Happy Memories

A lifelong blessing for children is to fill them with warm memories of times together.

Charlotte Kasl
All my children (at Helen’s wedding – 2022)
All my children to this point (1999)
All my children — except the oldest who was away at college (2003)
All my children — plus a daughter-in-law (2015)
Half of my children (2015)
Two of my children (2010?)
All my children (again) kicking up their heels (sort of) (2022)

Trying to find photographs of all my children proved tougher than I thought! However, I’m pretty sure they would all agree that they have plenty of happy memories together!

Children: the Gift I Didn’t Know I Needed

This weekend I was getting some things ready for a bridal shower for my oldest daughter and came across a notebook in which I had written this quote: “This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be.” ~~ William Willimon

I looked up the source of the quote and read through the whole article which you can find here: From a God We Hardly Knew. In short, it is a Christmas message about Isaiah 9:6 — “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” — in which Willimon makes the point that Ahaz, in the original context, was looking for an army and instead God promised a child.

A bridal shower and Mother’s Day seem appropriate days for me to think about my children. I heard from all eight this weekend. Plus all three daughters-in-law. I am rich indeed.

And I never could have imagined this.

Ever.

There was a point in time when I had been told that I wouldn’t have children without using fertility drugs.

Okay, I thought, a family is not in my future.

One of my favorite professors in college had encouraged me more than once to pursue medical school. “I don’t usually do this,” she had said. “I’m usually trying to dissuade students who think they want to be doctors.”

But I got married two weeks after graduating college. I supported my husband while he finished his schooling and began his first job. Once he was settled in, I began thinking about medical school and figuring out which classes I still needed — Calculus and Organic Chemistry. I contacted the nearest university to find out how to enroll.

Then I found out I was pregnant.

When you’re in high school, the guidance counselor never suggests motherhood as a career track. When you’re in college, the career office doesn’t suggest it either. Honestly, it wasn’t even a blip on my life radar.

Yet here I am today to tell you that being a mother — a full-time stay-at-home mother, who decorated funny-looking birthday cakes and washed-dried-and-folded mountains of laundry, who read the same books over and over until I could “read” them with my eyes closed, who played road-sign spelling games to entertain on long road trips and refused to get an entertainment system in our minivan because I WAS the entertainment system, who shopped at yard sales and thrift stores and sorted through bags of hand-me-down clothing because living on one income isn’t easy — being a mother was, and IS, the absolute best thing in the whole world.

Children are the gift I didn’t know I needed.

In addition to all the dandelion bouquets and crayon artwork, I received from them the very best lessons in patience, kindness, forgiveness, generosity, understanding, perseverance, creativity, humor — and that list could go on and on.

There’s a part of me that feels like I need to apologize. I know that not everyone has this opportunity. Not everyone can have children. Not everyone can afford to stay home. Life happens in different ways to each of us.

But I’m not going to apologize. I’m simply going to be grateful.

From the bridal shower

Who Knows?

The other day someone called and asked, “Is it going to be busy in the bowling alley this afternoon?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I thought about making a snarky comment about my broken crystal ball.

I think it was the same day that some called and asked how far we were from Woodstock. “I suggest using Google maps for that,” I said.

That was the same caller who asked about what else there is to do in Cooperstown, NY, besides our sports center. “Most people come here for the Baseball Hall of Fame,” I told her.

“Oh, I don’t know anything about that,” she replied.

How or where she got our number remains a mystery to me. Why someone would call a sports facility with questions like that also remain a mystery.

***************

“Where do you see yourself in ten years?” My friend who had asked me about my goals asked me that question yesterday.

Who knows? Literally, who freaking knows?

(Side note: my use of “freaking” indicates what a frustrating question that is, but that’s about as far as I go with “f”-words. Side-side note: I saw an story yesterday that the actor who plays Roy Kent on Ted Lasso had done a bit on Sesame Street about his favorite “f” word — which turned out to be “fairness.” Well done, Sesame Street.)

Where do I see myself in ten years? I started doing mental math on how old my children and grandchildren would be. Laurel, my youngest daughter, would be 28. Wilma, my youngest granddaughter, would be 12. My oldest grandson would be 17. My oldest son would be 47.

The more mental math I did, the more I realized how much I define myself by the people in my life.

So what about me? In ten years, I will be 72.

At the gym I see 72 year old women climbing the rock wall. Heck, I see a 92 year old woman who comes in nearly every day to swim and walk the track.

But if COVID has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that life is fragile and can’t be taken for granted. Health and life can be snatched away with little warning.

Where do I see myself in ten years? Phooey. I hate the question. It ranks right up there with “What’s your goal?”

As hokey as this saying is, I think it holds a lot of truth — “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

(This post is mostly Stream of Consciousness writing based on the Linda Hill’s prompt: nose/noes/knows for today.)

Crying at Yoga

“I’m terrible at yoga,” I told a friend a few years ago after I had tried some yoga. “I keep falling asleep in it.”

My friend had laughed. “I’d say you’re doing it right,” she said.

That was back in the day when my father was still alive and I was sleeping with one ear open in case he wandered in the middle of the night. It wasn’t much different from the perpetual tiredness of a young mother.

I tried yoga because I had heard it was good for de-stressing, but in yoga class, I would lay on the mat, close my eyes, and fall asleep.

I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the right way to do yoga.

In retrospect, however, I suppose it was de-stressing.

I also suppose that’s why I wanted to try it again. Life these days is pretty stressful. Suddenly my blood pressure, which has always run low, is in hypertension-land. Suddenly I can’t cry.

I take that back. I DID cry a few weeks ago. I was sitting, alone and upset about life, when my youngest daughter came in the room. I honestly don’t remember what was said or not said. All I know is that she came, sat on my lap, wrapped her arms around me and pulled my head to her chest. I sobbed and sobbed, with my little girl holding me. (Okay — she’s not so little — 18 years old and 3 or 4 inches taller than me.)

It was all wrong.

I’m the mom. She’s the kid trying to figure out life. But I’m a bit of a mess right now.

So, anyhow, I tried yoga again.

I asked an instructor that I enjoyed talking with at the front desk. I’ll call her Edna (because that’s her name). We chatted about this or that any number of times, one of them being a conversation about young people having old names. She’s young and vivacious. Whatever you picture an Edna to look like, she’s not it.

So I came up with the brilliant idea of having a private yoga session with Edna and inviting my daughters to join me. I talked to Edna about it and she was willing. I gave her my number so she could text me some dates.

Later that day, I got a text from an unknown number that began, “Hey, Beautiful – checking my calendar.” I almost deleted it, thinking it was sexy spam or something. A second message followed so I peeked at it and it was Edna. Yep, she calls me Beautiful. That’s how she is.

Yoga with Edna was fun. Three daughters and one daughter-in-law came for the private lesson and it was fun.

But I didn’t cry. Or fall asleep.

Edna gave me confidence, though, that I could try another class.

I went to Restorative Yoga this week. Katherine teaches that class. She’s quiet and gentle and soothing. The class was very meditative.

When she talked about going inside ourselves, I thought about the passage from Howard Thurman — “There is in every person an inward sea, and in that sea there is an island…”

I pictured the sea.

I pictured the island.

I sat down on the beach of the island and stared at the sea.

I could feel the waves lapping at my toes, and the sand washing out from under them as the waves pulled back.

I started to cry.

In yoga class.

I can’t tell you why I cried, but it happened again the next time I took a class taught by Katherine.

I don’t think I’m doing yoga right.

I have a feeling, though, that Katherine might say that I am.

What’s Your Goal?

(Warning: Long, rambling, and probably pointless)

Yesterday, I talked with a friend who had been a guidance counselor. I had asked his advice regarding one of my kids who needed a little direction.

“What’s your goal?” he asked.

I answered with the goal I have for the child in question.

“No,” he said. “That’s your goal for your child. I want to know your goal for Sally.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Just think about it,” he said, and waited about 2.5 seconds before he moved on. But he circled back to that question a couple more times.

“This feels like a guess-what-I’m-thinking question,” I said one of the times.

“What are you looking for?” I asked another of the times.

In the end, I felt incredibly frustrated.

What’s my goal? Sheesh. (I wrote that just before bed last night, still trying to process the whole conversation. Then I wrote about another 250 words expressing the same sentiment.)

What are we even talking about? Are you asking about my goal as a parent — which has been my primary job for the past 38 years? Are you asking about my goal at the gym? Or at the house where I still have a thousand things to do? Is it my goal for today? This week? This month? This year?

To be kind? To be a lifelong learner? To love my family?

What’s my goal? Seriously? I don’t know.

This is going to make me crazy.

I walked to the post office this morning. It’s about two and a half miles there. I thought and thought and thought while I walked.

Karl once told me that one of the doctors he works with has three goals for every day: to learn something, to teach something, and to laugh. I wish I was clever enough to come up with three succinct goals like that. Even if I had, I don’t think it would answer the question being asked by my friend.

Anyway, my three would be something like to listen, to see, and to be kind.

Again, I’m sure it’s not what he was looking for.

I copied another Thomas Merton quote into my journal the other day. “Therefore if you spend your life trying to escape the heat of the fire that is meant to soften and prepare you to become your true self, and if you try to keep your substance from melting as if your true identity were to be hard wax, the seal will fall upon you and crush you. You will not be able to take your true name and countenance, and you will be destroyed by the event that was meant to be your fulfillment.”

Merton was talking about sealing wax and the way it will crumble if it’s not adequately prepared for the stamp. Mary had just sealed a bunch of envelopes with wax. In fact, that’s what I had walked to the post office to mail. The seals were beautiful because the wax had been melted and was ready to receive the imprint.

But to say that preparing my heart for God’s imprint on it is my goal doesn’t sound right either. Plus, I don’t think it’s what my friend was asking.

Walking is such good therapy, especially walking on a country road, where the deer bound off into the woods when they see me coming and the ducks fly out the giant puddle in the cornfield in groups of 6 or 8 quacking and complaining at the inconvenience of my passing. A deer skeleton lay in the ditch. Last week, it had probably been covered with snow. A small collection of broken car parts were strewn about the ditch a little further down the road. A lone Lexus symbol at least told me what kind of car it had been. I wondered if the deer and the car parts came from the same mishap.

In the churning of thoughts about all these things — the deer, the ducks, the skeleton, the Lexus, the hawk circling over the field, the winter’s worth of garbage now revealed in the ditches — I kept circling back to the question: What is my goal?

Career goals for a stay-at-home mom are not a thing. Some days feel like survival. Some days feel like you won the lottery.

When my oldest son was born, what was my goal? To see him grow up, become independent, productive, happy. To help him discover what he loves and what he’s passionate about. In the late ’90s, he loved computers and knew he wanted to do something related to them. We had dial-up internet and I told him that if he wanted time on the internet, he would have to get up at 6 AM because I didn’t want him tying up the phone line all day. Doggone if he didn’t get up at 6 every morning so he could have his hour on the internet. Now it’s his livelihood.

For each of the kids, that has been the puzzle. I would watch them and ask them, “What do you love?” Two have gone into nursing. One works in the realm of outdoor recreation. Three are currently in college or graduate school. One is still figuring it all out.

I feel immense gratitude at the fact that most of them have found their way.

I love talking to them all on adult levels. I love when they call me. Or come visit. I love family Zoom calls and game nights.

I think my goal, maybe, has always been to have adult children who still love me in spite of the thousand mistakes I have made as a parent, to have children who are settled and happy with the choices they have made with their lives, to have children who still occasionally want my advice, to have children who share their lives with me.

I’ll try that goal on my friend and see if it works.

I doubt it.

Lenten Rabbits

Five years ago for Lent, I carried a rabbit in my pocket as a tool for mindfulness. I wanted to remember that people are often smiling on the outside but hurting on the inside. I know, I know — this may not make much sense to you unless you followed my Lenten journey in 2017. If you want to read about it, here’s a semi-explanatory post from that year: Tuga and Aleluja.

Tuga is the Bosnian word for sorrow. Aleluja is the Bosnian word for — can you guess? — Allelujah.

This year I have two more little rabbits. Meet Dòchas and Bròn.

Dòchas is the Scottish Gaelic word for hope. Bròn is the Gaelic word for grief. I gave them last names, too. Dòchas a-Maireach and Bròn an-Diugh. Hope Tomorrow and Grief Today.

I carry them both in my pocket — separate pockets, of course.

For this Lenten season, I want to become friends with Bròn. Bròn an-diugh. (Pronunciation — and I may not have this totally correct — Bròn is like our word “brawn” but you need to roll that “r” a little. An-diugh sounds like on-jew, because the “di-” in Gaelic is our soft “g” sound as in giraffe, and the -gh at the end is silent.) Grief today.

I listened to a woman last week go into a long tirade full of conspiracy misinformation. She had told me weeks before that wearing a mask was the equivalent of the Nazis requiring Jews to wear yellow stars. Another gym member had started the whole confrontation by shouting at me about the masks — “This is BULLSH-T! This is BULLSH-T!” After the Nazi comment, I had turned and walked away from the desk.

Later that same day I put a check-in note on the woman’s membership — that if she checked in again, I wanted to speak to her. She finally came back on Friday — and I spoke to her a little and listened to her a lot. She has such deep fears and hurts.

“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.”
Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

While she was talking, I reached in my pocket and held Bròn. I don’t know if hers was grief or just unhappiness at our world today. She needed to talk, though.

And I listened.

At the end of her diatribe, she extended her hand across the counter. “What’s your name?” she asked. I told her. “It was so nice to meet you,” she said.

“What just happened?” my co-worker asked after the woman had headed to the pool. She had been sitting there listening to the whole thing.

“I’m not sure,” I told her.

But I stuck my hand in my other pocket — and there was Dòchas, hope.

Maggie

Maggie would have loved the snow this morning.

Even in this, her 14th year, she would run out the door when she saw fresh snow, throw herself down into it, and roll on her back, like the snow was scratching some itch that she couldn’t otherwise reach. When she was on her feet again, she would shove her snout into the snow, bringing it up with a small white pile on her muzzle. She always liked to grab a few bites of snow on her way back in the house.

I’ve never seen another dog love snow like that. The joy of Maggie’s snow-love always brought a smile to my face.

This morning’s snow is pretty — but there’s no Maggie to revel in it. No Maggie to bound through the depths of the drifts. No Maggie to chase the snow thrown from the shovel as we clear the driveway. No Maggie to leave that odd dog-snow-angel print just off the deck.

Maggie had been my birthday gift 14 years ago. I had long wanted for a dog, but my husband was resistant to adding a furry member to our family. In 2008, I received a leash, a collar, a dog dish for my birthday — and I looked up at him and said, “What’s all this?”

“You can get a dog,” he said.

And thus Maggie was adopted into our family.

On my birthday this year, we had to put Maggie down.

I still haven’t even been able to cry about it — life is too full. If you’ve ever been in that place of not being able to cry, you’ll know the giant lump of ice resting in your chest that can only be melted by tears — and the tears won’t cooperate.

I looked at the snow morning and missed Maggie intensely.

Now she’s a real dog-snow-angel and I hope someone somewhere is throwing snowballs for her to chase.

Rest in peace, Maggie.

On Seeing

Dear Kim,

So much for writing every day for a month. See how I am? My last draft was January 21 and I called it “Catching Up.” I planned to cram all the missed prompts into one post. Meanwhile, prompts kept piling up like unopened mail. Sigh. I gave up.

It’s February — a new month. Time to try again, eh?

My morning reading is from five separate books. Does it ever happen to you that disparate readings coalesce into one concept? Yeah, well, that happened to me this morning.

I started a little project last year of writing down all the questions Jesus asked in the gospels. Then I moved on to the questions that people asked Jesus. Now I’m writing down all the questions — and who asked them — and what the reply was. Every morning, I write one question and the reply.

Today Nathanael asked Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered “I saw you under the fig tree.”

How do you know me?

I saw you.

Ponder that for a while.

I moved on to Brian Doyle. In a “proem” (which is what he called his combination of prose and poetry) titled The Shrew, he describes an encounter with — you guessed it — a shrew. He ends with these words:

For just an instant I paid attention with every shard and iota of my being.
Maybe we couldn’t survive if we were like all the time, I don’t know,
But when it happens we see that which none of us can find the words for.
Sometimes we are starving to see every bit of what is right in front of us.

Brian Doyle, One Long River of Song

I think we are starving to see.

And to be seen.

I had an unnerving conversation at work several weeks ago. Someone said something to me that both thrilled me and bothered me. I talked to Rachel, my therapist, about it. “You were seen,” she said — and she was a hundred percent right. I’m not used to being seen. For a brief moment someone saw behind my facades, and I’ll admit that it was slightly terrifying.

Perhaps that’s what Nathanael felt. Thrilled and terrified. How do you know me? I saw you.

I can remember the first time I saw you at Church of the Redeemer. You were instantly someone I wanted to know. Why is that? Perhaps, I had a sense of our commonalities. I don’t know.

To see and to be seen. That’s what’s swirling in my thoughts today.

On a different note, I’m sorry you’re not feeling well again. I wish more people knew about the long-term effects of COVID. I wish more people understood that fighting a pandemic is a team sport, not an individual one. It’s like a massive round of Tug of War. The stakes are high. We need everyone to join in pulling on the rope.

You’re in my thoughts today.

Love,

Sally

My messy little reading space

Protocol

or, Wilma’s Rules for Facing Life

Dear Kim,

It’s been a rough few days and I haven’t written. Again.

Last Thursday’s prompt was protocol. A protocol is a list of rules to be followed in specific formal situations. My life these days is anything but formal.

One evening, when I was at a low point, Mary sent me this video of my granddaughter. Wilma has a good protocol for facing challenges.

I wish you could hear her little voice. She’s so cute. But here’s what she is saying during the video and what her words represent to me:

“Don’t fall.”

Rule #1 Be aware of the risks.

Life isn’t easy — and sometimes we expect to be.

It’s dangerous. We COULD fall — but that shouldn’t stop us from moving ahead.


“Good job.
Good job.
Good job.
Good job.”

Rule #2 Offer words of affirmation to yourself and others.

Wilma repeats “Good job” four times. Words of affirmation are so important and often in short supply.

Mary told me about when she worked as a supervisor at one of her jobs. This involved training new employees. “I would go around and tell them they were doing a great job all the time. It probably sounded stupid,” she said.

“No,” I told her. “It probably was really nice for them to hear those words. Not everyone takes the time to say that.”

My granddaughter tells herself that — probably because she DOES hear it from her parents.


“Okay, baby.
Go down slide.”

Rule #3 Take your time.

It’s important to acknowledge how far we’ve come.

Then, we sometimes need to change gears.

We need to scooch around to get situated for the next thing. We need to take a few seconds instead of rushing headlong.


“Go down slide, Daddy.”
(Yep)
“Okay.”

Rule #4 Remember that you’ve got people that love you and are ready to help.

Between you and me, I’m lousy at this step. I hate feeling needy and insecure. I hate asking for help or support. Why is that? Why do we lose that ability to reach FOR help? I think I’m pretty good at offering help, just not so good at asking for myself.


Wilma: “Wheeeeeeee!”

Rule #5 Enjoy the moment.

In the midst of chaos, happy moments seem impossible. But in the midst of last week’s chaos, I had a group hug that made me laugh and cry and cry some more — in a good way. That moment will stick with me for a long time.

Next week will be better, right? I hope you’ve had a good week.

Love,

Sally

3 C’s: Clutter, Cosmopolitan, and Chocolate

January 12, 2022

Dear Kim,

Today is One-Liner Wednesday and the prompt is clutter.

I find great comfort in clutter.

Love,

Sally

My cluttered desk in Greene (2011) The clutter has moved with me to Cooperstown.

January 11, 2022

Dear Kim,

I had to look up the definition of the word cosmopolitan today. It’s the word prompt for the day, and cosmopolitan is one of those words that people use — quite honestly, I don’t think I ever have — but I’m not 100% sure of the meaning.

For the record, dictionary.com says that cosmopolitan means “free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments; at home all over the world.” It wasn’t quite what I expected.

Also for the record, I think I am NOT cosmopolitan. I’m quite provincial (dictionary.com definition: “belonging or peculiar to some particular province; local”). I have such deep roots here in upstate New York that I think if someone tried to uproot me, I would shrivel up and die.

That’s about all I’ve got for you today.

Love,

Sally


January 10, 2022

Dear Kim,

I looked up the benefits of chocolate today.

According to wizardingworld.com, “Chocolate is the perfect antidote for anyone who has been overcome in the presence of Dementors, which suck hope and happiness out of their surroundings.”

Please send chocolate.

Love,

Sally

p.s. You don’t really have to send chocolate. In fact, please don’t. I want to be a reasonable size for Helen’s wedding.

And dementors aren’t real.

But there are plenty of real things which suck hope and happiness out of their surroundings.