Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Overcoming Panic with Lamb Riding

The countdown is on! We leave tomorrow at 5:55 and I am electrified with terror. I'm at the computer, putting together final agendas and double-checking everything, so I'm quiet... but screaming inside. Little man is coloring pictures for us. I worked out earlier and that took the edge off my nerves... until Hubby started changing things up on me. And then the email came from Delta to check in and since then my blood pressure has been racing. I can't decide if I should buy travel insurance and I'm in a silent tizzy, my shoulders tight. I'm coiled like a snake and ready to... what? What am I ready for? Technically, my bags are packed and ready. My body, my heart is not.

* I have to take a minute to laugh. This is the JOYFUL journey blog, after all, and you begin with a healthy dose of anxiety. I am happy to be taking this trip and incredibly thankful. I just have to record it all. Maybe I was this scared before and forgot it. This documentation might help next time. Yeah. That's the ticket!*

Okay, back to my kvetching. My house is a hot mess (in every sense) but it's okay. Yes, my dear friend and mother will be in here, presumably trying on my clothes, jumping on my bed and digging through my closets to find skeletons... but I've foiled them with my extremely messy house. They won't be able to find a thing! I could stay up all night cleaning, but with my cold, PMS and aforementioned anxiety I think it would be a mistake. Sure, the house would gleam. But I would probably be on the lam for some type of crime of passion. So, truly, I'm helping society by not cleaning. Yes, it's true. I expect to earn my sainthood anytime for these contributions to the betterment of the world :)

As I typed the last sentence, I had a moment of doubt. I'm sure it's "on the lam" but suddenly I have an image of me riding a lamb. And that mental image is funny. I feel a crazy cackle coming on. Imagine it a bit like this, will ya?

So, whilst on Google Images to find this, I found out that there is a lamb riding academy. Yes, truly. This is not a fact that I have ever possessed before, so I applaud the use of the internet to advance my knowledge. And, I have the site that this lovely picture was found open in another tab and it's complete with baaaaaaiiinnnnnnggg sounds effects. Which is blending nicely with my current Pandora channel, French cafe. You've really never heard "When I Fall In Love" until you heard it with sheep bleating.

So, I started this post in a panic and ended up quite amused. That was cheap therapy there, my friends.

It's time to dig up that lovely white jacket now... I'm sure that qualifies as a "personal carry-on item" doesn't it?

When Doves Cry

Who are the girls in a juvenile detention facility?
One girl was filled with rage, striking out at the world. It was because she was watching her big brother get lost in drugs and felt helpless to save him and angry that no one seemed to care.
Many of the girls were runaways… from people who had hurt them, ignored them, hit them, violated them, taken advantage of them. Some raised their siblings and yes, some of them had their own children.
All of them shared the common bond that somewhere along the way they were let down by the people who were supposed to love and protect them.
My first visit to the DOVE Juvenile Detention Facility was both better and worse than I thought. It was clear that there was a committed and caring staff that put all of their resources together to make a safe and nurturing place for these girls. The cafeteria was painted in a beautiful yellow and tables were covered in bright, cheerful tablecloths. The library was a wonderful room with books and movies and a large television. There were pictures and artwork everywhere testifying to bonds that these girls have formed with their caregivers. One picture in the main hallway stopped me in my tracks. It was a young teen hugging a little girl, with the concrete glistening below and behind them. You couldn’t see either face, as they were buried in each other. But the pain and longing was so clear in their stances. It was taken on a family visitation day and the two sisters clung to each other.
There was ample evidence of all the normal things that you would see with any girl between the age of 15-18, but there were plenty of locked doors and stark reminders that would remind you that this was not an ordinary place. Somehow these girls went too far down the wrong path and were required to “do their time.” The hope, though, is that they would find new, brighter paths, self-confidence and caring adults who will lead them to better lives than the ones that had been laid out before them.
There are a lot of people fighting for their futures, but the reality is painful. As I was leaving one office, a co-worker brought in a card to be signed. One of the past residents of DOVE was getting a sympathy card from the staff, full of loving messages. Her brother had been murdered. I wondered how many other cards this girl would receive… how many people who notice the life that had ended and the girl who was so affected from it?
This is where I want to spend more time, which will be hard since it is a two-hour drive from my home. I want to know the girls and their stories. I want to find more mentors for them and open them up to new possibilities in the world. I want to bring them the yarn so that they can continue to make the beautiful blankets that they donate to vets in wheelchairs. I want to get sheets and pillowcases and blankets for all the girls who have the cold, stark beds.
Some of these girls have never played before. They’ve never had a chance to simply be a child. And because that was robbed from them, they found other ways to try to survive in this world. But how do you give someone a childhood? How do you go back and help them reinvent themselves and be open to love and kindness when it was so alien to their existence?
I don’t have the answers. I am learning about the models, the psychology and all the reality. In the meantime, I shall look for the resources. The soft blankets, the kind mentor, all the things- large and small- that will help them to imagine a world where people care.

As Souls March By...

This is a re-post about the my impressions of the lives that I will come to know through my new job. I wrote it two weeks ago and it is part of a series. As I visit these facilities, I want to share the things that I am seeing and learning.

It’s the end of my second week on the job. Yesterday I drove over an hour and set up shop at one of the juvenile detention facilities where we serve boys with Boys & Girls Club programming. In between a series of meetings, I was alone in the clubhouse on campus. The boys were still attending classes, so it was quiet and through the windows I could enjoy the sunlight streaming in as I typed up policies and ideas. The campus is remote and on a large expanse of what appears to have once been rolling farmland. Periodically, I would see the boys marching by in a straight line, led or followed by a counselor, all matching in their facility-issued uniforms. The boys are mostly in the middle of their teen years and every shape and size and skin color glistens in the sunlight as they cast shadows upon concrete block walls.
I don’t yet know these boys. I don’t know their stories or their names or the reasons that they ended up here. I don’t know their hopes or dreams, what keeps them up at night, what monsters hide under their beds, what demons they must escape. I remember being this age and being scared of boys, their grungy faces and sometimes explosive emotions remote and jagged, even as I experience my own explosion of teen emotions. And later in my life I taught boys this age and they remained a riddle. Education and psychology allowed me to understand and predict their actions, but I still felt as if I were observing an alien species.

But it’s only a few minutes later that I am truly distracted. It’s a new group walking by and at the tail of the line is a very small boy who is practically swallowed up by his uniform and in shoes that are clearly too big. I’m sitting with my boss, a caring man who has dedicated his whole professional career to the club.
The air in my throat catches and he tells me that the little boy is nine. He’s so small, though, that he looks more like six or seven. Not so many inches taller than my own little boy. My little boy who is the center of my universe and the joy of my every day. My little boy who can confound and confuse me and wear me out with his energy and daring, but who also owns my heart more completely than I do.
Why is this little boy here? What did he do? Is there a mother out there grieving, wondering how she went wrong? What is a simple bad decision or a series of actions knitted together so tightly by fate that this little boy was caught in a fabric too enormous to find a fold to peak out of?
I can’t stop thinking of his face and even now my heart is clenched into a fist of resolve. I think of my own life, with advantages and pain and the bright beacons of good souls that helped to guide me when I was lost. My mind wanders to those I have loved and how some of them were lost and found… and some were lost forever, leaving only memories of regret.
We are not alone in this journey and when we lose our children to dangerous paths, we lose part of a beautiful future. I can’t say that I spent a lot of time thinking about children who are in the detention system before now and I know that many people may wonder why they should care about kids they don’t know. If it’s not their child who is lost, they pat themselves on the back for the marvelous job that they have done as a parent. And yet, we are all bound together with lives that continue to astound me with complex serendipity.
All it took for me was one little lost soul marching by to really get it. He needs more caring adults in his life. He needs opportunities to learn and to be successful in new and different ways. He needs the support system of the Club once he is released. He must be shown the myriad of paths that he can choose and feel confident about those who are before, beside and behind him.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Traveling with my heart outside my body

It's a pretty standard morning here in the Manatee household... the smells waft by from a questionably nutritious breakfast and Little Man wanders from room to room, bouncing between us like a pin-ball machine. Sunday mornings are for chilling and slow starts, although we have managed to cook and clean the tiniest bit and gave the geriatric wiener dog a bath (I can take no credit for that, unless my constructive encouragement-aka, nagging- can be counted). I listen to hubby soak in his bath down the hall and Little Man has rediscovered his toy laptop with a variety of annoying electronic songs. I don't mind because I love it when he plays with any toy instead of requesting the television that I dislike so much. Every few minutes, one of us will punctuate the air with the chorus from "double rainbow," the strangely addictive viral video on YouTube at the moment.

I live for these mornings, when we are safe together with no agenda but to simply be together. We'll go swimming at the community pool in another hour, provided Florida doesn't pull one of her bait & switch weather routines that she likes so much in the summer.

So, in the midst of this peaceful happiness, why is it that I feel close to bursting out in tears and having a panic attack? In fact, I feel bad even taking the time to type these words, like a giant clock is ticking and I have mere moments that I must spend as wisely as possible.

At the end of this week, the hubby and I go on an amazing journey to Europe. It's my first time, a culmination of over 20 years of longing. He has not been for almost that long after a lone stay as a summer exchange student in France. But he had a chance to present at a conference in Italy and that meant that most of his travel expenses would be covered from a grad-school travel account. After all the ups and downs in this roller-coaster of life lately, we decided not to surrender this chance.
So, for 10 days we will wander though Paris, Chartres, Padua and Venice.

It is surreal to me that this is actually happening. I've always been a brave and willing traveler and Little Man has known his share of hotel rooms and road trips. He's standing next to me right now, practicing writing on the little erasable marker boards that I mounted at his height next to my new home office. In between my words, I stop and help him spell and copy my to-do list (oh, and here comes another chorus of Double Rainbow).

We knew that taking Little to Europe would be too much. Beyond the money, I knew he couldn't tolerate the endless walking and the cobblestones and cathedrals will simply not hold as much wonder to his young mind. I was also scared to navigate an alien world with him in tow- how do I struggle to communicate and keep an eye on pickpockets with him? So instead he is staying with my mother. It's an arrangement that we are grateful for and I am sure that they will both enjoy... but it's also heart wrenching. Each of us has taken a few business trips since his birth and it was hard even then. I would imagine horrible accidents befalling one of us and it would be stop my heart for a few beats. But even then, there was comfort in knowing that he always had at least one parent with him should the worst ever happen.

((In the last few minutes, I have maintained a number of conversations, make some juice, and partaken in some wiener dog drama. I fear that this blogging concept alone will require me to construct some type of Unibomber-esque dwelling to hide away in. But I digress.))

So, now I prepare to travel for the first time without my heart, simultaneously living a dream and a nightmare at the same time. The paradox of parenthood continues to astound me. My carry-on mocks me, since it can never hold the most important element of my life. But we will go, we will learn. We will come back smarter, more adventurous parents and will forge a path that we will take him on when we return.

But my heart will be here and already I look forward to my return.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Oh no... I have a blog!

Oh gentle sea cow, large and misunderstood... you and I are woven from the same threads of creation and just as often mistaken for mermaids.

And so I present to you, curious reader, my adventures- large & small- as a journey through the currents of live.

In the most broad titles, I am...
A mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend and maybe even an arch-nemesis.

I'm a writer who doesn't write enough. Some of my writings are either dark, disturbing poetic ramblings so intense that they freak Emo kids out or so infused with blinding joy that I look at them later and ponder the legalities of hormone fluctuations.

But it's time to practice making sense in words on a more regular basis than is required by my paid chores. To silence the nagging perfectionist and simply write- even if the words aren't sculpted. It was one of the great artists- Michelangelo or De Vinci- who is credited with a quote about not being an artist, but rather chipping away at the marble and finding the image inside. That's my intention with these words- do chip away at the armor of my life and see what is revealed.

I also want to capture a record for myself and my little man, to make a digital time capsule of our lives together. The four and a half years since he was born have sped by in a blur of pictures and it's time to slow it down a little bit and create a record of who we are at these precise moments.

At the same time, I continue to learn, explore and morph into the being that I am supposed to become and I want to document this path and perhaps meet some kindred souls along the way.

I suppose that the best I can promise is inconsistency. Some days I'll pour forth introspection, followed by rants and observations about the bizarre. Some days will be pictures of the beautiful things in the world and hopefully many, many days of laughter and quirky celebrations of not fitting inside the places for square pegs.

So let's join hands and wander the open fields of our minds together.