Monthly Archives: February 2011

On Fence Posts

Heard a lot of whining lately from various individuals about the pointlessness of life; about how we work in order to eat in order to work, etc. How it’s all one big rat race. How we’re all slaves to some nebulous “them” who manipulate and take advantage of, from behind the scenes. How the only way to thwart the “system” is to do nothing at all until “they” come to their senses, until “they” fix things, until by some miracle the life we are faced with every day maybe looks precisely the way we think it should. How maybe even God is some omniscient, sadistic being in the same class as the kid who liked to pull legs off flies in the second grade.

Here’s the deal:

I don’t care how corrupt your employer is or how how uninformed you think your teachers or neighbors or elected representatives are; nobody else–no, not even God himself–can make your choices; you do that. Not the choices that make you a worthwhile human being. Not the choice to get up every morning and love your children or serve your neighbor or learn something new. Those are the choices that make you a flesh and blood person, not the choices that are made for you by the legislature or the idiot in the car in front of you.

And if you can’t see past the choices that are made for you–the nitty gritty inconveniences of life–to the larger choices that when made have the power to form you into a living, breathing, larger-than-one-isolated-life of a human being, then you run the risk of disappearing entirely, of becoming merely the detritus of the big machine you so despise.

No! It’s not easy to be a flesh-and-blood person in a world full of sharp corners and ragged edges and impossible inclines. Of course not. Because even a fencepost can sit in one place and wait for the world to change. I believe that to exist is to do–whether or not that doing has precisely the results you anticipated.

Because hard things are worth doing, not because you are guaranteed success at doing them, but because the alternative is to do nothing at all: to spend your life waiting for some more likely opportunity or greater goal. It is to reduce yourself to less than even that fencepost–which at least marks a legitimate place on the map. Where you are sitting? There, in your self-satisfied place of superior knowledge about the way the world has gone to the dogs and is no longer worth engaging yourself in? That place doesn’t even exist outside of  your own mind, and if it did, nobody would want to mark it down on a map or revisit it after once having the misfortune of passing through.

Get up and do something–anything! I won’t even mind how loudly you complain about life, if you are also participating in it. Don’t imagine, for one minute, that sitting there on the sidelines qualifies you to critique those who are.

You know what?

That’s… all I’m going to say on the subject.


End of story.



I don’t know if you remember my apple picking debacle last fall–the one in which I blithely forgot that most important first date of my oldest daughter.

I finally got my hands on a photo disk from that evening and found out who was driving that car:

He’s the kid in the black shirt and the pale grey tie. This was my daughter’s homecoming group. (Homecoming, right? That’s the big dance ya’ll have in the fall down here?) If I remember right they made an appearance at the dance, and then went out into the middle of a cornfield and watched a movie about… aliens… landing in a cornfield… Or maybe that was some other dance, with some other group of kids. There are a lot of them her age.  We are blessed to live in a town with so many youth who support each other in making good choices. She’s the one that’s still taller than almost every other girl there, even though she’s wearing flats:

Meg is my oldest. When we brought her home from the hospital, she didn’t have a middle name. One day my husband suggested “Adeth” and everyone else in the room cracked up. I didn’t get the joke. Then again, I’m not sure I’d ever heard of that group. (Meg-adeth? You follow?) Meg has the same quirky sense of humor her father had, and also his height, mathematical ability,  and really good teeth.

She’s also my artist. I was going to hunt down one of her paintings and take a picture today, but the college has a ridiculous number of hallways, and I couldn’t remember where she said it was hanging. Honestly, my favorite pieces are the pictures she does in church–while she’s sitting there doodling. She has an incredible sense of perspective, color, pattern and balance.

I know, I’m her mother and I’m supposed to think that, but she really does. Wait, I’m going to go look through my church bag, I might have something….

Nope. Nothing. Which is weird, cause I thought I had several. Maybe next time round I’ll have some.

Meg’s always been quick. I remember the first time she uttered a sentence: she was halfway up Grandma’s stairs, and I was following along behind to be sure she wouldn’t forget what she was doing and take a tumble. She paused, looked back over her shoulder and blithely strung together a proper sentence. I was so stunned–that this little critter could speak. By the time she was old enough to register for Kindergarten she was already head and shoulders taller than her peers and reading chapter books. I called the school and they kind of brushed me off as an ambitious parent. They said I could take her in and have her tested if I wanted, but their policy was to always start children in the correct class for their age.

I took her in to visit the Kindergarten teacher. The principal happened to be there and handed her a book–which she read fluently. The kindergarten teacher sort of raised her eyebrows and gave him a look like, Seriously? You want me to have this child in my classroom? And he gave us permission, right there, to move her up into Mrs. Buckley’s classroom for the next fall. Bobbie Buckley–I loved that woman. She retired not long after teaching Meg. (No connection, I’m sure…)

Now she’s sixteen, doing Running Start, driving her own car, and making pretty good choices for herself. It is so strange to watch your daughter morph overnight from tweenish to nearly adult form. To realize that there are things they know more about than you do, and to be able to ask their advice about some of those things. She’ll graduate from high school and college at the same time, when she is seventeen years old, and she’s already making bigger plans and she’s more than capable of accomplishing anything she sets her mind to.

Seems like just a few months ago she was chattering about Elmo’s World and falling off of furniture. I have proof of that, by the way–the falling off of furniture part:

(Weird picture, I know. I found it on my hard drive the other day. I like the colors.)  See that dimple? She wasn’t born with that, believe it or not; that’s some kind of internal scar from slamming her face into the leg of a rocking chair, if I remember right. It swelled up something crazy, and when it went away, the dimple remained. But it suits her, n’est-ce pas?

I have no idea where the French just came from. The other alternative was “eh?” which I backed my cursor up over instantly. Apparently when I’m tired, I revert to my childhood.

Someone needs to go to bed.

Did I mention that she’s got her own car?

Which means that now, she is never, ever home. I wait up until I hear the tell-tale growl of the engine, and the tinny slam of the door and then I’m asleep before she walks in the door. I know, I’m supposed to stay up and have heart to heart chats about her evening. You do what you can. I probably trust her way too much, but God knew I’d need one I could trust to start out the teenage years. Cause you know the rest of them are coming, and coming fast…


On Carpet Snorting and Building the Character of Teens

Got on my treadmill last night at 7:30 pm. Got off  three times in the next twenty minutes. Got back on. Wanted to throw myself headlong on my bed and never get up. Or maybe get in my van, drive-thru some poisonous fast-food joint and negate the entire last six months of effort.

Because I didn’t feel any stronger last night than I did six months ago. I committed to ten more minutes. And then two more. And finally a good, angry song came on and I jammed my thumb into that up-arrow and I ran a mile and a half/hour faster than I’ve ever set that thing. Ran hard because I was angry at a body that could possibly betray me like that.

I committed to one more tenth of a mile and then another and finally I hit my usual goal and then I kept running. Because I’m not giving in, not after this long, after this many months and hundreds of miles. My elbows were dripping when I finally stopped, and I paid for my arrogance during cool down–my usual three sets of twenty push-ups became one set of nine, one set of three–followed by a lengthy session face-first on the floor with bits of shag carpeting fluttering up my nose as I tried to catch my breath–and then three more. That was it–that was all I had. I didn’t feel tired, so much as I just… couldn’t… do it.

May I point out that these were modified push-ups? My knees planted firmly on the ground?

The first set of sit-ups were five shy, and then ten shy, and the first one of the final set would have been easier to do than convincing an entire room full of toddlers that silence is a blessed thing. I got about two inches off the floor, then curled up in a fetal position on my left side. I eventually made it over onto my stomach at about 11:30 and lay there, pecking out a facebook status with my pinkie finger about listening to morose and sentimental tunes when I should have been in the shower.

Getting out of bed at 3:55 this morning wasn’t much of a picnic, let me assure you.

But I’ll be back on the belt tomorrow after class. I’m blaming the arm weakness on all my dejunking and kitchen cleaning activities–you know that gunk on the top of your kitchen cabinets? Yeah, I cleaned that yesterday. Went through almost an entire bottle of 409, doing it. The top of the fridge awaits. I think I’ll leave the inside and the underneath of it to one of my teenagers. It’ll be a  good, character building experience for them…

Beyond 647

I think it’s interesting that I have lived in two homes that burned to smoking ruins, and yet I never dream of losing everything I own to fire. I do, however,  have a recurring nightmare about having too many possessions: I am required, on short notice to pack up my family (usually including not only my children but  young versions of my siblings, too) and evacuate a house that represents everything I have ever owned. Every piece of clothing, every toy and craft stick and crumpled receipt; they are all there in a jumble, and I am hip-deep in it, and I am trying to sort out what is most crucial to take along.

I’ve had this dream for as long as I can remember. The only thing that changes is the sheer volume of stuff. I don’t know if it’s related to what I perceived as many spur-of-the-moment moves during my childhood–coming home from school on a Wednesday to a moving truck, and driving away on a Friday. I was always glad on some level; moving was a reinvention–of self and possessions and place. When I was sixteen, the moving truck was empty and Mom was working full-time. My brother and I filled three dumpsters with things we deemed non-essential in the still of the night–sneaking across the street to another apartment complex when ours were full.

I started dejunking my place this week. Not only dejunking, but de-everything-not-absolutely-crucial-to-survival-right-now. That means I am not keeping any car seats for that nebulous time in the future when I might have to transport a small person. I am throwing away the rosemary and caraway seed. If a recipe ever calls for them, I’ll pick another. I’m not keeping my fat clothes.

Just to keep myself honest, I texted my sister-in-law: Give me a number between 100 and 1000.

She answered: 647.

So that was my goal, the magic number of things I needed to part with–though I thought it unlikely I had that much to get rid of.

Silly me.

Said sister-in-law is now helping me out: I stack everything in my front hall, and she comes along and hauls it off. I don’t know if it will help with the nightmares, but at least when I’m awake I’ll be able to locate my cinnamon. And if REC ever explodes, or a rail car turns over in my backyard spilling toxic waste from Hanford, my life should be easier to condense into a space the size of my lap. I almost kept my crock pot, I admit. But then I remembered I have an oven-safe pot.

We’re way past 647, and I’m not counting anything made out of paper.

You remember that scripture in Malachi? About how if you pay your tithing the heavens will open and pour you out a blessing so great you will not have room enough to receive it? I must have been paying way too much tithing, because the excess is ridiculous. BUT, I must point out, that I am blessed–and always have been–to have everything I need, and more. I have never truly gone without, not even when our home was a smoking pit of ash or when I slept, five to a twin-sized mattress in a filthy apartment complex in Portland, Oregon the year I turned six. There was always enough, and always a lesson we needed to learn.

I know that God loves us. I know he wants us to have all the good things we desire. I also know that we don’t always want what’s best for us, and we end up with a hallway full of unneeded and unnecessary items that we once thought would bring us happiness. He knows this, but he allows us our agency, allows us the exquisite schooling of trial-and-error, and lets us try again.  Thank God for all that, and for every spotless tomorrow.


(Yes, that’s right–you see there are three tags on this post? I was out of town yesterday, and tomorrow has already crept into today. Such is life.)

I live in Moses Lake. We have Walmart and Safeway and a bowling alley. When you go to the clinic, you share the waiting room with drooling children, expectant mothers, and eighty-year men.

The population can’t possibly support specialized medical departments.

Yesterday, I visited a town that can. And as I passed through frosted glass doors that slid open and shut with Star-trek-ish pneumatics, and walked the marble halls, I thought to myself, Were I very young or very old, this would be a frightening place. As the elevator rose silently to the fourth floor I was a little disconcerted to realize that I was old enough to do this thing on my own.

I am a middle-aged woman with a driver’s license and the ability to read a map and ask for directions. I can draw my own conclusions about proposed tests and treatments. Indeed, I am certain that if I had an elbow partner commenting on the close feeling of the halls or the space-age decor or the fact that everyone else in the waiting room is clearly over the age of eighty, I would want to side tackle them into the glass of the floor-to-ceiling windows.

They say one of the symptoms of liver disease is irritablity and anger. (We’ll blame it on that.)

Although. I’m not angry, as I sit there.

I am glad to be on my own.  I do  text my daughter. There isn’t anyone else in this entire clinic under the age of seventy.

Does it smell like old people? she asks.

And really, that is about as much input as I want from the outside world; from the world in which I live. This clinic business is in another dimension. I am escorted to a tiny cubicle with a sweeping view of the valley and am left even more alone. I sit in the afternoon sunshine, alternately reading up on Hymes sociolinguistics theories and nodding off.  I stand and shake off my sleepiness and stretch. When the door clicks open, I am face to face with the doctor and he is startled.

“You look very healthy,” he finally says. He grips my hand for a long moment, as if to reassure himself that I am not a figment of his imagination. I should be hunched over in the corner chair, peering at him with yellowed eyes, not confronting him in the doorway.

But that’s the thing: I am young and I am strong and I am healthy. The test results and my symptoms and the me that is reduced to raw data on the screen do not add up. If I were eighty-years old, he tells me, he would put blinders on and go straight for the big guns, but those tests are intrusive and expensive. And so I will be returning frequently over the next few weeks as we rule out everything else, one possibility at a time.

As I drove home, I was surprised at my equanimity. Possibly, it came as a result of sitting there in the midst of dozens of people three times my own age, and feeling my own vitality. I am young and strong–whatever ails my parts, it cannot take away my aggregate power to make these choices for myself, to live every day to its fullest and love important people. And also from an assurance that no matter how long the road, I will have the strength to walk it, with an elbow-partner of my choosing or without one at all.

I came home and took the family out for pizza; it was Tuesday, after all.  And in a town our size, on a Tuesday night, that means we had the place pretty much to ourselves (minus the family with really bad taste in Jukebox selections). We poked fun at the silent commentators on the muted television and drank slightly odd tasting soda and took our leftovers home in aluminum foil. And we are happy–in this close little world we have created for ourselves–mother, father, children, untouched by war or violence or hunger.  It is a strange and blessed life and I find myself smiling at unexpected moments.

God bless America–its little towns and its big ones and all the beautiful open country in between, with its conveniences and troubles and schisms of voices. I could not live this life in any other place on earth, and I am grateful for it.

Fiesta Is Officially Over, Buddy

Speaking of taking things easy, I found this in the backpack of my youngest child the other night:

“Please Study” is right! Obviously the kid didn’t even look at his spelling words. Forget the atrocious handwriting, if he’d looked at the words even once, he’d have known that most of them ended the same way. There were also several untouched homework packets in there and a couple notes from who-knows-when.

I sat there at my kitchen table, staring at the tangible evidence of parenting gone all wrong and wanted to weep. Mostly because I don’t know where all that time went. It feels like he brings home a new packet every other day and here it’s been a good month since he returned even one. I emailed his teacher and it turns out he’s been missing class celebrations and all sorts of things at school because of this. Which, let me point out, I agree with. But still, I can’t imagine how humiliating that must feel–to be the kid kept in at recess, or missing out on the party or getting back a spelling test in which you spelled three words right!! I’d have wanted to crawl in a hole and die.

Somebody’s after-school social schedule is about to become severely restricted.