Monthly Archives: June 2013

Sleep talking dreaming about you

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The last day of vacation is always bittersweet. Several of us are really too sun burned to go out in the sun today, not that this will stop us from going out there. I took a series of pictures yesterday of the cousins digging a huge hole on the beach. Apparently you can’t dig a big hole on the beach because a year or so ago a couple of teenagers dug a deep hole and emergency services had to be called to get them out. That must’ve been some hole. So our hole fun was stopped.  Today we will start packing, cleaning out our sand piles, finding our last sea shells and begin turning our focus back towards home. 
I will say the beach has continued to be a place where I’ve had the oddest dreams. Maybe it’s all the honey buns, fried seafood, hand crafted margaritas and cheese dip.  I’ve continued to have various dreams about Chris, but other dreams with ghostly feelings that slip through my grasp like smoke when I try to remember them. 
One factor that  might be affecting my dreaming here, weird sleep. Remember the noisy ceiling fan that honked and sang all night?  Dad fixed it.  Glorious. Then it was the mattress.  Last night it was musical beds after the littlest sister decided she’d be generous and let the other sisters sleep in my bed. That worked until 3am. There was a rotation and eventually more sleep. It ‘s funny to miss furniture when you’re away, but I sure miss my bed.  I paid extra for my  mattress and it is worth every penny. But it haunts me when I am away, like a jealous lover.  Calling ” come back to me, now that you know how good it was when we were together. “
So,  let’s talk on the beach diet a moment. And by diet I don’t mean the Beach Body diet. For some reason at the beach I’m more hungry anyway.  Blame it on vacation, blame it on the sun and the waves, but it’s obnoxious. My first lunch here was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a hot dog. There’s dessert every night, several. And all this would be after a full 12 hours of eating anything and everything in sight. Pop tarts, fiery hot Cheetos, ranch dip, s’mores goldfish, peanut butter pie, ice cream.  Did I mention cheese dip, or hand crafted margaritas? I’m going to have to start running again and keep running until I come back next year. 
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Dream life

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Last night I dreamt I was renovating my basement. It was not the basement from my current house, but the basement from the house I grew up in in Rock Hill, SC.  A polite, bright eyed, pudgy African American woman was the potential architect of this project. I kept worrying that her all white suit was going to get soot or black mold on it from the basement. The basement was mostly as I consciously remember it, dark, damp and full of treasures in boxes. Upon remembering the washer and dryer were down there I got very excited about the promise of a new laundry room with a space for a table to fold my laundry. 

Then I realized there was a sad presence with me. It was Chris. Just like so many dreams he appears in, he’s been dead, but come back to life. In this case he’s allowing me to make the choices about the renovations, but his presence makes the choosing strange. 
I suppose it’s a message about change, worry, starting over and the ever present weight of the past. I’m not sure of the woman, but she seemed self-assured that the project would be a success. If I am every person in my dream, I’m sure this is a nod to my great sense of style and complete lack of practicality. 
This theme is now a reoccurring one.   Chris is alive, or more succinctly, undead. He’s sad and aloof, distant, but very present. Sometimes I spend the better part of my energy in the dream trying to figure out a way to keep him from dying again. I never succeed. More often now, he’s just this hovering presence, weighty and dysphoric.
 Waking up from these dreams always leave me feeling melancholy.  They seem to tug at a restlessness beneath the surface that still doesn’t make sense. Reality still doesn’t quite work. Where is Chris?  Why doesn’t he call more often?  How do I get in touch with him when I’ve got important decisions to be made?  
There’s a storm on the horizon here at the beach. Aside from the dream, I was awakened often throughout the night by an obnoxiously noisy ceiling fan. There’s still hot coffee when I wake, the promise of delicious breakfast. Life goes on, even after confusing dreams and storms. In fact, that is life. 

The futility so sweeping

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All excuses aside…Twyla Tharpe would be disappointed in me. Ive been on habit vacation. Which is like exercise vacation. Oh I’ll just skip this one day because I’m traveling, ill skip this day because I’m tired after traveling, then it’s been a week and exercise seems hard. So I’m back, ill do better.

Something about being on Edisto Island makes me think of writing. Maybe because of the books I’m drawn to that are written about the area, or maybe the personal history I have with the island, or perhaps it’s the way Edisto seems to have stopped aging years ago.
As I cross from 64 east and turn right over the railroad track, I begin to count the landmarks. Little markers that mean I’m getting closer to my destination. The first old white clapboard church, the second old white clapboard church, the decorated tree by the Botany Bay turn off, the Old Post Office, the mattress swing. Then I make the turn an see the wide open space that means the ocean lies just beyond the horizon.
It was a long, long drive.  In 48 hours I’ve traveled by car from south Jersey to South Carolina, and my backside is none too pleased.  Once I crossed into South Carolina yesterday I was hit with periods of torrential rain. Rain so hard I was no longer sure if the truck in front of me had disappeared into the rain cloud or not. Lightning lit up the sky periodically and eventually the storm passed on leaving only the humid heat so typical of South Carolina summers.  So the beach horizon was a welcomed sight.
Once I arrived at the house, which I proudly found by memory,the aroma of dead fish hung heavy in the humid air. Tiny black ants scurried on every corner of the hot cement. Inside the preparations were underway for dinner. The two younger daughters greet me with  sun kissed faces and droopy eyes from their day on the beach. Dad was trying futilely to sweep a load of sand out of the girls room. Greeting familiar faces with warm embraces the day winds down. Tired from the drive and now full of deliciously icy margaritas I fall into bed.
Morning of the second day starts with my middle daughter standing virtually silently over me at the head of my bed. Someone has lovingly started a pot of hot coffee. Slowly cousins wake and shuffle up to the kitchen, open bags of powder covered donuts, look at the sky. Storm clouds threaten out beyond the breaking waves. The first full day has begun. Image

And I remember Mama

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Ive been in South New Jersey this weekend for a friend’s family reunion. Being an outsider at someone else’s family reunion is beautiful gift. I got to be the ultimate outsider, the fly on the wall. Everyone lacks historical context, so much of my energy was spent trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
I blend in a bit. I suppose some people imagine I’m a second cousin who doesn’t make it around too much.  I wonder who the girl is in the corner and what causes her to look so sad, so distant.There’s a tall beautiful woman in a long teal dress with her dog. The dog lays quietly underneath the table, patient for a gift from above. Pre-teens giggle together and twist their hair nervously as they are introduced to great aunts and uncles. Kids splash in the blow-up pool. There’s leafy green salad, and roasted corn on the grill. Chicken, ribs, hot dogs and hamburgers hide beneath the smoke.

But what I notice most is the person who is being missed.   The recently passed matriarch has left an empty space that no one seems able to fill. Mom was the reason they all got together.  This is her party. Her ghost lays heavy. But people eat their potato salad and their too many slices of cake.  They talk of heart troubles and kid troubles, play badminton and occasionally feel the wind blow through the party. Mom’s still here. A pair of wedding rings hang from Dad’s neck on a long, thin, silver chain. He touches them periodically, “she’s here”, he says. And she is, but even as an outsider at this party I feel her missing much more than I feel her here. Her smile is missing, her hand to squeeze, the dish she made. There’s a hole she’s left behind.

We will drive home today and I’ll head to Edisto Beach, South Carolina where my father’s family has been holding family reunions for decades. Edisto is a quiet island just beyond Charleston, south carolina. If you visit Edisto, bring what you need with you, and realize you need very little. There is one small grocery store on the island, a gas station, an ice cream parlor and you cannot miss breakfast at the Sea Cow. The shore is lined with beach houses that have survived the many hurricanes over the years. You will see protected sea turtle nests on the beach.  If you’re very lucky, and don’t mind staying up late at night, you might even see baby sea turtles dig their way out of the ground and scurry toward the ocean.
 Not much has changed on the island in the nearly forty years Ive been to Edisto.  I have gone from being the kid at the beach, to having the kids at the beach. Each year I am amazed that even though we see each other once a year at best, I’m forever bonded to my cousins, my aunts, my uncles, my second cousins. We share this common history. We make too much food and laugh, play games, stay in the sun too long, take lots of pictures. And there is a missing presence. My grandmother should be here.
I remember one of the last summers she was able to make the trip down here. My dad and his brothers got a beautifully framed pictures of south Carolina’s indigenous birds for her. She wept when they gave it to her. She was a woman who expected very little and she appreciated this thought beyond belief. She’s in the rustle of the palmetto trees for us and in our hearts.
Reunions  are nice reminders that family is a circle and most of the time we lie in the middle, between being born and being missed. The time we spend with each other in between is precious and limited.
I’m looking forward to aunt J’s velveeta cheese dip, and uncle F’s plethora of goodies that he brings in a U-haul trailer, Mom’s laugh, Dad’s guitar, my cousins and their many kids, mixed drinks, card games and sea food dinner on the last night. What a gift to be together.

Be the change.

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I watched Bully last night.  If you haven’t seen it, see it.  

Be prepared,it’s heart wrenching.  It’s a documentary that follows several junior high school students who are being bullied. The situations are tragic, but the real travesty is the responses of the adults in charge. “Boys will be boys”, ” school buses are notoriously dangerous places”. I actually grew to feel sorry for the school administrators because they clearly did not have a clue what to do. So they did very little, or nothing at all.  There were a couple of Mississippi police men that I’d like to encourage towards retirement. Nice to reaffirm that not too much had changed since 1960 there.  

I firmly believe we create and support the culture we live in.  It’s not something outside us, it is us.  So, if boys will be boys, we define what that means. We support and allow the consequences of that. And I realize it’s a complicated problem, which is also why I know the response can’t be a simple…boys will be boys. 
Every person has a part to play in bullying.  The bully, the observers and the person being bullied are all involved. We can mostly agree that being naked in church is wrong, or that drunk driving is dangerous, or putting your finger in a toaster will hurt.  With these truths in mind we behave in certain ways. We wear clothes, we designate a driver, we scream when we see someone putting their finger near a toaster. We wouldn’t say, ” well, toasters will be toasters.”  And then watch the person get fried. We would do something to stop the situation, because we know its wrong. 
I mentioned the poor, ignorant school administrators, who I wanted to grab by the shoulders and say, “wake up!”  But really, it seemed they were like carpenters who showed up to build a house with a ball of yarn and two postage stamps.  They did not have the right tools. Forcing a person who is being bullied to shake the hands of the person who is bullying him is not going to fix this problem. 
Imagine you’re at work, sitting in your cubicle, sipping your morning coffee when your co-worker starts throwing waded up paper at you. You respond by politely asking her to stop. She says no and stands up over you, “what are you gonna do p$&&y?” And then takes your coffee. This happens for several weeks,in various ways.  You talk to your supervisor, because now you’re really mad. Transfer that a-hole, fire her. Instead your supervisor says, why not shake hands with her, I bet you guys could become friends. What!?
Watching Bully makes me want to do more. I work with students an hour a week after school to try to change some of these behaviors.  But I get a real sense of how much more there is to do. Teachers are exhausted and frustrated. Clearly lots of them are trying to make yarn into walls.  And after all, kids are only in school in the daytime. The culture supports bullying right now.   Pack mentality, the weak and different will be left behind. Don’t be the weak, don’t be thought of as the weak, don’t sit at the lunch table with the weak. 
I once read a story of an anthropologist who went to an African village. While there she placed a large basket of fruit underneath a tree. She then gathered the children of the village together and told them that whoever got to the basket first got the fruit. She then lined them up for the race. Before the first person dashed off, the children all joined hands and ran together, arriving at the fruit basket at the same time. They shared the fruit equally.  When the anthropologist  asked why they did this they said…when one of us is happy we are all happy. Why would we leave someone behind?  That’s what it means for children to be children to them. 
 
So what can we do?  Let me hear your voice. Let’s be the change we want to see in the world. Image

Is that birthday cake on your collar?

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My kids love me like crazy sauce. Good right?  Well yes and no. Of course I’m grateful that my kids have no issue expressing that they love me. The fact that my 13 year old wants to hold my hand when we are in public is proof enough for me that there is a God. They are all very dear, loving and expressive kids. However its a little like dating Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction. I can only imagine being down to one parent must make a kid feel like they need to keep the remaining parent in a mason jar that is sewn into their skin, but some days I can barely breathe. To me, I’m here basically every hour of every day. When I’m not actively engaged with my kids I’m washing their clothes, buying them food, or just engaged with the exhausting process of worrying about them. Which leads me to this point. I’m a terrible parent when I make decisions based on my guilt. I spend a lot of my parenting time wishing I could say yes to candy for dinner enough times that it would make up for losing their father.

“Mom, can we have kit kats tonight for dinner? PLEASE!”
” well, OK.”
 “Yah!  And mom, I’ll always be perfectly adjusted now and feel like I’m ok that Dad died”.
Yeah. Probably would never work.
So instead I spend a lot of my parenting time feeling like I’ve disappointed my kids. And yes that’s basically my job as a parent to teach  my kids to manage disappointment. I should be getting an A plus in that department. Aside from the tremendous disappointment of having to essentially grow up fatherless, I occasionally go out without them. Once a week I go to improv rehearsal  which they’ve grown to accept as part of the bargain with me. However sometimes ill have the audacity to just go out, with grown ups.
I think this guilt is part of being a contemporary parent. In the time of co-sleeping and wearing our kids around until their 10th birthday has made us forget we have needs too.
When I was 8 years old I got myself ready for school in the morning and walked to school because my folks taught in another town. And you know what? I love my parents. They trusted me, I’m very independent. I don’t know if they even considered feeling guilty. And I hope they didn’t, but I know I never sad sacked around because I had to make my own oatmeal and lock the door behind me. Of course my parents weren’t out living it up, they were making a living. But I’m sure they went out sometimes and I don’t recall ever feeling the need to lodge a complaint because they were. I don’t remember standing with my arms crossed looking at my mom and dad and saying ” seriously, I NEVER see you and now you’re going to see Kramer vs Kramer without me”. That’s what jealous girlfriends do. Beside having a sitter meant TV dinner and I loved that tiny cherry pie.
So yes, in the midst of justifying why I’m going out, I catch myself. This is not the relationship I should have with my kids. I shouldn’t worry that I’m going find our cat Mahola in a pot of boiling water because I went to see Daniel Tosh last night. That’s ridiculous.  And I understand that they feel like they’ve been bucked off a giant horse and they are scared to get off the ground, dust themselves off and take the risk of riding again. This is our life. If my parents could have made my oatmeal for me, they would have. But that wasn’t our life. Mom , Dad, I’m OK. If you ever felt guilty for the choices you had to make. Stop. Look how I turned out. Good, right? I love the person you raised me to be.
In the long term, somewhere out there in the future, I know they’ll get it. And when I come home late at night and they come with bleary eyes down the stairs, lean over, smell me and say ” you smell like birthday cake.” Sigh and slowly walk away pouting, Ill know I don’t need to explain myself.