Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lesson #40: Don't worry.

We have a songbird in our house.

C -- the youngest of the Brady Bunch -- loves to sing. He knows all the words to:
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
  • Now I Know My ABCs
  • Bob Marley's Three Birds
  • House of Pain's Jump Around
  • Bloodhound Gang's Three Point One Four
  • and another song that K made up just for him when he plays with his train set.
Some of these songs aren't appropropriate for a little ears, I know.

But still, there is nothing more sweet than hearing a 3-year-old trill, "Every little thing's gonna be all right." Sometimes I need to hear that. For some reason, I can believe it when I hear it from an innocent babe.

Though I'd probably feel all right if I was chillin' in Jamaica, too.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lesson #39: The Mouths of Babes are Filled with Truths

Today is the one-year anniversary of the loss of our eldest child. The One We Lost is never far -- he keeps popping up in dreams (that end in my sobbing that I'll never see him again). He keeps appearing in my husband's eyes when he weeps all of a sudden (and to see a man you love suddenly start weeping is the strangest and most heart-wrenching of things). My sons talk about him and strive to emulate him. I haven't learned to say I have five children, because with him, I have six, and always will.

Yesterday, I spent the day cooking casseroles to take to my uncle and cousin's house. My aunt died that morning. After spending the day with them, and leaving them when I saw my uncle grow weary of being strong for his guests, I went home and cried myself to sleep. I couldn't get my aunt's beautiful, strong voice out of my head. I felt her bear hug wrap me in warmth. And I missed her, already.

There has been so much grief for my family lately. Our son, my husband's uncle and grandfather (the two men who glued the family togehter, a family that has since completely fallen apart), and now my aunt, all passing in the space of a year. My beloved aunt -- A woman who taught me to be proud of my name, who taught me I could be a strong woman, a career woman, a writing woman. Whose strength rests in me still.

With her passing, I became the matriarch of the family, the oldest living female on that side of the family. The oldest woman and the one who has to keep the stories of our heritage, passed down from my aunt to me. It hit me recently that it's my responsibility to teach our children and their children about the beautiful ones who passed away before they came, the ones who came before them. But I have been so heavily burdened with grief this past year, I wasn't sure I could rise to the challenge

A couple of days ago, one of the young ones showed me how it is to be done. C, the baby, loves to watch Harold and the Purple Crayon, a cartoon about a little boy who draws his reality using a magic purple crayon. Months ago, I let him borrow a necklace of mine that reminded him of the purple crayon. As one would expect in giving a three year old a necklace, he lost it. He felt bad about it too and said he was sorry. At Christmas, he picked out a giant pink pen, and his mama wrapped it up for him. He was so proud to give it to me. His mama said that he picked it out for me because he knows I like to write. I thanked him, put it away and forgot about it.

The other night, C and I were playing together in a rare moment alone. He found the pen and held it up to me. "Do you like the purple crayon I got you?" he asked.

"Oh yes," I answered. "Thank you for my purple crayon."

How could C -- he's only 3 -- remember all these months that he owed me a purple crayon? How could he know I needed one now, so badly, to draw myself a happy world to hide from the sadness I live in now?

It doesn't matter how. He knew.

C and I spent the evening drawing rainbows and waterfalls and zebras to ride in the air around us. He and I escaped some of our grief for the moment. C showed me the promise of youth again, in a time when I had forgotten it existed. Death robs us of promise. It robs us of joy and hope and those things that youth takes for granted.

That's really why youth is so filled with promise. Because the future has yet to be drawn. It's a blank palette, an empty canvas. The colors to work with are only vibrant and new, they aren't yet tainted with shadow. 

But with a purple crayon in our hands, we can recreate whatever we want in a world that has been destroyed by grief.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Lesson #38: Don't bite off more than you can chew

I started a new job last October writing grants for a university that's about an hour's commute from my home. I love the new job and was happy to land it.

But prior to taking the job, I had solicited my local newspaper to see if the editor was interested in letting me write for them, on staff or as a freelancer. I was feeling nostalgic for my days as a newspaper reporter, and my current job as a freelance grant writer was so, well, boring.

The editor pulled me in for an interview, both with him and the staff of the paper. I never heard back from him, despite a thank you letter and confirmation from the business office that they had all my paperwork in order. I figured, no harm done by asking, and chalked it up to good interviewing skills practice.

Two weeks after starting the university position, the editor called me and offered me a gig writing a bi-weekly column on "anything interesting that pertains to Merced County." Of course, I said yes.

I mean, 11-hour days working for a prestigous intellectual community in a high-stress, challenging position wasn't enough for me, right? What I really needed was to tack on a couple more hours a week of research, interviews and composition that would be published in my home town twice a month for 50,000 readers to chew and bitch about.

I've been writing more-than-full-time now -- both grants for the university and a column on raising kids in the county -- for almost three months. I've gotten my first hate mail (after five columns, which isn't a bad record). It's exhausting work.

But it's worth it. I'm finally making decent money (what I'm worth), hanging out with interesting people, and keeping my name in print. I'm a pretty lucky gal after all.