The Medicine of Words

 

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A new generation began the day my grandson, Grayson, was born into this world.  The first grandchild on both sides of his family, he will pave the way for many more to come.

I watched with anxious eyes as he passed the threshold of his mother’s womb to a place where there is air to breath. His lungs surprised at this.  His body traumatized by the brightness.  And, the cold.   Purple.  His head misshapen – and purple.  My daughter, now Aunt Gracie, and I, the sideline observers, frozen in silence, unbeknownst to what is normal.

And what is not.

Within an hour, fresh color warmed his skin and his little head settled into a perfect shape.  A miracle, we breathed.  Awed.  The color came back to our own faces.

Along with Grayson’s arrival, an entire new shipload of worries set port in my mind.

Scrolling Facebook, a dear old friend who belongs to the Grandma Club, posted an article as a “must read”.  I trust what she posts, so I felt a sense of urgency to read it.

The headline, “Letter to Doctors About the Dangers of Insufficient Exclusive Breastfeeding“.  Apparently, one in four newborns do not get enough milk from their mother’s breast milk the first days of life and this deficiency can lead to “long-term neurodevelopmental impairments including autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, severe speech delay, seizure disorders, motor impairments and mental retardation.”

Oh, Heavenly Father.

I felt nauseous and then immediately messaged my daughter to find out how much Grayson had been eating, if the jaundice was improving, were his diapers wet?  Waves of panic sent hot flashes to my already menopausal self.  What should I do?  Perhaps I could buy them a baby scale?  How else would they be able to monitor how much milk he’d be getting?  Perhaps they need to try formula and just forget about breastfeeding.  I kept asking my daughter worrisome questions, but my mind would not rest.  She assured me that the doctor said everything was normal.

“What do they know?” my fearful know-it-all-experienced-mother-self taunting me.

Later that evening, after I’d calmed down a bit, I was drawn into a movie called Spy Games that my husband was watching.  I sat down for a bit.

“Geez, Robert Redford has a lot of lines on his face in this movie,” he said.

“Well, those would be wrinkles my dear, and don’t let the hair fool ya, I think he’s almost 80,” I replied.

“Seriously?” he asked.

“Yup,” I said.  Now, I wasn’t really sure.  I just know that Paul Newman died and they were buddies.  I think.  Well, they were in movies together.  Well, at least that one. . .

I grabbed my Smart phone to double-check my statement.  Fact checking.

“Yup, right here it says he was born August 16, 1936.  He will be 80 this August,”  I have to make sure to let him know that I was spot on with this one.  It’s not all that often I’m right.

I continued to read Robert Redford’s biography, now distracted from the movie.  An interesting heading catches my attention: “The Heartbreaks That Robert Redford Hides“.

He has authorised a new biography – but it is the personal tragedies the actor doesn’t tell us about that make the book remarkable…

On a cool November evening in 1959 Robert Redford kissed goodnight to his 10-week-old son Scott and lay him down in his cot. The rising young star had just moved into a large apartment on West 93rd Street in Manhattan and days earlier had opened on Broadway in new drama The Highest Tree. With his bride of barely a year Lola and still heady from their elopement to marry in Las Vegas, Redford seemed on top of the world. But by the next morning Scott was dead, the victim of cot death, a syndrome that back then did not even have a name. It was the heartbreak of Robert Redford’s life, a tragedy that forever altered his psyche, plunging him into a depression that he only escaped by immersing himself in acting.

Oh Mylanta, Georgia.

Crib death.

Why would God put this article before my eyes tonight when He already knows I’m freaking out about the breast milk?  Seriously, God.  Help me here.  What are You thinking?

I put my phone away and tried to focus on the movie.

After I messaged my daughter.

I just don’t remember these anxieties when I was having my babies.  I’m pretty sure it’s because I was exhausted and just trying to survive.  Or, maybe my mother stayed with me for a few days.  Could it be that I just didn’t have the anxiety that I have now?

No.

It’s more than that.

The internet feeds anxiety.

Any small infraction of abnormality leads me to the worst possible scenarios.  And, I will find them.  Trust me.

It was way better when I didn’t know.

There is a dear wonderful writer whose words I frequently visit.  Her name is Emily P. Freeman and she writes a blog called Chatting at the Sky.  It’s lovely.  The morning after the breast milk/crib death/anxiety/hot flash meltdown, her post showed up in my inbox. On this particular day, she shared the thoughts of a new-to-me writer, Christie Purifoy.

Christie’s words were medicine:

I have always been a follow-the-rules, keep-it-under-control, anxious-to-please kind of girl. Which means I am, more often than not, anxious.

The hum of impending disaster is the white noise of my day. Whether weeding my garden or reading a bedtime book, I am on high alert: for the cough that might be asthma, the rose-bush harboring some soon-to-multiply pest, the crock pot I must remember to fill and start at 11 am exactly. And woven in and out of these small, weedy worries are the invasive vines of my anxiety: the writing deadline, the big decision, the older child who seems, unusually and inexplicably, sad.

If the moment is without crisis, then it is up to me to keep it so.

I stopped reading and shut my laptop and looked around.

Then, I opened it back up to keep reading.

Her first baby, a daughter, was difficult.  Ah-hem.  Mine, too.  But, she writes, this breaking point of feeling out of control is what led her to be grateful for the small moments of grace.  And then, she writes more:

She and I both grew, and my tears dried. Three more babies joined their older sister, and every year I harvested another crop of worries. I grew large again, and the shadow cast by that world on my shoulders obliterated all the tiny, wonderful things.

Umm, yes, me too.  Three more babies.  All more worries.

And finally . . .

It hurts to be sifted by sorrow, and I can glimpse no end to the hurt, and yet I find myself grateful. To be sifted by suffering is to find that all your usual worries have settled down into their proper places. Large uncertainties land in your prayers, plans for the future edge your daydreams, and the small anxieties that once loomed so large on your shoulders float down and far away where they look like just what they are: the dust beneath your feet.

Now lift your eyes and look around you.

Here, at last, is room for each given breath. The doorway is wet with tears, yet this is a spacious place and a land of small wonders.

I can’t even.

How is it that another human being can so precisely craft the words that are the exact replica of the life that you are living?  I am frequently gifted with words from others in this way.  God uses writers (and artists and doctors and musicians and ministers and human beings, basically) to speak to others.  All of us are just messengers.

Immediately, Christie’s words are printed in order for me to reread and talk back to, to Christie really, my new writing friend (all authors I love are my writing friends) pen in hand, jotting down my own thoughts to these words.  Authentic “close reading” at it finest.

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She is me and I am her.  Some words are meant to marinate in the brain, to savor, to digest in such a way that the message is so clear, so understood.  These words were meant to teach me.  It was my job to study them. There are big lessons in here.  Not surprisingly, lessons that have been taught to me before, many times before.  However, I am in a new context – as grandma.  The lesson needed to be retaught.

In education, we call this transfer.  I remember years ago, teaching a listening lesson to third graders.  Later on, a student asked me, “Should we listen here, too, like we did this morning?”

How are we to know that our lessons learned are to be applied in many different circumstances?  Why do we forget?

Because we are humans.

Thankfully, we have teachers and writers to keep reteaching us.

It’s okay.

God knows we’ve got this.

It will all be okay.

I need to look for small wonders.

I receive a text from my daughter after Grayson’s one week dr. visit –

“The dr. said we don’t have to worry about jaundice anymore because he’s gained 6 oz. since Friday! So, I can stop the extra formula, too!”

Okay.

I guess they do know.

 

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Letter To My Unborn Grandson

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Today, I am a grandma in waiting. . .

My firstborn daughter was induced yesterday and is still in labor.

“Today is the day,” the doctor said.

I’m not sure what to do with myself, or what to write.

“Write a letter to your unborn grandson,” I heard Gabby say.

“What? What would I say?” I replied.

“Something will come.  Trust me.  Just get it started, I’ll open the door for what needs to be said,” she promised.

“Okay, I’ll try.”

“You might as well, you’ve got nothing else workin’ for ya,”

“I said I would, now you are sounding like Bernice.  Be nice. Geez.”

This is how things go in the morning when I show up to write, whether I have something or not, my writing angel sits and waits and gives me guidance.  I really need to listen to her more because as I read through my old notebooks, she has been telling me to do the same things over and over.  I always have good intentions, but I lack follow through because of distractions or fear.  I need to vow to commit to listen to her.

So. . . here goes. . .

Dear Soon-To-Be-Grandson-Of-Mine,

I’m sorry.  I’m sorry we are all so obsessed with meeting you that we are evacuating you from your warm and safe home before you are ready.  I know that where you are right now is your refuge – your nurture nook – your Sanctuary – your hide-away from the harsh conditions of this world.  If I were you, I’d never come out, the introvert I am.  Maybe you and I will have this in common.

This world is scary.  There are things that could hurt you, even things that could take you away from us.  Alligators, swimming pools, men with guns, drugs and alcohol, illness, depression. Already, you are not even here and I fear what the world could do to you. There are bullies and your first love will break your heart into a million little pieces.  You might have teachers so overwhelmed with today’s standards that they don’t have time to see who you are.  Your coaches might not let you play because they don’t think you are good enough.  Or, maybe you will be an artist, but will fear being who you really are – all these hunters, fishermen and athletes surrounding you.  I fear you will succumb to the pressures of the world and feel the hate from those who are angry and worse yet, that you will be angry back at them.  And, I worry that you will believe  a society that tells us you have to be the best, have the best and get as much as you can.   

I’m here, beautiful grandson, as your grandmother, to oversee what your parents miss in protecting you from all of this.

But, I know, in reality, that I can’t.

I try to have hope for our world – I do.  I’m  praying that you will have strength and resilience and that whatever hurts you also shapes you into a more loving and beautiful human being.  I’m praying for our leaders and that the people of our country have enough love in their hearts to choose a president who leads with this same compassionate love. I’m praying for the people who carry so much hate, those who feel violence is the best answer. I’m praying for those with mental illness, that they receive help and understanding from someone who cares. I’m praying for a world that listens to one another without judgement.  And, I’m praying for our environment to be safe enough for us to keep living here. Our foods are causing cancer, our cell phones causing loneliness.  I just keep praying and praying.

It’s all I have to hang on to.

The prayers of the grandmothers.

But, today, I must focus on the present. Your mother has been in labor for a long time. She goes without food or sleep and I fear her nearing exhaustion. She and your dad have waited for you for so long. Two babies they’ve lost before you, they call them miscarriages. The world calls them not babies yet, but they were, trust me.  They are your siblings – little angels that will guide every step of your time here on this earth. Your parents carry this extra love they were holding for both of them.

Triple Love you’ll get.

So much love waits for you, dear little one.

So, don’t be afraid. Even though we are. We don’t want to push our fears on you. Instead, we will shower you will love, so you feel safe.

Until you are able to go out into the world without us.

That’s where your little sibling angels will take over and they will each take a hand.

That gives me hope.

Love, Your Grandmother

Whoa.

Shed some tears here.  For Pete’s Sake. I honestly have no idea where this stuff comes from.  Well, yes, I do. . .

“Thank you, Gabby,” I say to my dear angel friend who always seems to know what she’s talking about.

“You’re welcome,” she smirks, “All I did was hold the door open.”

And she winks at me.

“My work is done here,” she says.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuck Between Being and Doing

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Bring on the lemonade. Drag out the lawn chairs. Summer has officially begun. 🙂

The classroom is cleaned, organized and packed up for the summer months.  Reflection mode is in high gear which means time needs to be spent “just being” for awhile. Reading, writing and walking with Sandy (our lab)  have consumed the majority of my past few days. It is glorious.

I am pretty good at doing “downtime”.

Expert – really.  I should give lessons.

Savoring this blissful peacefulness throughout my days, my children all grown and having flown out of the nest, I am learning to accept this pace of life as being “enough” right now. The quietness of an empty house is healing.  My company; myself.   It’s taken years to unlearn the multi-tasking, needing to keep busy, making stuff and going places kind of mentality.  I must be honest, I’m not proud of that person.  (But, dang, she got a lot done.)

Yet. . . (I used yet, instead of but, because there is always a but, but yet feels like but here.)

. . . when my husband comes home from his long day at work,  there is this unsettled feeling that I should be able to tell him all I had accomplished during these past 8, sometimes 10, even 12 hours (yes, he works too much). I mean, the windows need cleaning, my hostas are begging to have the taunting weeds pulled out and Sandy is now afraid of the dust bunnies (I need to buy a vacuum).  This is obvious stuff I should do.

Yes, the residue of this old narrative telling me “I should. . .”

All I can somedays tell my tired husband is that I got some writing done (in my notebook), some reading. . . and I took Sandy for a walk.

He is always happy for me that I got to go on a walk, especially on beautiful days.  So, we talk about Sandy and how she loves to run and play in the water filled ditches.  And, that she smells from this.

I am grateful my husband never complains about the things I don’t do.  He is careful here, as he knows what door he is opening if he goes there. But, my own soul, and mostly my mind, need to feel some sense of accomplishment.

This place in the “Being-Knowing-Doing” gap is a destination I tend to reside in more than I’d like to admit, even though I’ve worked hard to get here.  I’m not sure how long one should stay here.  Because if I stay too long, I can’t seem to come out.

I remain stuck.

In the crux between being and doing.

Carrying an angst that I can not name.

Perhaps it does not have a name.

I need guidance.

I reach for a book that calls to me right now, Do The Work, by Austin Krien.  I can not seem to find it, my writing room in disarray.  So, I grab the next one in line;  Let’s All Be Brave, by Annie F. Downs.  It practically jumps into my hands.

There are underlined words ~

“Courage involves action – like you are going somewhere.  Maps.  Movement.”

“Your life, start to finish, is a map. . . I don’t know where you’ve been and I don’t know where your map will take you.  I only know there will be moments when you feel like the map has turned or changed and moments when you realize you’ve read this map wrong all along.  You will crumple it up and throw it down, only to return to it for direction, once your finish your cryfest.  I get it.  I know.  But it’s your map.  Not my map.  Or my cousin’s map.  Or your spouse’s map.  It’s yours.”

Oh my.

I have to go back to my map.  Where’s my map?  Am I lost at sea?

Fear will set in again.  I know that.

I am not a risk taker – never have been.  The only risky thing I ever do is ride my motorcycle – that’s it.  The males in my family make up for what I lack in risk-taking.  I should not say that.  My daughters are more brave than I can ever be.  They take risks.

But, I need to be braver, I think.

I should be writing. My writing dreams seem to be all stored up in notebooks and there is big fear here:

~of choosing the wrong one to dive into as a project.

~what if I tire of it?

~what if I don’t have time to finish?

~how will I ever stay focused?

~what if no one likes it. . . or even reads it?

~for sure, nothing will get done around here if I commit to writing.

Yes, this must be my problem, I tell myself.  It’s fear.

I glance at my writing desk and see chaos.  Just like my mind.

And, my house right now.

The real answer hits me hard and I really try to ignore it because I really do want to write. But, I must take care of what really needs to be done first.  I scan my shelves for a the third book of today’s writing session:  The Life-Changing Magic of  Tidying Up.

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It’s cleaning.  Creating order.  De-cluttering.  Wash the windows.  Pull the weeds.

Go buy the damn vacuum.

This work is not pleasant.

I text my mother and tell her I can’t stop eating.

“Go outside and pull weeds, there’s no food out there, ” she replied.

Ugh.  How did she know?

Maybe, just maybe, today – I’m supposed to accomplish something.  Just something small though.  I don’t want to set the bar too high. And, I’m afraid of falling off the “just being” wagon.

I’ll tidy up my writing room and go pull a few weeds.

Maybe, make some chocolate chip bars.

That should be enough “doing” for one summer day.

For now.

Until I find my map.