Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Birth Day

On this day in 1979 I gave birth to my second daughter, Nicole.  Birth is a truly profound event that gets lost in how ordinary and commonplace it is.  Bringing a totally new human into the world, one that is totally dependent and needs years to grow into being able to care for him or herself is no small thing. Birth has a way of reordering priorities, refocusing perspectives and distilling love. The primal act of birth reduces us to quivering, tearful, yet fierce guardians.

As individuals, we have many birthdays. We celebrate with presents and cake. We dismiss them as they mark just another year in our journey.  But as mothers, we have but one or a few.  The birth of each of our children changes us.  The time after these births is different from all the time before.  So while today is Nicole's birthday, it is also a birth day for me.  I remember the event, the years since, the sweetness and the milestones we've shared.  And, as is the way of humankind, she has this month, not only a birthday, but a birth day herself.  Her son, my grandson, made her a mother last year.

Not every birth ends well.  It is the risk we take as mothers.  It is the risk Life demands.  I gave birth three times but celebrate just two of them. I like to think that the other child rebounded with life to another mother and another birth day.  Birth is profound.  Life is what matters. I have done nothing more imporant with my life than this.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Dying by degrees

My mother lived with me in her final years.  She died at age 97.  One day she complained that she was cold, "I'm dying by degrees," she quipped.  I know what she means.  I'm not cold - far from it - it's 90 degrees in the shade without a breeze anywhere, but sometimes I feel like I have to cede yet another body part to old age.

For weeks I've had pain in my neck due to a pinched nerve.  It's affected my writing as my hands are weak and painful.  I've had a good massage and that has helped, but the problem never really goes away.  Then there's my hip and knee.  Good grief.  Complaining doesn't help, but it does bring a kind of visceral empathy for others.

I really can't complain: I have no chronic disease, no cancer, no heart issues, no liver or autoimmune things going on.  I just hurt.  And I guess that means I'm still alive.

So, I think I'll go glaze some pots and maybe later I can write a bit.  At least I can read.  And that not nothing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Homeschool begins

My granddaughter did not flourish in the public school classroom when she attended first grade. The clamor of 20-30 students and the constant threats and discipline from the teachers made her very anxious.  So her parents made the decision to homeschool her and I have taken over about half of that effort. This is in no way a religious or political statement. It is simply a matter of providing the best early education for my granddaughter that we can.

As a professional writer, I am well-qualified to teach Language Arts and as a potter of many years, my experience also qualifies me to teach her arts and crafts.  Those are the areas I focus on for her, but I also teach her some social studies including history, civics, and geography.  Her parents focus on math and science.  I provide some projects in these subjects as well.

Last year was third grade for her and tomorrow we begin fourth grade.  Her parents and I have decided on project-based learning on a six-weeks-on, two-weeks-off schedule.  What this will do is allow us to structure her studies around specific, relevant content that can be experienced in context rather than around a purchased curriculum.

My granddaughter is smart and self-motivated but has anxiety issues about her performance. She aced the end-of-year tests the state requires and she is proud of that.  She always wants to stick to the easy stuff, the stuff she knows well and can excel at.  My job is to make her crave more.

For her first six weeks in language arts I am assigning her a poetry project.  Each week we will study two forms of poetry and she will write two poems in each form. My goals for her in this is for her to understand the role of all the parts of speech, which she learned last year.  As poetry requires a brevity that necessitates the use of only the most perfect words to convey a thought, this will enhance her use of grammar, her understanding of the power inherent in words, as well as giving her a decent background in literature.  I will be assigning her specific poems to read so that we can discuss them, but I will also require her to read fiction as a background.  Last year she completed the Harry Potter books and has since re-read them.

She will watch the Netflix Egypt series to accompany her study packet on that and will also study Canada in some depth as her father is Canadian and she visits the country often.  I will use Netflix and PBS to enhance her studies at home.

The project she has voiced enthusiasm for is another craft-based sales booth.  The child has business in her blood, I think, and she really enjoyed the booth we had at the end of last school year.  This is a project I am letting her self-direct and I will provide the necessary resources and guidance.

I am pleased I can help my granddaughter develop a useful set of skills to navigate this life.  And I am humbled her parents trust me with her.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Playing the hand you are dealt

I have two wonderful, absolutely normal children and I have four grandchildren: two girls and two boys.  The last one was born with a rare genetic disorder that will affect him for the rest of his life.  It is serious.

I read a lot of blogs and articles by other families with special needs children.  Most of them show some encounter with someone "normal" who unwittingly acts in an unsympathetic manner toward the affected family.  Some point out the "blessing" these kids are to the family.  Others plead for understanding that most of their lives are just as "normal" as unaffected families.  At the heart of all of them is a family in pain that is coping as well as they can.

My daughter is dealing with a life-changing child. He is medically fragile.  Common illnesses are life-threatening.  He requires round-the-clock feedings.  It is exhausting.

We all have to play the hand we are dealt.  I do not believe some god is sending defective children to families because it will be a blessing.  I do not believe a child with issues is any less or any more a family member, or any more or less deserving of love and attention, than any other child.  Life gives us challenges and my daughter and grandson face significant ones.  With love and support, they will meet these challenges and be the best people they can be.

There will be people who do not understand, who think my daughter is picky or unreasonable.  There will be those who think my grandson should outgrow his problem.  His disorder involves an inability to process most fatty acids, which severely affects his diet and his ability to expend energy. People are funny about food.  They feel defensive about it. They hate picky eaters. For most kids, a hot dog and fries are a treat; for my grandson it is slow death.  We will all just have to live with this and all it involves.

Strangers will not understand.  People will try to feed him things he should not have thinking it can't be that bad for him. He will want to eat those things and during his childhood will not understand why he cannot have them.  My daughter will never cease to worry about him. I will never cease to worry about her.  This is our life now.

My grandson is a super-cute little guy and we all love him dearly.  We would have loved him had he been born without this disorder.  It makes no difference. We are up to this.  We have to be.  It does not matter to me if strangers don't understand.  They have their own hands to play.  Perhaps that woman who seemed uncaring has a husband with cancer at home, or elderly parents she can't afford to care for.  I don't know what others are dealing with any more than they know what my grandson has or what it means.

We should be charitable to all.  No matter what you have to deal with, act like the person you just met has twice that on his or her plate.  For they may.  For me, I am happy to love all my grandchildren, relieve my daughter a few times a week, and carry on.  I don't need to change anyone's behavior but my own.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Bucket List Item

I don't usually post in this space about my pottery, preferring to leave that to my pottery blog, Forrest Pottery.  However, I just finished a full set of dishes and it's kind of a milestone for me.  You see, when I was 19 I decided I wanted to make a set of dinnerware.  I thought, with all of youth's hubris, that I could do so in a single month.  Life intervened and except for brief classes here and there, I set pottery aside in favor of my family and job.

In 2000, my best friend died from a fall down the stairs of her retirement home.  She had only been there a matter of weeks.  When I visited her family they showed me that she had never even unpacked the boxes of craft materials she had been saving for her retirement.  After much grief and tears, I decided that I would not arrive at my retirement or death without doing the one thing I had always wanted to do: pottery.  I built my studio that same year.

I continued to work until I was laid off just short of retirement age.  What a mixed bag that was for me!  On the one hand, I lost my career, my health insurance, and my retirement pension.  What I gained was the ability to care for my mother in her last few years and the opportunity to finally study and master my craft.  I did both.

Yesterday I took the final load of dishes from my kiln.  These will not be for me, but for my daughter.  I feel like I've come full circle.  I did finish the set in a summer, just 45 years later! I'm mostly pleased with them and I know my daughter will like them.  All the determination and passion of my youth and all the skill I gained since then went into those dishes.

This is what satisfaction looks like.