Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I Shouldn't Be Surprised

I called my sister on my way home today. I called mostly to check to see how she was doing; she had called me in some tough moments yesterday for a little sisterly support.

We got to talking about Dad - mostly good stuff, but then a bit about the end. My sister told me something she hadn't told me before, a detail. She said she hadn't told me before because I was in a fairly fragile state after Dad's passing so soon after C's illness, and all followed fairly soon by early pregnancy. I admit I was rather an emotional mess for a bit there.

About two weeks after Dad died, my sister went to the home nursing facility where Dad had been cared for and talked to his caregiver. Dad had been failing for a few days, and she and his wife were pretty sure it was the end. They did not call.

That part I knew. That's upsetting enough.

Apparently in those last days, Dad was calling out for us kids. For my sister, for my brother, for me. And Dad's wife forbade the caregiver from making any calls to any of us (she had the numbers).


I'm stunned, but I shouldn't be. I'm not really surprised. It was par for the course for that woman. (Did I ever mention the wife was once the family babysitter? Whom my parents met at church. We hadn't seen her for 20 years when she suddenly appeared after Dad retired.)

Of course I wish the caregiver had called anyway, but I don't blame her at all. What an awful position the caregiver was put in.

I'm just very sad. All over again.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Azalea at the End of the Driveway

It's in full bloom right now - a day or so past peak. It dropped some petals in this afternoon's downpour. (Click to enlarge, if desired.)

The phlox has come in nicely this year. I'm really pleased. I think next spring the effect I was going for will be fully evident.

Some dicentra in the back bed came in. Not as tall as I expected, but still. I remain on the lookout for a variety of dicentra called "Dutchman's Breeches." Anyone seen it?

I put some violas in pots at the front and back doors.

There's some lily of the valley around, too.

And, of course, lots of this.

National Holidays in a Small Town

While the anniversary of my father’s passing brings some sadness, the national holidays immediately following that anniversary bring fond thoughts. Memorial Day and Fourth of July around here are very big deals, of course. We have our own town traditions.

On Saturday the Boy Scouts decorated the graves in the local cemeteries – the large active one and the historic sites. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts will be gathering soon for the annual parade. Early this morning, a group from American Legion Post started their annual tour to seven sites around town.

One stop is at a revolutionary war tomb on the property katy-corner to us in back. You’d probably not notice this tomb unless you were looking for it. As you drive down the road, you can look for a rise in the back corner of the property and something cut into it – though you’d never be sure what unless you looked closely, and most people are loathe to traipse across the private property to inspect it (even though the tomb itself is town property and maintained by a town work crew).

The group from the American Legion post gathers at the edge of the front property at 8:20AM. They converse briefly about their path to the tomb – this year interrupted by a portion of fence surrounding a new garden. The commander calls them to attention and directs their march up. When they reach the tomb, they give a 21-gun salute and a bugler plays, “Taps.” Then the retreat and fallout, and on to the next site.

Every year, when this little ceremony happens, I think about Dad. My dad was a veteran, although he did not define or identify himself by his brief military service at the end of World War II. He was, of course, respectful of all things military. But I think what he enjoyed the most about it was the pageantry. It was the parades and formations and ceremony (and John Philip Sousa) more than the actual military actions. As such, he loved little things like this. Loved them.

This morning, my husband had to work, and since we were up a little late and S needed more rest (and the salute would scare her), I sent the boys over by themselves. I listened for the ceremony through the open windows. Although my father never visited here, I could picture him easily - standing there, watching silently. It made me smile.

Likewise, the annual Fourth of July parade brings a flood of fond memories. Our town puts on a real old-time parade. For a small town, it’s a sizeable parade. There are fire engines and other fire vehicles from here and several surrounding towns. There are homemade floats, there are bands, and there are town, county, district and state politicians pressing the flesh and kissing the babies – even in non-election years. It goes on for almost an hour!

The first time we went to the parade after moving here, I wrote my dad a long letter afterward describing it. He would have been so, so in his element. Just after my father died, my brother and his family were here for a visit over July 4th, and of course we went to the parade. I remember my brother and I kept looking at each other as we were having flashbacks to memories of Dad and how he loved parades and politics and all of it. We tried to explain some of what we were thinking and feeling to our kids, but as much as it was comforting to us, it was still to hard to explain to the little people (at that time four kids between us aged two to seven). A little too close, a little too soon.

As time has passed, I smile a little wider and easier on these days. It’s interesting to me how these small town rituals have had a comforting impact on things that happened across the continent. I suppose that’s what the rituals are all about, though.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction

Four years ago today my father died.

I remember the day well. It was a Friday. C was just recovering and doing great, though still moody from the drug withdrawal and he tired easily. M was needy for Mommy time and attention. It was a teacher workday, so no school. I had just started back to my regular schedule at work that week. We went into the city to see a museum for an hour or so, meet up with Daddy, then out to dinner (Italian) with in-laws for their son’s first birthday. We also stopped by the PICU so the dear staff could see how well C was improving. Just a month earlier, he couldn’t walk because he was so weak. It was just over a week until our first fundraising walk for the hospital.

We arrived home around bedtime and carried the boys into their beds. The phone rang. It was my brother.

My brother never calls. Never. In the nanosecond I first heard his voice, I knew.

I remember feeling overwhelmingly sad. It was at that moment that the door closed forever on the last bits of childhood. The first man to love me unconditionally was gone.

When my brother was telling me what I already knew in my heart, I thought about the events of the previous two months. Just two months earlier, on my father’s 78th birthday, I called, I sent something, and a realized – rather with a shock – that he could go at any time. Any time. I remember the jolt of the feeling, and wondering why this realization was coming now.

In the weeks after that realization, C became so sick. My sister went to try to tell Dad what was happening, but with all his complications and meds, we don’t quite know what he understood and what he didn’t. When he died, I had just resumed writing my weekly letters to him. I don’t know if he ever received the last one I sent.

I have so many emotions around my father’s prolonged illness and death and the memorial service, and still a lot of anger. The hours and days that followed were such a mess.

You see, my father’s wife knew he was dying. She knew he was near the end, and did not call his children. We would have come in a heartbeat. My brother and sister were hours away by car, and I would have flown out as quickly as I could, within a day. She wasn’t even with him. She had stopped by briefly early in the day – and I emphasize briefly – to the home nursing center she had placed him in and left again. The nurse there tended to him as best she could, but she had others to tend to as well. He died alone.

We made it out a few days later. I can’t write much about what happened. It’s still hard, and, in some ways, not appropriate to get into here. The Internet is wonderfully anonymous and not at all anonymous all at once and I just don’t want to commit fully to stepping down that potentially ugly path. Without details, I can tell you there was the wife – not my mother, a semi-literate, probably intoxicated aunt, a cousin who claimed to know my father better than I did, a child none of us had ever seen being called a grandchild (related to the wife), a bagpiper playing (beautifully, as much as it can be a cliché) “Amazing Grace,” a kind pastor, a couple of confused police officers, family friends and former colleagues watching the scene with dismay, and my brother, sister, and me with our heads held high, mourning our father with as much dignity as we could muster (a lot), thinking about what he would have wanted - even as a good deal of shit was thrown our way and we were specifically not invited to the reception after the memorial service (at the aunt’s house).

It was exhausting, on so many levels. And not what my father wanted, for any one.

I stepped on a plane in the late afternoon after my father’s memorial service to fly far away from that old life of mine and back to what is now my home – but only after taking out my week of pain on an unsuspecting gate agent. You see, the governor had instructed that state flags were to be at half-mast to honor my father and a fallen police officer. The state flags at the airport weren’t, so I let him know they needed to be. Now.

We stepped off the plane in the wee hours and made our way to our own home and our beds. Four hours later, we rose to shrill alarms and a nor’easter outside. It was time to go out for our first fundraising walk for the hospital.

It seemed like the sky was wailing with me that day. Roaring and crying all the hurt and fear and sadness I felt inside, from C’s illness, from my father’s illness and death. I don’t really remember walking the walk that day, that first year, but we did. Because sometimes you just have to keep going. In spite of everything.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

One More Random Thing

Since Eight Random Things earlier this week, and with the anniversary of my father’s passing coming up next week, I keep thinking about one more random thing:

A nickname I call my daughter is the same as a nickname my dad called me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


I’ve not written much about baseball lately. I’ve been watching a fair bit of baseball, however, both live (little league variety) and televised (major league variety).

On the major league side of things, can you believe the standings? Tonight’s not going so well, but the overall standings are, honestly, something to make one smile. But it’s only May. Only May.

I swore I would not be one of those superstitious fans, yet here I sit. I’m thinking I should delete the above paragraph. I haven’t written about major league baseball because I was afraid I was going to jinx something. I cringed when a local paper noted just today how well our knuckleballer is doing. Of course, the knuckleballer started tonight – and he hasn’t had such a great night. Jinx! (But it’s not just pitching issues tonight – the term “run support” comes to mind.)

We local fans are a funny lot. After so many years of disappointment, we are all or nothing. If we win a game, we’re going all the way, baby. If we lose, it’s the end of the world.

But I also laugh at how so many said, in 2004, that they could die happy, now that the home team had won it all. Just that once was all they wanted, needed. How many promised no more criticizing the team now that there was that banner and those gaudy rings? That lasted until Opening Day, 2005, and now so many want more, more, more. Every move by management is scrutinized and (usually) criticized.

Ah, well. As I said, it’s only May.

On the little league front, baseball is overtaking my life. C and M are in different leagues, and both leagues play weeknights. On different fields in different parts of town.

Last week the boys had their games on the same night. Next week they are on alternate nights. This week we have one overlapping night and two single game nights. I’m doing a lot of driving, a lot of trying to feed M picnic style. It’s kinda working, kinda not.

M’s team is fine. M is rather a natural athlete, which makes what will be limitations for him kind of ironic. Right now, though, he’s having a lot of fun. It’s a joy to watch his games.

C is much less natural, athletically speaking. But what he lacks in ease and grace he makes up for in effort, commitment, and in pure love of the game.

The last two years, C had coaches that played favorites, and didn’t so much coach as put some favorite kids in good positions and shake their heads at the “lesser” players. Often C didn’t get the playing time the rules specified. They didn’t see what they were missing in my kid, and I was angry for that, and for the way their ignorance was hurting him. I ended up talking to someone on the league board about it, and I know I wasn’t the only parent having an issue. Still, it was delicate. The protective mama bear in me wanted to lay into these idiot coach fathers, but C wanted me to hold back, not embarrass him. We managed something in the middle.

I have been pleasantly surprised by his coach this year. He moved up a league and is now one of the younger players, so I was concerned about how things would go. His coach, however, gets it. He sees that C brings the love and is totally coachable – he listens and takes direction and suggestions to heart. When C makes a good play, the coach notes it and cheers him – loudly. When a play doesn’t go so well, the coach is encouraging and notes his effort – loudly. C comes home from games happy, whether his team won or not.

Tonight, C wanted to try out for a traveling team. Honestly, I knew he wouldn’t make the team, but I didn’t want to discourage him from trying. So I dropped him off.

A little while later, when I arrived with M and S, C was waiting to bat. Goodness, there were some good hitters. C had a few good cuts, and a solid infield hit. When I watched the pitching, he was right in there. Not as hard or fast as some, but he had a couple good ones.

C got back in the car, dejected. He said he was the worst one out there (I don’t think quite, but I’m his mom), and I could see that maybe he had given up a little mid-way through the tryouts. It was one of those times I wanted clear all the hard stuff away, but I just couldn’t and he and I both knew that.

We talked a little on the way home. I told him how proud I was for his efforts. He didn’t want to hear that. I noted that he was trying out without his glasses (which are being repaired) and that, I’m sure, made a difference, as did the giving up a little. He didn't want to hear that, either. I noted that I saw those good swings, those efforts. Then I noted some of the other kids trying out – kids who had to be reminded, repeatedly, of what they were supposed to be doing. Those kids probably wouldn’t make the team, either, I told him, because it’s not just a bunch of kids with some skills that make a team. It’s the effort and the attitude and the commitment and the skills that bring a team together.

By the end of the evening, C seemed to have recovered. We watched a little baseball before bedtime and after French Horn practice. But then he expressed again that he was the worst one out there. I assured him, again, that he wasn’t. We talked a little about the kids in town who have sports-obsessed fathers and do drills and camps and training all winter long. That’s not us and that’s not right for us, I said. I don’t think he wants that either. I pointed out that R, one boy in particular that he mentioned was really good, 1) is a full-year older as he started Kindergarten late, and therefore physically bigger, 2) doesn’t do any music and dropped out of the junior choir at church last year, 3) didn’t just get selected for a school art show (one of only 15 from his school), and so on.

I think that drove it home for him. As much as he loves baseball and brings that love every time he plays, he knows there is more to life that “just “baseball, or any one thing.

Amid all this, S is absolutely insistent that we are missing her baseball games. She has a team she says, and she wants to go play with her friends. As I’ve said before, that girl is going to be a better player than either of her brothers. I’m off to get myself a new glove tomorrow so she and I can play catch properly.

Monday, May 14, 2007


C came home from school today, bounced into the study and said, “Mom, I think I’m over hiding my scar. Know why?”

I was totally taken aback. “Um, why?”

“Today on the bus we started talking about scars. G started talking about some guy he saw on the news who was bitten by a shark. And I said I bet he’s gonna have a huge scar. And G said he has a scar on his head and some other kids said they had scars and I said I had a scar and…I just showed it to them.”

I was stunned. I tried not to let my mouth gape open. I tried not to cry.

“Yeah, and they all said things like, ‘Whoa!’ and, ‘Gross!’ and, ‘Cool!’ And I’m okay with it.”

Then he bounced away.

And I just sat there for a few moments.

This is huge.

For the last four years, the scar has been an issue all its own.

The scar is from the emergency surgery about a week into his hospital stay that removed a good portion of the lower left lobe of his lung. That part of his lung was dead from the severe infection and decaying in his body. Had it not been removed, the decay would have taken over more and more tissue in his chest cavity, and he likely would have died. The scar is about eight inches long, curving from just under his shoulder bone in the back around the side of his torso to the front. There are also four scars from chest tubes and one from where some tape was left on his delicate skin too long.

Shortly after his illness, C became very conscious of his scar. He didn’t want anyone to see it. It was big and long and red and tender and thick from how his body stretched. We tried to reassure him that the scar would become less noticeable and remain the same size. That he would grow around the scar. That even though it was pretty big on a seven year old body, it would be much smaller, relatively speaking, on a 15 year old body or an adult body.

Still, he refused to take off his shirt at the beach or the pool, and refused to change in front of anyone.

When C talked about having been ill, he didn’t want to talk obviously about his scar. We gave it a name: George. Anytime the scar would be mentioned, we’d use that name. So we would talk about George and how it would slowly become less and less noticeable. Still, the scar – George – was a source of upset for him.

Every time C would see an ad about scar reduction medicines on television, he asked us to get him some. Finally, we took him to a dermatologist to talk about a possible scar revision and to ask about anything that could help him. The dermatologist was wonderful. She was patient and kind and gave him honest answers – mostly that it was just going to take time, like his parent had said. That he would grow and change, but the scar would be the same. We could talk about a scar revision when you are all grown, she said, but until then, we just needed to give it time.

As recently as February, he didn’t want anyone else to see it. After swimming with his closest friend (wearing a rash guard, as always), M happened to see the scar in the changing room. M, it turns out, had completely forgotten about C ever having been sick, even though M lived across the street at the time and visited the PICU doors when C was still there. So M said, “Wow, C, what’s that?” C didn’t say a word. M’s father shushed M and apologized to me later. C said later he still didn’t want people to see it or to talk about it.

So today, when C said he was fine about people seeing his scar and actually showed it – I just can’t tell you what that means.

He’s really and truly going to be okay.

I’d long thought that C would one day use the scar to impress a romantic interest, but I’d thought less about the impressing other pre-adolescent boys side of it. Of course that would come sooner.

It really doesn’t matter how or when it happened. I’m just glad it did.

Excuse me, I need some tissue for my tears now.

Eight Random Things

Having been tagged by Ruthie, here are eight random things about me:

  • I love Twinkies.
  • My first concert was the Go-go's, circa 1982. Misused apostrophe and all.
  • If Bacon numbers applied to everyday life, not just the acting world, I'd have a Bacon number of two.
  • I'm terrible at languages. My French professor in college told me I had a beautiful accent; I just had no idea what I was saying.
  • I once met Prince Charles (1985).
  • I have a difficult time wearing contact lenses because my tears have a lot of proteins in them that dirty up lenses quickly and make them uncomfortable.
  • I have a great affinity for fabric prints - Marimekko, Liberty, Pucci, etc. I wonder if I should have become a textile designer.
  • As much as I love baseball, I didn't go to my first major league baseball game until I was 35 (minor league at 30).

So now I tag....blaugustine, Lynne, and...anyone else reading this!!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Nineteen Years

The television in our family room is nineteen years old, and it is showing its age.

My husband bought this television in the spring of 1988. He was just home from six months in the Netherlands, about to start a graduate program, and moved in with a high-school friend. I think the deal was that my husband buy the television and the roommate buy the VCR. The television has had one repair that I can remember. About 1991, I think.

About a six months ago something happened with the inputs and we now have to manually move around cables if we want to try to watch a DVD or something. More recently the sound is starting to go. S is trying to watch Dora right now and the sound goes in and out every two to five seconds. It's kind of amusing, kind of annoying, and signals that it's time to researching current technology.

I've been fairly proud of the fact that we have a not-too-big television. It's smaller than the set my family had growing up, and definitely smaller than those I've seen in the homes of my kids' friends.

Overall, we try to limit television. The boys usually are limited to a half hour per day during the week, and never in the morning before school. S, depending on the day, may get a little more than that if I let her watch a Dora DVD (I do that if I need to get something done) or none at all. When the boys do watch, I also limit what they watch. PBS is almost always allowed, Animal Planet and Discovery are mostly okay, and then there's baseball. Whatever they choose has to be okay for their sister.

I've toyed with the idea of letting the television die and not replacing it, but I like renting DVDs and watching baseball games, too. In fact, I might suck it up and order some premium channels on our cable; the new seasons of "Big Love" and "Weeds" are coming up this summer.

I suppose the thing to do is find another not-to-big television and maintain the rules. I am daunted by what I see when I try to research. Hi-def? Flat screen? Digital? LCD? What? I just want a basic television that will last us another nineteen years.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Well, How Did I Get Here?

The way my mind segues between topics can be amusing, annoying, or just plain perplexing, depending upon your point of view. One friend has stopped conversations and asked me to recount the path between two thoughts.

How I arrived at the previous post is a little funny.

I was thinking about Ruthie’s post(s) on hip-hop. It struck me that there are some similarities between the rise of hip-hop to the rise of punk in the 70s and 80s. Not that I was or am about to expound on that. Others can do that far better than I can. And punk itself has been analyzed and deconstructed enough and by people far more informed and eloquent than me. See, for example, the documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization” about the punk scene in LA. At any rate, punk and punk-dervied music is now quite mainstream and accepted (see Green Day, et al.)

This got me thinking about the foundations of punk in the UK, with bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash.

Then I just started thinking about the Clash. I love the Clash, and I have for more than 20 years. Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon. “London Calling” was revelation for me. Over the years I’ve that recording on vinyl, cassette and CD.

I thought a little about late 80s when the Clash had long since parted ways but Mick Jones was doing some interesting things with Big Audio Dynamite. In 1987 I was working in a windsurfing shop for the summer and Mick Jones came in. I was too shy to say anything, but my (weird) coworker milked the situation and got free tickets to a show that night. Mick Jones bought a flame printed jacket (yup, I still remember the brand).

Then I was reminded of when Joe Strummer died. A friend emailed me about it – said she instantly thought of me when she saw the news. There had been rumors of a Clash reunion, but they were dashed when Joe died.

Next up I was thinking about Joe Strummer. About how he went from the son of a diplomat to trailblazing punk to a respectable musician working on music soundtracks, among other things.

Then I thought, didn’t he work on the Grosse Pointe Blank soundtrack? Yeah, he did.

So when it was time to exercise yesterday, I put on Grosse Pointe Blank. While I watched this movie – one I can watch over and over again – I thought about the different kinds of movies people love and become attached to. And I enjoyed the music and thought about punk music again. And I realized I like this movie because it’s a time and place movie for me.

There you go.

* The title is a quote from a song and that last line is also a movie quote/reference in a way. Think heavy Greek accent, 2002, and an actor from "Sex and the City". J

* The previous post's title is from Grosse Pointe Blank. It's said once by the main character's mother when visited in the nursing home by her long lost son, and twice by the main character, Martin Blank - looking in the mirror on his way to this high school reunion, and when he is about the learn the identify of his next hit (girlfriend's father).

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

"You're a handsome devil. What's your name?"

Favorite movies. We all have them.

Some we love because of great acting, beautiful cinematography, masterful plots, intriguing dialogue.

Others we love because they remind us of a certain time in our own lives.

Still others we love with little logic. They are our guilty pleasure, a vice.

So... what are your favorite movies?

(And can you name the movie from which the title of this post came? Hint: It's said three times in the movie.)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Expanding Vocabularies (Or, Be Careful What You Say in Front of the Children)

S said something fairly random in the car today. She said, "My nose feels queasy." Clearly her vocabulary is expanding, even if she doesn't use all words correctly all the time.

It reminded me of a moment several years back, I think even before C was sick, or maybe just after. Let me preface this by saying I do watch my tongue in front of the children, but like all children, mine seem to hear even when we think they are not nearby, and we all slip up now and again and say something perhaps we shouldn't have.

So...we're in the car driving somewhere. M starts saying, quietly, "Damn it."

I perk up my ears. He says it again, "Damn it." I consider how to proceed appropriately while making a mental note to be even more careful in front of the boys.

"Sweetie," I say, "What's going on? Why are you saying that? Is something wrong?"

C chimes in, "Yeah, M, we don't say that."

I breathe sigh of relief. I feel smug for a moment, and full of pride for C.

Then C adds, "We say 'God damn it.'"

It was all I could do not to burst our laughing right then and there. M trying out some new words. C in his earnestness, trying to help teach M appropriate behavior. Yet all gone wrong.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

I’m Not Perfect, Part II

After leaving Christian Science, I wandered around denominations a bit before settling down.

One thing I like about the denomination I’ve settled into (Episcopalian) is that it’s a big tent. There are very conservative parishes and more liberal parishes, but we are all part of a bigger union. It’s about acceptance for me, and after the years of not feeling accepted because I wasn’t “perfect,” such acceptance is important for me.

There have been times that I’ve attended church less than I do now, and times I’ve not attended for a long stretch. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to find Episcopal congregations in every place that I or we have lived in which I’ve felt (mostly) accepted. The tone of each church varies according the clergy leadership, lay leadership and members, of course. One friend commented that M’s baptism was more solemn and ritualized – more “religious,” she said - than C’s baptism when they were the same rite exactly.

I’ve had some amusing incidents, too. Once, early in our marriage, the local church had as co-rectors a married couple who happened to be the aunt and uncle of a college friend of mine. I went one Sunday just to see what the tone was like. It was fine, but I didn’t feel quite ready to introduce myself at coffee hour afterward so I tried to sneak out a side door at the conclusion of the service. I was thwarted by the female half of the clergy team and stammered that I was a friend of her niece.

The woman asked how she (my friend, her niece) was doing. I said, “I just talked to her a few days ago. They just got a dog.”

“They?” the woman priest replied. “I hope she’s not living with someone.”

We both knew who that someone was and I had just told a priest that her niece was living with her boyfriend without the benefit of marriage.


With my foot firmly in my mouth, I excused myself, went home, called my friend immediately and apologized profusely. She was fine with it, thankfully, adding that she probably should have been upfront about it with the extended family anyway. Fourteen months later at the wedding of this friend and the same boyfriend, this woman priest and I were cordial, but did not speak of this moment. (I never did go back to that church. I was too embarrassed.)

As it happened, my husband was Episcopalian by birth and baptism, although his family attended church only rarely. It made the where to have the ceremony part of our wedding quite easy; we were married in the same tiny Episcopal chapel in which his parents were married.

In preparation for our marriage, we had to go through some pre-marriage counseling. During this pre-marriage counseling, we agreed to raise our kids with some religion, but not “shove it down their throats.” I’d gone to church every Sunday and most Wednesdays for so many years as a child (it was a chore long before I left Christian Science), and my husband had attended almost not at all. We agreed to an every other Sunday kind of a plan, provided there was a church nearby in which we both felt comfortable. And we both agreed that when the kids get toward adolescence, we would not force them to go to church. We agreed that we hoped to give them a positive experience with religion.

(In another amusing turn, the chaplain at the university – in another state - that led our pre-marriage counseling has ended up as the rector of a church just a couple towns north after a long stint in the Midwest.)

The house we lived in when C was born as down the street from a quaint small parish, and we had C baptized there. I liked the rector of that church well enough, though some of the long time congregants perplexed me. When we moved south, it took longer to find a parish we liked. The first one we tried was a little too fire and brimstone for my taste, and the second one we tried and ended up attending, where M was baptized, had its own quirks – and required a fairly long drive. I liked each, but was never fully engaged in church life.

When we moved to this town, the local church fit us well. I was impressed by a “Guide for Parents of Small Children” flyer distributed in the entry of the main church. The top line read, “God put the wiggle in children. Don’t feel the need to suppress it in God’s house.” The rector would say things like, “Don’t shush the children! We’ll keep the children and remove you! Show them, lead them, answer their questions, but don’t shush them.” As the parent of small children, I needed to be where my kids would be wholly accepted.

This rector, Father M, exuded unconditional love. While his sermons were not theologically challenging, the love and warmth was just what we hoped to give our kids. He made every rite personal – I loved his baptisms. He had built the church school to almost bursting and had begun an annual missions trip by the high school youth group to build homes in an impoverished area of South Carolina. Father M’s wife was equally wonderful and was the junior choir director (and is a much-loved 3rd grade teacher in our local school). In addition to the junior choir, the rest of the music program is wonderful. It’s always a joy to listen to the senior choir and the multi-choir anthems.

When C became sick, the church was one of the first places we called. Father M dropped everything and came to be with us on that first awful day. He came back often, called, asked the church membership to pray for C and for us. He was a rock for us. I learned later that after that first day, he attended a vestry meeting in the evening and cried the whole time. When C was released, he had members bring us meals and offer other support.

The year after C’s illness was tough on many levels (I’ll write more on that another time), but Father M made time for C when C had questions about why – why did God let me get sick and let me get well? C had been resisting going to church at all, so I took him over to the church on a Monday afternoon to talk to Father M. I have no idea what Father M said to C during that discussion, but C was calmed and more willing to go the church after that.

That experience sealed my connection to the local parish. They took care of us and accepted us and held us through a scary time.

Our church is in transition. Father M retired a couple of years ago (he baptized S before his departure on a lovely fall day). Father B was our interim for a while, but he was asked to move on to another interim position. We have our second interim until early June when our new rector arrives. I’m hopeful for this new person, but nervous, too. It was a long selection process.

This is all to say that I am much more engaged in church life that I ever thought I would be on that day I walked away from the Christian Science church. I work in the nursery once a month and the director of Christian Education is hoping I’ll agree to a bigger teaching role next year. Toddlers? Pre-school? C and M both like church, and have fun there. They have friends there. C sings in the junior choir, and has served meals at homeless shelters. There are small-group dinners at which we’ve met a wider range of local residents than we would have otherwise and we’ve had opportunities to contribute to the wider community. I have to remind myself that I don’t want to force religion and to offer the kids Sundays off. Sometimes they want to go anyway.

This engagement has me very interested in the issues in our larger denomination, which are well-known (interesting bit here - and many others out there, too). The issues in the larger church mirror some of what is happening on the local level. We have more conservative members and more liberal members at our parish, among other diversities. So far, we are living together and respecting one another, but will that change? I suspect we all need to be better at listening and hearing what the other has to say. Just as it will be a challenge for the new rector of our local parish to hold and lead us together, so is it a challenge for our new presiding bishop.

(There are news reports and blogs out there that can speak to both sides of this debate more clearly and accurately than I can, but I do find myself feeling that it's important to keep the tent together, and not divide it up into little tents. It's important for us to accept one another. I accept that there are members of my congregation and my denomination that don't interpret things as I do.)

I’m in a place I never thought I’d be 26 years ago with regard to religion. It’s a good place. Twenty-six years ago I thought I'd never go to church again, and now I am part of a mainstream (some might say boring) denomination. I may not be perfect in a Christian Science sense, but I am accepted.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Another Opening Day

I scored some serious fun parent points this afternoon when I took the kids to opening day at our local ice cream shop. It helped that it was a gorgeous day.

Just as robins, daffodils and warmer temperatures signal that spring really is here and summer is around the corner, the opening of the ice cream shop is our local signal. It's almost beach weather!

Like many ice cream stands in New England (and maybe elsewhere), our local shop is somewhat seasonal. It opens in late April or early May, enjoys a strong summer business, cuts hours in the fall then usually closes for the winter just after Thanksgiving. M has been asking since Valentine's Day when it would open again, and could we go on opening day?

When I shuttled the kids into the car today, I didn't tell them where we were going. They had big smiles on their faces when we pulled up to a line out the shop door. Everyone in town, it seemed, wanted to welcome the impending season with an ice cream cone. It doesn't hurt that this ice cream shop is regularly named the best in the region.

C and S both chose mint chocolate chip cones, M chose chocolate, and I picked "Aerochip" - a concoction named in honor of a well-known band, one member of which is a local resident (substitute "smith" for "chip"). Aerochip is mocha ice cream with white and dark chocolate chunks.

We sat out on the back deck of the shop and I regretted not bringing my camera. S had her ice cream everywhere and her mouth: hand, shirt, hair. Just the way ice cream should be when you are three.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


It's finally the week of bursting spring green here in my neighborhood. It's been almost there for so long that we thought it would never happen. Deciduous trees and shrubs are leafing out, daffodils are out in force, the vinca is blooming.

Here's what I am seeing at my house.

Crocus is gone. But before it went away, this was out my back door:

Daffodils are all around. One one street in town there are thousands. They have been planted in recent years as a memorial to a local woman. They are breathtaking.

The vinca groundcover is a carpet of these teeny flowers:

In the front are the andromeda and the azalea. When the tree at the end of the drive blooms, I'm definitely putting up a photo here.

Finally, there's the magnolia in back. When we moved into this house, it was scrawny. The first spring gave us maybe seven or eight blooms. We took down some trees to give the poor thing more light (and for the planting bed back there), and look at it now!

I can't help but smile.

I’m Not Perfect

I spent the last two evenings watching the Frontline/American Experience piece The Mormons on PBS. I was interested because I grew up around a lot of Mormons and studied them some during college. I learned some things about the early years of the movement, but thought the program missed some key points on other issues.

For example, did you know that women in Utah were given the right to vote for the first time in 1870? Fifty years before suffrage was granted nationally. It was directly related to the controversy over polygamy. The response of women in Utah was not what the granters of the vote had hoped, but it does speak to the patriarchal structure of the church and membership obedience to it.

Anyway, this program and the anniversary C’s illness and my mother’s current situation (recovering from a major surgery) has me thinking about religion a good bit lately. Specifically about the religion in which I was raised.

I was raised Christian Scientist.

If you don’t know anything about Christian Science other than hearing about their newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, I’m not surprised. It’s rather a dying religion. They have a beautiful campus of buildings in Boston’s Back Bay, but they have serious money and membership troubles. The politics of all that are quite staggering.

If you do think you know something about Christian Science, you probably know that Christian Scientists don’t go to doctors, except for childbirth and to set broken bones, or get vaccinations. I didn’t get most of my childhood vaccinations until I was 17 and about to leave for college, then I received all that were due in one day and could barely move my arms for a week.

What does this have to do with Mormons? Mormonism and Christian Science are both uniquely American religions, founded amid religious fervor in the 19th century. Once upon a time Christian Science was a growing religion in the country and the world. I saw plenty of parallels between the Mormons today and Christian Scientists – particularly in the fierce protection of the religions’ various claims and regarding intellectual critique from within and without.

The basic thing to know about the Christian Science is that it believes that matter is a construct of the mind. As such, our material world is directly dependent on the state of our spiritual health. Heal the spirit, and the body will follow. Faith healing at its most basic. When a Christian Scientist talks about being in one’s “right mind,” it has nothing to do with relative sanity (well, maybe it does), but it has everything to do with thinking rightly in a spiritual context. One of the phrases one hears a lot of in Christian Science is that one is “God’s perfect child,” and as such can’t possibly get sick, etc.

Christian Science has its own quirks, as do many religions. I came away from my childhood feeling like any physical illness or injury is my fault. I apologize profusely when ill or injured. Even though I know the mechanics of bacteria and viruses, I still feel guilty for getting sick. Last week in the ER, for example, I can’t tell you how many times I apologized to my husband and the staff for being there. It’s silly! It has to do with that whole God’s perfect child thing. Clearly I was not perfect if I was in the ER, and I was failing God in some way by not being perfect. When those lessons are ingrained early on, they can be hard to wash away.

As a small child, being a Christian Scientist made me a bit of an outcast. There were kids who were not allowed to play with me because of it. In the 70s, the Catholic church still called it a cult.

I left the church when I was 14 amid a family crisis. My mother, the devout one, was divorcing my father for someone else. I’d been having doubts, as many adolescents do, and as I wasn’t getting reasonable answers to my questions and my family was exploding it just seemed like the time to take a break. This was a huge issue with my mother and contributed to the widening gap between us.

I never went back to the church. But 26 years later, I can still sing the first verse to my favorite Christian Science hymn, know most of the seven synonyms for God, and can recite the Christian Science definition of angel (“God’s thoughts passing to man, spiritual intuition…”). Every time I recite the Lord’s Prayer in church now, I still have to remind myself to say the “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” part. Christian Scientists don’t say that.

Over the years I have followed news of the church, and specifically stories of Christian Science parents who do not getting medical care for their children. There are some stories of such children here.

Part of my break with Christian Science was over this issue. My (adolescent) reasoning was this:

1. If God did make us perfect in his image, then He/She (because in Christian Science God is the “Father-Mother God”) gave us our intellect and the gift of scientific thought and learning. Like all gifts from God, it is a challenge for us to use them well.

2. Children, while they often have very pure faith, do not necessarily have the intellectual, nuanced faith that I believe is necessary to participate in faith healing – and faith healing requires some buy-in and participation on the part of the person in need of healing. But kids do know when they hurt and sick, and they want relief from that - and they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for wanting that relief, for not being perfect.

I still think this.

There are arguments on both sides of the debate that are far more complex and complete than I can convey here. One book that I found extremely interesting is “God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church,” by Caroline Fraser. In addition to the content of the book, the response of the Christian Science church to the book was telling, I thought. There’s some coverage of the book here and here on Salon. (I was astounded to read some accounts in the book. There were situations and actions that I thought were unique to my family, but no, they were common threads for other Christian Science children.)

Although I was hospitalized as a child once with pneumonia (my father’s influence – he was Baptist), I remember once having a bad case of tonsillitis. I think I was in sixth grade or so. My tonsils were huge. HUGE! I was feverish. I felt terrible. I layed in bed for a week not much interested in even the TV. My mother called the Christian Science practitioner, not a doctor. She also continued to go to work all week, so I was home alone most of this time. I tried hard to participate in the Christian Science healing and read what I was supposed to, but it was hard. I was just so sick.

I was lucky that I recovered. Just lucky. I really don’t think that praying had anything to do with it. It was time, it was the bacteria or virus running its course in my body, it was my fever trying to kill the germ with heat, it was the fluids flushing it out of my body.

The historical context of Christian Science is important here, too. Christian Science was “discovered” at a time when anyone could call themselves a doctor. There were as many quacks as there were people honestly trying to harvest some scientific knowledge for good. The results of healing by faith and healing by “doctors” were pretty much even. Overall, it was a toss up as to what would work.

The Christian Science church has not evolved with time – and this is part of why they are fading, I think. At a time when studies are showing the power of faith in conjunction with modern medicine, they could use their positive, “right” thinking rhetoric to offer hope and positive influence in medical situations. But they don’t. They stick to the God’s perfect image thing and deny all benefit of science and medical research.

So my bottom line is this: If you, as an adult, want to follow a group that believes only in faith healing, go right ahead. That is your choice. But get your kids medical care and attention. Make sure they grow up to understand your faith and develop their own.

My mom left the church after her second husband died. She says she doesn’t believe in God anymore because God wouldn’t take her husband away from her, but I don’t believe that. She’s struggling to believe when it’s not easy to, just like many of us. Since her surgery three weeks ago, she’s had issues with pain management and is in a rehabilitation center. I think she feels guilty every time she takes a pain pill (just like I felt guilty being injured) and as such isn’t keeping on top of the pain like she needs to. It’s impeding her progress toward recovery and an active life. It’s frustrating to watch how this idea of perfection is holding her back.

I thought about Christian Science a lot while C was sick, too. I had long felt good about my decision to leave Christian Science when I did and find my own way back to church and religion and faith and congregations I felt comfortable with personally and spiritually. But after C was sick I was downright thankful that I left Christian Science.

If I were a Christian Scientist and had tried to call a practitioner when C first became sick, he would not be here today.