstand this morning, I came across a bookmark that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I don’t remember when or where I got it, but I had the same feeling this morning when I read it that compelled me to buy it in the first place. On the front of the oblong metal page holder it said,
“Life shrinks or EXPANDS in proportion to one’s courage.” Anis Nin.
This may well be my first miracle of the new decade.
Moving is hard. Harder than I remembered. After days, weeks, and months of shifting my stuff from shelves to boxes, from room to room, from my Kansas house to my storage unit in Colorado, to my car, to my new house with final stops to the bins at Goodwill, I certainly understand the physical impact of moving, but it’s the emotional impact that I didn’t anticipate. I feel like my center of gravity has shifted and everything in its wake has been realigned in a way that feels both exciting and terrifying at the same time. I welcome the reset, while at the same time, am still surprised that there was such a big reset to begin with. I’m not sure what I was thinking on that one. With the exception of short stints in Alaska and New York and a legit, get a new driver’s license move to Arizona for a year, I’ve been in the Kansas City area since I was 6. How could a move away NOT cause a bit of unsettling? But again, totally unexpected.
Goodbyes to a house I loved so dearly were easier than anticipated, perhaps because it was the longest damn goodbye ever. I left my house in early July and bunked with my sister and brother-in-law for the following 6 weeks while my belongings, tucked tightly into a small PODS trailer, made there way to Colorado ahead of me. There were so many goodbyes during that time frame that I started losing focus on what my end game was in the first place. Goodbyes to a lot of my stuff (that would be sold in an estate sale) to my yard, to the gardens I tended to and added to throughout my stay, to my lovely neighborhood that I still could lose myself in on long walks, to the very walls that embraced me for the past 10 years and most of all, to my dearest of friends and my ever supportive family. I don’t like goodbyes – to things, to places or most of all, to people. The ever-growing to do list became my distraction to what was really happening, which didn’t really sink in until 3 hours into my drive west. After a tearful goodbye to my sister, I slipped into my overloaded car and made my usual stop 3 hours later at the gas station with the Starbucks in Salina. While fueling up, the reality of what I was in the process of doing hit me hard with tears that flowed off and on until close to the Colorado border. While my emotions were jumping back and forth from excitement and anticipation to fear and sadness, my mind continued to reel me back with the practicalities of the situation. “Where will the turquoise legged table go? Did I remember the box from Robin’s basement? Exactly WHAT is in that storage unit in Boulder and what in the world am I going to do with the furniture that doesn’t fit?” That jumble of emotions will be my forever memory of the gas station with the Starbucks off of I-70 West that I know so well. Pumping and crying.
My move technically began the day I started taking down the family photos that hung from floor to ceiling in the hallway of my house. These were the same photos that took an entire weekend to hang because my free form method of hanging pictures ends up with several holes behind each picture before it looks right. It’s not that big of deal unless your walls are plaster, which mine were, leaving a crumbling mess behind each hung photo, something I only remember thinking would be a quite a project to contend with if I ever moved, which of course, was no concern at the time. Martha Stewart would have been ashamed. The disassembling of the nest I had been feathering for the past 10 years, became my focus and distraction as I stood in rooms of stuff that needed to be sorted, sold or packed and pock marked walls that would eventually needed to be tended to with spackle and sandpaper.
Moving gave me prospective on a long list of things, but initially it was my stuff that became the focus and the surprising realization that it’s not the big, expensive pieces of furniture that have been hauled from house to house that really mattered, but rather, the miscellaneous collection of keepsakes tucked away in boxes that have seen better days. That realization helped when things didn’t go as planned, which began with my movers. My confidence in the two men’s abilities waned when I saw them both strap on the back apparatus to move one box each of books, the same boxes that I would then move to the room I told them to put it in the first place, sans the helper strap and the huffing and puffing.
When the “head” mover, (I’m guessing he was the “head” guy as he was the one who schooled me on tipping before they even began), asked me where the “big, heavy dresser” went and I told him, “the basement,” and his reaction was, “Seriously? Down those stairs???”, I realized I had Gomer and Goober in charge of moving all of my worldly possessions and that’s when I started moving boxes myself. I was paying by the hour and the clock was ticking fast. Plus, fueled by irritation and anger, I became a whole lot stronger. Now normally one would think that my “interfering” by trying to help with the unloading process would have brought on resistance by the movers and reactions that would perhaps push them to work a little harder and a little faster. That didn’t happen. In fact, my movers weren’t fazed one bit because they were on one of several “much needed water breaks,” which I would later learn when I got a bit closer to them, was actually a booze break. Workers don’t do as well when they are drunk, or at least well on their way. So there was that…
Fortunately, and much to my surprise, nothing was broken, but there was loss, and sadly, I can’t blame it on drunk movers but have to claim the blame myself. In my organizational haste and with clothing flying from one box to another, I took a box of all of my sweaters to Goodwill, latest count 15. I realized this when I was organizing my closet and only had one sweaters to put away. I’m still not sure how it escaped the Goodwill box but it did and it quickly became my favorite and my only sweater. Naturally, I immediately went to Goodwill and explained my dilemma, only to learn that the Goodwill where I made my deposit was a distribution center and that my beloved sweaters were already en-route to another center. My daughter told me it was just stuff and to calm down until she learned that my vintage Ralph Lauren blanket sweater was in the Goodwill haul, then things got serious and very sad. But lesson learned, it was just stuff. Unfortunately, a lot of good stuff, both new and cherished old, but still, just stuff. I can’t say that I haven’t been back to that Goodwill “just to check,” a few more times. OK 6 more. And nothing. Again, just stuff.
My nest is almost feathered now and I’m no longer waking up in the middle of the night wondering where the heck I am and why don’t I hear my sump pump running? Some of the changes I’m not sure will ever stop taking my breath away, my view from my bedroom window of the Flatirons, for one. And then there’s the incredible benefit of so much time with my 2 year-old grandson and his brand new baby sister. Grandma (or Laudie as I’m called) is on deck and ready to play.
Everything feels different, smells different, sounds different and looks different and I know that patience is in order as moving is a long process that continues long after the boxes are unpacked. I left a large tribe behind and am not used to the feeling of walking into an exercise class, a store or a restaurant and not seeing one person I know. A couple weeks after I moved in, I was in the local hardware store and heard someone call out my name. This was an exciting first. I turned around to see the electrician who had been working in my house. I later told him that it was my first moment of feeling connected and that his shout out meant far more than he probably realized. I think he understood. Those small gifts are larger than I ever imagined.
It feels like I’m walking in new shoes that don’t quite feel right as they’ve not been broken in, but boy are they cute and who doesn’t like that feeling of of first day new shoes? With time, the shoes will break in and feel more and more like they really DO belong to me and are indeed on the right feet. Time and patience. In the meantime, I’m simply working on finding my center, 626 miles west from where it used to be.
Today was day 3 of the vision screenings. We get more and more efficient with each day and I’m getting more and more comfortable with my Spanish, as I muddle through directions to the kids, who speak little to no English. When they understand me, and follow my directions, I’m always a bit surprised, as if I finally found the key that fits in the lock. No doubt that I sound like a 4 year old to them with my Spanish, but whatever I can get, I’ll take it. The one thing I’ve learned over the years is that if I’m ever going to become proficient at another language, I’ve got to be willing to toss the pride out the window and go for it. Children are far more honest in their responses to me that the adults are.
This is the first place I’ve volunteered where English is not taught in the schools, or at least not in this school. It may be different in higher grades, but not in the lower ones. Trying to understand the kids when they give me their name, then trying to find it on my roster, is the harder part of the screenings for me. Today, every other boy seemed to be either Sebastian or Cristian and they all have 3 names, which they say so quickly that it sounds like one name. When I finally think I’ve found their name, and will repeat it back to them in my own pronunciation, my words are often met with a giggle or a quick glance over to a friend. When I add “cerca?” (close?), I usually get a smile and a “si, cerca.” So much communication happens without any words…. especially with children.
I had some concerns the past two days as the boys, aren’t faring nearly as well on the screenings as the girls have, with about 1/3 of the boys failing. I’m reallly curious about this and will likely get an answer in the next few days when we accompany those who failed the screenings to the eye doctor either Thursday or Friday. I’ve got to wonder if they are confused with the testing or if they really do have vision problems. Basically, the students are to match what they see on the computer with letters on a card, while seated the appropriate distance away from the computer screen. They put on glasses that have one dark lens that they can’t see out of and the other with no lenses, to test one eye at a time. If they miss one or more out of the four letters, the next screen shows larger letters. The computer then gives a “pass” or a “fail” and those who fail will be the ones that will see an eye doctor.
Today there was a lot of down time with the kids who seemed to be “at recess” most of the morning. Lynette and Michelle got them going in copy cat type games with signing and mimicking superceeding all language barriers with a focus on the language we all know – laughter, which they do very well. We later learned that the kids were on an “extended recess” because their teachers had left the school. To do an errand? To go grab a snack or a coffee? No one seemed to know. They seemed to think that since we were there, we would tend to the kids, who fortunately were very well behaved in their absence. They did return a bit later.
There are only a handful of teachers at the school due to a teacher strike that is going on all over the country. It started in September and there’s not end in sight. The strike is over the high taxes the teachers pay when the businesses in the country pay no taxes at all. Unfortunately, it will be the kids who will bear the brunt of the strike as they will all fall behind in their education this year. It also means that there are many children whose teachers are on strike who are not coming to school and consequently won’t be able to be a part of the vision screenings. In listening to the principal explain all of this to us this morning, I came to realize that whether Ghana, or the refugee camps in Greece or Costa Rica, or even the United States, we all share the common thread of concern for our children and their well-being and our frustration that more is not being done. It’s universal, regardless of where you reside.
It’s pretty hot in our room at night and I’m struggling with sleep. The roosters are a good alarm clock and I’ve been waking up before 6 and will go out and walk before the heat sets in but the restless nights make for low energy days, which also means I’m headed to bed early.
Yesterday we went to a pottery studio set in a beautiful outdoor setting in a nearby town. The process of using a manual wheel made from old motorcycle parts was fascinating and the end product, which we will pick up after it is fired in the kiln, wasn’t too bad. Today, we’re going to spend some time on a dairy farm and will learn how to make cheese. CCS continues to excel in sharing the culture of other countries through the activities that come after the volunteering. Every day is truly an adventure.
Oh, and if I didn’t mention it yet, we’ve figured out the shower, which is a thin trickle of cold water. It gets the job done, but I can’t imagine washing my hair in the drips of cold water, so it doesn’t look like I will. Hygiene standards are slipping.
I miss the mosquito netting… go figure. The billowy fabric that I tangled myself up in nightly in Ghana, I’m missing. So much so that I woke up in the middle of the night and thought someone had taken it. It took me a few minutes to realize that I’m in Costa Rica, not Ghana. It is hot but not near the heat I experienced in Ghana and I do have the mesmerizing whir of the fan in my face at night like I had in Ghana, so it does feel somewhat “familiar.” I’ll learn to live without the netting, but will have to find a new way to make my bunk my “camp.” Our room is huge and is only occupied by Lynette and me with another volunteer coming from Canada to do the vision screenings with us tomorrow. I’ve stacked and restacked and organized my small pile of belongings until my nest felt like home. This is a very important part of my entry into a new culture and something that I enjoy very much, even though I’m only dealing with a couple of stacks of clothes and a bag of toiletries.
The house is big and our room is huge with 5 bunkbeds and as of tomorrow, will only have 3 of us sleeping in them. The bathroom is almost as big with a large walk in shower that we couldn’t figure out how to get water out of last night, and were shown this morning how it works. I’m guessing it’s the Costa Rican touch as neither of us could get it to work tonite. We will probably need to get this sorted out before too many showerless days get underway. We were forewarned, however, that there is no hot water in the house so showers are cold, as is the water where we hand wash the dishes after every meal. Some things you just can’t think too much about. Our house is a 10 minute drive from the small town of Santa Cruz and is tucked away in a rural setting with a mountain backdrop and cows and horses for neighbors. It really is quite beautiful here.
The coffee is amazing, which was a wonderful surprise for me as it usually has been a disappointment (instant) and more than once while on a volunteer trip, I’ve made the switch to tea because of that. I like it so much that I’m skipping the milk and am drinking it black…something I’ve not done in a very long time.
I’m going to be very happy with the food… simple, basic, good. El gallo pinto, the national dish of beans and rice, has been present at every meal so far (4) as a side, and is the main course at breakfast. I may feel differently after 2 weeks, but right now, I’m happy.
Lush and very green is the best description I can come up with regarding the topography. I’m loving the gentle rains, which I’m told is good as I’ll likely see it every day I’m here. It’s light and intermittent and really very pleasant. My hair doesn’t care for it, but oh well.
We had a 2 hour Spanish lesson this afternoon and it had been a while for me, but I was pleased at how much I remembered and remembered how happy it makes me to conduct conversations in Spanish. I hope I’ll fare as well with the kids, who I’m told will speak little to no English.
Very, very friendly. Our in country manager, Franklin, said that is in part because we are in the country and the people here are more “humble” than in the big cities.
And most importantly, we can brush our teeth with the water directly from the bathroom faucet! But no flushing toilet paper, which isn’t surprising.
Costa Ricans seem to have a sense of humor…as witnessed in the signage around the house.
Tomorrow we begin our vision screening in a nearby school. I always feel a bit anxious on the first day, hoping I’ll remember how to do the screenings (the computer program specifically) as it looks like Lynette and I will be giving the tutorials on how it’s done to the other volunteers. That first day is always an exciting one. I’ve yet to be disappointed.
I’ve measured time in many ways throughout my life – as a child it was measured in the “untils” as I didn’t have enough “pasts” to really matter……. how many days until my birthday, until summer, until Christmas, until I get new clothes/shoes/stuff and, well you get the picture. As my life started accumulating more pasts, my time markers became milestones….graduating from high school, starting college, quitting college, finishing college, moving, moving back, getting married, having kids, getting divorced and so on. Those are dates that are easy for me to remember because of their significance and dates that everything else seemed to be based around with befores and afters. Lately, say in the last 12 years or so, monumental trips have become markers for me…. Perú, Morocco, Patagonia, Bhutan, Nepal, the Camino, the Camino again and most recently, Ghana. Those experiences help me keep track of life, when looking back, giving it a sense of order. I may not remember all the travel dates exactly, but I do know the order, which makes it pretty easy to extrapolate an approximate date. Not that any of this really matters one bit to anyone but me, and only at the most inopportune times, such as in the middle of the night when I’m trying to piece together a life timeline for no reason other than insomnia, but today it all seems very relevant. One year ago, on this very day, I was given a new marker to the year 2017 – one that I’ll never have to extrapolate with events to remember.
Arlo was born. My daughter became a mama. My son-in-law became a dad. I became a grandma. And all of this happened on MY first born’s birthday. April 30, a date that was etched into my memory – a date that has become a double marker for my timeline of befores and afters.
My friends that came into “grandmahood” before me, had shared stories of a love like no other and told me with such certainty that everything would be forever changed when grandkids entered my life. Of course I had no reason to doubt them, but it was like having someone tell you how incredible seeing the ocean was for the first time. OK, I thought, my first time standing barefoot in the sand with sea spray in my face and water as far as I could see was memorable, but who’s to say what the introduction of a new generation into my family will really bring? I’ve got a confession to all of those who went before me and fell head over heels in love the first time they laid eyes on their grandchild, I get it. You were spot on and all of your predictions and words of love made perfect sense as I held my minutes old grandson for the first time. That understanding has grown each and every day since, 365 to be exact.
A few years ago, my cousin’s daughter was pregnant with her first and had asked the question (possibly rhetorical) of, “Just how long is the umbilical cord anyway?”
I had no answer, simply because I didn’t know, but have thought a lot about that question ever since and have most likely included it on at least one previous Mother’s Day post. So here’s my answer (once again):
It’s as long as it needs to be and will continue to grow as necessary. Mine has extended to Chicago, LA and Ft. Collins, CO. Of course physically it is no longer attached, but energetically, its connection remains strong, and much to my surprise, it has the capability of growing a new grand baby branch. As a Mom and a Grandma, the tethering has continued.
Just one year ago… a very short year I must add, I was doing my own version of the in labor pacing – into and out of just about every retail store in downtown Fort Collins, buying much more than I should have but blaming it on nerves, excitement, and my daughter was in labor for Pete’s sake! I found a miniature version of a stuffed dog that my own first born had been given when he was born (thank you, Aunt Robin) and had loved it clear down to an unrecognizable pile of pieced together patches that was missing both ears and a tail. I bought it. It seemed ominous. It just happened to be the birthday of MY first born child as my baby was in labor with HER first born child.
Emery’s first words to me just moments after Arlo was born, were:
“Mom, we both gave birth to our first child on the same day… and they were both boys.”
I had held full composure until that moment….I hadn’t thought of Arlo being born on Thomas’s birthday as OUR shared experience, but rather, had looked at it as her son being born on her brother’s birthday. Our thread of connection, which was already strong, became even stronger than I could have ever imagined. Right then, at that very moment, with her newborn in her arms, she had everything she needed to begin to understand the depths of love that a mom has for her child. As I looked at her, a new mom holding her baby, my love for her expanded so much that I could physically feel it in my chest and I’ve got to think that because of what she was feeling for the first time as a mother to her child, her love for me did the same thing. We were our own versions of the Grinch – hearts exploding with love.
For the past year, and as often as possible as we don’t live in the same state, I’ve watched my grandson grow from the tiny helpless newborn that I didn’t want to let go of, to a walking, communicating, personality-filled one year-old that I also don’t want to let go of. I’m continually in awe and it’s not as if I’ve never seen newborns turn into toddlers, but watching my grandson has been different. I get to roll around on the floor and play and be silly and make funny sounds that I forgot I even could, while leaving the heavy lifting to his Mama and Daddy. I earned this role and I’ve got to say, I’m loving it.
A year seems to go by faster and faster the older I get, and honestly, I never thought I’d type those words as I’ve heard them so often that frankly, I’m bored by them, but it’s true. In the short span of 365 days, I’ve watched a helpless 7 pound, 7 ounce bundle of wonder turn into a walking, climbing, babbling, funny, curious toddler. I’d say that’s a very productive use of time there, Arlo. In comparison, I’ve logged a few more miles and have a few more wrinkles to show for my year. I could have at least upped my Spanish game or learned how to crochet or something. In comparison to your year, I’ve simply laid around. There cannot be any other time in life where so much development and change happens outside of that first year. What a joy to watch from the sidelines while not having to worry about schedules or feedings or planning ahead and bringing everything you MIGHT need in the diaper bag along with the everlasting wonder of will I ever get a good night’s sleep again? I’m here for grandma duty and I’m here to play. Can we wake him up now so we can play with him or can I just go look at him???
I’ve fallen head over heels in love with my one year-old role as grandma (or Laudie as I’m referred to) and am continually amazed by the impact that this little soul has had one my life. Today, while trying to turn on the window unit air conditioner in my rented space in Boulder, it took me a few moments to realize that I was using Arlo’s clunky baby phone (or is it a remote?), which wasn’t getting the air conditioner turned on. Without hesitation or even surprise, I slipped the not an airconditioner remote into my purse, grabbed the correct remote, and turned on the air. Later, while in a coffee shop, I pulled that same toy phone, or whatever it was, out of my purse to answer my phone and wasn’t the least bit embarrassed when I realized that it was Arlo’s pretend phone and not my real phone. Again, I have to emphasize the no embarrassment part. I also had a pacifier and pretend car keys in my purse. I suppose I put them there, but have no recollection. At least I didn’t attempt to start my car with the big primary colored plastic keys. There was a time, many years ago, when volunteering with the elderly in Perú, that I felt I was one Kleenex up the inside of my sleeve away from becoming one of them as I had begun to take on some of their behaviors (forgetting to zip up my pants, hugging and kissing far more than was appropriate and of course always having that tissue tucked up the sleeve, which I rarely used). It’s possible that it is happening again. This time, though, I feel like I’m one call on a Playskool phone call away from becoming a toddler. I’m guessing I’ll be redirected by my daughter if it gets too out of hand.
A few nights ago, while trying to calm down an overly stimulated almost one year-old, I heard my daughter quietly singing the same song that I used to sing to her. You are still my sunshine, Emery, and the sunshine that you and Miles have brought into my life with Arlo, shines brighter than I could have ever imagined.
What a year it’s been. Happy first year of everything, Arlo, but mostly love.
My two weeks volunteering in Ho, Ghana, was spent doing vision screenings at schools in 2 villages, 30 minutes from our home base. During that time we (5 of us the first week, 4 the second) screened:
331 people, including a half dozen or so teachers
21 failed the test, 2 of them teachers.
I was very pleased with the results, less than 7% failing, compared to our results in the refugee camps in Greece which was close to 20% failure. Those who failed will be seen by an eye doctor in the coming weeks and will be fitted for glasses.
We also did BMI’s on the children – none were overweight, but many were underweight.
Added to those numbers are the 50 or so school uniforms that we were able to piece back together with buttons, patches and a needle and thread, offering a bit more dignity to the wearer.
I’m very proud of how my time in Ghana was spent and the measurable difference we were able to make simply with a vision screening or a needle and thread. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the tremendous sense of need when volunteering in developing countries, and although I feel very proud of what I accomplished, I’m also realistic and know that it is only a tiny drop in a vast ocean of need. It hasn’t been that long that Ghana has even been on my radar screen – its needs, its generous spirt, its beautiful children, but the curtain has now been pulled back, the same as it was during my time in the refugee camps in Greece, and I can’t unsee what I’ve seen or unexperience what I’ve experienced. It would be easier on my soul if I could. Hard as it is, I have to keep reminding myself that although it’s only a drop, that drop is a part of something much bigger, and collectively we really can make a difference.
I’m smack dab in the middle of my re-entry process, a process that is never easy for me, but one that I’ve come to embrace as it’s the time in my journey where the memories are still close enough to the surface that I feel like I’m straddling two universes. This is the time when I will wake up in the middle of the night, wondering why the fan is no longer blowing in my face or why I’m not tangling myself up in mosquito netting and why is it not unbearably hot? Without even giving it a thought, the first thing I did when I got home was turn up the heat in my house (despite the pleasant temperatures) and turn on the ceiling fan in my bedroom, which I rarely use. Re-entry. It’s slow for me and although we boarded 3 flights to get home, that soul of mine will hang back for a bit in Ghana, in a hot room with a blowing fan, and will visit me nightly in my dreams with nudges of, “not so fast there, Laurie, this is your absorption time. Don’t rush the process.” The time will eventually come when the suitcase is put away, the laundry done, and my coveted passport tucked away for safe keeping until the next time and life will return to its familiar place. I still have 4 more days of malaria pills to take though, and until that is complete, I still have one foot in Ghana.
I’m amused by how much I miss the things that initially I was so apprehensive about – the heat, oh my word, the heat! And sleeping under mosquito netting with a fan as close as I could get it to my bed, blowing directly into my face. I miss my campsite of a bed, tucking in at 7:30 or so every evening, while reading with a headlamp and eventually being lulled to sleep with the whir of my rotating fan. And my biggest surprise, and for reasons that this heat and humidity hating girl cannot explain, I miss the heat. Go figure. The one thing that I couldn’t stop complaining about my first few days there and now I feel its absence. As a non-sweater by nature, I discovered that a good sweat and frequent brow mops feel pretty darn good, earthy, teenaged-boy odor, and all.
I also miss the food, well most of it anyway. Because I have a gluten sensitivity, and have been advised by my doctor to avoid it, the pancakes and french toast that our cook would make for breakfast were off limits for me. Every morning he made me what looked like a thin omelette with diced red peppers that was rolled up burrito style. I was so pleased the first morning, feeling that my “special” breakfast outshined the pancakes or french toast options. 15 days later, my opinions changed and although I ate it without hesitation, the joy was replaced with nourishment needs. After leaving the home base, fellow volunteer, Lynette, and I spent a few days at a lovely boutique hotel in Accra before heading home. I was so excited to see a beautiful breakfast buffet laid out our first morning there, yet on closer inspection, I realized that, sadly, it was a gluten-laden feast with only one option for me. An omelet. And by choice, I requested red pepper only as my add on. Lynette laughed when she saw my breakfast choice after hearing my morning sighs at my daily, here we go again, omelette.
With the exception of our free time on weekends, my time and my purpose in Ghana was simple – doing vision screenings on the school children with the added bonus of uniform mending. When I wasn’t at the schools, I was immersing myself in the culture of Ghana through dancing and drumming, beading, a lesson in kente cloth weaving, Awe language lessons and even a visit with a witch doctor. My time felt clean and purposeful and held the same kind of amazement that I used to discover in my cultural anthropology classes, only this time they weren’t just stories. They were real and have become my stories that no doubt will be told and re-told for a long time. Stories about the beautiful children – the pure joy in their laughter, their enthusiastic welcomes and the curious hands that would gently touch my arm to see what white skin felt like.
As I process these experiences, during both my waking and sleeping hours, the one thing that continues to give me pause and brings a big smile to my face every time, is the children… the beautiful, sweet, kind children of Ghana. It is their sweet smiles and enthusiastic goodbyes as our van would pull away every day, that I will hold dearly. Those children, who have so little in material possessions but who have an abundance of joy and happiness in their spirits, were there to teach every one of us who worked with them a valuable lesson in what is important. It’s natural for me to come to my own conclusions about their happiness and well-being using my template of experience simply because that’s what I know. Initially, it was the visible scarcity that took my breath away – the small mud brick hovels that hardly seemed livable surrounded by piles of what I can only describe as broken – broken bicycles, tires, car parts and heaps of desk top monitors, or tv’s, I couldn’t tell which. It was an overwhelming entrance into where I would spend the next 2 weeks. When I met the children though, and saw their joy, their happiness and the strong sense of community they shared with one another, their abundance of spirit slowly softened the edges of the poverty that was so overwhelming on my drive in from the airport. I was stunned at how different that drive looked to me 2 weeks later, while I noticed the people in the villages, rather than their surroundings. Once again, time spent in a developing country, has given me the tremendous gift of gratitude for the gifts in my life that are so basic that I hardly see them as gifts… water, a solid shelter from weather and adequate food. Beyond the most basic of needs, our joy and happiness comes from a place within. This is an ongoing struggle for me that I face during my re-entries from developing countries. How do I find my comfortable balance between what I experienced and my own reality? I think it will be the faces of the children of Ghana as they come to mind, that will help me find that place of balance.
The inconveniences of not being able to flush toilet paper, not having hot water or water pressure in the shower, doing my laundry with two buckets rather than a washing machine and forgoing coffee for two weeks (yes, true story on that one…) were just that… inconveniences. Adaptation didn’t take long at all, and I got used to “showering” with a trickle of cool water and skipping the coffee for a cup of tea in the morning. I will say though, that the first cup of coffee and a real shower was pure heaven, something I never would have said a month ago. I no longer need the layer of mosquito deterring deet that I reluctantly applied to my skin every morning, or the fan and mosquito netting that turned my lower bunkbed into my night “camp.” No longer do I need to pay careful attention to the cultural sensitivity of which hand I use, a habit that was very hard to break initially, but one that kept me constantly in check, especially when I would hand items to the children during the testing. Lefty is back on board.
While I make my transition back, the feelings, the emotions, and the moments that tugged at my heart, will remain, with unexpected reminders of who I am, what I’m doing and a clearer picture of my place and my responsibility in the world.
The word Akpe in Awe means thank you and the syllable “ca” has the significance of adding emphasis to the word that precedes it, much like our “very” only with much more of a “more is more” significance. And so with that…
Akpe cacacacacacaca…. (and yes, that many “cas” would be totally acceptable). Your gracious welcoming of me to your country, I will always hold dear.