Friday, May 24, 2013

Dear Overachiever,

     I'm turning 32 and I've never been to a happy hour. I don't kow what that means exactly. Maybe it means nothing. I get a little melancholy every time I'm about to have a birthday. It's not that I'm afraid of getting older, exactly. I'm not.  Not afraid- not of getting older, per se. I don't worry so much about losing my beach body, because I've never had one. I don't fear gray hair or wrinkles- my mom looks great with her silver crown and her skin, though softer and looser, has a lovely bronzed healthiness to it that most admire. It's more the time that sort of freaks me out, the amount of time I have to experience everything, do everything, be everything.
     My best friend babysat my children last night while my husband and I went to marriage counseling (I'm still hanging in there, though I seriously considered firing the kind-hearted know-it-all after she slyly pointed out that I may be contributing equally to our communication problems. What am I paying her for, if not for ammunition that I can actually use in later fights at home? She and I will talk). During said friend's time with my two, not-so-low-key children, she played with them, ran around the house, listened to their stories, answered questions, solved riddles, explained the American legal system (yes, my eight year old now knows the difference between full and limited tort) and generally provided a space for them to enjoy one another. It got me to thinking, how often do I provide that space for my children? For myself? Each year as another birthday rolls around I make a mental list of all the things I haven't done: Happy hours, skinny dipping, skydiving, visit Asia, baked scones, used a reciprocating saw, learned to play the piano, worn a bikini, climbed a mountain, taken a painting class... The list goes on and on. Some things remain from to year, some things get checked off -master's degree- check, make love outside-check, begin writing again-check, start my own business- check (you can probably guess which one of these I'm most proud of). But, the list never gets any shorter and things like 'laugh heartily' and 'look deeply into my daughter's bottomless brown eyes' can seem so small and so low on the list that I forget to check them off, let alone to savor them. A few days ago as I was unbuckling her carseat she just looked so beautiful that I stopped and stared at her for a minute. She was a little embarrassed at first but then she settled into looking back at me. I told her that soon she'd be in a booster seat and then she'd be a big girl and I wanted to remember what it was like to see her small and round and soft with baby curls and itty bitty teeth. It felt like the spirit of God was smiling at us while we smiled at each other. That moment will never make the list of things that impress people. She's only four, she may never remember sitting there with me, in the driveway, just wasting time while everything on my to-do list had to shut up and wait. But, I will never forget that moment. I am writing about it now, just a few days before my birthday, before all of those other items creep onto that list. I'm writing it down first, to put it at the top of my list.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dear You, Dear Me, Dear Me!

     Why do so very many sentences seem easily translated as "you ain't shit"? I, myself, am both witness to, perpetrator of and (on my best days) revolutionary against these crimes of speech and thought. Murderous is the human heart. That sounds profound; I just thought of it, but surely someone has said it before. Murderous, because if I annihilate you, and, systematically, everyone around me (at least those who either refuse to worship me or pose a direct threat to my being worshipped, which I think is mostly everyone), then only I will remain and I can be God.  I know, I'm taking things a little too far (I can do that- I come by my hyperbolic tendencies honestly, by blood- I'm Puerto Rican, everything is a big deal- and by upbringing- my mother had a mediocre grilled cheese at a local deli yesterday, she proclaimed that they stole her money and that she would starve before ever eating there again, ever!). But hear me out. I'm no theologian, nor am I a sociologist. I'm not a social worker or a teacher. I'm not even a great blogger. I think I'm a good mom (the kids ate green beans last night and there was almost no bribery involved) and a decent wife (I am consciously practicing not controlling my husband's life, as in, I've stopped  taking such great interest in when and where he gets his haircut, though if you ask me the Vietnamese guy is the best cut for our money...) So, my qualification to assign deeper meaning and motives to peoples' words lies only in this- I have a heart. And I know what my heart hears when my mom says inquisitively "oh, you're leaving the house without earrings?" or "There's no rush, I can wait if you want to run upstairs and put some lipstick on", it hears; translation: you're not cute and you ain't shit. And, I know what my heart means to communicate when I say "Oh, you've already turned your air conditioners on? It's mid-May and 80 degrees outside, we wait until it hits 90 in June, you know, to conserve". Translation: you're a spoiled wasteful brat and you ain't shit. It explains why I don't want some people to know that I pay someone to clean my house (I'm lazy and incompetent and I ain't shit), and why I am ok if other people do know (they have one too so can't say anything.) It's why we say "I told you so" and why we act like we (I say we, because I'm hoping I'm not the only freak in the world who is damaged in this way) weren't hurt in the first place when some apologizes to us. So, yes, once I make others subtly feel small, inferior and once I make sure they are solidly convinced of my greatness, I can rest easy, as ruler of the universe, impenetrable to criticism, pain, failure and then no one will think of me, let alone say, "you ain't shit."
     This is very ugly to write down. This may need to be one of those posts I compose but never publish. There are lots of posts like that, for lots of reasons. Usually it's because it just a plain old crappy post. I"m mean really, who wants to read about the stale nuts in my banana bread (I thought I could tie stale nuts into something humorous, it didn't work.) It's ugly to write and say and admit, and maybe I will bury it because, generally, I refuse to be exposed. And yet, on my best days I resist the urge to be better than the closest adjacent fellow human, on my best days I am endowed with a spirit of truth telling and grace that shocks even me. True, these days may  be months apart (and by 'days' I may only mean one momentary impulse that lasts all of 35 seconds before I realize I've been dethroned and quickly set the peon in his or her right position...) but still, there are glimpses. I cherish those moments. The moments when my heart is able to see another and say, "I'm sorry that I just called you nothing, I'm mistaken, you are most certainly not nothing. You are a work of art, a work in progress for sure, but art nonetheless." I cherish those moments when I can expose a lie for what it is and the moments when I have the wisdom to stop up my ears, walk away, smile instead. I cherish those moments when I pray for my enemies, perceived and real, and can honestly recognize when I have been an enemy to someone else. The moments when I set my boundaries and when I respect the boundaries of others, asking forgiveness for my trespass. So, I am going to publish this post (it's actually a fairly safe bet, since not many are reading, but it's a step). I am going to choose today to be one of those days, one of those moments.

With my apologies for yesterday, and tomorrow,

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dear Beautiful Hispaniola

I joined my husband on a work-related trip to Hispaniola. What a beautiful island. We didn't see enough. What a beautiful people. We didn't meet enough. What delicious food. We ate a lot.

My heart is fraught with turmoil over what we experienced. Like here, there are extremes of poverty and wealth. But, the poverty seems so stark when it is unfamiliar. Schools without roofs, kids without shoes, tap water you can't drink, or no water at all. The desperation was embarrassing (one boy yelled out in Spanish as we passed his thatched home in our SUV, "give me something, I have nothing") but the joy and kindness was even more embarrassing. The caretaker of one of the homes in which we stayed prepared a 'feast' of bony, but delicious chicken backs for us. The meat was scarce on the bones and I felt trapped between knowing that this was her best offering and the awareness of what an insult it would be to turn down what was surely part of her families food allotment. At one school we visited, 10 children hovered around and shared one styrofoam lunch container of rice. They didn't fight over it, no one tried to hog it all for himself. I thought of my own kids who cry like someone is ripping their toenails out when things aren't 'fair'. I pray God would give me (and my children) a spirit like theirs.
Here are the little ones who most captured my heart.