Growing. Changing. Questioning.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Where have I been?  What happened to this blog?


For starters, my kids are growing older and more vocal about their wishes, which generally include pleas for me not to post photos of them on a public blog that their friends can find.  Understandable.  

At the same time, these big kids are sleeping less, which means my evening time for solo pursuits like sewing, photography, reflecting, and writing has been shrinking for years now.  I do still sew (nearly 20 items in 2017 and 13 so far in 2018), but I almost never manage to photograph or write about what I've sewn.  I can barely manage to put together a grocery list; thoughtful blog posts have felt impossible.

Plus, my technology has posed a real challenge in recent years.  My serger was uncooperative for many months (finally replace it last month!).  We had a computer crash, and though we replaced that computer, we've never managed to set up a workable system for saving and organizing photos.  My photo-hosting site turned this blog into an ugly mess last summer, causing me all sorts of headaches (the problem now seems to have miraculously been fixed, I think?!!).  

Against the backdrop of busy kids, a husband who travels a lot, a demanding job, and some not-insignificant kid worries, this all lead to a deserted blog.  And a tired mama.

Not just a tired mama, but a mama questioning whether I should be devoting the little time and energy I do have to something a little less selfish than blogging (this blog has always been primarily for me---an outlet, a way to chronicle my creative endeavors, and a way to connect with a few other folks with shared interests).  I feel like I should be doing more to make a bit of difference in the world --- an impact beyond raising compassionate, empowered, take-action kids, though that's certainly important.  I've started a Texas chapter of the Local Love Brigade, which responds to acts of hate and violence with an outpouring of love and support, mostly through sending supportive, encouraging mail to victims.  While I believe in the mission and the outreach, and I wish I had more time to give to this project, I still find myself wondering how else I can improve this world that I will someday leave to my children.  It's on my mind a lot.

Of course, this sort of thinking is such a privilege.  My family has nutritious food to eat, clean water to drink and bathe in, air conditioning to keep us comfortable, excellent medical care to help keep us well, solid educational resources and access to information to inspire critical thinking and analysis, good jobs working with people who care about us professionally and personally, and families who love us and make sure we never feel alone in this world.  We have opportunities and benefits not available to so many.  Having all that I have ever really hoped for, and what many could only dream of, I am one of the lucky few who can ask what am I doing with this good fortune; how can I help? 

For many months, I had "clean up blog" on my to-do list, thinking that as soon as it looked pretty again, I'd start writing again.  I tried some things that didn't work, and I found a couple of people I hoped could help.  As time wore on and my attempts at blog repair got me nowhere, I changed my to-do list to say "archive and kill blog."  Drastic?  Maybe.  Liberating?  Yes.

Now that the blog seems to have fixed itself, I'm not sure what to do with it.  It may well disappear one day.  Or maybe I'll find my voice and write something.  Whatever happens, I'm very glad for the joy that this little outlet has brought me through the years (and even now, looking back).

Why I'll March.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

In two weeks, I will join my mother, my daughter, my best friend, and many thousands of other Americans for the Women's March on Washington.  While I don't know what to expect exactly, I do know that this will be a profoundly powerful experience for us.

As the event nears, I've found myself thinking a lot about why I'm marching and why I'm taking my daughter.  I'm not the only one thinking about this -- just search #whyiMarch on Twitter or other social media and you'll find lots of voices and lots of reasons.

Truth be told, I've struggled to find words to explain why I want to be there.  This has bothered me a lot because if I can't explain it to myself, how can I explain it to my daughter?  So I've been trying to articulate my reasons, and I've been hitting a wall.  I've read up on the March, its origin, it's official mission and guiding principles.  I've read media coverage of the event and lots of social media discussion, including from parents who are taking children to the March.  I've asked my mom and my best friend why they feel moved to participate, and I've read many #whyiMarch statements.  Having done all of that, I'm not convinced a cohesive, unifying purpose for the March has emerged.  The March's official mission statement has some great language about standing together, unifying our communities, sending a bold message that women's rights are human rights -- but what does that mean exactly?  I'm really not sure.  But I've challenged myself to identify my own message.  My conclusion:  It's much easier to think about wool socks and hand warmers (we're Texans, not used to real cold!) than it is to articulate why I plan to participate in the March.

Remember my Election Day Letter to America's daughters?  "No matter who gets sworn in on January 20th," I wrote, "America wins."  Why in the world would someone who said that we're all winners fly her kid to our nation's capital to march in what looks and sounds an awful lot like a protest?

Well, it turns out my Election Day Letter comes as close to explaining my reasons as anything new I can come up with.  Drawing from what I said on Election Day, this is why I will participate in the Women's March on Washington:

I want to show my daughter the importance of participating in our democracy and the power of peaceful assembly.  I want her to see that while we value our right to vote, that cannot be the end of our civic involvement.  We must pay attention to what is going on at the local, state, and national levels.  We must educate ourselves about issues, about problems our people face and proposed solutions.  We must be able to support our views with credible sources, with facts (yes, they still exist!).  And sometimes we must use our voices and speak out for what we know is right.

I want my daughter to see the faces and hear the voices of people who care so deeply about the country she is growing up in.  I want her to feel the energy of a community of people who want to make a difference and who want to be heard.  I want her to experience the courage and passion of a huge mass of people willing to brave crowded metro stations and brutal cold (we're wimpy Texans, remember) to say to our elected officials, "We are paying attention and we will hold you accountable."

I want my daughter to see that although America elected a President who says reprehensible, disrespectful, and irresponsible things, a great many Americans believe that is not acceptable.  And a great many people want our President to know that his words ---indeed, any man's words, any person's words, any leader's words--- matter.  A lot.

I want my daughter to see me use my voice to say that women are more than objects; we deserve to be treated with respect.  I want her to know that I will stand against discrimination and inequality, that I will stand with and support others who do the same.

I want my daughter to feel empowered to defend her rights and the rights of others.  And I want her to know that she will never be alone in doing so.  We must stand up for those whose voices are silenced and protect those who feel powerless to protect themselves.

I want to honor the trailblazing women before me who have paved the way for today's young women to have more choices and opportunities than ever in our history.  Arm in arm with my mother, daughter, and closest friend, I want to celebrate the strong, determined, brave women who fought for our right to vote, who worked tirelessly to create opportunities for other women, who broke glass ceilings, who distinguished themselves and inspired us to believe that we could do so as well.  And maybe, just maybe, my efforts might somehow help pave the way for tomorrow's leaders.

I want to say loudly and forcefully that fear and hate will never win.  Love, respect, and compassion are the way to a better, stronger America.

More than anything, I want to feel hope.  I want to show my daughter that there is reason to feel hopeful.  I want her to know that this nation of ours is great, and no single election can tell the whole story.  We must look beyond the headlines and tweets, look at the character and values of real people -- that's where we'll find hope, and that's where we'll find the spirit of America.

I do wonder if my daughter is way ahead of me in understanding much of this.  We talked recently about the message of the March, and the next day she sent me this:

Why will I march?  Light.  Exactly.

Incidentally, I have no interest in protesting America's President on his first day in office (I do, however, appreciate and respect others' desire and right to do so).  President-Elect Trump won the election because a great many Americans (and many women!) voted for him and believed in his message.  Voters across the country, and especially in key counties and states, trust that he can transform a Washington DC that, to many Americans, feels broken.  I believe in our democracy and our system of government, and I believe in giving our President, and the voters who brought him to that office, a chance.  So I will not be joining any anti-Trump chorus at the March.  My message will be a positive one.

Early on, the March's Facebook page and most of the media coverage specifically stated that the March was not intended to be an anti-Trump rally, but was intended to be a bipartisan effort to support the rights of women and disenfranchised groups.  That language has now disappeared from the Facebook page and the March website (though the March's official mission statement still does not mention Trump by name), and most news articles are now referring to the March as a big anti-Trump protest. Perhaps the mission evolved once Planned Parenthood and some other big-name national organizations got involved.  Perhaps the professional organizers who stepped up to make the March happen refined the mission and chose to omit that language, recognizing that an anti-Trump protest may get more sponsors, participation, media coverage.  Or perhaps as Secretary Clinton's popular vote lead grew, the appeal of an anti-Trump message grew as well.  Whatever the case, I think it's a shame -- I felt much more aligned with the original description of the March, and I wonder if the positive, pro-women message of the March might be drowned out by an anti-Trump cry easily dismissed as sour grapes.

No matter what happens, know that I'm going to Washington to light a candle, to inspire hope, to say to America that although there is still a great deal of work to be done, I'm ready to do my part.

Words to remember.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

This time of year is hard for so many people.  We don't always know who is struggling, but chances are that many of the people we interact with each day are having a hard time.  Whether they're mourning losses, missing loved ones, dealing with financial troubles or job concerns, facing health challenges, trying to come to terms with unfulfilled dreams and goals, wishing away difficult life situations, feeling buried by to-do lists, or just putting one foot in front of the other during a holiday time that feels not nearly as picture-perfect and happy as it's supposed to -- it's hard.  Legitimately hard.

Truth be told, I battle a lot of forces that try hard to pull me down during this time every year.  This year I'm fighting a little harder because there's a hole in my family.

I've never shared what I said at my father's memorial service, but I've found myself looking back at my speech many times recently -- somehow these words are giving me strength right now.  So I'm posting this here in hopes that they might help someone else too.  

At the very least, I hope somebody out there is reminded to be extra kind this time of year, to yourself and others.  And for anyone out there who is hurting, I hope you are reminded that you are loved.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

What do you say about a one-of-a-kind original who, in many ways, defies description?  How do you put words to the life of a free spirit who plotted his own course and forged his own path?  

I could tell you about how he was an exquisite craftsman and could do amazing and beautiful things with wood.  But chances are you already know that, and many of you are fortunate, as I am, to be able to look at some of his handiwork each day.  

I could tell you about his passion for clean living, for eating natural foods, exercising, treating his body with great care.  In fact, I could probably talk for hours about this, especially if we get into qui gong, archery, acupuncture, mountain-biking, yoga, tennis, golf, country dancing, not to mention organic raisins, coffee, and various spicy foods.  But if you knew my dad, you undoubtedly know that this is something he was very passionate about.  

I could tell you about how much he loved to watch sports, even how a 20-year-old me took him to a UT football game, where we sat in the student section and he got every bit as rowdy as the drunk frat boys around us, or how much he loved to talk politics and listen to talk radio, or how much he enjoyed a good fiddle tune.  

Or I could tell you about his gift with words and the volumes of poetry he produced, or his spiritual side, from his years of i Ching to his interest in Native American spirituality, how he loved spending time in the woods or in a sweat lodge.  

But, knowing my dad, this wouldn’t surprise any of you.

I could talk about how he had his own distinct style, his signature look of black Levis, boots, t-shirt, bandana tucked in his pocket, long silver ponytail, and wire-rimmed glasses with only real-deal glass lenses.  

But that’s old news (although you may not know just how many years running his mother gave him a brand-new, stiff-as-a-board pair of Levis for Christmas).  

I'm tempted to bring up how tough he was, how strong-headed, firm-in-convictions, and some might even say stubborn.  After all, how many people do you know who would choose to have their root canal done with no anesthesia?  But, again, as some of my dad’s biggest fans, you know all too well.

I should probably mention what a great smile he had, and how a hearty belly laugh from my dad was one of the best sounds anyone could ever hear.  But I don’t need to, because you already know.  You know.

I could try to tell you tell you about how he loved his family and his children and grandchildren.  But I honestly wouldn’t know where to begin.

As I thought about speaking today, I realized that I don’t have to find my own words.  As the oldest of my dad’s five children, and having spent 45 years listening to and learning from my dad, I think his words say it all.  So I’m going to share with you some of the gifts he has given me, the lessons he taught and tidbits of wisdom he imparted over the years.  These are words that I will always hear in his voice:

Just be yourself and don’t worry about what anybody thinks.

Your body is a temple.  Listen to it, take care of it, respect it.

Breathe deeply and let yourself relax.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.  

Stretch every day -- stretch your body, your mind, and any boundaries you have placed on yourself.  

Love what you do, and do what you love.

Find an outlet to express what lies deep within you, be it words, music, art, working with wood, or physical activity.  

Don’t take anything personally.  Ever.

Say what you mean, mean what you say.

Accept people as they are and don’t try to change them.  The only person you can change is you.

The most important things are not things.  

Seek a deeper understanding, look beyond the obvious.

Learn.  There is always something to be learned.

Laughter truly is the best medicine.  

Let go of sadness, guilt, and grudges; they only hold you back.

Finally, life is short; live as if each day is your last.

For my dad, these were not just words.  They were how he lived his life.  Every day.  Every moment.

My dad lived with no regrets, he embraced each day as an opportunity not to be missed, a chance to learn and grow and feel free, to breathe deeply, acknowledge blessings, and appreciate the gift of life.

There is a lot to be learned from the way my dad lived his life and how he cherished his time on this planet.  I’m thankful for these lessons that will stay with me always.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

My dad's best friend also spoke at my father's memorial service.  He recounted how he and my dad spent countless hours talking about how these are troubling times for our nation (and that was before the election; I can only imagine what my dad would say now!).  He shared my dad's answer -- Spread Love and Light.  Wherever you go, whoever you meet, whatever you do, spread love and light

So that's what I'm trying to do.  Be the light, see the light, share the love, feel the love. 

An Election Day Letter.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

To my daughter, and all of America's daughters, on Election Day 2016:

Today our nation chooses our next President, and today we end a campaign season that has felt very long, ugly, hate-filled, fact-challenged, and policy-lacking.  On both sides.  Regardless of who wins, a great many Americans will feel upset and angry, afraid for our country's future.  Some will feel their votes didn't count and will say that our political and electoral system is broken.  Perhaps it is, and perhaps we should all think long and hard about overhauling it.

But what I want to tell you before the votes are tallied is this:

Today America wins.  No matter who gets sworn in on January 20th, America wins.  Why?

Because this election reminds us that any American can become President of the United States.  Man or woman, black or white, rich or poor, career public servant or career business person, policy wonk or celebrity, political outsider or Washington insider.  Work hard, take initiative, be committed and determined in whatever you undertake.  If you do those things, there's no limit to what you, your friends, or your classmates can achieve in this great nation of ours.

Because this election represents all that we have overcome.  First, we overcame so much to elect a black President.  Now, a woman has a realistic chance to become President.  My grandmothers grew up in a time when women were expected to be homemakers, supporting their husbands' careers.  My mother grew up in a time when women worked, but for lower wages than their male counterparts, and they were rarely able to reach leadership positions in companies and organizations.  In my time, women have been fighting for equal pay and family-friendly employment opportunities, making slow and steady progress, and we've started climbing corporate ladders and increasing our presence in leadership roles.  You, young ladies, grow up with the benefit of generations of trailblazing women before you who have pushed, challenged, persevered, and ultimately proven what women are capable of and how valuable our contributions can be.  Along the way, those women have opened doors for you.  You live in a time full of open doors, where a woman can do anything, where everywhere you look you will see successful women -- as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, as cutting-edge research scientists, as lawyers and judges, as doctors, as astronauts, as senators and governors, as professional athletes, as entertainers.  And, possibly, as President of the United States.  President.  A woman.  You will never understand how big this possibility is, and that's a good thing -- for you, and the women who come after you, this will seem natural and normal.  

Because this election has people thinking and talking about how women deserve to be treated.  Never before have we seen such attention paid to unacceptable locker room conversation, to how people in positions of power can talk to and about women, to the objectification of women, to inappropriate and nonconsensual touching, to double standards, to the respect that we--as women--deserve and can, indeed should, demand.  This dialogue is positive, and it will lead to a generation of stronger men, who will treat you with respect and stand up for you, just as you all stand up for yourselves and each other. 

Because this election has shown us that, despite all the grumbling, people will participate in our democracy.  More people watched the debates than ever in U.S. history.  In my county, where there's little question where our electoral votes will go, well over 90% of eligible voters registered to vote, an all-time high.  We broke the early voting record too, with over 51% of registered voters casting their ballots before Election Day.  People may be complaining about the candidates and the process, but the fact is that Americans are engaged in the electoral process.  That is because they care about your future and want to leave you with the best America possible.

Because you are the future.  This great nation will ultimately be in your hands.  And, because I know you and your friends, I can confidently say that no matter who wins the presidency, our country is in good hands.  I've seen you and your friends in Girl Scouts, book club, camps, music, sports, and school, and you constantly amaze me.  You dream big, you work hard, you help others, you have compassion and enthusiasm, you stand up for what is right and stand against what you know to be wrong.  You are learning to be critical of sources and wary of unreliable information, you care more about solutions than labels, and you are resilient, determined to learn from each challenge and obstacle.  There will be a lot to be done, to be sure, and fixing the mess that others leave for you will be no small task.  But when women can become anything they can imagine, and when you and your friends start walking through the doors that older women have opened for you, America will be stronger and better for it.

Regardless of who emerges as the victor tonight (and I pray that we know tonight!), let's celebrate America's win.  When people start talking about the beginning of America's downfall, as they surely will, let's focus on Purple rather than the red/blue divide and remember that we, as women, must be leaders and examples as we all look toward a future that, in your hands, is bright beyond measure.

Positively Purple.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The day after the 2012 presidential election, I wrote a blog post titled Think Purple in which I made the point that although we're a nation clearly and sharply divided, it's important to keep our sights on the commonalities we can find, the things that unite us and define us as Americans.  As the 2016 election nears, the debates are finally behind us, and so many of us find our inboxes and Facebook feeds littered with political commentary and propaganda, I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone that no matter who gets sworn in come January, America remains Positively Purple.

Tune in to just about any news outlet or social media, and it's clear that a great many Americans aren't particularly fond of either major candidate.  There's so much talk about character, judgment, values.  About fitness for the office, trustworthiness, likability.  There's talk of a broken political system, of media influence, of an election process that cannot be trusted.

Even if you try to look purely at the issues, there are a million articles and stories out there about obstructionism and failed policies and overreach.  There are a billion more articles and stories about problems with health care, immigration, taxes, foreign policy, and whatever else.  Lots of people who love to talk are busy talking about everything wrong with America and our place in the world, our leadership, our candidates, and even our electorate.

I pay attention to politics, but I don't live it and breathe it every moment (I'm too busy with law work, raising children, making musicvolunteering, and trying to sew a few things).  I've watched a lot of debates, followed campaigns, read a lot of analysis.  I've found my attention fine-tuned to some statewide elections, one of which could very well change the course of my career.  While I enjoy the intrigue of political strategy and the excitement of an unpredictable election cycle, I'm tired of the pervasive suggestion that America's divide is too deep and wide, America's differences too stark and sharp, to ever heal.

While candidates and commentators are fixated on shades of red and shades and blue, I'm choosing to focus on Purple.  In workplaces, churches, schools, cafes and shops, I see people who are working hard to make good lives for themselves and their loved ones.  While television, radio, and Internet are overrun with talk of government dysfunction and an angry electorate, I see people smiling at babies, helping others, and out enjoying life.  While our system relies on red and blue, and on strong convictions among our citizens, I think that what we all need right now is more of the good stuff that comes from red and blue mixing -- Purple.  After all, it's not the red and blue that define us as Americans.  Purple does.

What is Purple?  It's the willingness, even the desire, to come together.  It's our shared optimism and hope that, despite America's shortcomings, better days are ahead.  It's the belief that, regardless of who wins the election, our nation will survive and, ultimately, thrive.  It's the desire to help fellow Americans, humans even, who are suffering.  It's the drive to do and be better, individually and collectively.  It's respect for hard work, ingenuity, and inspiration.  It's passion for ideas and process.  It's respectful discussion and respectful disagreement.  It's working together, finding common ground and mutual interests.  It's helping hands and neighborly hearts.  It's the celebration of progress and achievement.  It's accepting and celebrating differences among us, secure in the knowledge that we all share important fundamentals.  These are the things that make America work, and we must not lose sight of them.

I invite you to join me in looking for Positive Purple.  Look for the fundamentals that we all share, our common values, the things we can all agree on.  Look for Purple, and I promise you will find it.

You'll find Purple in all our nation's respect for red, white, and blue, for the flag that reminds us that we live in a great democracy, where citizens have the right to participate in our political process and cast a vote for our leaders.

You'll find Purple when you see people pushing themselves outside their comfort zones, trying something new, taking on life's challenges with energy and enthusiasm.

You'll find Purple in generations coming together, in traditions passed down through families and cultures, in being lifelong teachers and students.

You'll find Purple in America's volunteers and philanthropists, who are giving their time and money to help others.  And nowhere is Purple more obvious that in America's youngest volunteers who learn the importance of community and giving back, from their earliest days.

You'll find Purple in a sunset that takes your breath away and, for one brief moment, has you thinking of nothing but how good it is to be alive.

You'll find Purple in people's commitment and determination to learn new skills, to expand their capabilities.  

You'll find Purple in America's families, in the power of love, acceptance, and forgiveness that binds us.

You'll find Purple in parents who are juggling many obligations and making many sacrifices to give their children every opportunity possible.

You'll find Purple in the promise of new life and the innocent joy of babies.

You'll find Purple in the real-life superheroes who inspire you, the people who are out there finding solutions, taking risks, making the world a better place for all of us.

You'll find Purple in the teachers who spark our children's imaginations and fuel their desire to learn, and in the young people who are so eagerly and diligently learning to be tomorrow's leaders.

You'll find Purple in silliness, in laughter, in the things that make us smile.

You'll find Purple in the appreciation for natural resources around us, the beautiful oceans, forests, mountains, deserts that make America so grand.  

You'll find Purple in the soul-stirring power of music and the arts, in how our communities embrace the arts, in the artists who share their talents with us.

You'll find Purple in positive news stories that deliver messages of hope and encouragement (have you heard that giant pandas are no longer on the endangered species list?!).  

You'll find Purple in toughness and grit, in perseverance and resilience. 

And this is only the beginning.  Purple is all around us.  I encourage you to tune into it.

Allow it to lift you up, to help you see past political conflict, divisive labels, polarizing rhetoric.  Set an example for our leaders who sometimes seem incapable of seeing Purple; show them that red and blue do indeed mix and that we are all better off when they do.  Let our common ground and shared love for this great country guide us.  Let's build the Purple Mountain Majesties and show our leaders, and the world, what it means to be America the Beautiful.  

Saying goodbye.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My father passed away recently, unexpectedly.  I've been thinking a lot about the importance of goodbyes, both in life and after a loved one has died.  I think we, as humans, need to know that we have conveyed our respect and goodwill when parting.  The need is especially strong after a loved one has passed, and even more so when there wasn't a significant or adequate goodbye beforehand.  I'm no psychologist, so I can't begin to explain exactly why we need this.  I suspect it has something to do with accepting the major change that has occurred, allowing ourselves to acknowledge the blessings of a shared life despite the grief of loss, and giving ourselves permission to carry on with a life that can, indeed must, involve some joys.  And, of course, it has everything to do with recognizing and honoring strong bonds between people.

The tricky part of this is the how -- while I have come to believe that the goodbye is very important for all of us, it is also clear to me that our needs as to the type and form of goodbye are extremely different.  Some people want to say goodbye in a church, where ritual and tradition run deep.  Some want to say goodbye in the company of others who also loved, admired, cared for the one who has passed.  Some want to say goodbye out in nature, where the air is fresh and the sounds pure.  Some want to say goodbye privately, where they cannot be seen or heard.  I'm not sure how we can know what our needs are at such a difficult time, but I do know that it's an important question to ask ourselves.

Because I've been thinking about goodbyes, I want to share a story that I wrote many years ago.  My sweet aunt reminded me about this story at my dad's memorial service.  I hunted high and low for weeks and finally found it.

Goodbye, Grammie.

My Grammie was my father’s mother.  She taught me that freckles are angel kisses and red hair is beautiful.  She bought me Easter dresses, took me to the zoo, sought out the city's finest chalupas for our dinners out, and let me sleep in her bed when I was young.  She cooked delicious meals of squash casserole, fried okra, cornbread, and macaroni and cheese.  She sneaked me Cokes when my dad wasn’t around, and she never told him that I liked them.  More importantly, though, as I got older and began to visit her when no other family was around, she became my friend.  We talked for hours about life, love, politics, religion, and family.  I got to know my Grammie as a person, as a woman who had experienced heartbreak and loss, who had learned self-reliance and perseverance, who loved life.  This is my Grammie and me at her 80th birthday party, right after the mariachis serenaded her:

My Grammie was proud and strong-willed, feisty, opinionated.  She had to be – she lost her husband (my grandfather) when she was a young woman, and she was left to raise four children on her own.  She worked as a secretary at an army hospital, assisting hard-to-please generals.  My Grammie was an old-school secretary who typed 90+ words per minute on outdated, clunky typewriters and took authentic shorthand.  I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that my Grammie was very much in charge behind the scenes, but she let her bosses believe that they were calling the shots.  Until she retired years after she hit 65, she wore pantyhose, heels, and business suits to work everyday.  She wore bright colors and big clip-on earrings.   Why bother with neutral colors and boring work clothes, she thought, when you can wear clothes that announce, “I am here.”  So she chose to wear gold pumps and emerald green suits, bangle bracelets, and necklaces that couldn’t be missed.  It wasn’t everybody’s taste, but she looked put-together and proud, and she was noticed when she walked into a room.

There’s so much to say about my Grammie, but the point I want to emphasize is that she made the most of every day and every situation, and she lived without regrets.  I realize this about her more and more as I get older and face my own life struggles.  My Grammie loved to laugh.  She enjoyed sports and could recite statistics for most of the players of the local NBA team.  She organized groups to go to dinner and the theater.  After she retired, she took classes at the local college.  She didn’t mess around either; she took tai chi, Shakespearean literature, art appreciation, and classes about writing an autobiography.  She continued learning and growing, experiencing new things, as long as it was possible.

In early 2001, my Grammie began to slow down.  Her heart was weak, and she was not getting around as well as before.  This troubled her greatly because she was one to do and go and see, not one to sit and watch.  There were many doctors and many medications, but her health was deteriorating.  Though in increasing pain, she remained stubborn and fought for the life that she loved.  I saw her around May or June of that year, and she was a shadow of the woman I had come to know as my friend.  She was pale and thin, she lacked strength in her body and her voice.  But, in true Grammie style, she wore bright red that said loudly, “I am here.”  We talked about many things that day, including a trip to Europe (my first trip abroad!), that my boyfriend and I had planned for July.  I think she was as excited about the trip as I was, and she encouraged me to enjoy every moment of that experience.  Before I left her house, my Grammie told me that she loved me, that she was immensely proud of me, and that she knew I was happy.  She said that I would marry that boy who was taking me to Europe (she was right, I did!).  She told me that she had lived a full and rich life, and she wanted me to know that she had no regrets at all.

As planned, I traveled to Europe that July with the boyfriend, who is now my husband.  After a short stop in London, we flew to Trieste, Italy and took a bus to Slovenia.  On our second or third day in Slovenia, we walked up the coast of the Adriatic Sea to Piran, a tiny fishing village with narrow cobblestone streets, ancient walls around the city, Venetian architecture, and Mediterranean charm.  We were drawn to the Church of St. George, whose bell tower stands guard over all the rooftops of Piran.  On the way up the hill to the church, in a little alley of a street, we stopped to photograph this above the door to a home:

I knew at that moment that our trip to the Church of St. George would be special and meaningful.  The outside of the church is plain and unadorned, boring even:

But the inside, while cozy and simple, contains an exquisite combination of Renaissance and Baroque artwork in vibrant colors:

Photo courtesy of Sailing Choices.

As I studied the paintings, I thought of my Grammie and how much she would love that church.  Although I have never been a very religious person, I lit a candle for her at the altar and said a prayer thanking God for my Grammie and all that she gave to those around her, and I asked Him to take away her pain.  After we left the church, and all that day, my mind kept returning to my Grammie and her fight against a weakening body. 

From Slovenia, we traveled north to Austria.  We found a wonderful little inn in Salzburg called Hotel am Dom, which was steps from the Residenzplatz in the center of the Old City.  From the inn, we could see twin green domes of the Salzburg Cathedral, or “der Dom.”

We went into the church, with its intricately carved columns and carefully painted archways.  Where the Slovenia church was intimate and warm, this church was grand and ornate, a magnificent and impressive example of  Baroque architecture.  Mozart was baptized at that cathedral and played organ there for two years. 

As I looked around the Salzburg Cathedral, my heart grew heavy with thoughts of my Grammie.  I lit a candle and prayed for her.  It was a vague prayer asking God to watch over her, to take care of her and make sure that she was okay.  After wiping away a few tears, I sat under the main dome of the cathedral and looked up.  This is what I saw:

What does not appear in this photo are the gorgeous paintings and windows that line the inside of the dome.  But at that moment, as I sat there thinking about my Grammie, all I saw was the dove at the top of the dome.  The dove of the Holy Spirit.  It took my breath away.  I meditated on that dove for a good long while before moving on to explore other parts of Salzburg and later Munich.

The day we returned Europe, my father called to tell me that my Grammie had passed away while we were gone.  Although I knew when I left that there was a possibility that could happen, nobody thought that her health would deteriorate so quickly.  Once I got over the initial shock, I asked my father for details.  I learned that she died the day that I visited the colorful little church in Slovenia, the day that I asked God to take away her pain.  She was buried on the day that I visited the Salzburg Cathedral, the day that I sat entranced by the dove of the Holy Spirit who rose in a beautiful golden display at the top of the dome, the day that I asked God to take care of my Grammie and watch over her.  

In her last days, as her health was failing, my Grammie made certain wishes known to the family.  She wanted a simple funeral without much ceremony, she wanted family to be together, and she wanted me to play Amazing Grace on my flute.  I wasn’t there to fulfill her wish, and I cried countless tears about it for years.

I miss my Grammie.  I miss our talks and her stories.  I miss the way her sheets and towels smelled, and I miss her perfume.  I miss her big hugs.  I even miss her sharp little comments about how I should do something different with my hair.  I cried at my wedding when an aunt told me that my Grammie was there with me and again when a cousin gave me one of my Grammie's bangle bracelets.  I still cry when I think about the fact that she was not able to see me marry the man she somehow knew I would marry.

Three years after she passed, my husband and I went to visit my Grammie’s grave.  Although I knew exactly how to get to the cemetery, I previously had not been able to face her headstone and the guilt I felt for not being with the family when she was buried.  I guess I grieved and mourned in my own ways, which did not involve a cemetery.  But, years later, I was hit hard with an undeniable desire to visit.

So, years after lighting a candle in Slovenia and watching a dove rise in Austria, I finally played Amazing Grace for my grandmother.

I fought tears and played a pitiful sounding first verse.  After a deep breath and a pause, I took it up an octave and played the second verse loudly and with gusto.  I played it for my Grammie, for her bright colors and gold shoes, for her "I am here" spirit.

That was the goodbye I needed.  As I look back now, I realize that I was also playing for me, so that I could let go of the guilt.  So that I could heal.  

Being Violin Mom, Part 2.

Monday, October 19, 2015

In my last post, I wrote about what Being Violin Mom means.  I described the burdens and the pressures, and I touched on the challenges and the obstacles.  So why do it?

Here's why.  I want to give my child the gift of music.  I want music to touch her soul.  I want it to deepen and enrich how she experiences the world and relates to people.  I hope that she will feel joy and sorrow, exuberance and loss, and everything in between, in music.  I want her to develop the heart and spirit of a musician, and all that goes with that -- compassion and resilience and determination and so much more.  I want music to energize her but also to comfort her, to connect her with others, but also to be a steady companion when she's alone.  I want her to learn musical self-expression for times when words fail.  I want her to find a safe space in music, where she can lose herself and find herself.  I want music to become part of who she is and how she sees herself.  Suzuki says, If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline, and endurance.  They get a beautiful heart.  That is what I want for my daughter, a beautiful heart.

Of course, I realize that music is not the only way to a beautiful heart.  But I'm also pretty convinced that it's one way.  And I believe that a beautiful heart filled with music is about as good as it gets.  

Is music really a gift I can give, and will Suzuki violin really help my daughter's heart and spirit?  I don't know.  But it's worth a try.  Even if we don't get there, I have no doubt of the collateral benefits of the process itself.  Time management, responsibility, organization, hand-eye coordination, perseverance and commitment, memorization and recitation, concentration, public performance skills, listening skills, discipline, non-verbal communication, goal-setting, confidence-building, the value of hard work, the satisfaction of achievement.  I've seen impressive development in all of these areas already, and my daughter is only nine.  Although it's harder to see in myself, I'd bet even I have developed in some of those areas through our violin journey.

Here are some things I've learned, with a few years of being Violin Mom behind me.

Together we are stronger.  We are in this together.  Maybe not forever, but certainly for now.  We succeed or we fail together.  We learn together, or we don't learn.  We tackle challenges together, we celebrate together, we pick each other up and encourage each other when we feel beat.  It's not always easy or smooth, not at all.  But here's the result -- our relationship and the trust between us is stronger for it.  When love is deep, much can be accomplished, Suzuki says.  I'm counting on it.

Music is bigger than practice.  It is easy to get bogged down the practice particulars.  Review + memorize + polish + skills.  Repetitions.  Every day.  It is harder to keep sight of the bigger picture.  This isn't really about learning Gavotte or vibrato or bowing patterns; it's about music and the human spirit.  It is necessary to be concerned about the importance of educating a really beautiful human spirit, Suzuki says.  He's right.  But not only in violin or music; in life and parenting generally.

Children will amaze and inspire.  Children are capable of so much.  With a loving environment and plenty of encouragement, children learn at a remarkable pace.  I am amazed by what my child can play.  Astonished, truly.  I am inspired by the sound that comes from her hand and her violin.  It's moved me to tears more times than I can count.  Her recitals have taken my breath away.  

Walking into the classroom to find her performing for fellow students, seeing her play for hundreds of people during her school's talent show, knowing that she took her violin for show-and-tell when she was Star of the Week, watching her play at the fire station and park and farmer's market -- all of these things amaze and inspire me.  I'm pretty sure she's inspiring others too.

I talked earlier about wanting to giving my child the gift of music.  What I didn't say but is so very true -- she has given me that very same gift.  She has brought music back into my life, filled a hole, awakened something in me that I needed.  

Enthusiasm is contagious.  When I set aside distractions and immerse myself in the music, when I let my daughter see my enthusiasm and patience for learning and playing music, I see it reflected right back to me.  When I'm excited, she's excited.  Almost always.  Suzuki says, Parents who have smiling faces have children who have smiling faces.  Suzuki also says, An unlimited amount of ability can develop when parent and child are having fun together.  The more enthusiastic and positive I am, the better my daughter learns.

There is no substitute for hard work.  We try hard to make violin fun, but there's no denying that we work hard at it.  Repetition is the key to success, Suzuki tells us.  So we play things again and again. We learn new pieces but still revisit the old ones.  We learn new skills and then apply them to Twinkle.  We sacrifice and we make time, even when it's difficult.  We don't give up, even when it's tempting.  Suzuki tells us, Don't hurry, don't rest.  Without stopping, without haste, carefully taking one step at a time will surely get you there.  So we march on.  And on.  And on and on and on.  The result?  Accomplishment.  Achievement.  Beautiful music.  A feeling of tremendous pride for reaching a goal.

This is why I do it.  This is why it's worth it.  Beautiful music, beautiful heart, beautiful spirit. 

Please understand that I am no expert on the Suzuki method (not at all!), nor am I an expert in teaching children violin.  I'm learning as I go, and I know that I still have lots to learn.  I'm trying hard, doing pretty well some days and struggling mightily others, hoping love and perseverance pulls us through tough spells, hoping that the gift of music is worth every challenging minute.  I share this in hopes of encouraging some other violin parents through the inevitable Suzuki Slumps (which surely are a valuable, though painful part of the process), just as others have encouraged me when I needed it.