hope leaks in, hope leaks out

If a girl is walking along a sidewalk and loses some change from a hole in her pocket, the solution is simple.  You walk up to her, and say, "Here, you dropped some change.  Here are your nickels and Pocahontas dollar."
"You mean Sacagawea?" she'll ask.
"Well, whichever one is the real person," you'll say.
"They're both real," she'll say, "but only one is on the dollar."
"Whatever, Smarty Pants."  And then you should leave with her nickels.

Okay, maybe this would only happen to me.  I find Native American history very confusing.

How hard would it be to write her name on there, Government Money Guy?

But my point is, if a person drops their change, the change is on the ground.  The substance of the money hasn't changed, only the location is different.  You can help them by picking it up and handing it to them.

Not so with hope.  Hope mystifies me a bit.  If someone loses their hope, the hope seems to change properties as it leaves them.  As a person loses hope, it turns into hopelessness.  And what can you do with hopelessness?  You can't turn it into hope and hand it back to them.  Hopelessness seems such an empty, useless, hollow thing.

Hopelessness can be hard to identify.  Hopelessness doesn't announce "Help.  I have run out of hope."  Hopelessness can be quiet or loud.  It might look like anything:  anger, malaise, depression or just a laissez-faire "eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die" attitude.  Hopelessness may be concealed under the veneer of carrying-on-fairly-competently-with-life.  And that worries me.  Because how do you know how someone truly is inside?  Sometimes I tell myself a situation is hopeless, I even feel hopeless, but even in the darkest times (so far), I sense that I'm not 100% hopeless.  And in the case of hope, a percentage point or two makes all the difference.

How do you know when someone is down to 0%?  Or getting close fast?
I don't know.
Honestly, it scares me a bit that I don't know, and that probably, you don't either.  Or maybe you do.  You knew that Sacajawea thing.  But in case you don't, what do we do?
Watch people more closely?  Look them in the eyes?  Move more carefully around each other?  Pray a lot?  Listen more?  Oh man, I need to listen so so much more than I do.

I like these words from David Whyte's poem "The Winter of Listening."  They seem to fit:

"All those years
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard

All those years
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening"

These aren't magic answers, but they can't hurt
Especially if hopelessness wants to be found.  I suspect it does. 
And that gives me hope.

monsieur claus

In fifth grade, I thought I wanted a moped for Christmas.  But Santa knows a 10-year-old girl better than she knows herself.  Or maybe he doesn't...
because I got a banjo.

For 30 years, I never touched it.  But looking back, maybe it was simply bad timing.  That was the year I discovered French kissing.  Oh, I wasn't practicing it, and there weren't any offers, but hours were devoted to figuring out whether it was real or a myth.  And if it was real, did my parents know about it?  If so, why were they still obsessed with me not drinking after people?
And also, the choreography...where did the tongues go?  I mean exactly.  Keep still or move them around?  How so - in a circle?  High-fiving in the middle?  
There was a lot to consider.
All of it gross, but fascinating.

In summary, I blame the French for my shaky D chord today.

[Eventually, I got the moped too, but I didn't want to flaunt that and come off like some fancy alcoholic man jetting around town on his Peugeot].

dammit, wet 'n wild

My kids will never know how much I love them and value my marriage until they understand what our annual Wet 'n Wild trip is like for me.

Chris worked at Typhoon Lagoon in Disney for two summers.  He was a water park lifeguard.  He has borderline water park personality disorder, by which I mean that he loves them so much that while he is there, he never once thinks about the possibility of catching athlete's foot or MRSA.

Upon entering the park, he has plans and strategies.  There is an order to be followed, and if you can't get on board with it, you might be abandoned at the Dippin' Dots kiosk.

First Order of Business:  The wave pool.  Always the wave pool.  Before it's crowded.  "But there's a new slide that the kids and I are really excited about and---" ALWAYS THE WAVE POOL BEFORE IT FILLS WITH OLD LADIES YOU HAVE TO DODGE WHILE YOU'RE BODY SURFING.
Okay, okay.  The wave pool.
Everyone in the family loves the wave pool except for me.  I don't hate it, but I'm cold the entire time.  I don't frolic, because I'm always waiting for one of my children to get sucked into the deep end by the manmade undertow.  I remain alert and uneasy.  I scan for those wall ladders.  I calculate their position in relation to mine.  I'm certain that, at some point, I'll be dragging the kids plus my own body weight up a ladder as waves and teenagers crash against us. 

When our leader determines we have body surfed a sufficient number of waves (usually the number we all want plus "just two more"), there is no chatting or ceremony; he just leaves the pool and we scurry along behind him.  Remember, he has a mission and plan.  Keep up.

I won't go into the details of every slide.  I'll say only that we move from one to the next quickly.  While there may be much conversation and anticipation waiting in line for a slide, once you've ridden it, it's over.  Move on.  Courtney and I scuttle along excitedly recapping the 60 second slide for three minutes (so in real time, plus embellishments), but Walker and Chris are focused on the next conquest.
The reason I enjoy the recapping so much is because I'm so very extremely thankful to still be alive at the end of each slide.  In my mind I know that's irrational, but deep in my spleen, it feels true.  Believe it or not, I am the quietest one in our family while waiting in line.  My biggest fear is being stuck in a tunnel while water sprays at my breathing holes.  My second fear is that the tunnel will last more than...well, there is no length of dark tunnel I find tolerable.  I wouldn't go into any tunnel if we'd had the foresight to have a third child / riding buddy for Courtney. 

While we wait in line, the kids nervously ask, "This one will be okay, right?  It won't be bad?  I'm old enough, right?"  Chris says, "Oh yeah, it'll be awesome!  Look at those tiny kids doing it and loving it!" Then they look at me expectantly.  I shrug noncommittally and say, "I'm not promising anything.  In fact, I feel your concern shows maturity." Needless to say, two slides into the trip, no one wanted to be my riding partner.  They were sidling up to Chris, the fun parent.  Courtney said once, "Mommy, I could hear you praying on the last one.  It was like the Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios all over again."  By the way, the slide I prayed on (audibly anyway) was the new Riptide Racers.  It was an exclaimed prayer of thanks, because there were light holes in the tunnel.  As I finished the slide, I told the people waiting in line excitedly, "It's not dark in there!  It's not dark!  If you're worried it will be, it's not!"  The guys in line were like, "Lady, shut up, we're just trying to make out with our girlfriends."

In summary, I cannot fake fun at the water park.  I can only just barely show up.  My stomach is clinched the entire day.  I'm cold, barefoot (hence my thoughts of fungi and MRSA), the sun is spraying down skin cancer upon us, and all of the teenaged girls' knees are less baggy than mine.  It's a lot to take in.

In my defense, however, not all of my fears were irrational.
-We saw tools lying around under one slide (never a good sign).
-A bucket in the Fun Zone fell off and banged a kid in the head (cue rubber gloves and applied pressure to stop a LOT of bleeding).
-At one point, a lifeguard supervisor went SPRINTING FULL SPEED through the park.  I asked another lifeguard about it, and he said, "Probably someone just started to drown at one of the slides over there...I say 'probably,' because someone probably saved him first."
Dude.  That's a lot of probablies.
Also, maybe just tell me he's running to refill the snow cone machine.  I don't know the difference.

Regardless, our annual trip is finished.
We survived.
And probably we'll go again next year.



clickety click click
you get credit credit credit
but joy-fingers, how much longer will you work?

banjoing typing tying up ponytails,
snapping and tapping
peeling apart Twizzlers

flexing between paragraphs
waggling hellos at babies
snapping at tweens to signal silence and threats
twisting a twirl of hair around your index just because you can

be ye not nimble forever?
wherefore not, phalanges?
wait, is this why the older women have the short fuzzy hair--
is it a matter of limited energy?

if only a few tasks can be done daily before the fingers begin to ache
would i waste one with strenuous braiding?
I say I couldn't live without hair-- it helps my face--
but choices presented, what would I choose?

the curl of the fingers around the pencil
the happy claws upon the keyboard
the turning of a page so thin, just so you can smell the next one

sometimes i am surprised to find my hand resting in my lap
turned in on itself like a bird with its head tucked under its wing sleeping.
I see this in older hands that never turn out to wake

but mostly mine are moving, thank god
sometimes I scrabble for the pen in the car
swerving momentarily up and onto a curb
receiving a middle finger in the side mirror as a truck zooms by furious
but that doesn't hurt as much as not getting the words out

if no release of words, no peace no healing
i haven't found another way yet,
and if that's true, well...
once my hands stop working, I'm screwed.

maybe it is true for now
maybe I need to panic and scrabble and work and harvest
tomorrow will worry about itself

or maybe the joy-fingers won't be the thing to go
maybe it will be the ponytail
and i'll just be a mannish face with a confusingly high voice and short indeterminate hair and gender.

men in the nursing home will think I'm nice,
but wonder whether to ask me out for coffee
or to join their poker night.

and won't that be interesting to write about.

it's hard to be eight

it's too much.
I have nothing to offer.
I can't fix it for her.
I can't go to school and help her tell the teacher when her stomach hurts.
or even really remember how intimidating it is to ask a stern teacher anything

i forget how big a school seems when you're asked to walk to your brother's class,
but you get mixed up and feel scared and lost and alone
even though the hall seems so so short to a grown up who knows
there is an adult at every corner willing to help you

but sometimes adult faces look tired and serious and weirdly wrinkled
like your mom's, but also not at all like your mom's.

she makes it through the entire afternoon playing with a neighbor
seeming fine until it all comes pouring out at bedtime.
at first i assume it's the tiredness talking and amplifying the hurt,
but it keeps pouring and pouring out
friends choosing friends, tests and worksheets,
walking laps at recess,
nosebleeds, and trouble with belt buckles,
and sharp words from tired teachers,
lists of stresses upon little stresses until i know they're real
even if only felt more strongly because of the late hour--

but they aren't fabricated
the challenges were too ready to announce themselves,
right under the skin
so close they came gushing out when i finally got still
and I wonder, how long have they waited to be released?
until i wasn't busy, or she finally really cried and i paid attention?

because whatever the answer,
the only certainty is that this is my fault,
all of it.
i am a mother after all.
we assume responsibility for every negative and no positives.

i just pat her head and think
i have nothing.  nothing to fix this.
your mommy isn't good enough for this
and i have to send you back everyday.

it's hard to be a kid when you're a kid.
it only sounds easy if you are an adult imagining returning to childhood.
only the ignorant or unkind would say it's easy.
life isn't easy, young or old
but she has to go back into the fray tomorrow.
and i have nothing.

so i tell her the truth.
which I'm afraid to do, because I'm afraid it will seem bleak, and unhelpful -- like something a parent says when they don't know what else to say, which is totally true. 
i tell her
sometimes i have really bad days,
but i don't usually have two in a row.
and i pray to ask God for a good second one.
so i do that for her.
and i list her stresses and say we'll put those in a box and in God's lap for the night -
they aren't her job anymore.
her job is to listen to her book on cd and only think about resting.

and even though i know it's true,
it feels paltry.
like nothing.

but it's everything.
if only You'll show up for us tonight,
so she'll know You're real and You hear and care.
so she'll try it again sometime.

uno thingo

no one knows that the One Thing they're asking us to do is the thing that could push us over the edge.
and it's not their job to know.
it's ours, I suppose.
and what about the nine things we did leading up to their one thing?  they weren't even around for those; how can they be culpable?
but it feels like they are.
it feels like they're saying, "it's SO important - this One Thing!  it's One-Not-So-Big-Fairly-Easy-Thing - why not just do it?"

well...because of going over the edge and what not.  were you not listening?

sometimes we take on the nine things mindlessly, impulsively and even unwisely.
and the tenth One Thing has to be done.
we must knuckle down, kneel down and pray we can pull it off.
and sometimes we say, I'm sorry; but it's just One Thing.
one Damn thing.
holes have been kicked in walls over less. 
and so I shan't.

something bad happened in Santa's workshop

17 years ago I worked with a man from Norway named Hans who looked exactly like a handsome, slim Santa Claus.
except he was missing all of his fingertips on one hand, in a perfect slant.
you could tell he wasn't born that way, he'd obviously had a run in with a piece of equipment.
I liked him so much, but when he spoke I could only hear white noise,
because I was OBSESSED TO DISTRACTION with figuring out what had happened.
why didn't I ask him?
I know he would've told me. 
I've thought it about it 60% of my days since then.
If I'd just asked, I probably would've written a novel by now.
it is my greatest regret in life.
p.s I could tell the machinery was something that cut on a slant, but that's about as far as I've gotten...in 17 years.