Monday, May 31, 2010

A wedding

I went to a wedding yesterday. It felt like a milestone for me, but of course, I was only an innocent bystander. Jasmine, the bride. Now it was a milestone for her.

I was weepy all day. In fact, I was a wreck. I cried on and off the whole two hour drive down to Walnut Creek. I cried as I sat waiting for the festivities to begin. I cried every time I hugged that girl. So much emotion welled up in me. I was holding some powerful personal history in my heart that day.

On the way down Mark made sure I was wearing waterproof mascara. He's so thoughtful, for a boy! He even carried the kleenex for me.

Jasmine, as you may recall from a previous post, was a student in my class 23 years ago. I was her 4th and 5th grade teacher and she still calls me that when she's introducing me to her friends.
Towards the end of the wedding we were hugging goodbye and she grabbed the photographer to have him take a picture of us together. "This is my 4th grade teacher," she told him, as if that would express the significance of our connection.

He did seem to get it, though. "Wow," he said, eyebrows raised. I suppose most people's 4th grade teachers don't attend their weddings.

Jasmine's mom, Gina, and I had a bit of a love fest. Lots of hugs, lots of memories and tears, too. Gina was Jasmine's rock and I told her that. (Like teachers, moms often don't get the credit they deserve, I think.) Gina stood out from a lot of the moms I encountered in Vallejo. She was there in the background, working hard, making sure her kids knew that she thought their education was important. Jasmine's dad was not a part of the picture then or now, but her brothers and mom were. At the wedding her younger brother Julian walked her halfway down the aisle, and her older brother Jimmy took her the rest of the way, to the altar and then "gave her away."

Gina told me what I've meant to Jazz. More than a teacher, more than a friend. I honestly can't put into words what our relationship has meant to me. Gina didn't seem to mind calling it "like a daughter" and she's right. "You've watched her grow up," she said. And that's true. I remember Jasmine when she first came into my classroom. A sweet and somewhat spacey kid. I remember her performance as a possessed girl in our simulation of the Salem Witch Trials (!). I remember reading with her, singing with her, watching her play dodgeball at P.E. I introduced her to the beach and bagels and horses. And I remember visiting with her as a high school student, talking about the future, hoping to instill in her a sense of importance about her future and what she could make of herself.

I give Jasmine the credit for the connection she and Chanel and I still have. Without Jasmine as the glue, and sometimes the detective (there were years when I just couldn't find Chanel and Jasmine would ask around their extended group of old friends until she found her or at least found out that she was okay), I don't know if I would have had the joy of being a part of her celebration yesterday or Chanel's baby's birth in April. Thankfully, she has always been very good at keeping in touch.

When I think back on the Jasmine I knew in 4th grade, she looks a lot like the girl above. Gorgeous smile, full of fun, sweetness and a sense of humor. And what a sense of style! (This was one gorgeous wedding!) Jasmine is goodness. Her heart is full of love. I love that about this photo, I just want to hug that girl!

Jazz met Clinton, her handsome husband, when they were in grade school, but since he's a few years older than she I didn't have the pleasure of meeting him until they began dating about 10 years ago. She'd had a crush on him forever, but it wasn't until after he came home from college, Grambling State University in Louisiana, they finally started dating.

Things were going great and then one day in a horrible downpour, Clinton was in a car wreck on the highway. He was paralyzed from the waist down and was told he'd never walk again. Seriously, you read about things like this. But here they were, this young couple, and a tragedy of epic proportions hits.

Jasmine was his rock. I watched as she hung in there with him through the hospital stay and his recovery. I watched their commitment grow, too. Having gone through recoveries in my own family, I know that this road is not smooth. Jazz and I had many conversations about commitment, marriage, feelings, communication, and faith during those years. This was no fairy tale, this was gritty real life. But they persevered.

Today Clinton's walking. They have a beautiful little girl, Amora. And they're married.

Mark and I were honored to be included in the celebration of their past and their future. It was a beautiful day.

I'll leave you with a few images of the event.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Crafty Girls

My niece, Eliana, age 9, is coming over today to quilt with me. I can't wait! I'm sending Mark off with the boys. Clear the house out. I believe he's taking them to the dump (and the awesome dump store!). A day for just us girls.  (Now doesn't that sound like divisions down gender lines? I must admit, however, I enjoy a trip to the dumpstore, as well.) My sister may hang out too, which would be fun! This is the second time we've done this together. I love that she can come up to our "farmlette," play with the boys, play with the horses and donkeys, and craft with me. She's also a great reader and usually gravitates to our sunny booknook at some point in the visit. Seems like we have the potential for some great memories there.

For our project today I've been collecting "vintage" bedsheets and bedspreads (I say that with a smile, since I'm not really sure how old some of them are, mostly from the 70's, I think) to make picnic blankets. The project is from Amanda Soule's wonderful book Handmade Home. I will post photos as we go today, I hope!

This is the top of my picnic blanket which I prepared ahead of time.

Midway thru we stopped for a biscotti break, our reward for all of our hard work!

Eli wanted to hide a penguin in the blanket. Here her cousins are searching for it. (She found out that my sewing machine will embroider a penguin, so she couldn't pass it up.)

The penguin.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Outta the mouth of my babe: homeschool life

We went to the farmer's market the day after I returned home from England. One of the vendor's looked at Toby and said, "Are there parent conferences at school again, or are you...homeschooled?"

Big smile. "I'm homeschooled."

"Oh, then you must be very smart. Homeschoolers learn so much, don't they?" she said.

"Well, the world is our classroom," I said.

"And every day's a fieldtrip," Toby added. I swear I didn't put him up to it!

So, here's our new homeschooling motto:

The whole world is our classroom, all our work is homework, and every day's a fieldtrip!

We started a nature table last week. It was wonderful scouring our property for Mother Nature's treasures. We collected specimens and then identified them on the internet. (LOVE the internet!) The snake skin was a gift from my friend Kathy. It's perfect, even has little eye skins!

Another new development is Ben's blog, MrCool's Food Blog. You must check it out.

And to think a couple weeks ago when I asked him to write a few paragraphs he ran away from home, temporarily.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Of Foam Weapons and a Boy's Bedroom

Ben's scoliosis was the biggest worry of the past year, of course, and it was all-consuming. From the day we found out about its progression (Feb. 2009) to the numerous doctors' and specialists' appointments to the surgery (Feb. 2010) to the recovery period, it was hard to fit anything else into the same bandwidth. Every day I had some item on my To Do list related to Ben, and sometimes I even made a note to be sure I spent time with him in a way UNrelated to his medical condition.

Ben's scoliosis is not troubling me right now. At his last x-ray (7 weeks post-op) his curve measured 15 degrees, down 20 from the 35 degrees measured in Philadelphia before his surgery. It looks about the same as it did just after surgery, practically straight! You can look at that x-ray here. A tremendous improvement. I am now able to feel that much more confident about the process we're putting him through.

His separation anxiety, which was accute both pre- and post-surgery has calmed down enough that he survived my two absences in the past few months (to Sacramento and England) without issue. This week also saw him moving back down into his own bedroom, a move that is significant. Last summer we set up his first private bedroom, complete with posters from his favorite comicbook villains and one of his favorite video games. We picked a color scheme (red, black, white, and gray) and got new linens. We set up his new drum kit. And two weeks later (coinciding with his getting his back brace and being extremely unhappy about that) he decided he didn't want to sleep down there, but upstairs in the booknook, just around the corner from Mark's and my room. We traded the loveseat in the 'nook for his red and black bed and let it be. He could have been sleeping on the floor of our bedroom, after all. He's slept there ever since. Until this week.

My mind has eased up on the worry mostly, though, because of Fanwar, Ben's absolute favorite activity. Several times a month, sometimes even twice a week, Ben (and Toby) meet up with a crowd of other kids and one amazing man, Christopher Melville, at a park in Sonoma county to spend the day acting out a fantasy adventure replete with monsters, mages, orcs, and trolls. And weapons. Don't overlook the power of those weapons (made from insulation foam, duct tape and PVC pipe). There is a tremendous amount of running around, battling with foam swords and other weaponry, story-spinning, casting of spells, healing of wounds, and laughter. Think Dungeons and Dragons Live. Since our discovery of it several years ago at a homeschool conference, it has been Ben's idea of the perfect day. But it was a little hard to picture putting yourself in the way of a falling foam flail when you have three scars healing on your torso, so Ben sat on the sidelines, actually didn't even want to go at all, for the first several weeks post-surgery. About a month ago, Ben and I coordinated our family calendar with the Fanwar calendar, and now we're booked for many day-long Fanwar events and four week-long Fanwar camping trips this summer. The day a few weeks ago I saw him get out of his chair, don his armor (his camoflage-patterned protective brace) and tear off to run, bend, kneel, and battle, to engage in the adventure, I knew he had hit a milestone in his recovery. He puts his whole being into the act.

You've seen this photo before. Ben in his camo brace.
Much more palatable than his other brace which was a restriction for him both physically and mentally.

I have great compassion for any parents who must walk alongside their child as he or she walks such a challenging life path. It is the most difficult thing I've ever done. I have spent a lot of time grappling with not being able to change it for him, not being able to make life much easier. I have to remind myself to be more patient, more giving, to not expect life to be the same after so many critical events.

We adjust to a new normal.

This pondering makes me wonder then why I cringe when now and then, at age 12, he asks me to tie his shoes. Whether his reason is it's hard to bend over, or he isn't very good at it, or he's lazy, or he wants to act like a baby a little longer, or he knows it's something I can actually do for him, why do I cringe when, really, isn't it the least I can do?

Ben has an x-ray coming up in June, 3 months post-op, and after that we'll hear from the doctors at Shriners about his next surgery to lengthen the rod in his back. We're expecting it to be in September, but no plans have been made yet. It's a much more minor surgery, and if we can swing it he won't even spend one night in the hospital (just go directly to the Ritz-Carlton!). I guess that's far enough away for it not to be a worry. I can live with that.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Smooth sailing

Yesterday I opened my eyes and noticed a definite lightness of being. Rather than the usual distracting tick...tick...tick...of the items on the day's to do list, there was quiet. And calm.

No drama. No worries. No fires to put out. No guilt about what I haven't yet taken care of.

Is this how those lucky people feel, the ones who don't have constant drama bombarding them in their lives? I wonder.

I should point out that it is definitely tempting fate to announce this on my blog in front of God and the internet, but on the other hand, I wonder why I should always be so lucky to be the one with the plate brimming over with things to torture me.

I recall a few years ago waking up the morning after we'd seen Harry and Ben off to three weeks of sleep away camp and Toby was left in the care of my mom for a week. Mark went off to work and I lay quietly in my bed listening to the silence, the reality of no one needing me for a week seeping into my consciousness. It was so unusual in my life to not have others to be responsible for that it was a physical sensation of weightlessness. It's been a couple years since that occured. A couple very challenging years.

Yesterday though, I contemplated the fact that we've gotten into a groove here at Three Boys Farm that feels fairly rut-free. No obvious potholes. Nothing to stumble on at the moment.

I'll be talking about all of that in the next few weeks. But for now, I'm just going to enjoy the lack of clutter in my consciousness.

(I took the photo above about a month ago on a day when there were dark storm clouds brewing, but the quality of the light hitting the trees was so gorgeous. Seems like an odd choice for today's post, but oddly enough, it's the photo that came to mind to put with these thoughts. I'm sure it means something...maybe that I just am not taking this all for granted...)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Last views of London

Big Ben

I'm already home, feeling the surreal time warp one experiences with air travel. Here today, gone tomorrow. Odd that just two mornings ago I was driving on the left side of the road in the back of a classic black London cab and yesterday I was on the right side, driving my own minivan to the Santa Rosa farmer's market with the boys. Whew!

My whirlwind week in London was wonderful, emotional, and too short. Erica and I had many heartfelt talks, some easier than others, and got to know each other better. This was one of my goals for the trip. Our lives have been so disjointed until now, and as much as I had dreamt of a seamless reunion, of course reality is that the joy is mixed with pain. It's almost impossible for us to connect or reconnect without touching on some of the hardest and most difficult memories and experiences of our own lives. We have 18 years separating us in age and thousands of miles in distance. I think we both wish we could have another chance to be together, to learn from each other and to know each other. Unfortunately, that seems like a slim chance, and that knowledge made the week feel even shorter.  I spoke with her yesterday morning and we both agreed it seemed almost like a dream, here and gone in a wisp. The only evidence of my presence there in that sweet brick cottage was a stack of knitted gifts and the fact that she now knows how to knit as well! (She was quite the enthusiastic student.)

Spending time with Gabi was another goal, of course, and that was pure sweetness. She is the easiest, happiest, and calmest baby I've ever met. Not to mention being one of the cutest, of course! And, man, does she look good in that hat!

I spent three days tooling around London proper; one by myself and two with Erica, Mike and Gabi. London is so full of culture I imagine you could live there for years without really seeing everything. Sunday M and E drove me all over town to just see as much as possible. We did stop in Marylebone, a fairly posh neighborhood that housed some great restaurants and shops.  Visited the Cath Kidston store and went into a cutsie pink coma (that stuff is great in small doses I decided...a whole store was a bit MUCH). I loved seeing Big Ben, the Parliament, and Westminster Abbey even as we drove by in the quintessential London drizzle. And we ended the day in Notting Hill where M and E insisted we visit their favorite cupcake shop to allay our low blood sugar. Monday we took Gabi to her first museum...the British Museum...and I saw the Rosetta Stone and Cleopatra's mummy, to name a couple amazing archeological treasures housed there. I could barely stand it without the boys at my side, so much was there that they would have loved!

Tuesday came 'round with alarming speed, and saw me hugging and kissing everyone goodbye. Then working my way through Heathrow and back on a plane to the states (this time, though, I was smart enough to pay the $50 upcharge to get more legroom...well worth it! I actually ended up with three seats to myself!). The boys (all 4) were quite happy to see me again and I have to admit I almost cried when the customs agent said, "Welcome home." Homesick?

I've been the recipient of many heartfelt "I missed you Mama"'s and tender hugs from all of them. And I have noticed an increase in the civility between them. Maybe a bit of a break from each other is a good thing now and then. Hmmmm...where should I go next?

I now have dreams, however, of returning to the UK with family in tow. There are quite a few castles, museums, and ruins I'd like us all to explore, not to mention Platform 9 and 3/4.

Kings Cross Station

The boys need to know their little cousin and she needs to know them, as well.

But for now I have these photo memories...enjoy!
Regent Street

Parliament in the rain.

Looking across the Thames to London Bridge.

The enclosed atrium at the British Museum.

A church spire in a London suburb.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

More from London

It's waaaay past my bedtime, but I want to post some images from my stay.

Cute baby, eh? What can I say, she looks fantastic in that hat. (I made it.)

Erica and Mike's cottage

their hedgerow

their garden

Today I ventured into London on my own and visited Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross Road and the National Portrait Gallery. I took a double-decker bus and the Tube, wandered the streets in a torrential downpour, spent hours in the galleries of the museum and generally had a lovely time...all by myself. This is something unusual for me. Thoroughly enjoyable. Very civilized.

More tomorrow...