Sunday, November 23, 2008


Knowing that there's decent chocolate somewhere in the house. Just in case.

A quiet house at the end of the day or first thing in the morning.

A really, very, exceptionally good day with the kidlets. Most days are good, but some just shine.

Facebook Flair. ("There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased that line and replaced it with a small trout.")

Good wishes from meaningful figures in my life.

Little guy, cooing and chortling to his sisters.

Watching the lap swimmers while I walk the aforementioned kiddo around and around in the pool, hugging the lane markers to avoid splashes from the other families. I fantasize a little, my cells recalling the slip of water over belly and thighs, the feel of stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe, and the surge of delight in a well-executed dive.

Prayer, contemplation, meditation. I don't often hold still for these activities, especially since doing so often results in my falling asleep, but I absolutely treasure the space in my head that's reserved for this type of thinking and/or activity. I use it all day, every day in big and little increments.

A really good walk in sunny, apple-crunchy crisp air, with good conversation and great scenery.

My parents, married forty-one years today, their forbearance in letting us be here and other myriad help they offer. Having a warm place to be is awesome, and this place is so much more than that. (My mom was here with the kids, one of three adults who stepped in while I was off to court, and she has since had just the sweetest and most complimentary things to say about the stuff I do here daily. It makes me blush.)

Lunges and squats. I know this puts me somewhere in the realm of the demented, but wait: the doing of particular exercises is the only thing staving off further intervention with this silly knee. I slipped on a small invisible puddle while passing through a hospital cafeteria last week. I splatted unceremoniously and was sore, but nothing was dislocated (a minor miracle, given my history) and I'm crediting my own persistence in the pursuit of muscle-making, thank you very much. You see? Lunges and squats.

Good food. Orange-scented, nutmeg and vanilla, maple syrup-topped French toast. A salad made with pears and apples and bleu cheese with cardamom, black pepper, ginger, and chili powder-spiced candied walnuts. Roasted carrots and parsnips, sauteed rainbow chard with a little garlic. And a tortellini salad with garbanzos, capers, fresh basil, little rings of multi-colored baby sweet peppers and crumbled feta. Yup. Lots of comfort in the sensuality of awesome food -- making, eating, cleaning up and teaching the next generation. Love it.

Last but far from least, there are moments in which I sort of watch myself and my punkins interact, kind of removed from the situation, thinking about how we'll remember that frame caught in time. The eldest becomes this funny, self-possessed young man; the second-born a treasure of anticipating, striving responsibility; the middlest ever more creative and beguiling. Number four grows her vocabulary and conceptualization almost hourly, always popping out the very funniest and most profound things one is likely to hear on any given day; and Q. Whipping his head around when he hears the word "pool" or to find the sound of running water. And, oh, the fatness of those cheeks...

Life is rich indeed.

Speaking of court...

I suppose we made some progress. Things are certainly nearer being once and for all done. I'm sure there will be a wedding soon. Sometime after December 8 (the next and probably last court date), to be more precise.

I met with my attorney before heading to court and she asked me if I was nervous. I told her that no, I wasn't. I'd thought about all of this and decided some time back that since I've no "story" to keep straight, only details to remember, and I've based (or tried to) everything I've said and done on what I've always believed (that kids always come first, that one should work at being nice no matter what, that Truth ultimately takes the day), that there simply wasn't anything to be worried about.

She said, "You know, I can't tell you how many times we've worked so hard, thrown ourselves into arguing every detail, just done all that we could think of to do in order to achieve what seemed to be the only reasonable outcome, only to have it fall through for no apparent reason. Only later, sometimes much later, have we seen that it worked out just the way it was supposed to all along. The right thing happened, we just couldn't see it at the time."

I nodded. "I'm good with that."

She said, "I am too."

I'm glad to have this particular attorney.

Of course, that didn't prevent the near panic attack that happened when they walked into the room. I held my breath until my heartbeat didn't hurt anymore, figuring that either I'd wake up to EMTs standing over me (oh, wouldn't that have been fun) or the silly organ would get back to it's business and leave me alone. What happened? The latter, of course. Who needs that kind of drama? Besides, I haven't had a panic attack since back in the first week after I learned what was about to happen to my family. Not a place I want to go again. Moving right along...

I don't have much to say about the actual proceedings. It was surreal. And I think I may just have to get comfortable with feeling like my limbs are being removed with a dull and rusty cheese grater, since the sensation doesn't seem to be subsiding much. Or at all. It might be marginally better than panic attacks, though. I'd have to think about that and get back to you if you were to want a definitive answer.

I think the judge is a remarkable guy, level-headed, whole-heartedly on the side of the children, focused on upholding the law as he's been entrusted to, as one would have to be under the circumstances. I observed some of his other cases late in the morning and again in the early afternoon. I don't know how a person would maintain objective speech in some of those cases. Really.

A mom was asking for counseling help with her 11 year old daughter, a child she had just allowed to go live with the bio-dad (the split was recent) for about two weeks just prior to their court date. When asked why, she said that she and her daughter had difficulties, that the child pushed constantly to get her way, that it was easier not to have to fight with her and that it seemed like her dad's place might be a good breather for them all. She admitted, when pressed, that a kid saying, "I wanna go live with dad" is not a threat. (It was her best example of "threats made.") The judge, at his most adamant during my observation, leaned a little forward and said, "She's eleven. You have no control over your eleven year old? What will you do when she's sixteen? By allowing her to do this, you have just confirmed that whenever she wants to push you like this, it will work. She will use this on you forever. [pause] This is what we would call bad parenting. The state does not look kindly upon the splitting up of siblings." And he ordered the child back with her mother and brother, to receive counseling, and the parents to work more on this.

I wondered if the mom, with her very shiny, very long, black as midnight hair had finished high school. If she understood the difference between a preteen upset with the enormity of emotion in the situation vs. the amount of control the child feels she has over the emotion, the situation, or herself. I wondered if the mom ever had anyone help her process those feelings that were bigger than she was as a kid, or now, when she's the grown-up in charge.

The dad was quiet. I wondered if he, with his forcibly squared and constantly re-squared shoulders, understood that his daughter needed to stay with her mom, in no small part to help her know viscerally that one does not run away when faced with feelings of chaos and frustration, a skill her own parents weren't modeling for her. I wondered if he knew this but couldn't follow through, just as he (or they or she) couldn't (or wouldn't) follow through with keeping that child's world safe with mom and dad under one roof. I wondered if he knew this but did what he felt he could do: take the child and allow her some breathing room, even as he may have grasped clearly that it wasn't a permanent thing. I wondered what he would tell her about the day in court and why she had to go back. It's certainly not unusual or wrong for daughters to want their daddies or for dads to want their baby girls. Would he tell her that her mom was making them all do this? Would he tell her that it was the (big, mean) judge? Would he say that this was the right thing for now, that he loves her and wants her more than he can ever put into words, but that her mom has been the constant in her life? That it's important to stay put and work through the hard things because she has people who love her more than life and will do good things for and with her and always push for the best for her, even if it's hard and that one day it might be his turn to be on her bad side but how she feels about him has nothing to do with how he feels about her and that it's the same for her mom? Would he tell her that he'll be there for her whenever she needs him? That she can always talk to him about anything and that he hopes she'll talk to her mom too? Would he offer to help her talk to her mom? Would he?

I see them still, standing at that table, both holding a shared and scared breath. I want to stand behind them and whisper the thing they need to hear. The thing that will help them to be whole, to be unafraid, and to be the heroes their kids need them to be.

The (ex)couple who took turns making accusations of certain acts taking place in front of the kids or rock-throwing? That's pretty much fear too. There wasn't much leveled that day that seemed to have any basis in reality. Accusations of failure, inadequacy, most cases were about one parent being terrified that something was slipping inexorably from their grasp(s) and could never be replaced. The depth of emotion was black and heavy and I don't know how the people who work there, including bailiffs who act as combination security detail and social workers, manage to show up every day and not go, as Martha Beck says, "totally barking postal." And again, I am so sorry that anyone would ever, for any reason, need them.

Would that there were some way to snap one's fingers and fix the tremendous amount of pain in that place. If for no other reason than to stop the ripples it slams the whole of society with. Couldn't we all use something more hopeful than that?

Food for Thought

Any time you spend away from your family MUST be spent in the company of those who will encourage you as a mother and wife. You will never gain anything but resentment from the council of those who encourage you to seek self. Learn to enjoy being home with your family. Learn to live sacrificially. Learn contentment in serving others. Learn to be happy being you--right where God placed you.
--Raising Arrows blog
Read more here.

Further comments from the author:
I am also not saying I don't think a mother should go somewhere by herself. What I am saying is that this alone time should not be a frantic NEED. We should not spend our days trying to get away from the children. We should find ways to make our time w/ our children and husband satisfying, so that when opportunities arise to go for coffee w/ a friend or to a baby shower or some such thing, we don't see it as something we HAVE to have in order to continue to function. We all know the disappointment of thinking we HAVE to do something and then not being able to. Wouldn't it be nice to see those "outside" things as something extra and not something we DESERVE?

I think sort of the same as the above, with a smidge more fleshing out: If parents don't already have an identity and an established ability to find ways to "get needs met" concurrently with being mom/dad, wife/husband, daughter/son, friend, doesn't this say something about our own maturity? Having SO been there, done that (with toddlers), I can say that for me it absolutely did. If I'm acting out or cranky because I'm not getting what I want or need, how can I hold myself up as an example of anything to my kids? If I can't effect it myself -- and as an adult that is my responsibility -- how dare I take energy away from my family by focusing on stuff that has no relevance to our daily lives? Life can be full of frustrations, yes, but handling disappointment well, even with humor and graciousness, provides our children a viaduct which allows them to circumvent most of the tantrums and longing we've experienced throughout our lives when we've bought into the "grass is greener" myth. I'd contend that such perpetual disappointment is absolutely a lack of maturity. Or at least, that's exactly how I experienced it. I may well not be done with it, but these days I spend zero time thinking I deserve something "better" or "different." Well. I long for that intact nuclear family thing, but that's a whole other topic.

So here's my bottom line on the topic: Dive in where you are. Apply the best of what you've got to those closest to you. Be the sweetest, kindest, funniest, lustiest, organiziest human you can be right now.

Having been in Family Court recently I can tell you this: If every single one of those families I watched interrupt their days of work, school, family endeavors, to come argue the (perceived) deficits of their (ex)spouse and legitimize their own efforts above all else, if those people were putting that same amount of actual effort, measured in Joules or calories expended, you pick, into lifting up the other parent, into acknowledging and honoring the good stuff and deserving the respect they're demanding instead of being afraid all. the. time. that something is about to be snatched from them? Family Court would be needed only for extreme cases and Guardianships or Special Needs Trusts. Which would be fine with me. With most of us, really. The planet at large would certainly experience an immediate shift.

That persistent fear thing rules us more frequently than we admit. It ought not. I believe that if you focus on fear you will get more of it. Eventually, it will be all you're able to see or experience. If you're waiting for someone to cut you off in traffic or otherwise offend you, you won't need to wait long -- as nature abhors a vacuum, you'll see that space filled with whatever it is you require to confirm your worldview that people are crumbs, that they're all out to get you, that you're not loved or cherished as you should be even if there is overwhelming objective evidence to the contrary. Adopting an "attitude of gratitude" seems to be the inverse of the above.

Unless your relationship meets certain criteria (violence, etc.) the first place you must look when hashing out difficulties is to yourself. Have you forgiven seventy times seven? Times seven? Have you done literally every single thing you could? No? (Shocking, what with you being human and all.) Then do it. You are a great big person with resources and a magnificent brain. Drop the hubris like it's on fire and get counseling, read, find meds, a mentor, or go for a good, head-clearing hike.

But do not blow the people who love you to heck, through heck, and back again by being a jerk. On any level. It doesn't have to be infidelity to wreak havoc -- though that certainly produces an unequaled mushroom cloud. Persistent pettiness, jealousy, or complaining will do just as well to undermine your beloveds. Choose to be present, to be honest and earnest and if you can't, GET HELP.

Or you might instead just spend a day in the halls of divorce court, a place which could just as easily be called The House of Dread. The people who show up there are scared, worried, sick, often lying (even "getting their stories straight" at a shocking decibel level right outside the doors of the courtroom), and rarely capable of rising above much of anything at that moment. If they were, they wouldn't be there. Harsh? Yes. Accurate? Afraid so. Putting the people who love you first means that you don't allow addiction or impulse to drive you. (And if you're struggling, I'll say it again until I'm blue, you must get help.) Instead you make your choices based on the long-term, what will best benefit the sweet little souls who depend upon you. And you make sure that you've created a balance in all this, so that they know you respect and value yourself enough to persist in the challenges of life and get what you want and need, while you're loving them with everything you are. Herein lie many of the quietest, bravest acts ever undertaken.

When your day is done, think about whether or not your family deserves every drop of effort you've got. I can assure you that they do. As Ghandi said: Be the change you wish to see in the world.

You have no time to waste.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.
--Dawna Markova

Monday, November 10, 2008


I'm waiting for the kids (chortle). That never happens -- I'm usually running around getting stuff together and fixing the next meal for later and drawing up meds... I'll get back to that in a minute.

How are you? Are things alright where you live? Papers getting written? Toilets getting scrubbed? Paychecks comin' in? I'm humming "It is well..."

Q is "getting" the whole walking thing more and more. We've been swimming once or twice a week in addition to his other therapies and I think the boy is gaining muscle in his legs. Good muscle means more stamina, more stamina means more muscle built, and longer periods on his feet means that muscle memory has more time to become embedded so that next time he wants to go somewhere the organizing part of getting to an upright position isn't so tough, the remembering that the feet have to alternate is easier and he gets farther more quickly. Which is so rewarding that he wants to do more, more, more! I've been talking with Q's PT about a walker because the boy would like to do this for hours out of the day now and my back can't take it. His PT is concerned that we get into a walker at just the right time so that we don't cause major structural issues later. He admits to being conservative in this. I'm fine with being careful, but antsy because Q is and my back, as I mentioned, is complaining. Of course, having the walker is only part of the story -- did you happen to see Extreme Makeover: Home Edition last night? The kids watched. The house they knocked down for a four year old in a walker had the same issues we do here. The new house was ADA friendly throughout, including a specialized playroom, plenty of space to maneuver, a "wet room" as a bathroom, and an elevator. Wow.

We raked up every last giant maple leaf yesterday. Or rather, there was one still hanging in the tree. Since it looked like it had become wedged and would need a stiff gale -- or spring -- to bring it down, we're not going to worry too much about it. The leaves, beginning their new lives as dirt, all went to live on the garden, where we'd had the chickens penned for about the last year. I say "had" because the last one disappeared a couple of weeks ago, leaving only a small pile of feathers. We have a little envelope with $30in it from the neighbor lady whose untethered bird dog dragged one home in September. We've been debating whether or not to try again with a few chicks in the spring, to purchase two or three layers, or to just let it go. The neighborhood is full of untethered canines, large and small, and while there are laws against it, it's an unincorporated area and no one's too anxious to enforce leash niceties. Those Americanas are excellent layers, though. And the eggs were awesome. Maybe two or three would be just right in the chicken tractor. We'll see.

Overheard lately:
G, exiting the van and exclaiming to his sisters in a stage whisper (so as not to frighten the poor beast?), "Oh! Girls! Look quick! Diplopoda!!!"
E, stepping carefully, princess affect intact, carrying a paper bag complete with tea towel out to the playhouse in the dark, "Come, girls, let's have some supper."
K, being her usual articulate self and explaining her frustration, "You don't understand. When my sisters talk to me, they just overwhelm me."
S, using paper towels as diapers on her Baby Alive, "Mom? Why don't I have a real baby?"
Q, as we're doing bedtime stretches (not to be outdone by the bigger sibs), "Mmmmboobooboooooo..." (With his lips! Pursed and mobile!)

We've got another, this time probably the last, court date this week. May God have mercy on us all. There's so much to say and not much of it is useful, so I'll just be still. Prayers are very much appreciated, as always.

And in closing (the kids are almost ready to go), here are some excerpts from an email my dad sent last week, late on election night, from the remote site he's been working at for the last weeks, off and on. Reprinted with his consent.

Well, now the hard work can get started. If Obama is to fulfill his hope of bringing hope to the rest of the country, he’s going to have a lot of hard decisions to make. They won’t always succeed in pointing the country in the direction he envisioned, to say nothing of the direction all America needs to have in mind. But I am glad he brings a message of hope. Agree or disagree, he accomplished a lot for a guy who grew up in his grandmother’s house because his parents couldn’t, or wouldn’t, care for him as they should have. I hope to use his story in a positive way on my own grandkids. I cry a lot of silent tears every time I look at little Quinn. .....

But Quinn can take your heart for quite a ride. Even if he can’t say a word, he can laugh all to way to the bottom of his toes and the top of his little head. ...we were [on a paved trail] ... enjoying the last days of bare ground before the snows (supposed to get 10 inches there tonight), when he started looking at us all like we were not quite OK, his mommy said. She caught on that he was noticing everyone had hats on, so she sat down in front of him (he’s in a stroller with restraints so he can’t fall out or tip over) and pulled her hat off. He nearly split his face open laughing so hard.

You might learn more about his condition by looking up blogs on PMG (polymicrogyria), which is the brain condition he was born with. The corpus callosum (that thing that connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain) did not develop, and his motor planning and execution are painfully difficult. He loves to knock my glasses off my face, and I gladly let him, as it is one of a few things he can plan and execute on his own. The very first time, he laughed when they came off, and laughed harder when I put them back on. Then he repeated it, with great pleasure. A connection was made with another person. I’m glad it was me.

I’m too tired to work anymore, but I thought of you. I’m listening to Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 From the New World. It truly expresses in musical terms much of the hope that America means to much of the world. It was one of Dad’s all-time favorite classical works. I can still hear him humming or singing the Spiritual “Down de Road” which tune was incorporated into the symphony. The composer took with him a vision of hope from his visit here from Russia around the end of the 1800’s and put his ideas to music. Now I find it fitting that such hope may once again find expression right here at home. May God help our president-elect to rein in the temptations to corruption that will surely assail him, just as they have everyone who preceded him in that office. It is only the hand of God that can protect from such temptations, and woe to those who fall in their trap. “Those who fail to learn from the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them.” And “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Pray for him, and for his worthy opponent who showed grace in defeat. And for our current president. May he yet humble himself at the foot of the Cross, where God waits to give him healing and encouragement, if he will accept it. He started out with good intentions, it seemed. So did Jimmy Carter. And look how he made the best of a humbling experience as he went on to serve his country as best he could, regardless of what people think of his policies. Let’s pray for W that he may find the peace that only God can provide, while he still has time to learn. Doesn’t the Bible say that Pride goes before a fall? Arrogance, expressed in large and small ways, always leads to the same sad results. And for a nation to allow arrogance to determine national policy, the results are uniformly fatal once the tipping point has been reached. That’s why God so vigorously warned his people through the prophets that their arrogance was about to kill them, literally. And sadly, it did.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008


As Senator McCain makes a gracious speech and Senator Obama prepares to appear in his new role, it strikes me that there are many families for whom the precious right we exercised today falls dead last in priority this evening, and rightfully so. This one, in particular, covets your prayers. May we bear up with and for them and all the families who unwillingly occupy the same horrible place. May we carry a little extra and cherish more dearly our civic rights and responsibilities while they cannot.

God be with you, Ben, and with your family. Our hearts are broken for you.

Edited to add -- Trying the link again: Caring Bridge, then enter website name "towne".