Friday, September 20, 2013

3 Questions

Yesterday I put on the Facebook Page a post by Single Dad Laughing with 3 questions he asked more than 200 bereaved parents. I thought the responses would be meaningful to all parents.

Oh, you didn't know An Inch of Gray had a Facebook page? Just click on that picture of me over there on the right and "Like" it if you feel so inclined. Thanks!

Anyway, I got a message last night from Lori asking me how I would answer the three questions, and that's what I've been thinking about today. A lot. I have a feeling my answers will be a little longer than the ones on the Single Dad Laughing post.


Hmm. I wish I had understood that while I was trying to make Jack's life "easier" by having him conform to other people's standards, I was most likely just letting my own insecurities and pride keep me from enjoying Jack exactly as God made him.

Truthfully, I was probably just trying to make things easier on ME not him. I knew he was a thoughtful, incredible kid, but I sometimes wished he were more rough and tumble, less sensitive, less shy, and more happy go lucky.

This doesn't mean I regret any of our heart to hearts, even the ones with tears, or the way I helped equip him to learn how to make friends, handle his emotions, and cope with challenges, but I just wish I had realized, far earlier than I did, that God did not give me Jack so I could fix him or change him. He gave me Jack to love and to fight for.

I don't regret being structured, because I know that made him feel safe and loved, so you won't hear me say, "Oh I wish we had had milkshakes and Coke for dinner every night, or not had a bedtime, or just let him watch whatever was on TV" -- knowing now that the days we had together were numbered. 

But I do wish I had a crystal clear vision of what the little things were versus the big things. And I probably would have bought him a couple more Cokes.

I wish I had known not to let others guilt me or intimidate me into distrusting my instincts as a mom.


Well, you KNOW I wish I hadn't encouraged my kids to go out and play in the rain that balmy afternoon. Not that seizing the moment and playing in the rain is a bad thing in itself. In fact, it is moments like those that form some of the most blessed and meaningful memories of our family's past. Moments of beauty, laughter and spontaneity. Running through a sprinkler with your clothes on because you are too lazy to change, chasing after the bell of an ice cream truck as it pulls away from the curb, finding unexpected delight in an otherwise ordinary day.

However, I wish I could have felt the axis of the earth shift ever so slightly, to know this was NOT an ordinary day. I wish I somehow had been able to put together the puzzle pieces of the strange feelings and the sense of foreboding that I had the weeks before the accident to make me just say, "NO. We're staying inside."

I wish I had used our drive home from school that afternoon for a teachable moment about flash floods and the mighty power of water. I thought about it, but I didn't want to scare the kids.

I regret being well-behaved. I think my desire to be a well-behaved people pleaser who doesn't make a scene contributed to my giving up almost immediately the night of the accident and not doing more to find Jack, even though I knew in my soul where he was.


Well, I know that Jack knew I loved him. I showed him this in the words I spoke every single day: "I love you. I love the way God made you. I'm so proud to be your mom" and in my actions most days.

I am so glad I took the time to snuggle and talk with him at night. I am thankful that I let the kids climb on the couch, dance on the coffee table, and jump on the bed when they were little.

I am grateful I was able to introduce him to the God who made him and who loves him even more than I do.  I am thankful that I never let the kids think that the most important things in life were things. I am thankful I wasn't too busy. I am thankful I encouraged his passions. And I am thankful I was able to help foster a loving relationship between Jack and his sister Margaret, even though it hurts so much not to have them together now.

So, those are my things.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

10 Minute Project, OR, Longest Post for Shortest Project Ever

So, I'm still in  love with the house!

And my diabolical plan in posting crappy, blurry pictures has paid off because my friend Dorie, a professional photographer, saw how bad they were and offered to come over for a cup of tea sometime soon so we can chat and she can take MUCH better photos for you.

But I can't invite her over yet, because that would be a reward for me. And I don't believe in rewarding bad behavior. Just go back in time and ask 4 yr old Jack if he ever got that Dora the Explorer movie he had a fit about in CVS? Ok. I know, Dora, embarrassing....

I am working from home right now, trying my hand at writing full time. In theory, breaking up with my day job in the church bookstore, though a bit sad, should provide me with ample time to write. And it does, but this time starts far too early, as we are now on the hellish Middle School sleep deprivation schedule, and ends far too soon, as in "How can school be over by 2:45? I was just getting my groove!"

And I'm in my cool new house. You know, the one that's almost exactly like the old one so there's ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that MUST be done to it? The furniture fits, the dog knows her way around, and everything was set up in a matter of days because it was all so familiar. Except there's a lot of yellow and green. And I'm a little more of a tan and gray person. Or blue. And look at those brass switch plates!  What an easy fix that would be to just swap those out on a quick trip to Home Depot....

Working from home has been wonderful, but I'm oh so easily distracted. If you have surmised that my blog productivity has plummeted in the 2 weeks in which this work at home experiment has been  in place, you would be correct oh keen observer.

So, I'm trying to bribe myself and up my productivity with little rewards related to the house. Not big,  "Let me paint the yellow master bedroom my beloved Palladian Blue" rewards or "Let me buy a new beer fridge to replace the one Margaret and her friend destroyed by accidentally puncturing the Freon with an ice pick."

No, changes of that caliber are not sanctioned until I get more writing done.

But I've been trying to build in a 20 minute reward during lunch each day. No, it's not called Facebook, although that's another distraction (addiction) I must contend with. These small rewards have something to do with the house, like sifting through artwork to decide what to hang on the walls, or organizing a shelf in the garage.

Today I took gorgeous wrapping paper and lined the back of my antique secretary. It adds a small touch of gray amidst the yellow and green, enough to tide me over until the whole house coordinates with this gray beauty:

Thank you, Kristi of Barn Owl Primitives for this incredible painting you made! Did you notice how Kristi painted "Jack" behind his favorite Bible verse? LOVE IT.

The  secretary, however, has seen better days. When my brother, sister, and I were dividing up our family furniture more than 15 years ago, it was not my first, second, or even third favorite piece from the dining room. It was the booby prize, even though it is pretty cool looking and is from the 1830's.

First of all, it has a bum leg. It has had a bum leg since my grandparents bought it in the late 60's or early 70's. This was something that was drilled into us as we were growing up that kind of took the fun out of it. Whenever we'd get close to it: "Don't lean against that thing! The leg is just propped there." I think the three of us had kind of a Pavlovian response to avoid it after all of those years.

No one ever seemed to consider getting the leg fixed. Tim and I just anchored the secretary securely  to the wall and pretty much stayed away from it..

And we've had to baby it a bit each time we moved from house to house. Not that it seemed to appreciate it one bit, delicate and persnickety as it is.  For instance, when I was sizing it up today before my quick project, a tiny piece of mahogany veneer fell off while I was looking at it.  Not touching, looking. It just kind of leapt right off and landed on the floor at my feet. This does not happen with my other furniture.

Also, those little windows make it hard to display anything inside. Currently, there's this oh-so-cute photo of my young parents on their wedding day:

There's an old family Bible from the 1830's with brittle pages bearing the birth and death dates of our relatives from Ireland. There are a few books by Dickens and Austen, a nod to the furniture's British roots, and some pretty birdies people have given me.

There's also a yellowed newspaper clipping from the 1970's from my Grandpa Harris. The clipping talks about an antique mahogany secretary that was valued at $6,000. Grandpa's note to my mother in the margin says: "Check this. We paid $200. It came from England. It was in Dr. Carter Bishop's home."

I'm pretty sure my mother never had the time, pre-Internet and mid-childrearing to check on the value of our three legged secretary, but she did tuck the note away a little hidden drawer for safekeeping.

You may be wondering if I think antiques such are too dear to be tampered with. Nah! In fact, there is still sticky residue on the shelves and the back from when my mom covered them with harvest gold contact paper circa 1977.

So much so that when I cut the gray wrapping paper to size, I barely had to use any tape (yep, scotch tape) to hold it up. The 40 year old stickiness pretty much did the trick.

So, there you have it. A long-winded post about a short little project.

Measure. Cut. Stick. Admire. Go back to writing.

And if any of you find there's a seller's market for sticky 3-legged 1830's mahogany secretaries let me know. I have a few house-related projects to fund.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

New Digs

So we made it through Sunday, Sept 8 which was the 2nd Crapiversary of losing Jack.

Thank you for your prayers and support. We had a quiet day at home. The past week meant moving, having Margaret start a new school and "age past" her older brother, and of course, the big crapiversary. The dread was palpable in the days leading up to it, but the only way out is through.

We received kind email and Facebook messages, as well as cards in the mail and other gestures of remembrance. THANK YOU.

Last week also meant my cell phone dying, and my getting shingles for the 3rd time! My head and back are sore and really itch. I'm recovering and trying to rest, so I may be scarce around here for a little while.

To tide us all over I thought I'd post some dark, blurry, cell phone pics of our new house.  Because that's what we are all looking for this Tuesday afternoon, right?


Dining room:

Kids' Pictures and jar of cicada exoskeletons:

 Office floor before:
 Office floor after. Will those piles of papers become a book?
 Living Room:

Family room. Not really crooked in person, I hope.
 Tufted titmouse out kitchen window. Hi little guy!
I'd love a do-over with the pics when I'm feeling better, okay? In person, the house is bright and cheery and much less blurry, I hope.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

New Home Sweet Home

We are in our new house, and it feels really, really good.

Moving was a trial, and a few times I thought I'd be crushed under the weight of our junk, of both the physical and emotional nature.

When I went to the shed where I'd stored Jack's  Legos, complete with original boxes and directions, I discovered they were covered with ants and ant larvae. Teeming waves of black covered every box, inside and out. I was so angry and defeated. "How much, Oh Lord, How much?" I groaned as I spread everything in the yard and started clean up. Then I saw the mouse droppings. Really???

Around me, neighborhood kids played and squealed, enjoying the last days of summer, and hot tears sprang into my eyes as I thought ALL OF THIS -- this move, this day, this life--- should not be going down this way!

Yet it is.

It took 8 movers 10 hours to load and unload our stuff, even though I thought I'd done a lot of culling beforehand.  That's a lot of junk. I found I was much more willing to let go of things on a steamy moving day than I had been just a few months ago. So I started piling stuff in the carport to get rid of. And I just let myself be led. Because pages of Jack's doodles might look junky to someone else but are important to me, while some wedding presents, or an uncomfortable chair, barely used these last 17 years, were better off going to new homes.

There is something about this new house that feels gracious and good.

I'm not sure what it is. It's not much different from our old one, with the exception of a massive master bedroom and bathroom. Was there a lot of frolicking and cavorting going on in master suites toward the end of the Carter administration when this house was built? Because these rooms are JUMBO.

The main living areas are smaller, cozier, and situated pretty much exactly like the old house, so I was able to quickly figure out where to place things. Old me would have relished the challenge of a new floor plan. Anna 2.0 was just glad that the paint colors were non-offensive and I didn't have too many decisions to make. I do hope I'll have some small projects to share with you in the months to come.

I worked round the clock emptying boxes even as my shoulders ached. This is the kind of work I like. Sorting, organizing, beating a stack of boxes into submission. Seeing tangible progress. Moving things here and there and back again.

The spiritual, emotional work comes less readily, and is easy to avoid it under an armload of boxes or yet another "quick trip" to Home Depot.

That is the work that says: Today is the first day of school. Today is the day I should have become a high school mom. In just a few days Margaret will outlive her older brother. How does that feel? What do I do with that? How do we integrate Jack into our new home? Did I run away from our old house? Will I be able to write a book that in some way captures what all of this is like?

The spiritual work follows me as I assure Margaret I will spend much of the day praying for her, and then she asks me, "Do you do that every first day of school?" "Yes." An unasked follow-up question hangs in the air between us, "Did you do it two years ago?" And I think of the mysterious nature of God, because of course I prayed for them both. For their health. And their safety. And their friendships. And their growth.

The mystery follows us outside when we take our traditional First Day of School pictures on the stoop, our new front stoop, and an enormous praying mantis is in Jack's space to the side of the door, right where he would be standing, and I smile and wonder about this crazy life. Praying mantis. Praying. Yes, there will be lots of prayers for this little girl today. And some will be answered the way we want while others may not.

This blog is the place where I do a lot of the emotional and spiritual work. It has been tough to be away from it and from you. But the boxes are now broken down, I can find my devotional books and most of my underwear, and I'm enjoying the calm, peaceful setting and being here with you.