Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Checking In...

We are on vacation in the land of generous people. Remember the last time I was here and had to rely on the kindness of strangers? That was a healing trip with plenty of alone time to write and to cry.

This trip is louder. It is a time to fish, play four square, eat crabs (and carbs!), and polish of pan after pan of brownies. The weather has been amazing. Shadow is having the time of her life chasing tennis balls up and down the huge hill that leads to the pond. I keep saying, "Jack would LOVE this!" It's hard to make a trip without him, but the alternative is to do nothing, ever, which I think would be worse.

My sister brought a 1000 piece baseball themed Jigsaw puzzle for us to set up on the table. Yeah, Jack would have loved that.

We have no wi/fi, so I'm at the cutest little country library just checking in to say hello to this caring community we have here. I hope you are doing well.

Oh, I also wanted to share the really crappy view off the back deck of the house we're borrowing:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Royal Birth

Am I the only one who cried when ridiculously beautiful Kate walked out of the hospital doors holding her precious baby yesterday?

I promise I was crying over how sweet the moment was, not because I was comparing Kate's hot mama self to my own waddling departure from the maternity ward wearing a mattress-sized pad inside hospital-issue undies and clutching that weird pink sitz bath thing instead of a baby. Well, I sort of promise.

I wonder if Kate and Will found the drive away from the hospital as terrifying as Tim and I did on the balmy March day when we brought Jack home. The sun shone so brightly. The world seemed too big and brilliant and scary for such a tiny baby. How could the hospital have let us leave with him? It seemed astounding, really.

But we found our parenting legs. We marveled in his beauty. We made mistakes. We learned how to parent not just A child, but THIS child. And it was hard, and good, and blessed.

I wonder if Will and Kate will argue when they feel frustrated and don't know how to best soothe their baby. Will they cry when they clip his fingernails and get a little skin? Will the first few baths feel more terrifying than flying a military chopper or walking down the aisle of Westminster Abbey in front of millions of people? Will they turn to baby books, God, and friends when they just don't know what to do?

That sweet nameless royal baby has everything going for him: money, privilege, and resources.
Those things will make his life easier in many ways and most likely harder in some ways.

But the most important thing he has is LOVE. So beautiful. I think that's why I was crying.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Turn Down Service

I just cleaned the kitchen counters. Well, not really cleaned, but recycled the piles of papers that were stacked up. I put the cereal bowls from the counter into the dishwasher instead of into the sink, that black hole of a waiting area that all family members add to and add to until someone finally gets fed up enough to load  the dishwasher.

If you are a long-time reader, you may remember that Tim's inexplicable premarital request was for "Clean Counters." He later attempted to renegotiate and request something a little more frisky and a lot less practical, but I was not up for it. A deal is a deal. So I've pretty much kept the counters clean all these years.

But this week, a week where it seems as if everything I try to do ends in crushing disappointment, I just let things pile up. I didn't write. I didn't straighten. I took off my clothes  at night and threw them on the floor. I considered wallowing. It's hot as heck outside, so grumpiness and wallowing might be in order even if I didn't seem to be running up against brick walls at every turn. A workman left the back door open one day, running up our electric bill and filling the house with mosquitoes and I could barely muster an, "Oh well."

One morning, a 30 second burst of gumption hit me and I stripped Tim's and my bed. I washed and dried the sheets and deposited them back in our room. That night, Tim was out late at a softball game. Come bedtime, I looked at that pile of sheets and knew there was no way I was going to be able to do the tugging and pulling and humping of the king-sized mattress necessary to get even just the fitted sheet on, so I crawled on top of the lovely bare mattress pad and fell asleep.

At various times yesterday I thought of putting the sheets on, but other things took precedence. Like yelling at Shadow that it was NOT time for her nightly meal at noon. And giving in and feeding her by 2 pm. And celebrating my beautiful daughter's 12th birthday with lunch out and a long anticipated trip to the mall for a  CELL PHONE!

When I headed to bed last night, way past my bedtime, I pulled back the covers to find crisp white sheets and a sleeping husband. Tim had made the bed. And I got to experience that rare and wonderful feeling of crawling into a bed made by someone else. It's just different somehow, isn't it? This transformed my messy bedroom with piles of clothes on the floor and a few wayward mosquitoes into a hotel. Maybe not a luxury hotel, but at the very least a La Quinta Inn.

The sheets felt great, I slept well, and I awoke with the will to de-crapify the kitchen counters once again.

Sometimes it's the little things.

Monday, July 8, 2013


My CAPS key got stuck today while I was trying to write. It made me think of one of my favorite books, A Prayer for Owen Meany, because Owen's words are always represented by ALL CAPS due to his very unusual voice.

It was the first book Tim ever gave me, way back in 1992, and we both really liked it. I was surprised because Tim wasn't that into God back then, and the book has a strong spiritual focus. He and I had no idea then that we would marry and one day be raising an unusual little boy of our own. One who would surprise us with his wisdom and his steadfast love of God. We didn't know that it would take us a long time to learn to appreciate his gifts. Or that we'd too be dealing with a freak accident and grappling with God's role in all of it, the way the narrator must with the death of his mother.

The narrator, Owen's best friend, looks back over a lifetime of memories and pieces together the important, sacrificial plan God had for Owen's short life.

I do not claim to know what the plan was for Jack's life. I have hints here and there, glimpses of lives changed, faith strengthened, a longing for heaven, and relationships restored. I also see the other side: dreams shattered, faith in crisis, and broken relationships. It's all very interesting.

What got me thinking about Owen a little more today, after my computer started behaving normally again, was the idea that all of these strange disjointed parts of Owen led up to one critical moment of fulfilling his divine purpose.

My thoughts were not so lofty. In fact, I started thinking of just one single aspect of Jack's personality. You see, I recently re-read a letter from his Cub Scout den leader, in which she wrote of Jack's quiet, calm demeanor, his wisdom, maturity, and his thoughtfulness. She wrote of the respectful way he served as a good influence on his peers. This is similar to our own experiences with Jack and those echoed by Sunday School teachers, camp counselors, etc.

Here's the thing. His school teachers would NOT say the same. Uh-uh. No way. Their words are: smart, creative, clever, and humble. But never quiet or calm!

Let's just say Jack and the principal were not strangers.

When we hear of Jack's classroom antics, we wonder about this side of his personality. Tim and I would get so mad at him, because we knew he could focus and be diligent, so why why why would he choose to stir up his classmates with his crazy games, weird noises, and make them laugh at all the worst moments? Why did he get up once during math class and start eating his lunch? Why?

But then I think of Jack's classmates, who were his closest friends...

I know it's a stretch, but could any of this have served a purpose? Even a small one? So that when these young kids experienced the first big loss of their lives they could look back at Jack Donaldson and remember him with laughter, the kind of laughter that makes your stomach hurt and tears stream down your face? Yes, they would have cared about a quiet, obedient kid in the corner, but would they have had the stories to tell? Would they have  been able to say with confidence that they KNEW him and he was a big part of their lives?

The handful of kids had been together since they were 6 years old, so I'm sure they remember the other parts of Jack too:  artistic, smart, tearful, easily frustrated, kind.

But I think it's the laughter they'll remember most.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Lean in or Cut and Run?

Friday, Tim and I climbed into the car after an ugly argument. Margaret was already at the campground  a few hours away with my sister's family. This trip was starting so differently from those in the past: big fight, no Jack, no Margaret, no Shadow. Just two angry grown ups wondering why we were even bothering. On those other trips, I'd pray out loud as we sat in our driveway "Please God keep our family safe and bless our time together."  We'd pull onto our street, and right after we'd round the first corner, Tim would pat the top of his head, then his pocket, and we'd turn around to get his glasses that sat on the tray next to the TV remotes. The kids and I would laugh. The rhythm of those trips was predictable. Now, nothing is.

I thought of the mother of the murdered girl in "The Lovely Bones" who cut and ran. She ditched her family and went out west to work in a vineyard. I did not respect her decision, although I could see why she'd made it. It felt tempting as Tim and I began our drive. But I'm more of a stay-er, a sifter, a sorter, than someone who runs away. Usually.

We could have bagged this trip again, the way we did last summer, but we really, really wanted to try it. The tension between us diffused and was gone by the time we hit the curvy mountain roads and pulled up to our camping spot. A handful of teenage boys, including Jack's favorite cousin, tossed a ball around and grabbed cheese balls by the handful out of a huge plastic barrel. Ouch.

Margaret and the rest of the crew were about to go tubing on the river. I hadn't seen her in almost a week, so I said I'd go too, even though I was nervous. I wanted to reconnect and be brave. Margaret and her cousin pulled out ahead of us with the teenagers and adults, and I didn't see them again.

Before I knew it, I was sharing a raft with three very chatty elementary aged kids we'd known for years but only saw on these trips. Once we started down the river, there would be no getting out for the next two hours; we just had to float where the river took us. No cutting and running here. Our first camping trip without Jack, at our same familiar campsite. Surrounded by beautiful, suntanned teen aged boys. Floating on a river of.....WATER....and being charged with keeping three kids alive. It was a lot. 

In some ways it couldn't have been better. I had to stay focused on the children, so I was less focused on missing Jack. Also, little kids have no filters, so our conversations ranged from the joys of peeing in a river to "I'm just so sorry Jack died." "We miss Jack." "What happened to Jack?" "Does a body keep growing once it's buried in the ground?" I explained that Jack's body was cremated, which means it was burned up not buried. "I'd hate to have to watch that," said one of my little buddies and I agreed that I would too. We talked a little about God and a lot about their classmates at school and spiders. It felt good to just get it all out there. How many times have I wanted to say to someone, "I'm sorry so and so died" but have held back?

On the raft, I had to be the responsible adult, the cheerleader, the motivator, not just the broken one, and it felt good.

A huge bald eagle swooped down and sailed right over us then on up the river. We whooped and hollered. Nature was beautiful. Yes, it was dangerous, and unpredictable, but it was also good.

At one point our raft got hung up on a tree stump in the water. This had never happened to me before. I couldn't dislodge it for some time, and I became afraid. The wide, peaceful river was NOTHING like the raging creek that took Jack's life. Nothing. But I was still scared. It had started to rain. We decided we were: cold, tired, scared, hungry, and we all had to pee. During our stuck time, as the water rushed around me and I stood on slippery rocks in the river trying to dislodge the raft, I told the kids that this would be a great time for us all to pee, so we did, and we laughed, our teeth chattering and lips turning blue.

A few minutes later, we were safely ashore again, ready for campfires, fried food, and lightning bugs.

Last year this trip would have been too much. This year it was do-able.

This whole spring and summer has been about making decisions about our family's future. It has been a mix of discerning when to revisit the traditions of the past and when to cut and run. There is not one right way.

But we are glad we choose to camp.

When we got off the rafts, the rain stopped and we had a rainbow!

Then, when we glanced at this photo my nephew took of the fire, we thought the guy on the right looked a wee bit familiar. What do YOU think?

We  now have a Facebook page! Would you "like" An Inch of Gray on Facebook?