Inner Chamber

Matthew 6:6 But you, when you pray, enter into your inner chamber, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Because no one else was available, I was invited to attend an ultrasound yesterday. My not daughter-in-law, who is carrying not my son’s child, asked me to go and of course I said yes. This relationship has murky boundaries. I am not the grandma of this little girl on the way but I am of her brother. While I will have no claim to her, I have a responsibility to my Plum and to God to see that she has the advantages and the love grandma’s give. If family is a messy business, we may be the CEOs of a disaster corporation. I just keep following the mantra that I have to love who God brings and sort out the details later. Thus I went to the ultrasound. Initially I was a bit emotionally removed, holding back because I knew that I would not be holding this baby right away, that my claims to her would be secondary. I probably won’t have a brag book and won’t be notified of her firsts.  Or maybe I will. Murky. I don’t want to get too attached. I do have to protect my heart. The last ultrasound I watched was with my own granddaughter who I only visit during slumber. Raw ache revisited as I start this process again. Thus I stayed aware of my role: supportive detachment.

I held mama’s hand and watched the technician slide the wand over her belly, finding baby’s face, her hands, her feet. I praised God for His wondrous works, for giving mama another healthy child. Then the wand found the heart. Four beating chambers and I came undone. Tears streamed down my face, I watched this movement and knew God. I felt His Holiness. Why not with her beautiful little nose? Those tiny hands that waved? The baby bottom that wiggled in the womb? Those feet, those lips? None impacted me so greatly, so deeply as watching her heart, those 4 chambers. The wonder of it still makes me weak. I know that I will hold little Miss and whisper to her the moment I fell in love with her. The moment I saw God in her. I will whisper that I have seen her heart and it is God and it is good and great things are waiting for her. I will whisper these things as I sing her to sleep whenever I get the chance, if I get the chance. I will remind her of this as she gets older. I will be the one who is maybe not her grandma but my Plum will share so I can be her something.

Families are messy. Please don’t ask for details about how anyone is connected. Ultimately we have one Father. He is sorting out the rest.  Maybe someday when she is wondering just who she is she will come to me. I can tell her she is surely a child of God. I saw it with my own eyes. In the meantime, we will love who God brings, curse our lack of boundaries when we get hurt, and maybe buy a little photo book. When you see God, you save those pictures.

Growing into Me

I didn’t get in for a haircut before I left for my trip, a huge mistake I discovered. My family had worried that my weak neck would suffer under the weight of the helmet but the real issue became the itchiness when I got so hot. I imagined shaving my head bald during those long times between stops when I tried to stick a straw between the padding and my head, trying to scratch where my fingers couldn’t reach. Much like wearing a cast in the blazing sun, I was desperate for relief. As soon as we stopped, the helmet came off and I scratched furiously about my crown. I should have taken the time for a hair cut. I mentioned it at least 1 million times to my Chef in our daily calls. “Yes, my back is fine. My pelvis is still in place. I need a haircut!”  A minor thing became a huge annoyance, the mosquito effect.

The morning after our return I stopped at the first place open, a local men’s shop. I have gone there before since  a now wear my hair short. I am not huge on style anymore and the gal does a good job. I go with my Plum and Chef when they are getting styles, real ones. I skip the hot towel and shave. It has been working for me. Why would I think differently?  I ran in with no Plum or Chef. My gal wasn’t there. A new girl, who wanted to chat and I was still decompressing from the trip. Minimal answers to her questions. I am used to professionals understanding when I say cut the whole thing off knowing that this means they need to take control and just offer me some water. She asked those polite questions about why I had planned, I said I had just gotten back from a two week trip on a Harley and needed to figure out if my cats were still alive. I focused on the Olympics playing on every tv, regardless of how she turned my chair. She asked if I was into those. I said I hadn’t seen any coverage, needed to catch up. I really just wanted a haircut and some peace.

It turns out she just shy of shaved my head. It will be weeks before I can attempt at a style which I now think might be important. It occurred to me later that maybe she made an assumption about me based on the clues given, that maybe I was a lesbian. I certainly look for all outward appearances now as the stereotype. Not a lipstick lesbian.  I appear as if I should know how to use power tools. (This is the place where I say sorry to lesbians for stereotyping YOU!) My Chef who was so happy to have me home was quite taken aback when I got into the car.  “Holy Shit, ” I think was his supportive response. This haircut is not just a bad one, it is a statement. The problem is that for those who go to church with me, it is a statement that brings confusion. Did she mean to do that? Is there trouble in that marriage? What really happened on her trip? You know a haircut is bad when folks comment on your shoes. Shoes you have worn forever.

The deal is, I rushed, I didn’t tell the whole story and I got an identity that doesn’t fit. Someone else took pieces that I had laid out and made a choice of who I was and I have to live with that for a few weeks. Fortunately it’s just hair and it grows. Fortunately I don’t really care what others think of my sexual orientation except that has been a newsmaker in the past. Along about 1994, I stopped displaying any femininity. Baggy dark clothes to hide my body, no jewelry to enhance or draw attention, make up by the wayside, I stopped shouting that I am a woman  and instead whispered please don’t see me. I only recently started merging this other part of me back in, slowly, just a bit at a time. Putting in some earrings, wearing clothes that don’t blend into the woodwork. I am 52 years old and still working out my identity. I am still working out what I tell others affect how they see me. I know that I get to decide who I am but not telling also leaves them with little choice but to fill in the blanks.

I am learning, one bad haircut at a time. I am a Harley riding Grandma who loves cats and her family, not always in that order, who watches sports and sappy movies. I am a woman who is figuring out that earrings go with sweatshirts and mascara is ok. I haven’t worked up to lipgloss. What do you think of my shoes? My hair will grow along with my opportunities to be me.

Half A Pack of Mourning Daily

I started smoking as an adult who knew better, at a time of huge stress, when I was locked away from my children. I continued this habit for a couple of years after we were rejoined, even after my kids complained. I knew better but was hooked. My son put Mr. Yuck stickers on my cigarette packs. They told me I smelled. I did. I tried the medicine touted as the best way to quit, I became a raging lunatic. Finally I just stopped. That was over 17 years ago, maybe longer. It was a good run.

Through all the crises of addiction and unplanned pregnancy, watching your child choose homelessness, fighting for security for the baby who didn’t choose any of it, I still didn’t stop at the gas station and buy a pack. I ate M&M’s, reverted to some horrible eating habits, prayed, cried, drank too much wine, managed. But I didn’t smoke. Then came my daughter’s wedding that I was no longer invited to, a day so crushingly painful I was sure I wouldn’t survive. Chef and I had traveled to the “paper wedding” in front of a judge where I was surprised to be a signing witness. The relationship was already incredibly strained at that point. I didn’t know what was ahead, I didn’t know I was truly losing my daughter, that the visit then would be the last time I would see her. Seven months later when the real celebration rolled around, I was too thin, too broken, every moment without reconciliation bringing me closer to madness. I went with a friend and bought a pack, as a lark, to get through the day, not realizing this crutch was going to get me through all the days. For two years.

I actually love and hate smoking. I hate the smell, hate that it pushes me away from everyone who loves me. No one in my circle smokes.  No one joins me on the porch with a nice glass of wine and has deep conversations with me. I sit alone and rush through the fire tipped reminder of all that is wrong. But there is a part that I love and it isn’t the cigarette. It is the very same aloneness. Sometimes I just need a time out. I need to pull away from the chaos and the chatter and get re-centered. I need to be alone with my memories and mourn for 5 minutes and then go back to being present in my day. I know why I smoke and I know why I shouldn’t. I tell myself with each purchase of a pack that is the last one but then myself laughs mockingly. I don’t believe me. I haven’t yet committed to letting go of my mourning period.

I never imagined I would lose my daughter. I have fought so many times to keep my son alive, the only way being to give him up to other authorities. My girl, though, always my closest person on earth, always the one who could make me really laugh out loud, I never ever imagined her not in my every days. My heart had no room for such a notion. Coping skills completely broke down, nothing worked on this heart ache. While I have tried extensively to bridge this gap, I haven’t tried to stop smoking. I realize I cannot control when she will come back into my life, if ever, but I can control when I will stop mourning with a lighter and an ashtray. That time is coming. My Chef is so stressed right now I worry that he can’t handle the definite crazy moody swings and nastiness that will result in my withdrawal. I worry that I won’t get my time away from everyone, no excuse for them all not to follow me. I worry that I can’t do it, just like I worry that I can’t really go on another day without a phone call, text, email from my Stella. But I do go on. So maybe I really can quit.

This might just be my last pack.

A Scrap of Paper

Plum asked me if golden is really a color, a question of high importance given this is number two on his favorite hues list. “Of course, sweetie, ” I replied while finishing up dishes. “But why don’t we have any golden in our house then?” I didn’t want to remind him that he had squirreled away in his treasure boxes under his bed all things golden, but instead explained that I prefer silver. This was shocking, who could do such a thing? Thus began my full explanation of my gold allergy, more shocking still. Grandpa had to be brought in for confirmation, still he didn’t believe. Much back and forth revealed the confusion, who could be allergic to a color? Still he decided it was pretty weird to be allergic to golden. Sighing, I shared that the list of weird things about gran is pretty long. “Nah, just a scrap of paper, gran.”

To be seen so honestly and still accepted, that is mercy. What a disappointment that his second favorite color makes me itch, that I avoid it at all costs. Could have been a deal breaker. He could have determined he need only try harder to convince me of the virtues of golden, convince me that itching was worth the joy of golden. Instead, he sadly allowed that I was weird but still ok. Mercy from a 5 year old is pretty great stuff. He knows I’m not perfect, still a scrap of paper worth of issues, but he loves me still.  Is it any wonder Jesus said to bring the children to Him? They are just smarter, kinder, hearts more accepting.

What if we all saw only the scraps of weirdness in each other, ignored the long list of offenses? What if mercy was our response rather than deep divide over such critical issues as color? What if we stopped trying to convince each other that our choice is better and let everyone decorate their homes as they chose? If we have some extra silver or golden, we could even share it. No pressure. It is easy to say a 5 year old hasn’t lived life enough to understand all the nuances but maybe adults spend too much time on those. I think kids get it. They talk it out, resolve it and move on to play cars and dolls and dolls in cars. They include until we teach them not to.

The list of my offenses is long except God and my grandson have already looked past those onto who I am today. I do the same for him. The fit he threw a couple of days ago is gone with our fresh start. We give those in our home. Each day, a new start. Sometimes we have to restart a couple of times, because we are worth it. We are all a little weird but just a scrap of paper weird. Nobody is keeping score around here, especially my Plum. I stopped my dishes, gave him a big hug, reminded him that he is my favorite. “I know gran, you tell me all the time.” What I did’t tell him is that he brings God closer to me every day, that he is my gold and I will never be allergic to him.

A Nest of Hope

After the great garage clean out of 2016 where we claimed our space again and removed junk and old memories My Chef has been actively using his tools. Painting, plumbing, sawing, installing light fixtures, all tasks I had waited for years to have completed. Our home was neglected, it is now getting attention. These dark days of uncertainty and fear are at least producing results in our immediate environment. I watch him sinking lower, lower and suggest a project, remind him of a task and he gets going. He is missing the chattering singing giggling of our Plum especially, that child who raises the joy index with his very presence. The task of finding our own joy now rests with us, our homework, while Plum goes off to school and learns how to contain some of his.  I am a natural joy seeker, my Chef not so much. Which is why I think the bird chose our garage, deep in the corner but low enough for us to see, to build her nest.

Our property is graced with trees, beautiful arching limbs providing shade in the summer and delightful piles in the fall. Our neighbors have the same. I love our trees, I love our property with space to roam and plant, listen to roosters crow, watch chickens waddle on the hill a few doors down. Horses fill our pasture in the back. All this is to say a bird in its right mind would never choose our garage as the safe place for a nest. Not a quick decision either, considering all the trips in and out, gathering sticks and fluff, maybe some dog hair, arranging everything just so. And then waiting, laying those 5 gorgeous eggs, waiting. We discovered the nest at this stage. White with tiny blue speckles, 5 eggs left just long enough for mama to get some dinner. Now they have hatched into tiny little sweethearts who open their mouths at me whenever I dare approach. Which is more often than I should probably but I have cats also. Cats who go into the garage. We have to keep the door open for mama bird but that allows access for two hunters, a bit of nature I am not willing to allow on my watch.

Protecting this nest that never should be in our garage, peeking in to see this amazing new life, this is joy. This is hope in the middle of chaos. God sent this bird who surely complained about the location, explaining about cats and garage doors, pointing with a ruffled wing to all the more suitable sites, this bird who then chirped a bit and then got on with the business of building. God promised this bird that if she built this nest, He would send protectors for her young. God promised this bird that her job was bigger than just bringing babies into the world. Her mission was hope. Her mission was joy. God knew we needed a nest we couldn’t miss, we needed joy and hope and light in the darkness that would require our energy. God is smart like that.

We cleaned out our garage, sent our boy off to school, worked on the house, waited in the quiet. Then a chirping song echoed in our garage, leading us to God and a reminder of promises, a reminder to follow his lead even in the most ridiculous situations. It just might lead to hope.


Cautionary Cake

Every August 15th I bake a German Chocolate cake even though no one in this house eats it. Well I do but I can’t eat the whole thing myself. I have taken to only putting the coconut icing on half so that my Chef will eat some of the cake, his aversion to all things coconut winning out over his love of pecans. I make the cake anyway, once a year and have since 1998. I make it for my older brother on his birthday, it was his favorite.

I’m not one for visiting gravesite, my sister-in-law is so faithful at this. She ensures my mother always has flowers and a grave blanket in winter, something that was really important to mom. She and my little brother go to all the graves and then send me pictures of their work. I went right after mom died, right after Joe died, but then rarely go back. They aren’t there.  So I bake a cake and remember my older brother, focus on the good times and try not to beat the eggs too roughly as my anger rises again.

Everything good in my little brother was missing in my older brother. I can explain it away by the high fevers he had as a toddler, the extra time he spent with our abusive father, the addiction that grabbed him as he hit his tweens. He was just a shit. He stole from us, mom’s keepsakes from her mother, my babysitting money. He introduced both his younger siblings to drugs and alcohol and then told mom on us, reaping the rewards of the confiscated goods and gaining points with her. He was a shit but God was he charming. Four years older than me, with a group of rowdy friends, always ready to party, always laughing. My friends thought he was gorgeous, wanted to be around him. I tried to escape him, his bullying and late night parties when mom went away. I loved him because he was my brother and hated that he was my brother, that I couldn’t turn my back all the way on him.

My mother learned to enable as a child with her own father, she hid his bottles from her own mother, told lies to protect him. She did no less for her son. Fresh starts broken promises money slid across the table. Leftovers always packaged for him to grab, no need for him to spend his money on food. This boy never had to grow up even when he fathered a child. We all stepped in and began to provide for this beautiful boy because my brother would rather buy beer than baby bottles. My sister-in-law raised this boy into man who has his own family and provides for them. A man to be proud of, a man my brother never got to know.

My brother killed himself in 1997. He finally gave up, stopped fighting his desire to use drugs and to drink. He wanted more and had no idea how to ever get there, at 37 years of age and most of his life high. Friends had gone on to college, gotten married, were raising their kids instead of hell. He gave up after dozens of times calling me threatening to do so, me talking him down. He didn’t call me this time. His life has been a cautionary tale for the nieces and nephews he barely knew. We can’t play with substances like other families. We have bad genes. His life was not wasted even though he mostly always was. I grew strength, resolve, to stand strong in the face of my own son’s use. I left him in rehabs while he begged to come home. When he made promises and pledges that I knew were lies and out of his control to keep, I walked away and into a parents group. I testified to judges about addiction and the need for help and not just incarceration. I have fought with and for my son.  I have fought the urge to enable with every breath. I have seen the outcome. I don’t want to see pictures of a gravesite my sister-in-law has decorated for me. I don’t want to bake a cake for him that no one will eat.

Every August 15th I bake a cake. By August 20th it is in the trash.   Wasted, no more candles ever. A cautionary German Chocolate cake. And I remember my brother.

Becoming Just Gran

My Plum started kindergarten last week and left me home to look at cars and transformers and Lego and potential mud piles all by myself. He stepped right onto the bus and didn’t have the decency to look back and cry for me. He told me that I could play with his toys while he is gone, little comfort. His scooter sits idle, the dogs mope about. Dishes are always done, laundry is caught up, I wander about the house, annoyed at the quiet. Then my phone rings and his mama is asking another question about school lunches. She is terrified he won’t eat there, what if he forgets the ridiculous 5 digit number he has been assigned to access his account. Will they really send him each day to the nurse to get his dairy pill? I am more concerned about him going to the bathroom, this boy who freely pees outside my home behind a bush, delighting in how far his stream goes. Will he actually raise his hand in front of everyone and ask to go into the little room in the same classroom? What about all those other savages, have they been taught to wash their hands? I get the irony, don’t judge. Mama and I commiserate on the unjustness of taking our little prince away to an environment neither of us can control. This is good.

Mama came to us about 6 weeks into her pregnancy, leaving behind my Arrow and the world of addiction and chaos to live with people she hardly knew. She had nothing including weight on her body. We fed her, we loved her, we got her into school. Plum was born into our household and has been in and out all of his just shy of 6 years.When mama was struggling, she came back. Her room was put back together, his never taken apart. Tumultuous days hours minutes during these years finally resulted in trips through the legal system to establish permanency for our boy. Through it all, mama has grown from the unsure teenager to a young woman who fully fits into her role. I have slowly been eased out of granMother and back into just gran. This is good.

Second week of school now and some of the newness is starting to fade. I voluntarily gave up our weekday overnights to keep Plum in a nightly routine, just for the first month. We agreed that coming for a whole family dinner one evening a week could replace this and we would keep our weekends. It all made sense to us, adults with thoughts of bedtimes and consistency. It made sense until my Plum threw a tantrum last night like I haven’t seen since I had to let him go years ago and he tried to climb back through the windows on the front porch to avoid returning to his mama’s. I knew it was wrong then but was helpless to stop it. I know it is right now but hate the look that he gave me, the soul shattering look as he drove away, tears rolling, sobs echoing, restrained by a carseat that was carrying him away from his granMother. He wanted me and I wanted him but I used my most firm voice and stated we would absolutely not have this behavior and besides I would see him tomorrow. He rode away with his mama and I know it was good.

Mama called me after he went to sleep, about ten minutes later, to see if he needed $.50 for milk if he took his lunch or would they take off of his account. Mama called me because she needs me also, maybe because she wanted to make sure I was okay after letting go of our boy. Transitioning to being just a gran is hard, as hard as putting this child on a bus. I am trusting teachers and lunch ladies and bus drivers all to see that smile, those eyes, to see his heart and just know he is one incredible kid. I want them to know his story and to not know it, for him to have a fresh start. He is a regular kindergartner with a mama and a step-daddy, a new sibling on the way. I know mama is with me on all this, finally we are together. I will always be his number two and need to let mama be number one. Even when he looks at me like that. I look back with eyes that tell him it is okay, we trust mama also. Gran will see him tomorrow and we will play cars.