Monthly Archives: September 2009

Breathing it in

Crisp, cool, morning air
Running rain over rooftops
Feels like autumn here

 

 

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Pardon Me

13-year old Emma and I were engaged in deep conversation about her middle school classes and curriculum. The two of us sat at the table on the screened in porch discussing a change in her class schedule which at first glance was causing her a bit of angst and worry.  As we chased together what it all meant (and as I tried to read not altogether too much into the drama of the moment) I asked her if she might like to have a tutor in the subject.

“No,”  she said, “I don’t need a tutor”

Six-year old Andrew interrupted, enthusiastically  “Hey, remember I had a tutor!”

“You had a tutor? When did you have a tutor?” I questioned.

“Remember, remember? I had a tutor and it farts!”

“It farts?”  I asked incredulously  “You had a tutor that farts?”  I choked back  my laughter.

“Yah. Yah. Remember? At Holland I got a present? A tutor that farts. Remember?” 

“I don’t remember, baby. What present? What tutor? What are you talking about?”   I wiped my giggle tears from both eyes.

Andrew began to demonstrate, gesturing wildly.  “Yah! I got a present at Holland and remember I opened it and it was a tutor, then you go like this”  He pantomimed putting something under his bottom and sitting down hard.

Light bulb recognition went off immediately. I  looked at Emma who held her head in her hands, a slight, wry smile upon her face.  “He’s talking about a whoopie cushion”,  she deadpanned.

“A TOOTER?”  I asked Andrew  “Is that what you meana tooter? Are you talking about the whoopee cushion that Kate gave you?”

“Yah!!”  He shouted, then giggled at me for finally getting it. ” Remember I had a tooter and it farts”

The conversation ended in fits of giggles and guffaws. I still can’t get over it. For her part, Emma never thought it was all that funny.  It just goes to show that the fart joker in me is just never, never, never going to grow up.

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The Human Condition

There are moments in my days, not altogether common or often recurring, wherein I take myself a wee bit too seriously. Episodes where I am convinced that my demons, my baggage, my issues, my challenges are larger than any other has to bear. Bigger than even I can manage. These moments tend to dissipate quickly as I have established before that I am a glass-half-full kind of person.  And generally, I chase them away of my own accord, reminding my sad, sorry self that I am just really not all that special. My stuff is just stuff after all.  Everybody’s got stuff.

Every once in a while, I am blessed to be reminded that in reality my stuff is easy. 

A few weeks ago, I met a man who has lived here in St. Louis for most of  his life. Upon first glance, my assumption was that he was among the indigent here in the city. He was dressed casually in a track suit and his longish hair and gray beard were slightly unkempt. He walked with a strange gait and pulled along a small cart filled with papers and a backpack. He sat down near me in the fellowship hall after services at church (I’ve been skulking in and out of congregations since we moved here but that’s a story for a different day) and we began to talk over coffee and cake.  Well, I talked.  He gestured and spoke very little, grunting out small words in repeating phrases.  We communicated though, because really what is the definition of such a word if it’s not mutual understanding of a message?

He was shy to start and I felt slightly awkward, but when he opened his backpack and offered me his “scrapbook” of letters, photographs, and newspaper clippings, I lost track of myself in the attempt to track his story and hear him fully.  His name is Jim.  My best estimate puts him at  20 years my senior which makes him around 63 years old. As his story unfolded for me piece by piece I discovered that he once was a budding, bright light in his field of study. He holds 2 advanced degrees in the sciences and was clearly a rising star in the field. Then, one terrible day,  as he was cycling home from university classes, he was struck by a car and thrown from his bicycle straight into severe brain damage, months of coma, and years of recovery.  Clearly, I wouldn’t have been having this conversation with him at all if he hadn’t been one of those defeat-the-odds-miracle-man stories.  And so his story goes. After 4 years of helplessness, Jim taught himself to walk again. And then to talk.  And he regained his independence. His binder is filled with his memories, even the ones he can’t hold onto anymore. He carries copies of newspaper articles written about him through the accident and beyond. Tucked alongside are photographs of he and his wife and the family of his youth. “Dead. All dead now” he narrated as I turned the loose pages. There was his draft notice to the war in Vietnam. “Long time ago, long time ago”  he repeated as I read. There were the graduation notices for his “Cum Laude” degrees. “Me. Me. That’s me.” he shared over and again.  There were the newsletter mentions of his life now as the best volunteer the local hospital has ever had in its ranks. The mention of how he spends his time giving to a community, even though at first glance I didn’t assume he had anything to give, was altogether overwhelming to me and I had to wipe tears. Repeatedly.  I sat with Jim for an hour, maybe more, drinking in the richness of a man whose stuff is oh-so-much-bigger-than mine. And whose glass appears not to be just half full, but overflowing.  Point of personal reflection to be sure. 

As I drove away I couldn’t help but sing the refrain from a song I had only recently discovered because the sentiment is true. Everybody’s got a story. Heartbreaking or inspiring just might depend on perspective. But, everybody’s got a story.

I am so glad I got to hear his.
 

 

Music Monday

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On My Shoulder

En route to our new home in MO,  we made a stop in our old stateside desert home.  Specifically, the city of Phoenix, Arizona.  The desert sun was warm and welcoming and soothing for our travel-weary souls. Our desert dwelling friends were the same. As the jet lag settled, we breakfasted one morning with a family we’ve known for years, who’ve been gloriously good to us over all of those years, and pleasantly, it appears we haven’t worn out our welcome with them yet. A veritable feast of  “American” breakfast foods hit the spot in our tummies and the feast of reunion filled the spot in our hearts.

The morning included a first meet, at least for me–not having traveled “home” in nearly 3 years,  of the newest and youngest canine member of our friends’ loving clan. A lovely labrador mix (unknown breed) who was the instantaneous, total, absolute attraction for six-year old Andrew. I had never really seen Andrew respond to a dog the way he fell head over heels for Daphne. The two of them were instant friends and her temperament seemed so suitable to counter his firecracker energy it really caught my attention.

I have long been aware of the idea of companion animals for people with special needs.  In the field of autism research there is a rising awareness of the benefits of bringing an animal, specifically a dog, into the life of a person with autism. In fact, there is a significant rise in the business and marketing of  “companion dogs” for autism.   Several years ago, I witnessed first hand what those benefits can look like as I saw one of my students (on the spectrum) adopt and settle in with a dog as his companion. The changes in his behavior and habits were marked and all of us watched that transition with much fascination. Those were the years before I had an Andrew even. All to say that it wasn’t a foreign concept at all, but  the morning I watched Andrew and Daphne together,  there was a bit of a “lightbulb” moment for me as the notion of  dog as companion for my little man seemed to cast actual light and direct a path.

So, I’ve been looking for a dog.

There are caveats to this search, or a single one at least, because I am an allergy ridden lass.  Though I grew up in a virtual zoo, I haven’t been able to offer my children that same experience without trading me in for a better model mother whose eyes don’t run when a cat is in the room and who doesn’t sniffle after wrestling a dog. It’s been a literal crying shame.    Happily, with the advent of the “doodle” dogs, we’ve been able to entertain  thoughts of having a canine in the house.

My research led me specifically to the poodle and labrador retriever mixes. I just really like the way they look and I love the description of their temperament and personality.  One day, in midst of my google search for local breeders or homes of labradoodles I found a dog who seemed to be just the dog I was looking for. After an initial email exchange, I threw Andrew into the car one Sunday morning and the two of us ventured into parts unknown in rural Illinois to meet the labradoodle who potentially could be ours.

It was love at first sight.

angel and andrew

We had a lovely visit with the dog and with the woman who has loved her for 5 years.  She needs to come to a new home because of some slight health issues which make her no longer eligible to breed.  We agreed upon the adoption without any hesitation and only had to wait until “our” dog was cleared after her spaying surgery and then we could return to pick her up. It may have been the longest 2 weeks of waiting ever recorded.

Yesterday,  I made the long drive to fetch our baby.  She’s home now. All of us are thrilled, almost beyond measure to have her here.   Andrew says it best: “This is  our dog Angel, and she’s gonna live with us a long, long, loooooooooong time!”

Welcome home, girl.

angel

Disambiguation

As a girl adjusts and adapts to her old home become new, specifically her repatriation to her homeland,  she spends time in her head.  Lots of time in her head, noting and notating what it means to come “home” and to be “back in the USA”.  Among these notations are the telling moments in her psyche where upon hearing phrases from those outside her head such as: “Welcome Home” and “It must be good to be back” there is a distinct non-recognition that those sentiments apply to her at all.   It’s not that she’s unhappy  in her new place.  On the contrary, she’s taking it in and taking it on as the days unfold, consciously creating “HOME” and building happiness for herself and her children.  But there is a small amount of disconnect as she transitions, a surreal quality to the whole of the movement, if you will.  Something like walking through a fog perhaps.  And like an early morning fog rolling off the water, it takes a bit of time for the sun to penetrate and open clear vision upon the day.

I know a girl like that.

She’s taking her time.

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As often happens with me when I sit down to write, I had a fully other notion of what I was sitting down to write about than what just now trickled  from my fingertips.  It’s taken some time for me but  I have learned to trust the process of letting my thoughts flow and allowing words to take shape as they will.   I tend to look at these moments, these times where my thoughts take charge and my fingers write what they please rather than what I planned, to be truth telling moments.  Possibly barrier-less glimpses into what I really need to say versus what I think I want to say or even should say.  At the end of the day, I suppose that’s what keeping a blog is all about for me, anyway. This is the place I declared I would let my creativity flow. This would be the place for me to express myself.  I am conscious, yes, that I am doing just that in a venue where others come to read and it wouldn’t be honest to say that doesn’t affect at least the way I edit a piece before I hit “publish”.  It does, however, cut me wide swath in what I can say or do here.  That’s a tremendous freedom feeling.

My lovely friends and my readers who are my friends, your support is appreciated in ways bigger than there are words to express.  (And trust me, I know some big words.)  I recognize that my presence at this page has been sketchy at best since I opened it. I would like to change that up just a bit.  I won’t promise you anything beyond what I believe I am capable of delivering upon,  so this is no declaration that I will see you here tomorrow, by any means.  Or, maybe it is.   What I can definitively say it is, is an invitation to stay with me while I find my way and my rhythm.  If you know me well, or know me at all, you’ll know I always have something to say. 

Sometimes that something surprises even me.

Talk soon.

~jenn

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