“Child-care provider”?

It is questionable when a patron says she is studying for an “early childhood education” degree so she can open a daycare, yet she shows no kindness to her four year old daughter.

Toddlers cannot sit still and entertain themselves for an hour (or more) while their parent uses the Internet at the library. The mother (who is young enough to be confused for her sister) does not bring anything for the child to do, and speaks through clenched teeth to her daughter if she does anything at all other than sit still. If she speaks to her child at all it is with angry tones.

Perhaps she is a single mother. Perhaps she has no family around to help out. Perhaps the only way she can attend school is to use the public computers at the library, with her daughter beside her. I’m glad she is trying to get an education so she can support herself and her child. But there are many different career options available. The one she has chosen does not fit her temperament. I highly question her capacity as a child-care provider when she does not show any capacity at providing care for her own child. If her future customers knew how she treats her own child, they would never trust her with theirs.

I’ve noticed that people are usually on their best behavior in public. If ignoring or growling at her child is her best, then I’d hate to see how she is at home.

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The Wayfarer’s prayer

This is a Jewish prayer that is said when you go on a journey. The Hebrew name for it is Tefilas Haderech. This is a slightly modernized version with I believe better wording. You can look up about this prayer online for instructions on when exactly to say this or simply say it just as you are about to depart on your journey.

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“May it be Your will, our God and God of our ancestors, that You lead us away in peace, guiding and directing our journey in peace. Bring us to our desired destination in health, joy, and peace.

Keep us from all the harm and misfortunes that roam this world. Bless our work. Let us find kindness and openness in those we encounter wherever we go, and before You as well.

Hear our prayer, God, for You are the One who listens to prayers. Praised are You, the One who hears prayers.”

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When you return, the prayer of thanks for a safe journey is the Birkat Hagomel prayer – which is also said having narrowly escaped danger or having recovered from a serious illness.

That prayer is this :

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who grants favors to the undeserving, Who has granted me all kindness.”

I thought it was over.

My father, dead these twenty years, not buried but filed away in a niche like a folder, forgotten it turns out, not over and done with. I thought it was over, that time of shock / of loss / of surprise / of earthquake, after tornado. He died just six weeks after Mom did, no warning, just a heart attack, his heart gave out / his heart had died when she did. It took six weeks for him to realize it. Six weeks for his body to catch up with his spirit.

It isn’t “passed on”. It isn’t “transitioned”. It isn’t soft and gentle, these euphemisms we have for the end of life. It isn’t even “kick the bucket”, “bought the farm”, “pushing up daisies”. It is dead, plain and simple.

Dead, body shucked off like a used coat, abandoned, sent to Goodwill or the dump. Or perhaps not. Sometimes it shows back up, even though you’ve moved, even though you’ve outgrown it, that person, their shell, shows up like that coat, somehow back in your house.

To get to the niche required asking off from work, calling the funeral home, arranging with the funeral director, getting a notarized form from my aunt (for the other two), finding a map, cleaning out the car, a long drive, and then waiting in the reception room, the same where I waited all those years ago with my aunt, to put her Mom’s ashes next to his, the same where we waited for his father, the same place I sat three times before for death. There were cookies on the table, wrapped in plastic bags, to keep them fresh. They don’t get a lot of visitors there, but they like to be ready. A lady asked if we would like water, or a fresh cup of coffee. She didn’t mind, she said. No bother, she said.

He died maybe seven years before his mom did, at least twenty years too soon. I remember her, my grandmother, in shock that her son had died before her. Sitting in her room in that rambling house. He died just five feet away, in his old room, that dark room, that narrow room. No room for him, and he died there, alone.

I can’t find the Bible with her dates in it. I don’t know when she died, or when she was born. Each family has their own, it seems. It wasn’t important enough to keep in a safe place, it seems.

They sat together, all these years, in niche number 19, at the end of a series of halls, themselves filled with filing cabinets stuffed with folders and notes. They sat, filed away, together – this was the O’Shee clan, the last of the line. I’d changed my name at marriage, not even keeping it as a middle name. People could spell it or pronounce it, but not both, and not well either way. I was grateful to get an easy name, but not as easy or anonymous as Smith or Jones. There are worse names than one with an apostrophe.

Nobody went into that room at the end of the hall. The relatives, those who knew them, were dead and buried themselves, or long forgotten. It was a funeral home, not a columbarium. They had that room as a favor to another funeral home that went out of business. I’d never thought of it, but funeral homes do go out of business, but cemeteries don’t. (But sometimes they do). Sometimes your “Final resting place” isn’t so final, and isn’t such a rest.

Sometimes people get dug up, like Tutankhamen, or the Lindow man, or anonymous Indians. There’s a farm to be tilled or a skyscraper to be built. The markers were lost or never were. Sometimes strangers in masks and latex gloves carefully desecrate your body, your insides, in the name of science. I wonder if a kind person, a priest perhaps, asks forgiveness (if not permission) of the soul that wore that body like a costume, a shroud, for these unbelievers, these scientists, to excavate, exhume, ex everything. No more sacred slumber. No more resting in peace. More like pieces.

I thought it was over, that time of grief, of sadness. I thought he was “dead and buried”. But now he’s in my craft room, on the top of my shelving unit I bought with my own money and assembled with my own hands. The shelving unit that has books to teach me, to inspire me to make things along with the things needed to make those things. There’s my father, along with the rubber stamps, the beads, the canvases, the paint, the glue, the wire. There he is, another craft project or supply or inspiration.

Perhaps I should invite him into the book project I’m working on. Perhaps I should do it in his memory, in his honor, like the Jews do. When someone dies too soon, you finish their work for them, giving them credit. You do the work, but they inspire you. Your grief for them propels / compels you to work. It isn’t yours but not quite theirs, it is a collaboration, a sharing. Instead of being stunned and immobilized by your grief, you use it to do, to create, to make. It is a kind of martial arts, this thing, using the energy of a sad situation against itself, a sort of energy aikido, a trauma taekwondo.

I thought it was over.

I didn’t have the tools to deal with his death when it happened. I just did it, as best I could figure out. There is no training for the hardest time of your life. How do you suddenly take on the responsibility of cremation certificates and funeral plots and closing out bank accounts and estate taxes and probate in the middle of grief? The person you’d ask for advice is the very person who is gone.

It has been twenty years, and my father is still with me, not just in spirit but in form, in shape, taking up space in my craft room, watching everything I do. I suspect he’s still a little sad. He was always sad. He never got to do what he wanted – always what his parents wanted. “Poor Pat” is what his Mom said to him. All he heard was how sad it was to be him. So he grew into that prophecy. It is sad that they didn’t want him to be him – even his name wasn’t his own. He was a junior. How is that for messing with your child? A child named like this isn’t his own. They are expected from birth to take on your task and live it out, rather than their own.

So here he is, in my craft room, in my house.

When I was born, he made a point of going into the house before Mom did and putting Beethoven on the turntable. Beethoven’s music was playing as I was brought home. This time, I wasn’t paying attention, and my husband wasn’t thinking, so when he was brought into the house, this time, this (hopefully) final time, there was no music, there was no notice. His ashes were brought in along with his parents, without ceremony and without ritual. Brought in just like the luggage.

I don’t even know if I have any Beethoven music to play here for him. It always makes me sad, how he didn’t get to be a music conductor, how he didn’t let himself be one. I need to listen to it, and be sad, and let that feeling happen, that loss, that sadness, let the tears fall heavy like glue, sticking together the past and the present into one big mess.

If I don’t have a CD, I’m sure I can download some on my phone. Where to start? What was his favorite? Why don’t I know?

We are now planning an early trip to the mountains. I feel that opening his urn on the bridge overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains is what I want to do. Open it up and let them fly on a windy day, so his ashes cover those mountains. When I see them, I’ll think of him. No marker, no cemetery. Mountains, miles and miles of them, a sea of blue waves in the distance, fading fading fading away. Hopefully it will be windy. We’ll have to do this after the tourists have gone, after the rangers have checked on us. We always have permission to be there after hours, but I’m going on the “don’t ask don’t tell” for the ashes. Just like how I did with Mom’s. There was a little bit of covert action then too.

No roadside memorial. No press-on decal on the back of the car. No tattoos. All the myriad ways of memorializing, and I’m going on a roadtrip, with three people and coming back with two. One will be left in the mountains, on the mountains, part of the mountains. His ashes – ground up bones, really, not ashes like in a campfire – will be eaten by insects, worn by birds in their feathers, sunk down to the bottom of small pools of rainwater, used in rabbit’s burrows.

We’d not planned on going until May, but then this happened, this urn, this death, reappeared in my life. Like a pregnancy unplanned, an extra family member is suddenly in my house, my home. Am I dumping him at a shelter, leaving him on a church doorstep, an orphanage by doing this early and not waiting until we would usually go? Am I properly dealing with this unexpected appearance, reappearance, of my father in my life?

Or by planning a trip, am I making sure that I use this time well, to talk with/to/at him, to invite him in, to process this grief, this loss I couldn’t hold, couldn’t handle twenty years ago?

Is there a right way to grieve? Is there a wrong way? Perhaps simply, the way is the way.

The picture is of him as a different kind of conductor. He spent one summer driving the electric trolley at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. One childhood dream come true. The smile is tiny, but there. His smile was often an afterthought, an accident, a surprise.

Dad at the Choo Choo

He spent way too much of his life making other people happy. Not selfish, certainly, and that is commendable, but no balance either. Such loss. Such pain. I wish he was here now so I could teach him what I know, to help him deprogram and discover who he really is. Perhaps that is what I am doing in his memory. Perhaps I am using his (bad / sad ) example of how not to live, and learning how.

He never wrote that book on Beethoven. He never traveled to England. He never did a lot of things he wanted to do. Never retired. And I see this, and remember – never take a day for granted. Never assume there is tomorrow.

But now, I’m learning, he’s teaching me, never assume the past is past either.

Wrestling with the angel

Jacob wrestled with the angel all night long. (Genesis 32:22-31) They were alone on an island together. The text doesn’t state whether Jacob even called out for help while he was wrestling. He didn’t get a chance to sleep that night because all night long he and the angel were wrestling. Towards the end of the night the angel touched him on his hip to make the fight stop. While this may seem like an unfair thing for the angel to do, I wonder why he touched him on the hip, and not somewhere else?

If the angel had touched him on the arm, the fight would’ve been over just as soon as touching him on his hip. You can’t pin someone to the ground with only one arm, or at least not very easily. It’s impossible or very difficult to throw them to the ground and hold them there. So he could have touched him on his shoulder and it would have been over just the same. Therefore it is very relevant that he touched him on his hip.

I propose that he touched him on the hip because Jacob was getting his strength from his roots. Jacob was relying on his ancestors and their faith (not his own, yet) in order to give him strength for this battle. The angel needed him to not rely on his own strength or on the faith of his forefathers. The angel needed him to trust in something so much bigger than him, something that he didn’t even know about yet. The angel needed him to trust in what AA would say is his “higher power”. And the Higher Power that the angel wanted him to rely on was God. He had to break his connection with his roots – his strength that he was getting from the past and from the present. He needed to make him learn how to rely on something bigger than himself, that very something that his ancestor Abraham relied on.

Jacob was very strong in many ways, but he hadn’t yet come to understand how much stronger he could be if he connected his power with God’s power.

Road Trip!

I was thinking about why I like to go on road trips – and particularly why I like to get road trip food.

When I was younger – say between the ages of five to ten, my parents would take us on trips to our grandparents. They lived about three hours south of us. Sometimes we would drive all the way to them, and sometimes we would go halfway and they would meet us, with one child or the other going back with the grandparents for a week, then to be traded out for the other child the next week. Every summer we got to spend a whole week, by ourselves, with our grandparents. Sometimes the whole family would visit, but the best trips were when I’d get my grandparents all to myself.

Visits there were magical. There would be a present under my pillow every morning. We’d sleep with the windows open (no central air there!) and listen to the mournful sounds of the trains in the distance. I could wander wherever I wanted in that new country that was their neighborhood, and I could do anything I wanted. I got whatever I asked for and more. Going there was a child’s fantasy.

While I enjoyed being there, the part that I seem to have kept with me the most is the road trip itself, and getting the road trip food. Why? It is still a fun thing even today.

I think part of it was because going on road trips was the longest my family would spend together. Going on those trips meant that nobody could storm away to their private oasis – the kitchen, their own bedroom, or lost inside their headphones, listening to music (this applied to my brother and my father). We weren’t close by any stretch, but being in the car for hours meant we had to at least try to get along. Closeness isn’t an automatic – it has to be worked on. You can’t work on it if you are all doing your own thing.

Going to the convenience store meant that this was a road trip – an adventure out of town. Going to the store meant that there was no doubt about it, something good was going to happen. This was not a usual trip. I think part of what I loved was that, unlike any other time, I was allowed to get whatever I wanted. This made going to that store much like being at my grandparent’s house – my opinion mattered for once.

I usually bought Willy Wonka candy – Everlasting Gobstoppers, Bottlecaps. Sometimes I’d get Nerds. I’d usually very colorful high-sugar items, and not chips or sodas. These days the default favorite snack for road trips is a Yoo-Hoo drink and Andy Capp’s Hot Fries. Sometimes I’ll add something in from the “chocolate food group” – maybe a Heath bar, in part for texture. This is what I would get at the beginning of the trip. Usually later on I’ll get some fruit drink (with no HFCS if possible) and some green tea – and sometimes I’ll mix them together.

What about the boys?

There is a lot of attention these days about empowering young girls. Girls are now encouraged to learn about anything they want to, such as science or politics or economics. Fields that were traditionally male-only are being opened up to women. Women are being encouraged to speak up for themselves and stand up for their rights.

But what about the boys? While the toy aisle has been de-gendered, with Star Wars right next to Barbie and not separated by different aisles labeled by pink and blue placards, what about the boys? If it is now socially not only accepted but encouraged for girls to play with anything they want to and to learn anything they want, then are we opening up the same opportunities for boys? Can boys do traditionally girl things without being looked down on? Can a boy read the Nancy Drew stories in the same way that a girl can read the Hardy Boys? Can a boy play with an Easy Bake Oven or have a tea party in the same way that a girl can play with trucks and erector sets?

If we’re going to go for gender equality then we have to be for equality for everyone. It has to be okay for boys to be whoever they want to be and also not be forced into a particular mold or pattern of how they are expected to be simply because they’re born male. I think the world would be better place if girls can be whatever they want and boys can be whatever they want, with no limitations placed on either because of their gender.

While we certainly can use more female doctors, lawyers, and engineers, we also need to make sure that we allow girls to be stay-at-home moms or teachers or nurses if they want. There needs to be no shame if girls want to take on traditionally female roles or jobs. They do not need to be seen as “less enlightened” if they don’t become astronauts or politicians, but cooks or housekeepers. And likewise it should be okay for boys to be teachers, nurses, artists, or stay at home dads. One’s gender should not prevent or predispose one’s occupation.

The dentist

My parents took me to a dentist when I was very young and the experience traumatized me. The effects of that are still with me today.

I believe that he didn’t knowingly traumatize me. He thought he was a very good dentist. It turns out he wasn’t as good as he thought and in many ways he wasn’t a very good person. If he’d really thought about what he was doing then none of this would have happened.

He caused me immeasurable pain and terror because he didn’t use anesthesia when he worked on my teeth. He thought he could be very gentle and delicate and that he didn’t have to give me anything. He also thought that simply seeing the needle (needles for dentists are very large) would frighten me.

Ideally, he would have given me a shot anyway and explained the benefits of it. Ignorance leads to fear which leads to pain. Seeing the needle could be frightening sure, but that is when you explain why it is long (to reach inside your mouth) and how it will help (to make sure you don’t feel any pain).

Without a shot, I was in fact in pain. But also, I was in terror, because I knew that if I moved I could be very hurt. One wrong slip with that drill and he’d be drilling my cheek and not my tooth.

Strangely, he didn’t even have an assistant. So there was no one else in the room to look in my eyes and see the terror and suffering, both physical and mental.

Because my parents took me to him, I thought this was normal. I thought this was part of going to the dentist. I thought surely they wouldn’t make me go through this terror and pain for no reason.

People don’t really understand how traumatizing this is, that this authority figure caused me pain and my parents, other authority figures, took me to him. This means that what he’s doing to me is accepted and okay and normal and in fact, they’re paying him to do it.

No one warned me what was going to happen. That just adds to the pain. Any time something new is going to happen to anyone – but especially a child, explaining it beforehand is a kindness. It is all about thinking about the other person and their emotional needs. They don’t know what is going to happen. They don’t even know what to ask. It is the medical professional’s duty to remember that even though s/he has performed that procedure a thousand times, this is the first time for this patient. Not only is “informed consent” important, it is also simply kind and humane and compassionate to make sure they know what to expect.

I’m so grateful that I’m realizing all of this. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t have the strength at the time to stand up and say “No you can’t do this to me.” or “You have to tell me what you are going to do to me before you do it.” But at least now I’ve noticed it and I can start to make changes. If I didn’t notice it then it would mean that I would continue to suffer and say nothing.

Hopefully by my writing about this, you will gain strength too and learn to ask for what is going to happen before it does if your doctor doesn’t think to tell you. Hopefully you might start to understand the root of some of your distress as well. Uncovering this root has really helped me in understanding some of my behavior and attitudes. This early experience badly affected how I related to and experienced the world. Now that I’ve uncovered it, I can heal myself from that point onwards.