Thursday, March 30, 2006

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I returned Monday night from a five-day vacation. My husband had done an A+ job of keeping the house running in my absence, and per my request, he had not attempted to do any laundry. Thus, Tuesday morning found me kneeling beside Mt. Laundry. As I pre-treated, sorted and planned my attack, I began to think how very much like laundry people really are. Call it jetlag or a deep philosophical epiphany, but think about it, and you'll see that I'm right.

Take me, for instance. I'm "sturdy, permanent press". I don't need any special handling, you can wash me with just about anything else, at nearly any temperature, and I'll come out OK. I will eventually show some wear and tear, but that will just make me more comfortable and easy to be with.

I have a dear friend that is definitely "delicate". No hot water, no agitation, and no drying in a hot dryer for her. She is lovely, special, and must be treated with kid gloves.

There are people in my life that do best with bleach and hot water. They come out brighter and better with adversity.

Some of my friends are permanently stained. Almost immediately they developed a stubborn spot that no amount of counseling nor meds will ever remove.

What are you?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


"Knock knock", Wil says.
"Who's there?" I answer.
"Big Bird"
"Big Bird who?"
"To get to the other side!" he giggles.

I had the pleasure of spending an hour with four children with special needs recently. Our school was conducting standardized testing, and I was "monitoring" the lucky few that were exempt.

We were "productive" for the first 45 minutes, but after that, we were all ready for a good laugh.

"Knock knock"
"Who's there?"
"Banana who?"
"To give a gorilla!"

It's hard to take the the world and all its problems too seriously when you've got tears running down your face from laughter.

Where do we get our notion of "standard"? Are the kids upstairs all "typical", and therefore, able to produce neat and tidy results that make everyone feel better about the state of education these days? Where are the tests that measure depth of a soul, compassion and integrity? Maybe we had that covered down in the basement, sitting around telling and laughing at knock knock jokes.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


"Quieting all of your neurosis at the same time is like putting an octopus to bed."* I contend that the same may be said of attending to the needs of a "special" child. Just when you have the perfect dosage of stimulant determined for their Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, their Obsessive Compulsive Disorder flares up and you've got to start tweaking things again. Just when you see their language development take off, you get a call from the school saying your child told the teacher she was a "fuck headed dummy". Just when their large motor skills look as though they're getting the hang of things, they start a defiant phase, refusing to demonstrate skills previously mastered. It's "redifficul", as my son would say. That's his word for something ridiculously difficult, which on some days, is absolutely everything.

I don't like when things are so difficult, when I work so hard at something, and there appears to be no pay off. I do not like taking the "wait and see" approach to life. I want to identify the problem, form a strategy to tackle the problem, then wave good-bye to the problem. I do not want the problem to return in various permutaions for all eternity. I like things neat and tidy. I like order, routine, predictability and tied up ends, not "loose", "loose" makes me feel at a loss.

If there is one thing that my life has taught me, however, is that life is loose; few things are black and white. All of life falls into the grey area. Thus, I have decided to love grey, both literally and figuratively. While my last car was white, and my current car black, my next car will be grey. My last house had all of the transitional walls painted white, my new house I've deliberately chosen grey. Instead of fighting "grey", I'm consciously choosing to embrace it. There is wisdom in grey, there is compromise, there is reality.

At church I look around me and see all the grey heads bowed in prayer, and I marvel at their cumulative experiences, their insight, their clarity in what really matters in the end. I see that the color of their hair is a badge of honor. They have lived this life and seen all that it has to offer. They have loved and lost. They have experienced victories and defeats. They have been right and they have been wrong.

Carol Burnett says, "Humor is tragedy plus time." Black plus white. There is no grey without both the black and the white. There is no life without both the good and the bad, the easy and the "redifficul".

There is a cat that hangs around our house, her name is Sweetpea. I know this because she wears a collar with her name and address. After many weeks of Sweetpea's near constant presence, I finally called her owners and told them where their cat was spending the hours between 6:00 A.M. and 11:00 P.M. They seemd unsurprised, as Sweetpea was an "adventurer", as long as we didn't allow her in our home, they knew that she would eventually return to theirs. We agreed to these conditions, and now Speetpea is a fixture on our front porch. Sweetpea, not surprisingly, is black and white, literally, but where I love to pet her is where the two colors come together. It is those lines dividing black and white, those lines that are in a few places definite, and in most places only a matter of opinion, that is where things get interesting.

Most people believe that the line between life and death is also definitive. I do not agree. I used to believe that you were either dead or alive, but I have seen for myself too many people with a heartbeat, who are in fact, totally dead. I have also felt the very alive presence of those people I have loved well, who have "died".

My father spent at least 30 of his last years on earth "dead". While he was technically alive, there were two things he hated, Catholics and cats. He was vague on his reasons for the susstained hatred, but the hatred was palpable, none-the-less. If I were to declare a religion as my own, it would be half Buddhist and half Catholic. I believe that not only is my father now "OK" with this, but that he is actively leading me to the truths in both of these religions. I also firmly believe that he has been reincarnated into the cat, Sweetpea. I checked with my brother, the real Buddhist in the family, and he felt certain that this was, in fact, the case. I then went to the highest authority, Sweetpea herself. I picked her up, I looked her in the eyes, I petted her between the lines of black and white, and I asked, "Are you my dad?" She looked back at me and said, "meow". This fit. My father is, for the first time in my adult life, a physical and alive presence. He watches out for me, he checks to see if I'm OK each morning, and goes on home only after I am safely tucked in for the night.

Whether or not my father has been reincarnated into a cat or not, one thing is for sure, he is more alive to me now, in all his greyness, than he ever was in living color.

* Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird