Friday, October 29, 2010

Damn the Torpedoes

I used to say my father was the strongest man I know.  We piled just about every disappointment imaginable on him and he always bounced back.  Long ago, I concluded that the public perception of our family was far from the private reality.  How then can I expect that my family would be any more perfect?  I can’t.
I have said before that it sometimes seems as if every time the pressure lets up something new comes around the blind corner and clips me from behind.  In perspective, things are never as bad as they could be.  There is always someone in worse circumstances and misfortune is relative.  I know all the platitudes.  I tell myself these words daily.  
Today we are restricted by society’s expectations that a family of five with two working parents would operate as smoothly as the Cleavers. We do not have the same luxury as Ward and June.   No one stays home to clean while the kids are away at school or running about town.  There are not enough hours to complete the list of chores, cook dinner, help with homework and solve the day’s dilemmas while holding two jobs.
So when the morning does not run smoothly, work stress piles up and you learn your teenage girl estas embarasada what do you do?  How, as a parent can you possibly respond with compassion and understanding when all of your sage advice is disregarded for the sake of hormones?  Is it just one more thing to add that she is failing most of her classes?  I think I might explode.
Instead, I sing a prayer.  While sitting in my truck, guitar in hand and singing some of the old meditative tunes from my own years of teen angst I find just a moment of peace.  It helps.  I am calmer.  The throb at my temple has receded to a small ache and I am able to continue at work.  That one short moment is interrupted by a phone call bearing tragic news.  Can it get worse?  When does it get better?
In a way it does get better.  Focus is now on logistics and the emotional well being of my spouse. It is a respite in a way.  All that is required of me now is compassion and the willingness to do whatever it takes to tend the wounded souls of my family.  Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!  Money is juggled; travel arrangements made, doctor appointments met or changed and work hours rearranged.  Oops! Don’t forget the ray of sunshine… Our 6yr old has won an award at school for honesty. 
My moment of peace just got brighter.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5 RSV

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rattlesnakes and Walnuts

My Grandmother had one wish before she died in a nursing home.  I will never forget her words.

             "I hope you have some good memories of me, instead of how I am now."

Nor will I forget the way she beamed at me when I told her of all I remembered about her home in Elsinore and the years following when Granddad retired and they moved to Oceanside. 

When I was a child we visited my grandparents often in Lake Elsinore, a small rural town surrounded by open fields and walnut groves.  The tiny retirement community was barely 50 miles away, but the trip always seemed to take forever.  We would start from Oceanside early in the morning and drive along Route 76 through endless groves of tangerines that grew along the San Luis Rey River.

Once outside our own city limits, we would keep careful watch at the side of Old Highway 395 for the "Monster Rocks", a name derived from my childish misunderstanding of Dad's term "mountain rocks."  Old Highway 395 passed through our local Indian reservations and I could always imagine  a feathered brave crouched behind one of the huge boulders, bow and arrow in hand, ready to pounce on us, the unsuspecting white man.  Dad even made up silly stories about the road signs and how they were names of famous Indians.  Back then no one worried about political correctness and a silly story was just a silly story.

My grandfather, affectionately known as Father Mac was pastor of a tiny Episcopal church located downtown on the lakefront.  He and Grandma lived in the church rectory outside of town on a single residential block surrounded by walnut groves and open fields.  Theirs was the first home visible for miles across the fields and I always watched eagerly for my grandmother as we approached from the edge of town.

Forty years ago we would walk for hours among the trees collecting sacks of fallen nuts.  The growers generously allowed area residents to glean the ground fall, provided we did not disturb the trees or harvest nuts directly from the branches.  Grandma had two walnut trees of her own, but we always looked forward to walking through the groves.

My grandfather, an avid gardener, had a small fenced in plot  behind the property line where he grew vegetables.  In the summer months we were not allowed beyond the little garden.  Dad was certain that if we played in the fields amongst our tumbleweed forts, surely one of us would find a rattlesnake and get bitten.  Although the occasional green garden snake could be found among the carrots and cabbage, in our secret defiance I never once saw a rattlesnake.

On Saturday afternoons Grandma would emerge from the house with cold drinks in colored aluminum tumblers or Popsicles that had funny cartoon character handles.  With treats in hand we watched the sky for parachutes.  Elsinore was home to one of the only jump schools in the region and if we were lucky we would see stunt divers link themselves into intricate groups and patterns.  We were entertained for hours on end, each performance punctuated with anticipation of drops from Sneaky Pete, the mystery pilot.  Sneaky Pete was silent and invisible.  We never knew he was there until suddenly the sky bloomed with as many as 20 parachutes.

Lake Elsinore is a thriving city now. The walnut groves and open fields are long gone.  Grandma's house, surrounded by tract homes, can no longer be seen from the edge of town.  The lake has receded so that the little church no longer overlooks the water and outlet malls have replaced the jump landings.  All that remains of the sleepy retirement community are the cherished memories of a grandchild.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Dance

He never misses a beat as he gently guides her through steps she’d never known.  A rich lilting tune hums softly in the background.  She is uncertain and does her best to follow his lead; a soft pressure here and a subtle pull there.  For a moment, the music stops and she gazes upward into his eyes.  Waiting; waiting for his cue to begin anew.  With a slight nod he starts again; a push left, a tug right.  It seems fluid now, now that she has given in to his rhythm.

The dance is over far too soon.  She would dance all night if she could.  But away from his arms she must rest quietly until beckoned once more to stand at his side.  She stands beside him and holds herself with pride.  He pats her head and strokes her back.  The judges have made their decision.   She struts off the floor; head held high and tail wagging.  This time, Blue Ribbon is hers.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Gone Camping

Just about one year ago we ventured out to our first family camp with our church UCCLM.  Pilgrim Pines camp is a standard church camp with cabins, group halls and cafeteria.  This is not what I really would call camping.  In fact, Nathan already knows the difference between church camp and what he has called wilderness camping. None the less, we had a wonderful time last year and are headed out later this afternoon for our second year.

I like camping.  I went camping a few times each year as a girl scout.  My troop leader for the purposes of camping... our real leaders weren't the camping sort... taught me most of what I know about wilderness camping.  As a teenager I went with my church youth group.  I should point out that for me, wilderness camping does include toilets and running water.

I have great memories of our annual Easter Week campout in the desert.  We had most of the days to our selves between the morning, noon, and evening prayer services.  We took turns at meal time and prayer time but otherwise were left to ourselves.  We hiked and climbed and generally explored without the adults.  Our campground, Agua Caliente Regional Park was nestled in the Anza Borrego Desert east of San Diego. 

The desert side of the mountain is a dramatic change from our coastal ranges, Laguna and Palomar Mountains.  It bears a beauty of ragged scrub covered rocks that provide an easy rock climbing experience.  Easter Week usually during the full moon and adds an atmosphere perfect for a silent moon lit hike.

In the years BC Nichole and I went  a few times with dogs.  We spent our lazy days hiking, fishing and just sitting with good books.  Since then we have hesitated because I am terrified the boys would find a way to wonder off in the night and get lost.  Now that they are a bit older, I'm certain they would try to wonder away, but strategically placed adults at the tent flap would work.  Nathan asked this morning if we could go wilderness camping and take the dog.  I'm thinking a late fall or early spring visit to the desert.

For now, I will let go of Momma fear and allow the boys time at Pilgrim Pines to run around without too much supervision.  I hope to hike some with them and explore more than I was able to last year, but I also look forward to the fact that both Isaac and Nathan have been there for summer camp and are more comfortable with the area.

It is ironic to me that as a child I ran wild with my buddies, free of direct supervision in just about any campground we were at, but as a parent I cringe at letting my children do the same.  I like to believe that I had better judgement and restraint than three boys with ADHD.  But years ago I was told that I kept bragging and threatening that I was going to go off at night for my own hike without the adults.  Truth is, I was too afraid at night to go anywhere.  Camp leader Sunshine always told scary campfire stories that were clearly meant to keep me where I belonged.  That was me, full of myself and bravado to spare... until the lights went out.