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As Above, So Below

The veil between us and the Divine is more permeable than we imagine.  Sue Thoele

A child sees everything, looks straight at it, examines it, without any preconceived idea; most people, after they are about eleven or twelve, quite lose this power, they see everything through a few preconceived ideas which hang like a veil between them and the outer world.  Olive Schreiner

“I chat with you, Grandma!”  And, indeed, she does.  And that’s what we were doing a few days before the new year, my toddler granddaughter, Addie, and I, chatting as Grandpa Cam drove the rental car on the long stretch north to Sandpoint, Idaho where we’d meet her parents and baby brother for a weekend ski adventure.  And, in this moment, it was photos on my phone that captivated her attention: “I want to see cousin Viren,” she said.  “I want to see Mommy,” she added.  And on and on, she made her requests, down a long list of relatives and friends, satisfied as I reached behind me, time and again, holding my phone up for her to peek at their faces.  And then she said it.  “I want to see Dead Grandpa!”  What?  Dead Grandpa?  I thought I had heard her wrong.  But then she repeated it, in a matter-of-fact everyday toddler voice: “I want to see Dead Grandpa!”  “Do you mean Grandpa Ernie?” I was stammering as I asked.  And her reply was an enthusiastic “Yah!”  Honestly, I don’t remember ever showing her a photo of my father, her great grandfather, and I certainly don’t remember calling my dad “Dead Grandpa.”  But there it was, the request, and I complied.

I had recently taken a photo of a photo with my phone of my dad leaning against a car on the family property in Maine, wearing a white tee and khakis and what look like fashionable boots, camera case slung over his shoulder, the year, 1952.  And this is the photo that I pulled up for Addie, held to her face for examination.  She was quiet for a moment, and then she responded.  “He’s cute!”  Present tense, she said it, “He’s cute!” as though he was accompanying us on this car ride north.  And all weekend long, she mentioned him, mingled the Dead Grandpa talk with ski hill chatter.  It was ordinary for her and extraordinary for me.  And this isn’t the first time I’ve felt it, this extraordinary/ordinary way of encountering my father.

Three years ago, when her cousin Viren, was almost exactly Addie’s age, he and I were looking out the window of his Idaho home, playing a game of “I see.”  “I see a tree covered with snow,” I would say.  “I see a toy truck,” he would counter.  Back and forth, we named the material objects that were illuminated by the sun shining down into his snow-covered yard.  And then he squinted, stuttered a bit, the way Addie does now when she is grasping for words and doesn’t want to lose her turn.  “I see an angel,” he said.  “An angel?” I asked, wondering whether he was going to describe the small stone statue with its wings sprouting from the back of its long angel-like robe that he had admired the summer before during a visit to our Michigan home.  But that’s not what happened.  There were no wings, no long white robe in Viren’s account.  “He has dark curly hair and glasses,” he said, continuing to squint, “and he looks a lot like Daddy.”  He then proceeded to describe the plaid shirt and brown pants that this angel was wearing.  I tried to sound as casual as he was sounding as I replied, “I think it’s your Great Grandpa Ernie, Viren.”  And then the game continued.  “I see a pine cone in the snow.”  “I see a black bird flying.” Grandpa Ernie, it seems, had been as clear to Viren as the hedge that lined the back of his yard.

I am thinking about the veil between the worlds, wondering what would happen if we opened our eyes, not only to nature, to the rainbow specks of snow flickering through the sunshine air at the Idaho ski hill as Grandpa Cam and I played with Addie two weeks ago, but also to the angels.  In the wee hours of this past winter solstice, my friend Mike made his transition.  I woke up that solstice morning at one-forty and texted his wife, my soul-sister Mary, who I knew was at his bedside in the hospital.  “I’m sending love,” I said.  She immediately replied that Mike was peaceful and she sounded peaceful as well.  A few minutes later, he did it; he died.  Did an angel nudge me awake?  Did I sense Mike’s spirit in those moments?   I told Viren, who was visiting over the holidays, about Mike’s passing and we lit a solstice candle for him, and found a heart-shaped rock to give to Mary.  Viren tucked the rock down his shirt, placing it close to his heart before handing it back to me.  I don’t know whether he sees angels anymore, but I do know that Viren knew exactly what that rock needed in order to be a perfect gift for my friend.

The last time I saw Mike was in late September on a gloriously warm evening at one of my favorite restaurants in coastal Maine.  Mary and Mike had spent the previous week in my birth town of Bath, staying with our friend Muriel, who Mary had met years earlier when she traveled east for my mother’s memorial service.  She had wanted to share with Mike the rugged beauty of the coast and its people, and Mike was smitten, and found Muriel to be a kindred spirit as they both reflected on life stories.  And, on the last day of their vacation, I just happened to be arriving in Maine for my September stay.  And so there we were, Mary and Mike, my cousin, and Muriel, sitting around a table, sea-soaked and happy, celebrating beginnings of trips and endings, and very present in the moment.  In the midst of buoyant conversation and delicious food, Mike, who was sitting next to me, took off a pendant he had been wearing and held it up for me to see.  It was an agate, shaped and smoothed and naturally etched by the elements, with what looked like a beak of a hawk on one side and the tail of a fish on the other.  As above, so below; that’s what struck Mike.  He said those words, encouraged me to research it, this mantra that is a part of so many cultures.  As above, so below.

Cousins Addie and Viren are settled now into January routines in their home town of Moscow, Idaho, and I am back in the Upper Peninsula again settled into my own.  And I thought about Mike the other day as I skate-skied on one of my favorite trails, how he loved the woods and the snow and his own style of skiing.  And a few minutes later, I looked up, and, there it was, an eagle circling above the trees.  As above, so below.  Can it be as matter-of-fact to us as it is to the little ones?  My father has a new name.  Dead Grandpa.  I’m sure he’s taking it on with the same good-natured humor that he embodied when he whistle-walked upon the earth when I was a little girl.  And Mike, I have no doubt is present too, that indeed there is no veil between the worlds when we have the eyes to see.

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Addie at the ski hill: Schweitzer, Idaho, December 2017; Viren at Grandpa and Grandma’s home in Michigan: Christmas Day, 2017; Grandpa Ernie on family property: Phippsburg, Maine, 1952; Mike Davis with his big catch on Huron River: Spring, 2017

Making the Old New Again

Here’s to the bright New Year, and a fond farewell to the old; here’s to the things that are yet to come, and to the memories that we hold.  Unknown

I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends; the old and the new.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

It was in the early nineties on trips east to visit my mother in Maine, while driving through the long stretches of rural Canada from Sault Ste Marie to Ottawa, that I would listen to cassette recordings of master storyteller and Jungian psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estes as she shared excerpts and additional information from her best-selling book of myths and fairytales, Women Who Run With the Wolves.  I was mesmerized by these stories, drawn into them by Estes’ liltingly confident voice, empowered by her  feminist interpretations.  There are many stories and archetypes that have stayed with me: the girl with the red shoes and the sanity of a handcrafted life, the little match girl and the importance of taking care of the inner flame, the sealskin woman and the need for solitude, the dangers of Bluebeard energy and the urgency to pay attention.

But it wasn’t these stories, the ones that have been a guiding force for me over the years, that I woke up thinking about this morning.  Instead, it was a little snippet of a tale about Father Time and the New Born that popped into my mind.  Perhaps, it is the presence of young grandkids in my life this holiday season, or the knowing that a new year is upon us that brought me this gift of a story as dawn was breaking over the hills behind our kids’ home in Idaho.  It doesn’t matter the reason because here it is ready to offer me its wisdom.  I don’t remember all the details, am thinking that Father Time was very very old, and actually could have been a woman in Estes’ version.  And I’m envisioning now that he or she, this very very old being, was rocking and rocking and rocking in a creaky old chair on a porch, patiently rocking him or herself young again, until, finally, it was a newborn in that chair, ready to start anew.  And there was importance in the patient rocking motion — I do remember that — the not rushing, not hastily throwing out what is old, but, instead, allowing it to transform itself into something gloriously fresh and new.

My siblings and I are experiencing the power of this tale now as we find ourselves metaphorically rocking with the old, with the dusty and the faded and the forgotten.  In mid-December, in the midst of the holiday bustle, we claimed a weekend to unleash a motherlode of family history from taped-up boxes, boxes newly discovered after decades of being stuffed in an attic.  For hours, we huddled around my brother’s workshop table in coastal Maine with remnants of our mother’s family history spread out before us.  The treasures were many — photographs and newspaper clippings, journals and letters, many dating back to the late 1800’s.  There were record albums and watercolor paintings and first edition books.  Some things were discarded, thrown into the waste basket at the end of the workshop table or placed into the recycle bin to go to the transfer station, but many more ended up in piles in front of each of us.  My two older siblings now have a multitude of photographs of their birth father, our mother’s first husband who died of a heart attack when he was in his early thirties, when they were almost too young to remember him, photographs that none of us had seen before.  We all have photographs of our mother as baby, as young girl, as long-legged teenager and young woman, and photographs of her parents, their siblings, of ancestors in formal wear and photographs of them sprawled out at the seaside.  We each have letters and journals and newspaper clippings to sift through, to patiently rock into something relevant to us today, and we have paintings to bring from the dark of an attic into the light of our living room walls.

Unleashing the relevance, the fresh “newborn” in some of these treasures will take time, much patient rocking and reading, but, for others, the energy felt fresh and light immediately.  My sister and I found a booklet of photographs from a Christmas that we never knew had been recorded in this way.  I was three and she was eight, and in one photograph, we sit on the edge of a bed in our floral bathrobes, me clutching a toy baby carriage and she holding an open umbrella.  We are darling, and it was a darling moment for us to discover this booklet of photos almost sixty years later.  The sibling time together was filled with such moments, the excitement of a fresh discovery, the laughter of a family remembering.  I’m sure the ancestors were with us during this unleashing, delighted in our camaraderie.  And they were definitely with me when I took it upon myself to leave the workshop and perform a ritual in the coastal forest surrounding my brother’s home.  It happened many times during our unpacking of the boxes, the discovery of sweet handmade envelopes holding sprigs of baby fine hair, some bound neatly with tiny blue satin ribbon, envelopes labeled with the names of grandparents and great aunts and uncles and great grandparents, too.  These were lovingly preserved, and I couldn’t just throw them away, so I set them free.  Each time an envelope of hair was unpacked, I scampered through the snowy woods, scattering loose hair among the balsams, placing bound bundles atop the fairy moss and among the branches of the scraggly spruce trees.  The air felt moist and fresh and alive and I did too as I performed this ritual.

When the sifting and sorting and gathering into piles was over, I immediately drove to the “We Pack It For You” store and sent my stash of treasures home to Michigan.  And a day later, I too, flew back to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and dove full force into the bustle of the holidays, first, with one son, daughter-in-law and kids visiting us, and, now, in Idaho, at a ski resort with the other family.  It is the present, the here and now, that has captured my attention — sketching out characters from “Lord of the Rings” with our eldest grandson, running beside his toddler cousin as she skis down a bunny slope, propping the six month old on a hip, cradling her two month old cousin against my shoulder.  I’ve been present with grandkids and also have grieved the passing of a dear old friend.  I’ve welcomed the energy of youth, even as the year swells with all that has been.  And now as it tumbles forward into January, I plan to remain present, to experience the crisp freshness of new possibilities in the wintery air.  And my stash of treasures — I plan to sip a cup of hot tea as I rock it forward too, as I make what was once old and dusty and forgotten fresh and new and relevant again.

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Present with the four grandkids over the holidays: December 2017

The Child Within

The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.  Fred Rogers

After a while the middle-aged person who lives in her head begins to talk to her soul, her kid.  Anne LaMott

“The gifts of the past make their way into the present.”  I have said these words many times in yoga sessions, as we stand, legs apart, arms stretched-out straight at shoulder height, front foot swiveling to the side, front knee bending over foot, as we look over our forward-facing fingertips, and align ourselves into the full expression of Virabhadrasana, the Warrior Pose.  “No need to look back,” I have added.  “The treasures will find you in the here and now.”

I’m contemplating this yoga wisdom as I prepare to fly east tomorrow, to the land of my beginnings, to the land of my ancestral beginnings as well.  This trip to Maine is not only a way to connect with family and friends during the holiday season; it also is a three-day adventure with a mission.  First, it was the wedding dresses, my mother’s dresses, from her first marriage as a young woman in her twenties and from her second when she was widowed more than a decade later, that re-appeared after being tucked away in storage for decades.  And then her mother’s dress, a Downton Abbey-era sheath was uncovered, and her mother’s mother’s dress, and a dress we think belonged to her mother’s mother’s mother from the mid-1800’s.  And lace veils and shawls and collars delicately crocheted.  That seemed like treasure enough to me, a reason to go east and be in the presence of something so intimately a part of the women whose shoulders I stand upon.  But then, more of the past made its way into the present, unopened boxes — forty of them are now stacked in my brother’s workshop at Fish House Cove where we, the four siblings, on Friday, will peruse their contents.

In the meantime, I have been de-cluttering, clearing out boxes of my own, sifting through the four woven sea-grass containers in my Creativity Room closet, the ones that I have filled for years, with images and photos and rough drafts of projects.  Most of these projects have come to fruition and it is time to create a new space, for new projects, projects that will perhaps evolve out of the treasures that are unearthed during this trip to Maine.  And lo and behold, in the midst of the de-cluttering, there it is, the past brimming up in the sweetest of ways.  I have found gifts galore: photos of our two sons at various stages of childhood, the precious chosen ones that made their way to bulletin boards over the years, and the duds that never found themselves in photo albums; other photos, too, that will be given new homes with the family members whose faces light them up; and a lovely block-print Christmas card from the 1960’s my mother created of the cove, a card I have now made new again for this holiday season.   Among the piles and piles of papers and old journals that I have tossed into garbage bags and the re-cycling bin, are these treasures that seem to pulsate with life as I hold them.  The content in one particular envelope stands out with such delight that I can’t stop smiling.

It is a holiday present from my younger — my very much younger self — that tickles my fancy.  The envelope contains two drawings dated with my father’s hand just a month after my birthday the year I turned six.  It was February, and that is perhaps why I drew this scene of a skier under a wintery sky, a skier that I am presuming is me.  But the funny thing is — I had never been on skis and I don’t think I had ever seen anyone ski.  Perhaps I had already watched the Wide World of Sports and the Winter Olympics on television, or perhaps I was captivated by the stories of my Perry boy cousins who traveled with their parents to New Hampshire from Massachusetts on weekends to fly down the snowy slopes in the White Mountains.  Or, perhaps it also was something else, something innate, in my Capricorn northern girl essence, a knowing that I loved to ski, that I would be drawn someday to a place where the snow piles high and the cross country ski trails are some of the wildest and best-groomed in the country, that I would skate-ski with a passion that sets my limbs on wintery fire.  Perhaps I knew this at six, that the heart-beating whoop of the wild would find its way off the page and into the snowy woods.  And then, there is the other drawing.  Out of all the possibilities that could have taken center stage in my mind, it was church that lit me up.  And I know it is true; I remember it is so, that I loved church.  I was raised Swedenborgian, in a mystical tradition where angels surrounded us and the Bible contained layer upon layer upon layer of meaning, and the old ladies and men of the church loved us children, and the congregation was intimate and small, and it was fun, dressing up on Sunday mornings and making our way to the Greek-revival-style church with its big black welcoming door.

I’m thinking of the yoga wisdom again — that there is no need to look back; the gifts of the past will make their way into the present.  I don’t know what gifts will feel alive to me as my siblings and I sort through the contents of the boxes on Friday morning in Maine.  I don’t know how I will feel as I touch the fabric of a wedding dress worn by my mother, by my grandmother, by my great grandmother and my great great grandmother.  I do know, however, how I feel as I look at these pictures drawn with my own six-year-old hand.  I am welled up with an appreciation and love for this child who sketched out these scenes, who knew then what felt important in her heart, and for the reminder she brings me now of what I have always known, that here is reverence in the whoop of the wild, in a snowy day, and an out-of-the-lines skate-ski.  And there is reverence, too, in community and intentional worship, in churches and synagogues and Hindu temples and mosques and in yoga classes and open mic poetry readings and in creative afternoons spent at the computer or with a pencil and piece of paper and the desire to draw.  And there is reverence in irreverent laughter that sometimes bubbles up on the snowy slopes or in the pew at church or in the sacred circle.  I thank my inner child for her reminder, and I carry her with me into this holiday season.

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You are meant to be satisfied!!!  Abraham-Hicks

Love is showing up fully with presence — openhearted, raw, and vulnerable to the world. It is the only thing that matters.  Albert Flynn Desilver

“I feel pummeled.”  That’s what I said to my husband Cam the Monday after Thanksgiving in the Minneapolis airport.  “But in a good way.”  And it’s true, I did feel pummeled.  I still do, the way I felt pummeled when my friend Mary and I walked north for a week along the Portuguese Coast on our way to Santiago de Compostela, Spain a year ago.  The waves rolled in off the open Atlantic, a warm salty breeze blew against our skin, and the sun shined down on us hour after hour, day after day during that magical first week in early October.  And the wild sea tossed stones about, piles of them, threw them up onto the Portuguese beaches, pounded them smooth against grains of sand, and we, two pilgrims on a three hundred kilometer journey, collected the tiny ones as talismans, stuffed them in our pockets as we walked along.  And the waves, they sang to us, a powerful constant rhythmic song, and the sand softened our bare toes and we were softened, too, tumbled and tossed and pummeled smooth like the stones at our feet, even as we stood strong on our northbound voyage.

It’s that deliciousness that I am talking about now, that I exclaimed to my husband a little over a week ago at the Minneapolis airport, a feeling of energy, strong powerful positive energy, blowing in, as if on an ocean breeze, blowing at us and through us, tossing and tumbling and pummeling us soft and open and clear and loving, while at the same time, not bowling us over.  And that’s the powerful part.  Mary and I were seduced by the sea, smitten by its salt air, overcome with our adoration for its beauty and power.  It had its way with us.  Our jagged edges were softened and our hearts opened, and, yet, we kept on walking; we didn’t thrash about in its gigantic waves, didn’t get swept away by its powerful currents.  And to me, it is one of the best of feelings, to allow the high vibe ocean of life to course through body and psyche, while, at the same time, finding the steadiness of ground beneath our feet.  And it doesn’t matter whether those feet are trekking along a beach at ocean’s edge or touching the earth hundreds or thousands of miles inland, doesn’t matter whether it is the ocean having its way with us or something else all together pummeling us soft.  It might be a hike on a mountain trail, an afternoon conversation with a friend, an evening dancing our hearts out, wild and free.  It might be a lover’s touch or the soft purring of a cat, a quiet summer sunset or a wind-thrashing blizzard — life is always ready and willing to pummel us with its love.

Sometimes the positive pummeling power of transformation comes when we aren’t expecting it.  I was anticipating something quite different while navigating the airport walkways during a layover in Minneapolis the last Monday in November, something more like exhaustion or relief or a numbness that sets in after four days of intensity or maybe a hollow missing-them feeling.  You see, Cam and I had just spent the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with our kids and grandkids in Moscow, Idaho where both sons and their families reside.  Our family numbers have increased by two babies in the past five months, and, this particular weekend, there was the addition of another couple and their three-year old daughter, friends visiting town.  Thanksgiving dinner this year was more wild sea than quiet breeze, more raucous laughter and baby gurgles, toddler clingings and little kid races than slow mindful eating — and the metaphoric sea maintained its powerful intensity throughout the weekend.  Though there were the early morning alone times, and the sweet moments of steadfast attention shared with one or two of the five kids, there were many other moments when it was a grandparent glob of hand-holding and hip-slinging, of reading a book to one, while admiring the artwork of another, moments of surrendering to an energy that felt as powerful as the ocean rolling in while Mary and I walked the coast.

And here’s the surprise in all of this — the discovery that I made at the Minneapolis airport.  I not only didn’t get swept under, pulled out to sea by all this Thanksgiving weekend intensity; I loved it, this pummeling whoosh of life.  I wasn’t exhausted as the weekend came to a close.  I walked through those airport corridors with the same vigor that I had walked the coast of Portugal with Mary.  Softened yes, salt-soaked, for sure, but not bruised.  The time with kids and grandkids had fed me, and, perhaps, that is the ticket, the free pass to feeling pummeled while not ending up black and blue, to love what we are doing so much that we can allow in an increase in wind velocity and still stay standing.

I knew that I was energized by being with the little ones.  Walking with five-year-old Viren to kindergarten, or pretending we’re in a spaceship as he and I whoop and holler and take off down the big hill toward the Food Co-op in Grandma’s rental car is high-flying fun for the both of us.  When two-year old Addie charges ahead with gung-ho enthusiasm, my battery charges itself too, and, when she asks for a hug — “No, Grandma, like this!” — a heart-to-heart, pressing closer slow and deep and lasting hug, I melt into the moment.  Aila, at five-and-a-half months, wiggles and squirms and smiles and coos and sticks her toes in her mouth and is easy to scoop up and squeeze with an abundance of grandma gusto.  And little one-month-old Wesley nestles in and makes little puff-breath noises, leaving a weight and a warmth even when he has returned to his mother’s lap.  Of course, the little ones light me up.  I love them dearly, feel alive and vigorous and happy in their presence.  I have known this.  However, I didn’t know that grandparenthood would pummel me smooth and soft and that the pummeling would feel so good.  I didn’t know that I could stand strong in all its intensity over a prolonged period of time, that I could allow this whoosh of life to have its way with me, and, that, in the aftermath, walk away feeling more vigorous, more loved and in love with life than ever.

 

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IMG_4277Thanksgiving weekend, 2017:  Moscow, Idaho

What is perfection anyway?

Live Well, Love Much, Laugh Often.  Anonymous

The miracle is not to walk on water.  The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.  Thich Nhat Hanh

Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big thing.  Robert Breault

There was a moment while standing in line at the Moscow, Idaho Food Co-op last week that I, Grandma Helen, felt like I was on the verge of losing it.  It had been a long day, an exciting one, and, now, at dinner time, in the midst of the evening crowds pushing their filled-up carts of groceries and deli food dinners toward the counters, my hands were full.  As I stepped up to the check-out and began to unload the bags of fruit and salad fixings, the carton of milk, the glass bottle of apple juice, the plates of food that we would eat at the store’s spacious cafe, the two older grandkids under my care had decided that they were finished.  The sweet adorable cousins who usually love to shop together, Addie at two, sitting in the green cart, Viren, at five, riding on the side rails, were through with it all, the niceties, the fun, the taking turns for their Grandma’s attention.  They had evacuated the cart and Viren was pulling the Peruvian hat with its knitted buffalo nose and ears, the hat that Addie had insisted on trying on when we passed the new shipment of winter wares, down over her face, and she, the toddler who had become a big sister less than twenty-hours earlier, was starting to cry.  And right when this was happening just steps behind me, the man with the beard who was pricing our groceries, decided to chat.  It was in that moment that I began to melt into a puddle of ineptitude.

And why am I telling you this when what I really want to do is gush about the fabulous fifteen days that I have just spent in Moscow, Idaho with my two sons and their families, when what I really want to tell you is that it was all so very perfect?   There were the early morning walks on country roads as the sun rose over the golden hills of hay and wheat, and the cows and the horses that greeted me and became my friends during this quiet window of time before the families began their busy days.  And then there was the waking up of grandkids — and what could possibly be better than welcoming the still-dream-sleepy little ones into your arms and into your eager-for-them heart?  And the walking Viren to kindergarten, sometimes alone, sometimes with his father and his four-and-a-half-month-old sister, and once, with Grandpa Cam, this was not only precious beyond measure; it was fun.  I entered Viren’s world and found it filled with wonder.  During the half-mile traipse through neighborhood streets to the elementary school, Viren and I balanced on the edges of sidewalks, talked of super heroes and the characters in Lord of the Rings, and, sometimes, we met up with other kids, and joined in their conversations.  One second grade freckle-faced guy, looked directly at me, and said with a toothless grin and the utmost of sincerity, “Some people are old, but still have the heart of a child.”  It was perfect, this comment, this time with the grandkids.  To find the heart of a child within a grandma’s body is the best.

There was Addie, who turned two in August, and loves to talk, who sings and chats with pronouns and participles and a pleasure that is contagious.  There were the days that the two of us played on slides and swings, made green mustaches as we drank smoothies at the Co-op, traveled twice to Potlatch to touch the antique train that sits in a park, the Big Black Train, said in a guttural voice with much emphasis.  And there was Aila, Viren’s baby sister, who has a guttural laugh of her own, who is hearty and hardy, and sturdy in a grandma’s arms, who coos and cackles and seems to love a tone deaf rendition of Edelweiss from Sound of Music.  And this isn’t a fraction of it, the rich music of this trip, the deliciousness of time spent as a family, with each and every member, alone and together.  One evening, I stood in the kitchen of Addie’s home and looked out at the family, both families, the dogs, my husband, and I grabbed my phone for a photo.  No one knew that I was capturing the moment; no one was posing.  There was a natural ease in the air as we shared an evening, an evening of presence while waiting for Baby.

And Baby did arrive, the next evening on Monday, Day Ten of my fifteen day visit, after another family dinner at Addie’s home, and a quick ride to the hospital, and a very short labor for his mom.   At 9:57, just as his sister was falling asleep in Grandma Helen’s guest bed, Wesley Ernest entered the world.  And he is beautiful and healthy and carries the names of his great grandfathers.  And there is nothing to prepare you for the awe and the beauty and the emotion that occurs when you first meet a little one, whether you are the parents or the grandmother or the toddler sister or the five-year-old cousin.  Sometimes it is beyond what you can put into words and into your body home.  Sometimes it overflows into a moment in line at the Co-op.  And I’d be lying if I told you that there weren’t other moments of frustration, of exhaustion, of melt-down with no new baby as an excuse.  But the truth is that the melt-downs melted into the next moments, were carried forward with an undercurrent of love and stability and sanity.  And isn’t that perfection, the knowing that it is okay to be less than what you deem as perfect or good or “in-line” as you wait in the check-out line, that you are “love” and are loved no matter what?

Just as I was about to sink into the grocery store ineptitude, Viren’s dad, holding Baby Aila in her carseat, walked into the Co-op, and greeted the three of us, Viren, Addie and me, with a chipper hello.  He hustled Viren away to choose our seats at the cafe, and I picked up Addie who immediately stopped crying.  Viren’s mom joined us as we sat down to our deli-food dinner, as I snapped a photo of Addie happily stuffing a fork-load of mashed potatoes into her mouth, as I sent it off to her parents and Baby Wesley Ernest at the hospital just a block away.  It was perfect.

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Ode to Addie

Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.  Socrates

Why fit in when you were born to stand out!  Dr. Seuss

. . . be joyous and romping full force toward what you want!  Abraham-Hicks

It was a warm June morning in Moscow Idaho when Addie took off down Main Street full throttle.  She cocked her head to one side, raised the other shoulder, let out a high-pitched steady shriek and skidaddled as fast as her pink-sneakered feet would carry her — past the art gallery and the rock shop and the outdoor store, straight ahead in a bee-line for the fountain.  It was a moment to behold, a moment of high velocity pig-tail-flying joy.  And I her Grandma Helen witnessed it as I scrambled to catch up with this out-of-my-grip toddler.  A while later, while the two of us sat on a bench, drinking our smoothies, a grandpa-aged man approached us and gleefully pointed at Addie.  “I heard you, young lady!  You keep it up!  We need to hear voices like yours!”  And to me, he said, “Isn’t it the best?!?”

It is the best, an honor I hold dear, to hang out with the young people in my life.  Our two sons and their families live in the same town in northern Idaho, so, on visits west, I drink up an over-the-top healthy dose of grandparent immersion.  And claiming time with a two-year-old is about as fun and funny as it gets.  On mornings after her parents have left for work at the university, Addie and I prepare for our day of play.  When I was a girl, a highlight of my grandparent visits was knocking on the guest room door, and being invited in to watch my grandmother dress each morning.  It seemed exotic to me, the rituals of my grandmother, the way she carefully braided her long salt-and-pepper colored hair, powdered and perfumed her body, slipped into layer after layer of silken underclothes and a loose-fitting patterned dress.  I loved this waking up time with my grandmother, and remember it more clearly than anything else about her.  I’m astounded that I have now switched roles, am the grandmother being watched by the young granddaughter.  And I’m equally astounded that this ritual seems as exciting and as sacred to Addie as it once did to me.  We lay out my clothes on the guest room bed — the sparkle skirt is her favorite — and I slip into the sport bra and tank top and leggings with a lot less fanfare than my grandmother did with her mindful motions.  It’s the preening after the dressing, however, that really stirs Addie’s juices, the hands-on part, literally sticking her hands into the container of Grandma’s lotion and smearing it on her little arms and legs and face.  I wonder if I too was not just an appreciative observer of my grandmother’s rituals, but an active participant like Addie.  For Addie, lotion-smearing is right up there with skidaddling along Main Street toward the fountain and throwing pennies into the stirred-up water and drinking a green smoothie through a straw when the pennies have all been thrown.

In Addie’s world, the day begins with an enthusiastic “yes” and the “yeses” keep on coming!  Whether it is shoveling food into her mouth — she loves to eat! — or racing down the driveway on her pink kick-bike or running across the lawn with her five-year-old cousin Viren who has brought her into a game of police and robbers, Addie thrusts herself full-force and forward into her living.  Her strong bold color strokes and unique dance-moves reflect this exuberance for life.  And it is contagious, this exuberance.  I find myself joining in as she and I drive from her home in the woods up and down the country roads past wheat and lentil fields into town each day.  Our voices rise into a shout as we call out our observations.  “Little white house!”  “Big red barn!”  “Bird in the sky!”  “Horses on the hill!”  “Tall green tree!”  I’m not just playing along.  I’m genuinely excited.  I find myself wide-eyed and eager, ready for the next ordinary extraordinary “something” around the corner.  One car ride in particular stands out as a highlight among highlights.  It was late afternoon, and both Viren and Addie were sitting buckled in their car seats in the back of Grandma’s rental.  Viren had just finished a story about Lego Batman and it was Addie’s turn.  She said it to us, “Addie’s turn!”  And then she began her litany of likes.  “Addie likes Mommy.  Addie likes Dada.  Addie likes cousin Viren. . . ”  She named us all.  But she didn’t stop with family and friends.  She wanted a long turn because she had a lot to say.  “Addie likes trees.  Addie likes houses.  Addie likes Whiskers kitty.  Addie likes yellow.”  I felt as though her list could go on forever; there are that many “likes” in Addie’s world.

I pushed the save button that afternoon.  I don’t want to forget how good it feels to shout out appreciations to the world as you pass it by, to not pass it by at all, but, instead, to soak it in like a toddler does.  I don’t want to forget how good it feels to listen to a litany of “likes”, how good it feels to come up with your own list — on a daily basis.  Baby Aila, Viren’s little sister who is a few months old, made it onto Addie’s “like” list that afternoon in the car, and, when Addie is in the presence of her baby cousin, she lights up, gently touching Baby Aila’s face or hands.  And now, within a matter of days, Addie’s baby brother will be born and I’m sure of it, that Baby Brother will make it onto Addie’s list of likes.  I also was two when my baby brother was born, a few months older than Addie is now.  My grandparents came to stay with us and I remember that they brought candy and a box of cookies.  And I remember that my father walked with us, my older siblings and me, to the hospital in our neighborhood, remember that it was a brick building, that my mother held the baby up in a second story window for us to see from the grass below, that we had ice cream on the way home.  And I remember sitting on the radiator in our home eating the cookies.  I wonder if I too was exuberant with my likes.  “I like my Grandma and Grandpa.”  “I like my mama and daddy.”  “I like cookies and ice cream.”  “I like my baby brother.”   Addie is my toddler teacher and I certainly feel it now.

 

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Addie at two: August and September, 2017

Treasure

Resources of abundance are raining down on you always.  Abraham-Hicks

Everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him/her.  Paulo Coelho

Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.  Paulo Coelho

There’s something about the promise of treasure that keeps us digging.  When I was a child, the digging was literal.  My younger brother and I were certain of it, that somewhere in that crack of a cove between the Fourth of July Rocks and Sister Point, the one on our coastal Maine property that was called Deadman’s Cove, there was a treasure buried under the rocks and shells and piles of blown-in seaweed.  Although we didn’t flesh out the details of the before-story, it had something to do with pirates and the dead man who we imagined was the namesake for the tiny inlet and a classic fairy-tale chest of riches stashed ashore for safe-keeping.  So, on many a summer morning, as we made our way out for a picnic lunch on Pretty Rock and an exploration of the tide pools at Sister Point’s tip, we clamored down the granite ledge to the shell-strewn bit of beach at Deadman’s Cove in the hopes that this would be the lucky one, the summer day when we would uncover it, our personal treasure.

And fifty years later, I guess I’m still digging for tangible hands-on riches, this time for treasure I think might be buried in my very own house.  When our two boys were toddlers, they inherited from their dad a gold mine of miniature toy cars from the sixties, the kind of cars that grandparents buy you for Christmas, fancier, sturdier and far more cool than the Matchbox set that I carefully tucked in my little plastic case.  There was an MG, an ambulance with doors that opened, station wagons and trucks and sport cars — and there was a Batmobile, my husband’s favorite, one he had purchased himself when the television show Batman hit the airways.  Our boys adored this canvas bag of cars.  As tiny toddlers, they lined them up on their grandparents’ patio wall in Grand Rapids, and, later, when the cars traveled north with us to our home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the boys played with them for hours on the imaginary highways and farmlands and neighborhood streets of our living room carpet.  These cars were a treasure, a treasure I intended to pass down to the next generation.  And, it was when our older son and his wife announced that they were going to have baby, our first grandchild, that I remembered my stashed treasure and started digging for what I thought would be an easy jackpot.  That was six years ago this autumn, and, alas, I am still digging and they have remained as elusive as the pirate chest of riches in Deadman’s Cove.  I have looked all over this house for these gems from the sixties, in the obvious places, and, in the dark corners of the basement, have dug through boxes and pried open suitcases.  I am almost positive that I did not give these cars away  — why would I?!? — and I remain hopeful that I will retrieve my pirate’s bounty.

In fact, a week ago, I dreamed of the cars.  I think it was because Viren, our five-year-old grandson, and a passionate lover of cool-driving vehicles and everything Batman, was visiting.  I told him about my dream, how I woke up happy and filled with wonderment.  You see, in the dream, I found the cars, all of them, including the Batmobile, hauled them out of their hiding place and into the light of day and play.  It was a moment to behold.  And although my waking self could not remember the X that had marked the treasure’s spot, the dream had brought them alive for me again, so vividly alive that I resumed the search that next evening.  It was after Grandpa Cam had gone to bed that Viren and I plopped ourselves down on the carpeted floor of the upstair’s hall closet, a small walk-in where we keep our linens and suitcases and a few stray boxes.  I knew from past searches that the bag of cars was not among these items, but I was holding out hope for the Batmobile — and so was Viren.  I remembered that there was a box pushed underneath the shelving that was labeled with Viren’s father’s name, and perhaps, just perhaps, that treasure among treasures, the Batmobile, was tucked inside it among the other artifacts from our son’s youth.  So the two of us dragged the dusty treasure box out from its hiding place and into the middle of the closet floor, opened its lid, and began our exploration.

The box was filled to the brim, with a plastic bag of copper coins and another of shells from Florida, with a pottery mug that was once a Christmas present and another smaller wooden box that Viren’s dad had made in school, with a metal turkey won in a Thanksgiving Day running race and a fossil discovered on a family trip out west, all treasures, I’m sure, to a younger version of Viren’s dad — and treasures to us too as we examined each item during our archeological dig.  And when we reached to the bottom of the box, there was no Batmobile in sight.  But there was something else, something intriguing, a stack of about fifteen handmade books, lying there waiting for this moment, a gift from the past, from Viren’s dad at eight-years-old to his son crouched now beside me.  We laughed out loud as we perused these books, admiring the art, reading the stories.  Some were books that he had written at school, probably in second grade, and others he had created at home on recycled paper, bound with masking tape.  For Viren, it must have been pure wonderment, to witness his father as a boy not much older than himself, a boy who loved monsters and superheroes as much as he does now, a boy who created a giant cat named Cathra with powers strong enough to ward off Godzilla and a punk-haired alien who managed to get along just fine without a Batmobile or canvas bag of awesome cars.  And for me, it was pure preciousness, to giggle along with my grandson who was lit up with it all, and to see, with fresh eyes and a huge dose of admiration, the creativity and humor and charm of his wonderful father.

I think that I was the one who suggested making the phone call, but it was Viren who exclaimed that the car was the perfect place for us to talk to his dad who was miles and miles away in Idaho.  And he was right.  Under a nighttime of stars, after a five-year-old’s usual bedtime, with the car turned on in the driveway, and both of us sitting unbuckled in the front seats, we talked right into Grandma’s car’s marvelous speaker system, right through the miles and through the years to Viren’s dad about this treasure we had discovered from his childhood.  Viren’s enthusiasm filled the airwaves and his dad’s laughter responded as he remembered the books that he had written and illustrated so long ago . . . Our hands were never empty as my brother and I traipsed back over the rocks and through the huckleberry and balsam paths toward the cottage after our jaunts to the point.  There were stray buoys some days and long strands of dried kelp.  There were tiny orange and yellow periwinkles and sea moss for our mother’s pudding recipe.  There were treasures to behold and memories to hold onto and the deliciousness of the possibility that maybe, just maybe, there really was a treasure chest in Deadman’s Cove.  I haven’t given up on the cars, am still holding onto the possibility that I will find this canvas bag some day, and yet, in this moment, my hands are full, full of treasure, full of the knowing that Viren and I dug up pure gold last week and that the two of us shared this golden moment with his appreciative dad.

 

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The treasure we found in the closet: Viren’s dad’s books, circa 1987/8.

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