Wednesday, November 23, 2011

First Words

He's a kid with problems.

Ewan didn't come out that way.  He was the 8 pound 10 ounce picture of health and vigor.  The kid suckled with exuberance and put on exactly three pounds and six ounces before his body quit figuring out what to do with mother's milk.  For five months his insides failed to pull from my milk whatever it needed to add to his flesh.





And then 10 ounces disappeared.  Poof.  The boy was beginning to vanish and the doctors began to materialize in concerned haste.

They say when a baby is starving - without using the word starving - that the brain quits doing anything but surviving.  So, while his sweet cousin, baby Ava was figuring out how to sit up, Ewan was laying quietly on his back working with all his might just to 'be.'  When cousin Davy was learning to respond to his parents singing "Popcorn Popping", Ewan was burning whatever calories there were to keep his insides functioning.  When his new little friend Penny was crawling throughout our house begging to climb up our stairs Ewan was lying on his stomach pulling with all his might to scoot himself forward just a few inches.

The kid is late to the party.

But it's ok.  He's had some "developmental delays" in gross and fine motor skills as well as speech.  He is now receiving free, in-home therapy for both.  And while one might think, how could a 14-month-old possibly need speech therapy, I have been amazed what kinds of things I can do to help develop communication.

Despite all this, Ewan loves life. He is happy.  There is nothing he likes more than going outside to feel the earth around him.

Which is where his first words came from.
We developed a routine that went like this:
go outside (day or night),
point at everything and say "Oh Wow."

Oh Wow.

This is the first thing he has to say about the world he lives in. His first words.

Bird - oh wow!  Wind in the leaves - oh wow!  Baby kitten on our porch - oh wow!  Squirrels scrambling up the tree - oh wow!  Lights that turn on and off - oh wow!

He's right.  There is a whole lot of 'Oh Wow' everywhere I look.  I see it so often that it loses its wow-ness in my lack of perspective.

Oh to live life in awe.

There is elegance in my chaos.  I can stretch my pointer finger out like Ewan does and touch beauty.  Oh Wow.  Not just in the goodness of my life and family.  It is in everything.  I don't know anything about String Theory Physics, but I think it merits my respect.  The recipe of a Virginia forest.  The art of collecting a string of characters together on a  page until your eyes see them as the words your mouth speaks.  To read.  To speak.  To put your fingertips on the keys of a piano and dance.  To extract from a swab of my cheek the deoxyribonucleic code that is the essence of me.  Oh Wow.

Some people do great things because they know how to touch the oh-wow-ness of life.

I read recently that while Steve Jobs was battling through the very end of this life his last words were "Oh wow."  A requiem true to the zeitgeist of his Jobs-onian existence.  No demi-god, but a man who sought elegance, and lived in the realization of ideas.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  From womb to grave it is 'oh wow.'

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Someone Who Needs Somewhere

". . . . a song for
        someone who needs somewhere
        to long for . . . ."

If there were ever a light cast across a piece of earth more beautiful than the one on this particular June evening in a little corner of New York state, I have never seen it.

This light came with restoration to our weary souls.
Did we leave our friends without proper goodbyes?
Did we drop tears onto the skinny face of a sick baby?
Did we feel homeless before we ever left home?
Did we drive 2000 miles?

We could answer "yes" honestly, but the whole truth of it would be lost somewhere in the bleakness of the question.

We have friends, we have a baby, we have a home, we are together!
Yes, these patch up the spaces that felt empty in the question.

As lake Ontario laps soothingly at our feet and the sun throws warm, low light across our faces we begin to be happy.

We trust,

In all of it, I see two things.

I see where my Dad is not.  He is not sitting on the bench next to my Mom, with a book in his hand, or a laptop on his lap, or his hand resting softly at the nape of her neck.

I see children who build.  I think Jonah told me they were elves making a shelter because he became ill.     Nowhere to live?  Nowhere to rest when your body is spent?  They pull from the unmade space as we do in time of need.  Here a stone, there a stick, a piece of driftwood drug from the water.  All buttressed against a small rise of earth.  The whole thing a bulwark of youthful ingenuity that protects against element and distress.

It is the blueprint to the weeks ahead.

Monday, October 24, 2011


You are a place of old age, a place of cracking cement and rusted metal, old glass and old ideas.  You are a place to find metal cups in metal cabinets, orange polyester party goers, and coral lipstick.  

You are Fallingwater.

Which means, really, you are a place fresh and vibrant, ahead of your time.  You are straight out of the 1950's before there were 50's.  Born in 1936, when the world was still building boxes, Mr. Wright was building beauty, and you are IT.  

This was an unplanned pilgrimage.  Matt and I were in Pennsylvania for a CES Couples Conference  staying at a Mennonite camp retreat that turned out to be just 30 minutes from Fallingwater.  I insisted. Matt obliged. 

We pulled into the car park and stopped for just a moment before getting out of the silver Chevrolet rental.  
"I don't know that you understand just how big a deal this is for me." I said to Matt.
"How come," he asked?
"It's like doing something vicariously for my Dad that he never got to do for himself."

Matt obliged and then he engaged our tour guide so intensely that she asked him if he was an architect.  Matt is the master of questions . . . and observation.  Despite pressing our guide to the very fringes of her allotted minutes in each room she still failed to mention to us that we could be part of the "in-depth tour group" starting shortly after ours.  Matt's interest was heightened such that they should have offered and "in-depth-after-hours tour" just for the two of us.

My Dad made wood do the bidding of his hands for a living until his hands betrayed him and then he taught high school kids how to do those things.  It wasn't the "perfection of the life" he might have hoped for, but it provided for his family.  In my early years - many of them - like the years from birth to about eight years old, my Dad was a student of the Industrial arts as well as anything else that caught his fancy.  Which was everything.  Which made graduation a thing always on the distant horizon.  

Somewhere in those years my Dad studied architecture.  If you study architecture you are introduced to a fellow called Frank Lloyd Wright.  Mr. Wright is more than an architect, but I do not know his words or work well enough to render any interpretation of what he is.  

I will let him speak for himself:

A philosophy is deduced from nature, and if according as the philosophy is parallel to the truths and processes of nature, it endures.  Without philosophy there is no understanding of anything.  Man is a phase of nature.  And only as he is related to nature does he matter, is he of any account whatever above the dust.

He is well known for works such as Fallingwater, The Robie House, Taliesen West, and most notably, The Guggenheim Museum in New York City.   I knew these words as a very young girl.  My young mind was the keeper of images so unique they could vary in a hundred ways and every one of them be a Frank Lloyd Wright signature, as recognizable as a Coca Cola logo.  The lines and circles of his leaded, stained-glass windows.  

You have seen them.

They might bring to mind words like "art deco" or "arts and crafts".  While not a student of architecture myself I am pretty sure Wright can be found somewhere in the midst of those words, or perhaps those words can be found somewhere in the midst of Mr. Wright.  At any rate, there is some correlation.

I tried to  walk through Fallingwater with my father's eyes.  I tried to invite him into my fingertips to say "I have touched it.  This cantilevered thing of genius." I tried to give his ears the sound of falling water that can be heard from every part of the house as a river flows beneath it and down through Pennsylvania woods.  I took one leaf from one rhododendron that fills the forest, to put in my journal and write - Here is a living thing from a living memory that my father gave to me.

You are Fallingwater.
I know your name from my Father's tongue and your beauty from my own eyes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Keeping Vigil

You have a memory.

You were in a place.

Getting ready for work, eating breakfast, driving. You were watching the Today Show, listening to NPR, sitting in class. You were in an airport, on a plane. You were in the office, you were sending your kids to school.

And then, in the quotidian momentum of a day where the sun was pushing you forward into the familiar steps of a Tuesday morning, you stood still.

Something was happening that began to wrap its cold grip around your lungs until you felt the absence of your breath and the absence of your hallowed American security. Something had made a hole in our impregnable United States.

You own your memory of that moment. There are many millions of them; that moment when we learned of the planes that were plowing through the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, into the soil of Pennsylvania. A surreal pause in the spinning of things.

This morning, on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 I am listening to the memorial service at Ground Zero in New York City. For the past two hours they have read the names of those who died that morning. Each giver of the names is a loved one of the deceased. They read several names then offer a message to their own beloved who was lost.

They are young, those reading the names. Some of them too young.
No, that little boy could not have been alive on that day. He cannot possibly own one of those where-you-were-what-you-were-doing memories that the rest of us have. And indeed he was not.

"Sebastian Gorky," this little boy says into the microphone. "Who I never met because I was in my Mom's belly. I love you, Dad."

So many fatherless.

"Winston Arthur Grant - My father; a good, kind, godly man."
"Geoffrey Hike Hardy - Dad, I'm still learning to cook. I'm working on it. We miss you."
"Joseph Gridlack - His physical presence and bushy mustache are missed. Semper Fi. I hope you dance."
"James Patrick Ladley - Dad, your guiding hand on my shoulder will stay with me forever."


I remember a blue and empty sky
For so many days
My empty sky
This was our fear - our almost . . .
Such determination to deny that we are changed
But who can look into this empty sky and think
We are not afraid of you
Our lips so close to calling the bluff
Something has changed
Something . . .

The Jewish have a tradition whereby they do not leave the body of a dead person to be alone from the time the spirit departs to the time the body is buried in the earth.
September 11th left so many bodies - not even bodies - remnants. Unidentifiable.
The young Jewish women of local Stern College kept vigil with those remnants for seven months while DNA testing was done to identify remains for internment. They were girls, students, who set up rotations such that no possibly Jewish body was left unattended, day or night, for seven months.

All of it; the terror, the death the heroism, the colossal waste, the fear, the empty skies, tells me to keep vigil with the people God grants me as loved ones in this fragile mortality. Day and night, for years on end, I stay close to the living bodies of those that breathe in my house.

What do you remember? What have you learned?

And consider participating in this project.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Even Sick Babies Are Perfect

Not even a year old and our little Ewan is facing the pharmaceutical regimen of an octogenarian.

My Friend Jackie and I both have four children. The last two (mine and hers) were born three days apart from each other. She and I have many times sat in the unladylike manner of two women very large with child and spoken of the charmed and bless-ed nature of our lives thus far. Though neither of us inclined to pessimism, we mutually admitted a growing sense of dread that with each child we add to our family there is a greater likelihood for tragedy - or hardship - illness- death - disease - something that doesn't feel quite so easy as a healthy newborn.

And newborns are SO easy.

Her fourth was born early and spent a fair bit of time in the NICU while she went back and forth from home to hospital trying to mother all of them in her postpartum delirium. Except Jackie doesn't actually suffer from delirium, or anything like unto weakness. She's kind of like the female Chuck Norris - you know, her tears cure cancer. It's just too bad she never cries.

I wanted to help her family while she was jockeying this trial, but as luck would have it my own very pregnant body was in the throws of a painful and protracted prodromal labor. And I am no Chuck Norris so I mostly kept to my bed.

Plus it was Jackie's fault because she fed us barbecued garlic chicken which produced nearly identical results just over two years before. Wives and husbands talked and laughed and ate more garlic than is healthy for intimacy of any kind. Kids played in the sandbox - then badda bing - Jackie's got a baby by morning and my Cecily comes three days later. 26 months later we do the whole routine over again - barbecued garlic chicken, badda bing, Jackie's baby by morning and my Ewan three days later.

Ewan came healthy. Ewan came big - 8 pounds, 10 ounces. He ate fine, he smiled, he slept, he grew, then he stopped growing. For five months Ewan not only gained no weight, but lost 10 ounces. He was diagnosed Failure to Thrive, which in medical mumbo jumbo is really just code for "this child has . . . ?????"

After many tests, including a full endoscopy at Primary Children's Hospital where I saw his pretty, pink insides we got more than a question mark.

"Eosinophilic esophagitis" said the very kind and hurried pediatric gastroenterologist on the phone just a week before we left Salt Lake City for a new home on the east coast. "Pick up this prescription, give it to him once a day, and good luck out there."

I gave it to him. He woke up. Ewan had a latent personality that emerged when suddenly his pain was suppressed and he could EAT. He gained five pounds in two months - which still leaves him soundly off-the-chart-small, but it is better than wasting away to nothing.

We finished Ewan's meds two weeks ago and I was feeling a bit liberated until we saw a new pediatric gastroenterologist last week. He sent me home with a new phrase - "chronic disease", and a slew of new meds that I have been afraid to start because they are so many and so specific in their requirements that I need a detailed chart of when and how much and before or after food and gargling with water to prevent thrush after this one.
Cause every one-year-old can gargle.

I'm pretty hopeless with a medically pedestrian round of antibiotics. Administering medication of any kind with consistency is for sick people - not me. But my son is sick, all 17 pounds of him, all 12 months of him, all the cherubic yumminess of him is chronically sick. I am the only person on this earth that will make sure that his mouth is rinsed out after taking budesonide to avoid an oral yeast infection. I have to do it.

So there it is - my diminishing returns on the ability to produce procreative perfection indefinitely. It is my "tragedy" which, for reasons unknown, seems more frightening at night when every one else has gone to sleep and I am left to eat massive helpings of worry all by myself.

My Mom pointed out to me today how lucky we are it is not something worse.
"It could be so much worse" she said.
"It could be," I agreed.
She was right. There was my little boy smiling at me, trusting that, come bed time, I would rinse his mouth out after the budesonide.
And I did.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Just a Place To Lay My Head

Some times, some of us arrive at a place of desperation. Here is a small Cecily, having arrived at that place. What it looks like to her - that desperation - is a wearisome day trailing along behind so many wearisome days with no bed to call her own.

Along came a flood and washed us all away. It swept a small Cecily right out of her crib, right out of her mother's arms who called her "my baby" and rocked her slow, and laid her down with a Boppy and a blanky giving her over to a night of sweet sleep. This flood lapped relentlessly at the bottom of our stairs and the fringes of our sanity until we turned our backs on our dear old red brick friend we now refer to as "1010," which was as true a home as we have ever known.

And so sleep becomes a borrowed thing - putting children's bodies on the floors of loved one's living rooms, and basements, and extra bedrooms. Sleep becomes a thing of thank you to those who open their doors and say "stay as long as you need, and then stay a little longer, because your kids are lovely and we have missed you, and this is what family does, and even because we need the blessings that come with being able to do this little bit for you."

We are nomadic for a spell. Having packed up the movable bits of our life into every corner of a white Toyota Sienna we go East on I-80 looking over our shoulders at the valley full of all the moments of my babies being born and all the driving back and forth to houses full of people we love, and so many warm afternoons with our toes in the cool water of City Creek, or running the brick path through our very own Narnia between Main and State just above North Temple.

We look north, straining to catch the spires of the Temple that is so off center in the sprawling valley and so dead center in the scheme of it all. From those spires it is just a bit to the west and only a few blocks north where, if you are a person who has climbed to the top of Ensign Peak, you will see the green trees lining the streets that take your eyes to the chapel at 8th North and 12th West wherein lies the heart of Rose Park. Wherein lies my heart. But only for that last fleeting moment before Parley's Canyon closes in around us and we live in Salt Lake City no more.

Oh Cheyenne, Lincoln, Chicago, Cincinnati, I admit, I am content to leave your hotels, your Steak and Shake, your Wendy's, your countless gas stations, your badlands and bad breakfasts. I can drive past your many hundreds of miles of corn stalks and not feel the pine of leaving it all behind. I am still raw from parting with Isaiah's blossoming desert. Every mile I have put between myself and the place "at the top of the mountains" makes rosier the lens through which I see it.

Oh Utah, had I the facility of a welsh tongue, I would christen you the source of my own "hiraeth" that weighs heavy in my bosom, like a tether, like an apron string pulled taught and straining inside me.

But straining as they are, these apron strings loosen well enough when finally, after five days of in and out and drive and drive we tumble out into Palmyra's green humid hills, into my sister's house, into my Mother's arms. Ah, I see, home has traveled with us without my even knowing it.


July 24th, no coincidental day of pioneering, brought us all the way to a little clearing along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Buena Vista is an afterthought to the places we call towns and cities. At dusk we arrive with just enough light to drive by the new, red brick house that will buttress all our efforts at familial life. It is our refuge, just as soon as we turn it inside out with enough elbow grease to render it Matthew's "bane" no longer. It needs work . . . and love . . . but mostly work with a stern voice and a hand on the hip.

April 7th was the last night I put all my babies in all their beds and felt like a fit mother for offering them stability and peace. 144 nights of musical beds followed, that mostly consisted of a blanket and a pillow on someone's floor. Tonight they lay their heads on their own pillows and sink softly into new mattresses with crisp, clean linens knowing that whether it is Virginia, New York, cursed Wyoming, or blessed Utah, home is in the bosom of their parent's love, which has a surprisingly pliant circumference.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How Soon We Are Put to the Test

{ Excerpts from my journal }

17 December 2009 Thursday

Mom calls me from the hospital sobbing. "He's irascible and mean. He says I'm stubborn and unforgiving. He's yelling at me and at the nurses. He tried to walk out of the hospital but the nurse finally told him he has wires inside him all the way to his heart that the doctor must remove first, and if he leaves his insurance won't pay for anything."

Way to bully the bully, Nurse Ratched.

Somehow I know that what my Mom needs is for me to take charge and tell her what to do. She and Aubrey do this for me when I call in hysterics.
"Pull it together, Mom," I demand. "You know this is up and down. You know who Dad is and you are dealing with him under the worst circumstances of his life. Don't act like it's falling apart. You get it together and be there for him. Just let it roll off right now, and give him time to make changes."
She calms down, "Okay, okay, you're right."

They have been waiting all day to be discharged from the hospital and my Dad is desperate to see the kids before we leave for Utah.

Chani comes over and we all make a "WELCOME HOME" sign for Dad. We start a fire. Clean the house.
Eventually they get home. Dad is wonderful with the kids. He shaves his beard and mustache first thing. He looks DIFFERENT. I have never seen his hairless face. It is part of his new self he says.
Cecily and Caroline sit in his lap, as they did the night he left for the hospital. We have come full round, bringing countless stitches, weakened bodies, and stronger spirits with us. He is finally at peace, eating the best smoothie of his life and holding grandkids.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


{ Excerpts from my journal }

16 December 2009 Wednesday (continued)
He calls Aubrey while I am sitting next to him and tells her to buy the house with the apartment because he and Mom are going to drive out in May to stay for a few months, maybe serve a six month mission in Palmyra.

Aubrey calls me a few minutes later, "Are you with him?" she asks exasperatedly. "What is he talking about? Something is going on. He sounds different."
"He's glowing," I say.
She is crying. "I know. I can feel it, hear it in his voice and I'm not even there."

He wants me to shave his beard and mustache. I'm nervous - nervous that I will cut him, but more nervous to see his face without it. As though everything has changed so quickly that taking his beard will take a part of his identity. I don't want any part of my Dad to be gone, not when these past six days have planted in me the fear of all parts of him being gone.
Grah comes and I pass the responsibility of shaving to him. We mutually decide the one razor we have is not sufficient to remove all the hair. Dad settles for tomorrow.

They are talking about fishing, all the things they will do.
"Things are going to change," my Dad tells Grah - his only son. "We're going to be doing a lot of things together."
"We're putting a permanent basketball hoop up when we pave our driveway," Grah tells him. "I figure we can play some one-on-one, half court. It's time for you to teach me to play basketball."
Grah leaves - he was visiting on his lunchbreak - promising to return tomorrow.

Dad tells me about the cardiac ICU nurse that met him when he came into emergency. She asked if he was feeling ok. "NO," he replied. She looked at him for a split second and said "You're having a heart attack. Come with me."
When it became clear that he was going to have open-heart surgery and who the surgeon would be she said "You came in at the right time. You're getting the number one surgeon in all of Nevada."

Eventually I had to leave sending my Mom back with the voice recorder trying not to miss all that he was offering.

Tonight as my Mom and I sit talking, eating milk and cookies in front of the fireplace before going to bed, she is crying tears of joy. "I have never been so happy before. I think this is the happiest day of my life," she says. "Always before there have been dark corners, hidden sorrows, but today they are gone."
She told Aubrey earlier "even if it all goes back to the old Wayne - I had today. I can survive on today."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Shaking Hands With Palestine

{ Excerpts from my journal }

15 December 2009 Tuesday
Today my Mom is with him. About seven hours. I did not see him, but she says he is talking a lot, and making plans.

16 December 2009 Wednesday
Twice now I have come through the Emergency Room doors as entrance to the hospital and found a grown man in desperate, hopeless tears, with someone beside him offering what comfort they can.

Today his bed was empty as I came around the corner. Dad was sitting in the chair having a breathing treatment.

"You're beautiful," he declares from behind his mask. "Those are nice jeans, are they new?"
"Kind of, " I answer.
"You probably wear them because Matt thinks you look hot in them."
"Matt thinks I look hot in most everything."
"Those are really nice shoes," he adds.
"Dad, I don't know that you have ever noticed my shoes before."
"Jessica, I am noticing everything today," he tells me with tears in his eyes. These are the first of many tears I will see in the next three hours.

My father is in awe over everything. He is friends with everyone. His nurse, Yvonne, has a very limited number of smiles, but she is willing to give him a few because he is too solicitous to resist.

Dr. Romeya comes in, one of the two surgeons who performed the bypass. Dad says "you have a great smile."
"Thank you," Dr. Romeya answers with a mysterious accent. "God just made me this way."
"Do you mind if I ask where you are from," Dad inquires.
"Palestine," the doctor answers.
"My niece and nephew went there and they said they loved Palestine - liked it way better than Israel. Not that they didn't like the Israelis, they just liked the Palestinians more."
Dr. Romeya is smiling again - truly a beautiful, full face smile - graciously, slightly sheepishly accepting and simultaneously deflecting my Dad's compliment.
"They are good people," the doctor says. And I wonder if he is speaking of the Israelis or the Palestinians.

There is a bit of conversation about Iranian missile testing, spread of nuclear technology. At the end we mutually agree we just need peace.
"We need to get together, like you and me, right here," my Dad says with more tears. Dr. Romeya deliberately, thoughtfully extends his hand and his smile to my Dad, who takes it in a kind of fraternal grip.
"Yes, we are here together. This is what the world must do," Dr. Romeya says as he takes his leave.

Friends, friends, and more friends.

At some point during his exchange with the surgeon a man comes in to collect the rubbish from my Dad's room. "Hi Jean," my Dad greets him by name, "how you doin today?"
"Good Wayne, thanks."

Dad compliments Dr. Ngueyn - nice hair, the pulmonologist - nice tie, Grah - nice shoes.
Goodwill and kindness springing from his new heart.

He says he has blessings to count and I want to record them to remind him later when the honey moon of new life has faded.
Nita is more than half the blessings of his whole life.
He says he needs to do more for her,
mend broken fences.
Mostly on his part.
Shave his beard to be ready to serve a mission.
And "Shhh, this is a secret, I'm going to learn to dance,
so I can dance with your Mother.
Probably have to be line dancing,
something I can do in cowboy boots."

I ask if he is seeing anything as a blessing that he might not have recognized as such before the heart attack and surgery.

Oh yes.
1 - The School District. I've been blaming them for my issues, my depression, but it's not their fault. I've had a job for twenty years that has provided for my family.
2 - The heart attack itself. It is closing doors and opening doors.

"Everything is changing," he says.
There is a glow around him; kind to everyone, grateful, hopeful.
"70 pounds in a year," he says
"In 52 weeks?" I ask.
"Well, maybe 18 months."
He doesn't argue with the dietician, a cute girl called Jen.
"For Jennifer?" he asks.
"Yes, Jennifer," she confirms.
So he sings Donavan's Jennifer, Juniper, and I sing with him.

Jennifer Juniper, hair of golden flax.
Jennifer Juniper longs for what she lacks.
Do you like her ? Yes, I do, Sir.
Would you love her ? Yes, I would, Sir.
Whatcha doing Jennifer, my love ?

Then he speaks to this Jennifer with an impressive Scottish brogue, "like Donavan," he says.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Would That I Were His Saving Angel

But at least his cherub if nothing else.

{ Excerpts from my journal }

14 December 2009 Monday
His curtain was closed when I came in but he recognized me right away when I pulled it back just a bit. Improvement. As I walked toward him my Dad held his hand out to me and said "You are so beautiful."
"So are you," I responded , kissing his forehead.
"No I'm NOT."

Today he is mean in his thoughts:
I HATE this place. This is worse than Auschwitz. They have it down to a science. They take no time getting to know their patients. Everyone is ignoring me. Who is that person - Get out of here (to unknown person). I tell you, when we got here the other night I already hated it. I was ready to turn around and go home. I was going to tell your mother to hire Scott Mitchell to sue this place - some kind of investigation - somethin'.
Then he grabs my hand as I raise or lower the bed for him, fetch the nurse for pain meds, ask for some apple juice, and he says "You're my cherub."

Later he puts his hand on my cheek and says "Ohhh, you were the one with me at the door when I said I wasn't feeling good."
I take his hand from my cheek, grasped tightly in both of mine, "I should have called 911 Dad. I'm sorry."
He just smiles.
His smile tells me its ok, because whatever did happen, however it all worked out - it worked out. He's here, smiling.

Now he sleeps. Now I will read - catching up on my Book of Mormon challenge.

He just woke up. "Oh, I thought I was home," he laments.
"Tomorrow Im going to try to convince your Mom to bring my lap top. She probably won't, but I would like (dramatic pause) to try."
"I don't know if they have wireless internet here," I say.
"I don't need internet. I can write. I'm a writer."
"Oh," I say. "Well, you should start something new, something stream of consciousness."
He's drifting back to sleep.
"For posterity," I say.

He wakes up as Karen, the night nurse, comes in to check on him. "Do you know how many people are worried about me and praying for me?" he asks her.
She takes the bait, "How many?"
"Hundreds . . . hundreds of millions," he declares.
"My Dad is well known for his exaggeration gene," I tell her.
Karen looks right at him with a hand on her cocked hip, smiling just a bit and says "Oh Wayne, you've told me that a million times."
Karen plays ball in the big leagues.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Quotations For A Sunday Evening

{ Excerpts from my journal }

12 Dec 2009 Saturday
I sit beside my Dad having sent my Mom home to rest. Another attempt this morning to bring him out of sedation and remove the ventilator. Unsuccessful.

13 December 2009 Sunday
(Five days of being unconscious)
By his side again - four minutes past 4pm. My Mom got here this morning just before 10:00. The doctor had removed the ventilator at 9:15. Rumor has it he has been a bear all day. His verbal greeting to the doctor and nurses after they pulled the ventilator out of his throat was a raspy, angry "What the HELL?" But my Mom says that he nodded when she asked if he could hear her.

Things have been violent and crazy, doctors in and out, multiple nurses required to keep him down. He's shouting and grunting, mostly slurs. When I got here he had slid down the bed with his right foot on the floor. Ann (the nurse) said he liked that position and they decided to let him stay that way, leaving his legs free while his arms are still tied down.

In the two hours I've been here he has begun to emerge. He is talking - somewhat slurred but mostly understandable. Once he realized I was here and who I am he said (with the most prohibitive dry-tounge lisp you can imagine) "Jeth, do me a favor, bring me a knife. I gotta cut theethe thtraps off."

"Is your leg bothering you?" I ask.
"No," he responds tersely, "but my TIE-DOWNS ARE!"

He tries a new tactic. "Nurthe, if you untie me, I abtholutely promithe I'll be good."
So she did. She told him he could be untied while I'm here.

"Are you gonna feed me ice?" He asks me.
"I don't have any more. You ate it all."
"Yes you do," he accuses, and then demands "go get some more."

In his most imploring abandoned voice he cries "Ohhh pleeease - come on. Can we go home?"

"What do you need Dad?"
This he yells in desperation as his sheet has fallen to one side exposing the nakedness he does not know has been his common exhibition over the past four unconscious days. I have tried constantly to cover him as quickly as his restless body uncovered itself, but at some point nakedness ceased to diminish his dignity. His thrashing meant he was alive and that was more joyful than exposure was embarrassing. But not for his conscious self.

"I'm SO frustrated!" he snarls through clenched jaw.
"About what Dad," I ask in a calm and therapeutic way.
He looks me straight in the eye and says "Figure it out."

The nurse asks him - what's your name, your last name, your birthday, how old are you, all of which he responds appropriately to. Then she asks him who the president of the United States is. Uh-oh, I think.
"Uggghhhh," he says.
"Ok, no political affiliations." Ann deflects. "Just asking who the president is."
"Ohhh - baahma," he answers with a slurry sneer.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Disagreeable Harbingers

While we are in the midst of a totally life changing experience right now, and there is much to tell in that vein, I am not yet prepared to leave the words that will help me write about all the things of life that come after death.

Death is no respecter of persons - persons either living or dead. He comes and he takes and he leaves and we reel either way. Part of my reeling is writing. Part of regaining my balance is writing.

{ Excerpts from my journal }

3 December 2009 Wednesday
We are in Las Vegas. It is, of course, too late and I should have been asleep two hours ago. Matthew is left home alone, working feverishly to finish his dissertation for submission by December 31st. It is hard to imagine our life without the task master of "Dad's book." I wonder how things will change - but I can't let myself wonder too much yet.

8 December 2009 Tuesday
My father is at Sunrise Hospital in the midst of open-heart surgery. He suffered what seems to be a massive heart attack while sitting in his chair laughing and talking with us. Holding Cecily and teaching her to say "ta-da."

He tried to drive himself to Quick Care knowing something in his chest didn't feel right and my Mom was at a church meeting. He went to two locations - neither open - came home and called my Mom to come drive him to emergency. There they determined he was still having the heart attack. Right aorta 100% blocked, left aorta 80% blocked, angioplasty unsuccessful. They took him to the OR around 11:15pm to begin a three hour, open-heart, triple by-pass surgery.

This is . . . surreal. I have not cried yet. I am afraid of opening the flood of tears. Chani and Scott came to the house and are staying the night here.

OR doctor called the house during surgery to get my Mom's cell phone number. I asked if he was at liberty to give any information. He said "No, but everything is fine, he's ok."
"So, he's alive?" I asked.

I cannot wish this away. I cannot let myself feel the reality of it.

It is 2:20 am. I go to bed now. My Mom is not home yet. Wait to hear more in the morning.

9 December 2009 Wednesday
Matt will be here in seven hours. I want his presence desperately.

My Dad is ok. Still sedated, still un-present in his current circumstances. We can't go to him, not even my Mom. She went to the hospital and was able to look at him through a window and see him sleeping, but he can't know she is there. He's an agitated fighter - in danger of pulling out all the carefully placed tubing.

I spent the day talking and talking and talking. I took my Mom's cell phone and answered every call that came to her throughout the day. She gave me a list of everyone she wanted to know, none of which she could bear to talk to herself.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What I Wrote Before I Knew

I have things to say about my Dad.
First - I miss him.
Sometimes at night, I cry into a pillow on the couch while everyone else is asleep. I do this because the kind of crying I give myself to, the crying that comes with saying "My father is dead", is not the kind of crying that is easy to do in front of other people. There is an abandon to it that makes other people so unsure of what to do. And the truth is they don't need to do anything. Except Matt, who needs to hold me occasionally while I cry the cry that would be humiliating if it weren't making the tears that fall to my Father's grave.

My journal keeps my memories for me. Once I write down the goings-on in my head, I can let go of them mentally. Thus, it is always a bit of a surprise to go back and read. The details of my life live in the pages far more than they live in my head.

There are a series of entries I will share. They are the spiritual prescience of saying goodbye, while goodbye was still still beyond the horizon.

Here is the first - written just as Jonah was getting over a severe facial tic that seemed devastating at the time:

02 Sep 2009 Wed
I have periodically wondered at the goodness of our life, and how I will react when something threatens that. I fear now that I am fragile, in a way I was not familiar with. This has been only a brush with trial - not actually trial itself - and I have nearly fallen apart. What I know is that I was recovering emotional strength before Jonah was recovering physically. I DO have something in me that can move past fear and carry on with life. I must foster that ability in preparation for whatever hits next.

03 Sep 2009 Thurs
Television is bad.

05 Sep 2009 Sat
Two hours on the strip in Las Vegas reminds me why we make so much effort, work so hard to remove ourselves from the world. Hedonistic indulgence offers me nothing - it cannot persuade me. I am a daughter of God. I am a woman of virtue pursuing something very different.

06 Sep 2009 Sun
Matthew -- tomorrow I regain thy presence. Always a sweet reunion.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What Can Be Built

Wayne Allen Leavitt
November 18, 1949 - January 28, 2011

They say you stood in a hole deep enough to cover your head, frozen in the northernness of New York’s early winter. They say you worked nearly as hard as my Mother all that day laboring the labor that builds a habitat for humanity. A house; cement and wood, and walls to keep the snow out and the babies in their beds.

They say your bones hurt at the end. You returned wanting warmth and the “sussies” that keep you going. Your last pleasure. When the camera caught you your mouth was almost smiling, your right arm pulling Nita in close - her littleness fitting snugly beneath you. You were both clad for keeping cold out. White long johns and wool socks. You were standing in my sister’s house, your oldest daughter. New York was the wake of the first time your heart stopped.

Lonely is the wake of the second time your heart stopped.

My body is lying in your bed, trying to sleep through the wrongness of being here. My husband is asleep beside me, my baby in a cot at my feet. Three of my children, the three that know your name, that have squealed in delight at the mercy of Tickle Grandpa’s tickles are in beds two thousand miles away.

It is morning. February sun glistens in February snow filling your room with winter white and the blue that could be summer if it held the sun higher in the sky. Ewan is smiling while I lay him on your bed to change his diaper. He is smiling and I am thinking how pissed off you must be that here he is - the only grandchild you have not met. You were getting antsy. You were content with New York, but for your little ones in the west getting less little every day. And this littlest one was calling to you. It is the babies that have always fit perfectly up against your chest. I can’t help feeling like our being here is mocking your yearning. I wish we were here eight days ago. I wish you could pull him up to smell the babyness of him, and see the blueness of your eyes in his.

Introductions and reunions for another time.

You didn’t stay long enough to see the house built up around the foundation you laid that day in Rochester’s cold dirt. You would have carried a pencil tucked in your ear, making graphite marks on 2 x 4’s that you would cut as you have ten thousand times before. You would have dazzled them with your know-how, making them think what good fortune was theirs to have this seasoned wielder of hammers and drills and saws building a house for them. As it is, someone else will build the walls that keep those babies in their beds.

Lucky then, isn’t it, that you have already hammered enough nails and to spare to keep your legacy standing for a long time. The legacy you built keeps out rain, and wind, and snow, robbers, thieves and liars. The legacy you built keeps out Satan. It keeps me warm and right. You set the nails carefully and struck countless blows that taught me to know God and know myself.

Here is this nail - upon which the blow will resonate with curiosity, this one faith, this one ears for music, this one voracious reading, this one a fierce love of spouse, children, cousin, sister, brother, grandchild, parent. I am steady and strong, built by your tender intensity. In me you have built a habitat for humanity. My mother, my father, with their heart of gold, have gifted me their humanity.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Getting Rid of Baby

There's nothing like a helium balloon to really put me in a mood.

It started when I was a nanny. I learned that a three-year-old does not understand the worth of a balloon in tears. In a normal world we'll say the loss of an above average, helium filled, purple balloon with a ribbon attached is worth maybe seven or eight tears. We'll even generously double that if the balloon floated off into the blue yonder during the first five minutes of ownership.

But in a three-year-old world one can devote hours of tears to the loss of a balloon. As well as innumerable howls, thrashings, surprisingly conversant epithets, and a good deal of begging.

Of course not all balloons are created equal. Some are the very pedestrian monochromatic, tear drop variety while others are. . .say, giant mylar baby heads.

Evidently if you are a lawyer having a baby, your other lawyer friends give you a giant, mylar, baby head balloon at your baby shower. And if you are a really nice lawyer (which I would argue is more common than some might suppose), and my sister-in-law you give the balloon to my kids.

It's ok.

You didn't know.

How could you know about the balloon calamity of 1995?

How could you know that one balloon and three children is Armageddon? Or that a floating ballon - especially one with a giant head - in a car with three children is a safety hazard in the same way that the space shuttle reentering the earth's atmosphere is a safety hazard?

All this aside, it's kind of a disturbing balloon. Which, as I think on it now, may be why you gave it away in the first place.

My kids adopted this ballon as they might have adopted a kitten; squeals of delight, petting, bickering over who gets to hold it, chasing it, and yanking it away from each other. Cecily darted around the older two yelling "I want the giant baby! Give me the giant baby!"

As we were getting ready to leave the house the other day I told the kids that we could not go anywhere until the giant baby was gone, as it was still floating aimlessly and ever lower inside the van.

They ran out to "take care of " giant baby so we could get on with our outing.

However, when I got to the car all children were quietly buckled into their seats waiting for me to discover this:

"Can we keep it, Mom? Huh, can we, can we."

I'd still like to jab a pin right into one of those giant rosy cheeks.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Santa Struts and Frets His Hour Upon The Wrong Stage

Christmas is different as an adult than a child.

Las year I really created Christmas - in so far as I am able. I wrapped many presents, stuffed stockings, and made a big wall of wrapping paper covering the entrance to the family room which the kids were not meant to brake through until they came to get us. Of course the kids woke up and immediately broke through the paper like wild Christmas bulls and emptied all the stockings before coming to get us.

I'm not much of a creator when it comes to special events. Holidays come, holidays go and more often than not it was just a number on the calendar with a nod from the crowd in our house.

This is not the way kids want to experience holidays. They want the magic of twinkle lights and tinsel. They want the breathtaking possibility that a big fat man in red, or a little Irish man in green came to visit while they were asleep. They want tracks from the abominable Easter bunny leaving evidence of a hurried escape through the spring mud of our back garden. They want to plaster the walls with pink hearts before Dad gets home so he knows it is Valentine's day.

My problem is three fold:




We'll go with the last since time and money are obvious and boring.

We had some friends over for dinner several weeks ago who asked if we had any Christmas traditions. Aside from peaches and whipped cream on waffles for breakfast and . . . gifts (if that counts), we don't really have any traditions. Our friends were starting a new tradition with their children. A kind of advent activity where the kids open a small wrapped gift each day of December. Inside is an activity for everyone to do as a family, e.g. drink hot chocolate, sing Christmas songs, visit Temple square, read a story, play a board game, have a fire, etc.

This would provide all the magic of Christmas my kids could hope for at their age. It would make up for Caroline's disappointment that there were no packages under the tree with a tag that said "From Santa". Despite filled stockings she is convinced Santa skipped our house.

But the jury is still out when it comes to Santa in our house. I don't really talk about it. I am evasive with their questions. I confirm and deny nothing.

Sometime in December Caroline said to me "Mom, did you know that Christmas is not just about Santa, it's about Jesus too. You never told me that. My primary teacher told me that."
Yes I did!
And what do you mean too?
Christmas is about Jesus, not Santa.
Except Santa is fun, and the tradition is fun, and the possibility is fun. They just need to have their own holidays. It seems ridiculous and almost impossible as a parent to carry on these incompatible parallel holidays. Either we have a day to celebrate the birth of Christ, and a separate Father Christmas, gift giving day, or we just drop the whole Santa charade entirely.

The Scene:
Four innocent, guileless children sitting on the couch.
Me: Kids, there is NO Santa Claus. He is imaginary. Your Dad and I fill your stockings after you go to sleep on Christmas eve. There is only Jesus, the Son of God, and Savior of mankind.
Kids: Tears.

Truth comes in blows -- as they say.

Why does it have to be one or the other? Because we force them to share a holiday. They've got no business fraternizing. We should not thrust the imminent disappointment of a Santa-less world onto the same stage as Deity.

Matt told me a story (half the details of which I am sure I will get wrong) about a little girl who learned in a short period of time that Santa is not real, the Easter Bunny is not real and the Tooth Fairy is not real. Her next tearful question for the parents she had trusted so well was inevitably "Is Jesus real?"

How can children navigate the nature of our deception?
Should they have to?

I like getting presents.
I like giving presents.
I don't see how it relates to celebrating the birth of Christ.
In light of this Christmas dichotomy I propose a new tradition for my family. I would like to add a day to our celebration of the birth of the Saviour. A day that stands apart from the traditional, commercial version of Christmas. I'm not sure yet how to do this. I'll think on the details and see what emerges in December of 2011.

I'm open to suggestions. Have you figured out how to give your children truth and magic simultaneously?