Life at Both Ends

My 94-year old Mom has been in the hospital for nine days.

A few states away, there is a new baby in the family, just two days old.

Both are wrapped in cozy blankets, both are fragile and needy and vulnerable.

Both are loved so much.

Opposite ends of the spectrum, these two lives. One is surrounded by joy and tears. The other is accompanied by frequent sadness and tears. Both tug on the heart and draw us closer to God, who authors all life.

Mom will be 95 in just a few days, and in a month, her latest great grandson will be visiting. I pray we can get a photo of these two together, but today Mom talked of being so tired and getting a feeling that her life is winding down, so we will see what God has planned.

When I look at Mom, I see a long, full life.   When I gaze on this sweet new grand nephew of ours, I see a long, full life. Mom has many memories; our grand nephew has none. I cannot visualize our grand nephew at 95.  Only God knows what his journey will be. 

Life is short and long at the same time. When I'm sitting with Mom, who is often confused these days, the hours are long because there is a relenting grief that this may be the last day I see her.  When my brother holds his new grandson, I'm sure he's aware that this little boy will grow up as fast as his own sons did. Time seems to be measured by the heart - what we are celebrating, and what is painful. 

Life is amazing and scary and surprising at both ends.  It has value at both ends.  And every day in between. 



Today is our firstborn's birthday.  

Every new baby ignites in his parents an enormous passion, and a fierce sense of protection and provision.  It just wells up, usually accompanied by tears. 

The first time that happens, however....your defenses are stripped away, your heart is laid bare, and you realize, maybe for the first time, what unconditional love is.

You realize how vulnerable you now are.  You have just created something you will protect more than yourself.

In the summer of '77, we became parents for the first time.  Our tiny, flesh-of-our-flesh, often smelly newborn was completely ours to snuggle and nurture and feed and clean and teach and love.    

It was overwhelming and frightening and wonderful.

We realized early on, however, that we were completely inadequate parents.  We didn't actually know anything.

We worried that we'd drop this precious bundle, or not hear him if he was suffocating against the mattress.

We worried that, as a toddler, he'd run into the street, or trip over a brick and knock his new teeth out, or find a dead worm and eat it.

The worries only got bigger: the copious germs at school, predators offering our innocent boy a candy bar, crummy friends who would lure him into stupid behavior, and, worst of all...GIRLS.

Despite the worries, our firstborn could not have been more adored.  As the first grandchild on my side of the family, we were "over the moon" with this youngster.

He was born one year after my twenty-three year old brother unexpectedly passed away.  This fresh, new life was a soothing balm to my grieving parents. 

Our firstborn was a smart, serious child who loved Legos, transformers, and McGyver.  (To this day, we all believe duct tape and a pocket knife should fix anything.)

When the soccer coach broke our son's seven-year old tibia with a powerful, but misplaced kick, I tearfully learned that I could not protect my boy from the world.  This is a heart-wrenching moment for a mom.  

That same year, this son won the Fire Prevention Week art contest for the second grade.  I had tears in my eyes again.  This tough little guy who weathered a clunky leg cast and crutches for six weeks was artistic and creative, and pretty nonchalant about it too.   He's still not one to blow his own horn.

But, his mom will.  Here's the second grade winner... 

...and some of his later work, a portrait of all the grandchildren with G.G., their great-grandmother.

Don't miss the tiniest little sprout on G.G's lap.   This picture is so precious, my heart aches. 

As the oldest child, our son was a good little helper, a job most firstborns tire of over time.  God bless 'em.  The burden of being first. 

He once referred to himself as the "experimental child," which is, unfortunately, true.   The first offspring has to weather the learning curve of Mom and Dad.   I can only pray that our insane love for this child counter-balanced our inexperience. 

Our son became self-reliant early on, and moved to Arizona with only what he could fit in his pick-up.  He has an adventurous spirit that enables him to follow his heart.  Once on his own, he never asked us for anything.

He's a whip-smart pharmacy technician, a talented musician, and an avid baseball fan.  He also does a very good Jim Carrey impersonation. 

He's still creative.  A few years ago, he proposed to his girlfriend on opening day at Fenway Park.  Then, he designed their wedding invitation, incorporating a baseball theme. 

I believe any children will have reddish hair. 

Today, we thank God for our firstborn.  The child that made us a family.

Happy, blessed birthday, beloved son.

All our love...

Mom and Dad


8 Rules for a Lifetime Marriage

Looks who's been married 65 years today.

The ex-clown is there in the middle, their third offspring.  Mom looks a little haggard, but I guess you're entitled when you're just weeks away from turning 95.

These two continue to amaze me. Dad fights chronic UTIs (he's just completed treatment for his 4th infection this year) and Mom moves slower than molasses, but they are hardy stock from Indiana, and they have more energy than me these days.

People ask them all the time, how do you stay married for 65 years? Here is some of their wisdom:

Mom: You just do it. You might argue now and then, but you work it out.

Dad: Just listen to your wife. They need to talk a lot.

Mom: Try to make healthy food.  That helps you out later in life.

Dad: Get away from each other once in a while. Everybody needs a break. 

Mom: We pray every night that we'll be able to handle what happens tomorrow.

Dad: Pray together.

Mom: You have to forgive.

Dad: Let her do what makes her happy.

Mom: Let him do what makes him happy.

Dad: Marry the right girl.

There ya' go. Feel free to print that out and hang it on your 'fridge.  These would be good wedding vows, don't you think? To "cherish and honor" is fine, but how does that translate into action?

Like this: "I promise to listen to you, let you do what makes you happy, make good food for you, pray with you, forgive you, and get away from you once in a while."

When we're all young and dewy-eyed, we don't know marriage requires so much, like listening, forgiving, spinach salads, and asking God for guidance.  Hollywood portrays it as roses and romance, or something to avoid. We don't get an accurate picture of long-term commitment from the entertainment world, so it's refreshing to see the real deal when we come across it.

My folks are part of the The Greatest Generation, and I think part of what makes this age group great is that they take seriously their commitments. Their word is gold. That kind of honor brings stability and security to a family, a village, a nation.

It's the best gift my parents gave me.


My Roamin' Catholic Faith

I was raised Catholic.  I wandered away in my teen years.  I recommitted in my mid-twenties.  I  roamed off again in my 40's.  I came home again after four years. 

As a youngster, going to Mass was an obligation, part of my Catholic school training - Mass once a week at school and always on Sunday.  If I missed it on Sunday, I was probably going to hell.

Me and my older brother, who studied for the priesthood for a few years

As a teenager, I came to know Christ in a personal way through a non-denominational bible study, and I preferred non-denom services. I would be praising God with my hands in the air, blessed and humbled, and loving it, but still wondering if I was condemned because I wasn't at St. Jude's with my parents.

I was married in the Catholic church, but continued to favor the non-denom services.  After our first son was born, I realized how little I knew about guiding a young mind through a rough, selfish world. I began to pray in earnest about how to raise our son, and I found myself back in a dark wooden pew preparing for communion.  I wanted the power of the Eucharist and the sacraments and the Blessed Mother.  (Having a son myself, I now related to her in a way I had not before.)  I wanted the most direction and support available.  I suddenly felt very vulnerable to getting it all wrong.

Our first born, whose birth drew me back to the church. I have no idea why he has a bandanna on his head.

Our three children graduated from the same Catholic high school, they attended youth group throughout their high school years, and were part of summer service projects. They all went on mission trips sponsored by the Church.  We invested all we could in their Catholic education. They didn't always like it, and at times it was exhausting and expensive, but I always felt our kids were worth the investment.  I didn't want to answer to God later about why we were slackers when it came to religious ed.

When one child (whom I'll call Alex) was in college, my husband and I went through a difficult time with some of the choices Alex was making.  Our church and our priest did not have answers for me, so I drifted towards a local non-denom church pastored by a great teacher.  For four years, I soaked up his lessons and praised God through worship music and my tears.  It was a place where no one knew me.  I didn't have to give anything, or speak to anyone if I didn't want to.  I simply soaked up God's mercy and love.

Slowly, I began to miss the Eucharist.  And I began to see that this church didn't have answers for me either.  There were no answers, because we couldn't change the choices Alex was making; our child was not under our authority anymore. I eventually realized I could continue to be saddened by something I could not control, or I could give this child back to God - whatever the outcome - and put energy back into my own life. 

I didn't want to be in that dark place anymore, so I chose to entrust Alex to God and focus on the positives in my life.  Shortly after that, Alex called home in tears.  This young adult child (aren't they always our babies?) had gone back to church and had a healing experience through the Eucharist.  We all cried.

Alex came home for awhile, and I returned to the Catholic church.  It had been waiting patiently, the same steady rock it had always been.  The Eucharist began to heal me as well. For a long time, and often still today, tears well when I receive the host.  It is the closest encounter with Christ I will ever have on this earth.

I brought my babies to Church, I brought my teens, I brought my middle-aged angst, I now bring my parents, who are 92 and 95. My folks are handicapped in various ways, and even though Mom falls asleep through most of the Mass, she and Dad both are eager to attend every week. Many freedoms in their lives have been lost, but in church they feel as free and secure and loved as they did when their bodies were cooperative.

The folks in Mass in 2011.  Mom's now on a walker, and Dad's in the wheelchair.

Many people complain that the Church does not change with the times. What I love most about the Church is that it does not change with the times.  Its truths are eternal, and in this life, when disappointments and betrayals can come one after another, my peace lies in the steadfast rock of the Church. God is always in control; people never are (even though we think we are.)

For me, it has taken a lifetime to see the beauty and wisdom of my Catholic faith. I'm so grateful God let me roam, but always called me back.


Birthdays and Pockets

May is always a whirlwind here in the Ballpark. We have many birthdays and Mother's Day. It's one big party after another.

Dad turned 92.  Our girl turned 35. Our baby boy turned 29.  His sweet bride turned 30.

The hubs and I wondered who the graying middle-agers are in this picture.  Didn't we used to be 29 and 30?  When the youngin's were toddlers, we never considered what we'd look like at 50-something. And I never would have been caught in a picture wearing my PJ pants.

Whatever.  It's surprising what doesn't matter once you hit 50. It's called freedom.

The best news I've discovered since I last blogged is that my blood work is finally normal.  After three months of an overhauled diet and whole food supplements and the regular attention of an excellent, caring nutritionist, all RA symptoms have been beaten into submission.  I thank God for this.

Yes, I did the hard work of actually giving up bread and pasta and desserts, but only with God's help. Me alone?  I have the will power of a flea. If there is a doughnut in sight, forget about it. My husband and daughter were instrumental as well.  They were willing to eat fish and try vegetables we've never heard of.  I pray with all my heart I can stick with these changes. If not, I suspect my symptoms will return.

I also discovered a new craft.  I had to do something to keep myself from munching. So, I made a few card pockets.  What the heck is a card pocket, you ask?  Here's a picture.

They're pockets a little bigger than a credit card. They can hold anything you want them too, but they are card-sized, so they are good for keeping card-size things together, be they credit cards, or business cards, or coupons.

I use mine to carry 5 cards: my driver's license, my ATM card, my main credit card, and two credit cards for my parents.  When I'm running into any store, I leave my 10 lb. purse in the car and just grab my card pocket.  It fits in a pants pocket, so my hands and shoulders are free!  This has become very helpful since my shoulder joints began acting up.

I have to say, I've become addicted to these little gems. I've ended up carrying three, for different things, and dumped my over stuffed, too-many-divisions, can't-find-anything wallet.  I have one for cash, one for extra credit cards, and my main pocket holding the 5 essentials mentioned above.

They close with Velcro. 

So far, I've mainly used scraps of fabric I wanted to use up, along with a Ziploc bag full of buttons. These babies fit the bill.  I love using up supplies and cleaning out!  It takes about an hour to make one, so I can knock out a few in an afternoon.

I've been giving them to teachers and friends, who have their own ideas on how to use them. One gal exclaimed, "I can carry a couple tea bags in this!"  Another friend, said, "Oh, this will hold my lipsticks."  My mom puts her gift cards and checks from my sister in hers.  The hubs thought my mother-in-law might like one for her rosary.  All-purpose little pockets they be.

I'm considering opening an ETSY shop, because now I have 20+ pockets I don't need.  I'm taking several to a family reunion in July, but I'll be making more because I have a bin of fabric I want to use for something constructive. 

What do you think?  If you had a card pocket, what would you do with it?  This inquiring mind wants to know.