Friday, April 29, 2011

Royally Entranced

Yes, I’m going to blog about it.

Today was the big “Royal Wedding” between Prince William and Kate Middleton. Facebook has been jumping all morning long and there seem to be two extremes of people... those who got up early to watch the wedding and those who want everyone in the royal family to vanish from the face of the Earth.

Maybe not that extreme, but there seem to be very few people who truly feel ambivalent. Most either love or hate all the media attention and “hype” surrounding this historical event (and it IS history, regardless of your opinion of the attention paid to it.)

I’m not sure why, but I’ve felt a need to defend against the naysayers. I didn’t really “plan” to get up and watch the wedding when it began at 5am CST, but I woke up just as the big moment was starting and so I watched. (For the record, it’s beyond “extremely unusual” for me to wake up that early so I took it as a sign that deep down, I really wanted to watch. Sometimes watching things recorded isn’t enough, when I have a chance to watch history happen LIVE, I tend to gravitate toward it.) Even Edgar commented on how funny it was to see me awake when he got up for work, since I do tend to place a very high value on sleep.

Anyways, as I drove around this morning running errands, I kept thinking about all the negative comments people had thrown out there. My mind has been racing, so this is my attempt (as always) to quiet it down.

First off, when did we become so darned negative? A wedding is a CELEBRATION of LOVE and HAPPINESS. When two people love each other enough to stand before God and everyone they know (and maybe a couple billion they don’t) and profess their intention to love each other until death... why do we immediately turn to skepticism? Shouldn’t we be rejoicing? Shouldn’t we feel happy for them? Shouldn’t we take the opportunity to reflect on our own relationships and the milestones we have celebrated in our own lives?

Why instead do so many turn to negativity? Will these two stay married? Who knows? In reality, I figure every marriage has a 50/50 chance of lasting. Forget statistics, it’s simple math - either you stay together, or you don’t. Period. None of us starts out with better than 50/50 odds. But we all (or at least most of us) do start out with the intention to carry through with the promise we are making. Does that sometimes change? Sure. Does it mean the love wasn’t real at the time? I don’t think so. I have certainly loved more than one man in my lifetime (it’s ok, my husband knows this!) and I think I have even encountered more than one soulmate. It was not just love and connection that led me to marry the man I did, it was also about timing and circumstances. My parents loved each other, but they got divorced. My dad and stepmom loved each other, but they got divorced. It happens. And it doesn’t take away from what they felt on their wedding day. Rainbows don’t last either, but I believe they are real while we can see them.

Being a member of a “royal family” doesn’t ensure a “happily ever after.”

NONE of us are ever guaranteed that.

But I’ve found the subject of the royals also brings out other emotions in people. They are wealthy, and certainly have power most of us can’t begin to understand. What’s more is that they did nothing to earn either of those things other than happen to be born into the right family. It’s not “our” tradition, but the monarchy is a long-standing tradition in England and it seems to carry with it a number of old-fashioned values and belief systems. Members of the Royal family are still human, and of course they fall victim to the same sins any of us “mere mortals” do. (With the added disadvantage of it becoming world-wide news) So they’re not perfect of course, but they do seem to follow some basic etiquette and moral compass that a lot of us could probably learn from.

Discretion. Manners. Service. Charity.

So while on the one hand, we rebuke the “antiquated” system of a monarchy and the so-obvious-to-us unwarranted power and prestige it bestows upon unworthy subjects, on the other hand we talk about the need to return to more traditional, time-honored, old-fashioned values. We complain that kids don’t respect their elders or find self-motivation to help others. They’re rude and impertinent. They don’t know their “place.”

So which is it?

We complain about the amount of money spent on an extravaganza like today’s wedding and how that money could be put to better use helping the poor and underprivileged. When we don’t like how someone with more money than we have is spending their wealth, we are quick to criticize their actions.

But on the other hand, we all know that money doesn’t “buy happiness.” Money doesn’t make everything better.

So which is it?

We complain that the news is always doom and gloom and never has anything good or happy to report.

Then we complain that so much media attention is being focused on this wedding, when there is real suffering and pain and crises in our world.

So which is it?

Look, I’m not trying to defend the monarchy. I don’t even disagree with ANY of the above statements but I try hard to see things fairly without talking out of both sides of my mouth.

It’s their money, and I think they should spend it as they want to. Princess Diana was the same age I am now when she died, and yet she served on or chaired the boards of more than 100 different service organizations in her short life. Some may say I’m an “over-achiever” in the volunteering department, but even I can’t imagine matching that. Unless, maybe if I was a Princess who had access and resources available to me as a result of my status in life. Power CAN be used for good.

And I think that sometimes, a little old-fashioned etiquette and rules following is a good thing. Actually, I’m a BIG stickler for following “rules.” It’s probably a weakness, but I digress...

Sure, there are other more pressing "issues" happening in our world today. But depriving myself of enjoying this event isn't going to make them better. What WILL help is my attitude. I choose to be positive. Gas prices are crazy high. But it's just money. I still have my health and my family - and today's wedding reminds me of that. I hope and pray and pray and hope I will be around to see my own children's life milestones. I recognize there are no guarantees, no matter "who" you are.

But at the end of it all... here is what I saw today when I watched the wedding.

I saw a beautiful woman beaming with love and with incredible grace and poise - knowing the whole world was watching her but not showing the slightest sign of fear or trepidation.

I saw a man and his brother standing at the altar - and it literally took my breath away because we have watched this man grow up and it seems like he suddenly became an adult.

And, I saw a man who was getting married without his mother there to see it. I felt the absence of a mother who continues to miss milestones in her sons’ lives. My heart breaks for them all. I feel the pain.

My sister was 15 when my dad died, the same age William was when his mother died. Even at 36, I sometimes can’t believe how many things will happen in my lifetime that my dad will miss.

(Let me just say - as a spiritual person, I fully believe these people are still with us and watching over and enjoying these events. But please, let’s not pretend that it’s somehow the same as if they were actually here.)

My sister is graduating from high school in three weeks. High school. It’s her first major life milestone. Her FIRST. And he is gone. She isn’t alone of course, but we all know there will be far more students there with dads (and moms) in the stands than without.

I guess, at the crux of it all, is that I watched the wedding and I did not see a Prince and Princess. I saw a young man and woman who seem to be very much in love, taking a major step in their lives. The same step I took 12 years ago and have watched countless other couples take.

They may have money, but it comes with restrictions on freedom and certain expectations. “To whom much is given, much is expected,” no? They also still have loss and pain.

They really aren’t so unlike all of us, on the most basic, human level.

Today, they have love.

I think it’s worth celebrating.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Day in the Life of Ainsley - age (almost) 16 months

7:20am - Hey! What was that? Sounded like my big brother Aidan slamming the toilet lid! Thank goodness he did that or I might have slept in today and since everyone else is already up and leaving for wherever it is they go all day, I KNOW mommy wants me to get up too! Some days I don’t get up until after everyone else has already left and mommy always looks so lonely. I’d better start yelling so she knows to come and get me!

8:30am - Better start asking for some breakfast. Nursing was great but it’s time to sink my teeth into some toast too!

9:30am - Mommy is dozing on the couch. I don’t know why Sesame Street puts her to sleep, it’s one of the few shows I find really fascinating! Oh well, I will sit here in my little chair and watch... but just for a little bit.

10:00am - Got my exercise done for the day. I crawled all over mommy on the couch for about 20 minutes... phew, what a workout!

10:30am - I see mommy’s heading to the bathroom. I’d better go with her and be sure to shut the door behind us! I don’t want her to be lonely in there. But while I’m there, I’ll try reorganizing the garbage can to keep me busy.

11:00am - Mommy opened the refrigerator to make lunch. Oh boy the things I can get into in there! I found a bottle of strawberry syrup and drank some. Mommy just laughed and took my picture. Kind of feeling a little sugar rush now...

11:15am - Turns out, I like egg salad too! Who knew? I ate 2 little egg salad sandwiches... got to keep my energy up!

1:00pm - Mommy thought it was probably time for me to take a nap, and really I’m too tired to arrrggguuuee...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

3:45pm - I’m up! Looks like the “guys” are all back home from wherever it is they go every day too, and we’re off to Wal-Mart. Mommy says Elisabeth needs a birthday gift for a friend and we need a few things for dinner and some new socks for the boys. Boy, we sure spend a lot of time in this store! I’ve learned that mommy moves faster when I start standing up in my seat in the cart. And don’t think that strap thing is any use... I know just how to get out of it in no time flat! It makes the old ladies in the aisles nervous but I usually just smile and wave at them so they stop and talk to us anyway. Today we got all the way back out to the car with our stuff when mommy realized she hadn’t paid for something on the bottom of the cart. So, back in we went. Guess mommy got her exercise today too!

5:15pm - Time to drop Elisabeth off at soccer practice. Ethan is going to stay here too, but I’m going to stay with mommy. She said we have to go buy some stuff at Elisabeth’s dance studio, and then we are going home! I guess Elisabeth has a big dance event coming up... geez these brothers and sister of mine are busy! It’s a good thing my car seat is so comfortable because I spend a LOT of time in it! (Don't worry, this picture is a few weeks old and my mommy fixed that turned around strap protector thing!)

6:15pm - We’re home now and I’m trying really hard to help mommy. I noticed that earlier she messed up all the work I did decorating the family room and the kitchen with my toys, so I’m going to work on that. I think mommy is feeling a little lonely without me right by her too so I’m making sure to cry every time she walks out of my sight, even for just a minute. This girl who comes by a lot (I think her name is Jordan and mommy must be helping her get ready for some big competition or something?) came over for a few minutes tonight. She wasn’t here long, but I showed her how good I am at knocking things off of shelves while she was here. I also showed her how good I am at holding on to mommy’s legs and crying. Luckily, mommy took the cue pretty quickly and found something for me to play with right next to her. I guess she needed to get some paperwork done or something, so I finally let her do it.

7:00pm - Mommy gave me some green beans and cheese. Nobody else is eating yet but she must have realized I’m getting really hungry. I wonder how she knows? Eventually everybody got home and sat down to eat and she gave me some more beans and some fish. I ate all of that, plus a roll and some Pringles I sweet talked daddy into later.

8:00pm - These other kids sure are fun. They messed up my family room decorations too (mommy told them to) but they made up for it by playing hide ‘n seek with me. Daddy tickled me and made me laugh really loud - mommy said that was kind of a surprise because daddy is not usually a good tickler.

8:30pm - For some reason, everybody seems to laugh a lot when I make these faces. Ethan taught it to me. First, you tuck your chin way down in to your neck and then you look up at the person in front of you without smiling. Then you stick your chin and neck way out and make a “pa pa pa” sound with your lips, and then you start giggling. I don’t know why they like it so much but it sure is funny every time I do it! I also gave a bunch of kisses on the lips tonight, they love it when I do that too. I guess I’m pretty good entertainment sometimes.

9:00pm - Heading upstairs now. I sure love these warm, soft and fuzzy pink pajamas mommy put on me. I think she said Elisabeth used to wear them too? I don’t know, but they sure are comfy! Mommy and I sat in the recliner in her room and nursed for a few minutes. Now that I’m older, it’s harder and harder for me to sit still very long so I got a nice drink and then tried to get down and play. Mommy said it was time for bed though, so she laid me down with my blanket and my favorite toy “Violet” and turned out the lights. I guess I am pretty tired, because I didn’t even make a sound. Sometimes I fuss for a few minutes but never very long. I guess mommy doesn’t like that Ferber guy very much so she just waits until I’m good and tired and it usually works out ok. At least it’s fine when we’re at home but when we stay in a hotel I really try to switch things up on her.

You know, mommy seemed kind of tired today and I’m not sure why because I haven’t gotten her up at night for a couple of weeks now. Hmmm. I think that big wedding in England is happening tonight so maybe if I wake her up tonight she won’t even mind so much? Well, we’ll see what the night briiinngggsszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Packrats Anonymous

I think I have always been a "packrat."

I consider it a side effect of my sincere, severe sentimentality. I hold on to things because of the memories they evoke and because so many times I've had those "I'm so glad I kept this" moments.

As a result, I've had some of my "stuff" scattered at various places around town. My old ten-speed bike and prom dresses were at my grandparents' house. My wedding gown and every newspaper story I wrote in the year I worked full-time for the Pekin Times were stowed away at my dad's house. My old dollhouse and speech trophies are still waiting for me to recover them from my dad's old house, where my former stepmom still lives.

But since losing my dad and my grandpa and having to pack up and clean out both of their homes, I think I might be turning over a new leaf. Fresh off of the two-week stint of emptying out and dividing up my dad's belongings, we rented a dumpster for our own house and have been steadily emptying and re-organizing our basement.

It is a project that has been five years in the making. The basement was literally the first place we started moving stuff to when our house was inhabitable, and much of what was down there really shouldn't have been, or shouldn't have been saved at all. But we didn't have time for proper weeding out when we moved so we just got it in and figured we'd do it later.

Later finally came. And not a moment too soon, because Edgar and I both were getting anxiety attacks any time we had to go in the basement for even the simplest of things. Not only were things not organized in what had become our dumping ground, but the chaos had been exacerbated by frequent floodings that had us scurrying to move stuff out of water and to dry ground, wherever that might be.

So we dug in and took our time and now we happily walk into the basement with a bounce in our step. Not only do I know where things are, I also now have a place to put things. Earlier today I noticed a stray winter decoration and a card table sitting in the guest room/office. No problem... I now know just where they can go in the basement! I was practically giddy as I put them away.

But even better than the organization we have created is the feeling of freedom from having let go of "stuff." We've thrown the broken and unsafe and unusable into the dumpster. We've created a section of basement dedicated to "garage sale" or "just plain donation" stuff. I even went through old boxes of mementos and got serious about what I really need to save. Maybe it's the image of my kids having to do what I have just done - twice in the past six months - but suddenly the corsages from high school dances in the ziploc bag seemed just well, silly. I threw away dozens of photographs - previously a big no-no in my mind, but they really are starting to overwhelm. Plus, I know there are duplicates (and sometimes triplicates) of them already sitting in boxes waiting to be organized "someday."

Don't get me wrong, I'm still sentimental. And it does sometimes pay off.

In a photo album, I found this - right where I knew it would be, although the album itself has been buried and somewhat MIA since we moved here.

(Ok, having trouble uploading a picture but keep reading and you'll get the idea!)

It is a letter written by my dad and given to me on my Confirmation Day in 1989.

It is three pages long, typed - and much of his prose is devoted to the subject of death and more specifically, life after death. Here is some of what he had to say:

"I KNOW that there is life after what we know as death. Life after death is a TRUTH. Consider this: What we come to know as TRUTHS in this life is largely a result of opposites... of converses. For instance: to really experience happiness, we must experience unhappiness. To know joy, we must know sadness.

And what of this thing we call death? Well, without LIFE, there could be no DEATH. That is a TRUTH. I am convinced that the converse is also a TRUTH... that without DEATH there can be no LIFE."

Anyone who heard my eulogy for my dad may remember I quoted C.S. Lewis from "The Shadowlands" about how the pain now is part of the joy then, that's "the deal." It was one of my dad's favorite movies and was actually introduced to him by me when I performed an excerpt of the play for Speech competitions in high school. Interestingly though, "Shadowlands" came to us years after he had written the letter.

I'm sure it goes without saying what this letter means to me. I have a few letters my dad wrote me over the years, but this one has the most depth. I almost felt him reaching across the divide that currently separates us as I read this letter again.

Reminding me, teaching me, comforting me... helping to heal me.

He wrote, "God has given you many blessings, not the least of which is an excellent mind. You have wit, you have musical talent and appreciation. You are a caring and loving and giving person. You show a genuine concern for those around you and you possess a conviction to be of help... to make a difference. I have watched you grow in your maturity of faith, through instruction. I have watched you grow in maturity of judgment through experience. And I have come to realize that one of the many blessings God has bestowed upon me is a daughter named Shannon."

He says at the beginning that the letter will be "heavy stuff." And it definitely is. But in case this is just too emotional, here's something else he wrote:

"In a certain sense, confirmation is a rite of passage into adulthood. There will be others. Your first REAL love of another human being as a helpmate, a partner, a spouse. Your first full sexual experience. Your first hangover. (I assume these all to be future experiences, but it doesn't matter.)


This letter is one of my treasures, and tonight it's being moved from the photo album to a safer location.

Sometimes it really pays to be a packrat.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Another Lion King kind of Day...

This past week has been a hard one for me.

The sale of my dad's house - after hitting a few minor bumps along the way - really looks like it will happen. My sister, who had been living there since he died, bought her own house and moved out last weekend. So over the past week I have finally been going through the task of cleaning out and cleaning up the home my dad created and enjoyed the last three years of his life.

I don't know how anyone ever does this soon after a death. I am eternally grateful that time has cushioned the blow, but of course it still stings.

Countless times over the past week, I have picked up something and thought, "wow... this is a (fill in the blank here.) I'll bet most women wouldn't know what it is. I'll bet my dad is proud to see that I was paying attention!"

Other times, I pick something up and think, "what the *&^%^&** is this?"

Or... "why did he need 34546765 of these?"

By far the most dangerous though is when I open a new drawer or peek into a different box and think, "why yes... it makes perfect sense to keep a box of 1000 sticks. I'll take them home, I'm sure I'll need them someday and now I'll have them!" (This is my story for about 80% of what I'm bringing in to my house and I'm not ashamed to say it!)

That last statement is proof positive of the old saying, "I am my father's daughter."

For some people, going through clothes and jewelry may be the hardest part of a job like this.

For me, it was going through my dad's workshop.

In every house I ever lived in or spent time in with my dad - growing up when my parents were still married, during my teen years when he was married to my stepmom, and then this last house where he moved just a few years ago - my dad had a workshop.

It was his retreat, his sanctuary. It was where he kept his tools and supplies neat and organized and ready at the call for action. Whatever it was that I needed fixing, he would take it to his shop and give it a go. 99% of the time he was successful in either a total repair, or enough of a repair to add some extra life. I never despaired over anything broken because just knowing my dad would try to fix it made it seem somehow fine.

As I grew older and moved out, his workshops became the place where he could help fix me. I would sit in the swivel bar chair while he tinkered around working on small projects or a model airplane or just organizing his stuff. While his hands were busy, his ears and mind were solely focused on me and the problem or issue at hand. If he could offer tangible help, he would. If all he could offer was a hug and support, he gave that too. Advice was doled out frequently in those workshops.

As a small child, I remember the incubators full of pheasant eggs in his workshop. As a young adult, I remember sitting with him in there and telling him that my boyfriend had stolen money from me and was cheating on me. Once, I sat in that chair thinking I might be pregnant and would take a test in the morning - but I didn't say anything to him just yet. And in that last shop, we talked about life and marriage and divorce and well, just stuff. Big stuff, small stuff, important stuff, trivial stuff.

Several months after my dad died, I stopped by his house one day to collect a few tools we needed from his workshop. Edgar wanted to go and buy them at Menard's instead. I resisted, and insisted it was silly to spend that money when there were some sitting there, available and ready. So I stepped inside the shop for the first time since he had died and instantly felt an overwhelming sense of loss. He was gone. Really, truly, gone.

On the workbenches that he had designed and built himself sat the tools he had been using to make our front door. Untouched since the day he had laid them down were tubes of caulking, a pair of pliers, and some notepad pages with his measurements scrawled across them. There was still sawdust on the floor and his "City of Pekin" hat hanging where he had left it. Fishing lures for his trips to Canada were sitting out - he always started going through them in the late fall to prepare for the next summer's trip. So many harsh visual reminders that he was gone.

That was one of the times I had what was probably best described as a hyperventilating, gut-wrenching, soul-aching meltdown. The empty place in my heart is something I have come to live with, but every now and then it makes its presence physically painfully known.

From that day on, I avoided his workshop when I could. My procrastinating self knew I had time to go through and clean things out, so I put it off. I knew it would be the hardest room to pack up, why rush?

So for the past week, the work has been stepped up. With a deadline (the closing) looming, I am finally motivated to get it done. Yesterday I spent the entire day working at the house and I noticed that subconsciously, I am only able to work in the shop for so long before I have to go find something else to focus on. But even in bits and pieces, the shop is now almost empty. All of the tools and extra odds and ends and "better save this just in case" items have been divvied up, given away, or in some cases even thrown away. Every single time I throw away something I say "sorry dad." I've kept what's important to me and a lot of things that were important to him but of course I just can't keep it all.

So what does ANY of this have to do with "The Lion King?"

I went back to work on the house this afternoon, but I have to admit my heart wasn't in it. We're nearing the finish line after Saturday's marathon day of cleaning and clearing out and I'm just exhausted. The finality is hard to bear and each hour I spend in his now mostly empty house is just another hour I'm reminded of the loss. It feels good to be doing something for him - it feels like I'm helping him out and fulfilling a responsibility as his daughter - but after this, there won't be any "projects" that will fill that void. The business is sold, both buildings he owned are now sold, and from here on out the work I will do "for" him is primarily financial in nature. I was going through the motions.

And then, my phone rang. It was the husband of a couple I had agreed to be a doula for and his wife was in labor. I could hear her in the background and I could hear a faint glimmer of need in his otherwise calm voice as he described for me what was happening. They wanted me to come to their house as soon as I could and help them navigate the next phase.

So I closed the garage door and locked up the house and drove to this couple's home, where I greeted them and focused on the scene before me.

Just a little over two hours later, I had the unbelievable honor of watching as this little baby girl came earthside into the joyous arms of her parents.

I watched from behind the camera lens as the mother handed the baby to the father, and I snapped away as he cuddled and kissed her. When his emotions took over, I cried along with him.

As I look now at the photos, I realize that I really focused in on the father during this birth. As a doula, I have been trained to focus on the mother but this time it's clear my eye was more on him.

Another father and daughter, just beginning their journey together.

When I close my eyes, I can see the days stretched out before them... working together in the garden, learning to ride a bike, him teaching her about tools and listening as she talks about boys. I hope that one day he will walk her down the aisle.

I hope he is able to fix things for her.

And yes, I hope that one day she will feel an emptiness in her soul when he is no longer earthside with her.

My dad loved the movie "The Lion King" and he talked a lot about the circle of life. He taught it to me through words and experience.

He continues to teach it to me today. For every end, there is a beginning. In every bulb, a flower. Unrevealed until its season... something God alone can see.

It was a good day.