Skipping Life

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10622951_10152351301253927_1753466930769056260_n She skips. Everywhere.

Twenty feet ahead of me, untethered and independent. Completely oblivious to any dangers lurking around a corner. All momentary unpleasantness forgotten — as well as everyone around her.

She is smiling. Maybe even humming. Caught up in the simple joy of life and this happy moment.

My heart swells with inexpressable joy when I see her caught up in this secret world…and I don’t feel joy easily these days. She is so beautiful…so free. Unencumbered with the worldly cares that hold me down. Focused only on wherever she’s headed, some unknown adventure that will reveal itself if she only hurries to get there. Because walking would take too long and she must know.

It is my motherly duty to call her back at times; to remind her to be aware of what is going on around her. Don’t bump into other adults. Watch out for that tree root. Don’t step on your sister’s foot. Don’t get too far ahead.

So many rules. So many “dont’s”. So many “no’s”.

While I joke that she’s going to be a great lawyer someday — looking for every loophole, negotiating every request, and arguing a way around our “no’s” — I also find myself so fiercely proud of her determination and enthusiasm for life. She doesn’t take disappointment lightly. She feels everything deeply. And tries to do something about it even when it risks trouble. 
That’s the kind of personality that doesn’t back down. That doesn’t let others shut them in a box. That seeks joy even when there’s difficulty and unquiet around her. That forges her own way against the norm. That doesn’t take “no”.

That finds the cure to cancer.

But for now, she’s simply a seven-year-old. Skipping off to the next destination in search of fun. Oblivious to what lies around and ahead as she lives in the simple happiness of childhood.

And while I protect her and her brief, sweet innocence, she reminds me that life should be more than worry, sadness and work. That adulthood shouldn’t always be…adulthood. That adventure and excitement can still lurk around the corner. That I should let loose once in awhile and be the little girl I once was.

And just…skip.

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Amazing

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Two years ago today, life forever changed with the loss of an amazing individual.

He wasn’t amazing by the world’s standards. He wasn’t rich or famous. Not a celebrity or sports figure. He wasn’t a high-powered CEO making deals in Armani suits and a Rolex watch. He didn’t invent or discover anything important enough to make headlines. He didn’t travel the world, play to sell-out crowds or write a novel.

Instead, he was a husband and father. He raised eight children. He became a grandfather while still raising young kids. He was faithful to his wife. He went to work everyday, missing only in the worst illnesses, and didn’t retire until he was 80. He attended church every Sunday and served where he was needed. (I still have memories of him washing dishes in the kitchen after a church supper.)

He played frisbee, softball, badminton and yard darts with us in good weather. Marbles, Uno, War and puzzles in bad.

He laughed…a lot. Over newspaper comics. Saturday morning cartoons. Police Squad. Abott and Costello. Danny Kaye. The Three Stooges. Dumb blonde jokes.

He missed participating in WWII with his four brothers by one year — and was then told he was too flat-footed for the military. So he served his country in other ways: Being a good citizen. Paying his taxes. Voting conscientiously. Writing carefully-worded editorials on an old typewriter, laboring for a week or more before submitting his Letter To The Editor.

He never pushed any of his children into a particular hobby or career, but cheered them on from the sidelines, attending events and performances as he could. When everyone began to spread out over the map he drove to see them, called and sent cards.

He started his day reading the Bible and praying, and ended it with a crossword puzzle and more Bible reading and praying. I would love to know how many times he read it cover to cover.

He had a smile for everyone, and was always happy to run into someone at the grocery store to chat. He refused to talk badly about even those unkind to him, instead reserving his grumblings for politicians.

The last day of his life, I had the privilege of sitting by his bedside. Alone together for some hours, I read the Psalms aloud. I reminisced about dearly missed people he would be seeing again soon. I promised that we would take care of Mom. I talked about my little ones, who mutually adored him. I asked him to take care of my first child, lost too early to hold. I asked him to forgive me for all the times I was sure I’d disappointed him. I held his hand and told him how much I loved him.

And I thanked him. Thanked him for being a great father. For all his wise counsel. For really listening to me, and knowing me as more than just his seventh kid.

I thanked him for his example of hard work, loyalty and faithfulness. Of being upbeat even when cancer stole his voice and made life so difficult for a brief time.

I thanked him for loving me so well that there was nothing left unsaid between us. So that when the call came in the early hours of the morning, I knew everything was okay between us — even without those extra hours together where he was still a physical presence in the room, but already far beyond my reach.

The world can have its definition of amazing. I’m choosing to aspire to my Dad’s living definition of the word.

I’m quite certain it will last longer.

Parents!

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While that is usually being shouted (if only mentally) by a fuming teenager, let’s admit it — even as adults, our parents are sometimes…PARENTS!

We spend our childhood adoring them. Our teen years ignoring them. And between the ages of 18 and 22, we start to understand what they have taught us. And how much more we still can learn.

We seek their advice (at times) on weddings, marriage, pregnancy and parenting. We strive to show our excellent decision-making skills, and they continue to see us as 5-year-olds incapable of making excellent decisions.

But one day, something shifts. You suddenly notice the gray hair. The stoop to the shoulders. The lack of speed in getting up and around.

The afternoon naps. A missing appetite. Hearing loss. Or disinterest in things that had once delighted.

Suddenly, your parents are…older. And roles have reversed.

I was convinced my Dad would live to be 100. He worked till he was 80, and then continued to keep himself busy and sharp until cancer showed up — unexpected and very uninvited — and broke our hearts.

Now, I assist my mother in maintaining her independence. I get her to the grocery store. The doctor. Various errands. Chat with her several times a week to make sure she hasn’t run out of something dire. Lecture her on shoveling the sidewalk at 86. Keep her updated on weather and some news, which she struggles to hear on TV. My brother and a neighbor check in on her, as well as friends who are always willing to stop by and help her if a need arises and they can reach her faster. I am beyond grateful for their concern.

I read once that watching our parents age is the equivalent of walking on a road that runs parallel to theirs. We are beside them, but watching them veer ever so slowly away as they age, until they eventually are no longer beside us. We can see them, hear them — but not walk their road with them.

Ours has never been a perfect relationship, but I find that is probably the norm with mothers and daughters. We women like our independence. Yet find it hard to give our children that which we fought our mothers for so fiercely. I can forgive her for still seeing me as I was at 13, even as I sometimes wish I was right back there, under her parental protection — rather than needing to offer her mine.

I walk this path, still beside her — but seeing her journey turn slightly away, every few steps. She drives me bananas over little things that seem so insignificant to everyone else, but clutter up her shrinking world. She can’t understand my life, my interests or my struggles with my youngest’s special needs. She can’t always hear me when I talk, which leads to misunderstandings and frustration for both of us.

So, I watch her with a bit of sadness as we journey on. And hope that she won’t walk away too fast.

There is still much I have to learn.