The Last Full Measure of Devotion

     We took a little mini vacation and spent two nights in Gettysburg. My son is a great history lover, particularly wars, and specifically the Civil War.  You can imagine the pull Gettysburg has for him. He recently memorized the Gettysburg Address, and he was itching to see the place where Lincoln gave the actual speech all of those years ago.

     Me, I was a little worried. It is a Civil War buff’s playground, it’s true, but it’s a solemn place. Where we live we are surrounded by Civil War history. Literally. Somehow up there, it was different. Such a huge battle, so important, and so many lives lost in such a short time. Ian tends to be pretty tender-hearted, and I wasn’t sure what he would think. He did fine–he was shocked, I think, but like so many of us, it was such a long time ago, it tends to lose some of the heart-wrenching potency. It was in another time, and another world–a world that my eleven year old son, who thinks I’m old–can barely even fathom.

    On the way home today, we went to the Flight 93 National Memorial Site.  That tragedy, my friend, happened in a world that we can not only fathom, but that we live in still today.

     The site is still a temporary arrangement. The crash site is in a field at the foot of an old strip mine, and the metal building that was once part of the mine, which stopped producing in 1995, serves as an exhibit room now. At the time of the crash–a day which I’m sure I don’t need to name, but anyway, on September 11, 2001–it served as the base for the investigation and eventually the recovery. Also, the media crush gathered on the overlook that now serves as the visitor overlook.

     It’s not a very fancy memorial, but for all that, it says a lot.  There is ongoing construction, so it’s not peaceful, or beautiful. There is a makeshift chain link fence with two signs hanging on it that show where the site of the crash was on that day, and tells a little bit about what happened, and what the memorial will be like when it’s finished this September, which will of course be the ten year anniversary. Inside the exhibit, there are more details about both, and pictures of the 40 passengers and crew who died that day. There is a guest book, and a place to write a message and hang it on the message wall. I wanted to, but I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what NOT to say.

     What can anybody say? Forty people got on a plane that day, that’s all. At Gettysburg, so many thousands approached that battle, as so many of them had done before, and as some would do again, and what were they thinking?  At the National Military Museum, I heard a quote, which I can’t remember verbatim, but which basically said, any man who faces death and mutilation without fear is a lunatic, but one who fears death and mutilation, but faces them anyway because of duty and honor, is a hero. I’m sure not all of the boys at Gettysburg wanted to be there, some maybe didn’t choose to be there, but once they were there, they faced death, and fear, and they were heroes–blue or gray, black or white–they did give the last full measure of devotion.

     So, forty people got on a plane. Thousands of people do that every day. Do they think they might die? I doubt it. The truth is, any of us might die any time, but we don’t necessarily go around thinking about it.  Those forty people, they had plans, dreams, ideas–their whole lives planned out.  We know now, some very bad people had different plans, and things changed for those forty people on board Flight 93.  I sit here in my comfortable chair, with my family asleep in various parts of the house around me, and I don’t know if I would have done what those people did.

     But……

     Maybe they would have said that same thing, too.  They weren’t soldiers, after all.  They were just people on a plane.  Suddenly, they were confronted with the possibility of death, and fear, and what did they do?  They faced it.  They knew what had happened with the other planes.  They knew what was going to happen to their plane, too, I bet, but they faced it.  They didn’t set out to be heroes, and I know their families would rather have them here than have a million memorials dedicated to them–that’s how I’d feel–but it happened, and they lost their own lives in an attempt to keep others from dying. What is that but the last full measure of devotion? Maybe quoting the Gettysburg Address is cliché, but it’s a simple, beautiful speech, and those words meant something then, and they mean something now.  I think of the fear they faced, and the heartbreak of their families, and of that memorial, and of my son, and my daughter, and I am so glad that there are still heroes, still people who can face fear and death, and face it with a courage I can’t even imagine.

     We hear bad things so much. Our lives are inundated with the terrible things that people do.  But sometimes, people do things that aren’t terrible, but wonderful.  Sad, and awful, but wonderful. When people do terrible things, I’m so glad that there are other people who will stand up, even though they may not have volunteered for the job. Those people lived a hundred and fifty years ago, and ten years ago, and today.  If you pray, or meditate, or whatever you do, think about those forty people, and what they did, and the hard anniversary that’s coming up for their loved ones, and say thanks for all of the heroes, then and now. Then go give your kids a kiss. I think I’ll do that now, too.

A Pledge Against Bullying

     I recently found a blog dedicated to getting mom bloggers to pledge not to be online bullies. It’s a neat site. You agree that, basically, you won’t be a jerk. It just asks that you express your opinions in a non-jerk way, and don’t criticize people, specifically moms, who do things differently than you do. It’s a good promise to make. I watched a piece on the Today show called “Mommy Meanest” about how some people apparently don’t have anything to do with their time aside from hopping from one blog to another and leaving hateful comments.

     Like most things, this got me thinking. Bullying seems like a real issue these days, both online and in person. Luckily, my son has never had major issues with this. He’s had a few run-ins during his public school days, but nothing too traumatic. Some of his friends have had real problems, though, and I especially notice how nasty little girls seems to be these days. This lead me to a rather obvious conclusion–apparently the online mom bullies are reproducing. There’s a scary thought.

     Obviously, this type of hateful language is a learned behavior. It’s really not that hard to figure out. Growing up with a severely disabled sister meant I saw and heard lots of things that I’m sure qualified as bullying. The one big physical altercation I was involved in as a child resulted from a girl making a comment about my sister that I didn’t approve of. Now my daughter, also disabled, though in very different ways, is in school and away from me all day. Now, Evelyn could give a crap about what anyone says.  It’s more the idea of it that bugs me.  She’s in a classroom for moderate and severely impaired kids, and I know sometimes people stare and make rude comments. Once, when she first started in school, I went to pick her up a little early for an appointment. As we were going down the stairs, a bigger kid, maybe a third or fourth grader, was a flight above us. He was making what sounded like a little bird call, but what he was saying was “re-tard, re-tard,” in a sing-song way, so maybe I wouldn’t know what he was saying.

     Really.

     So, I did what any mature adult would do and just ignored him.

     Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha! If you actually believe that, then you don’t know me very well, do you? What I actually did was stop and wait for him, pretending that I was looking in Evelyn’s bag so he wouldn’t know I was lying in wait for him, and then caught him as he went by. I stepped in front of him and asked him what his name was. He didn’t want to tell me. I told him it didn’t matter if he told me or not, that I knew what he said, and I thought it was a shame that he was already so mean at such a young child, because he didn’t stand a chance when he was an adult. I also told him that I had better not find out that he ever said anything to or about my daughter again, or I would talk to him and his parents personally. Then I marched right up to the principal’s office and told the principal what had happened. He assured me he would handle it.

     I over-reacted. I know this. It was just some little punk whose parents are probably big punks, and he didn’t know any better. Evelyn didn’t know anything about what he was saying. The person who came out on the bad end of that deal was, of course, me. I was stressed and angry for hours after that, I cried, I said all sorts of unladylike things, just typical melodramatic b.s. It murdered my soul to think that my little girl would be on the outside of things, always different, always left out, and always left behind.

     Obviously, thee were a lot of deep-rooted issues there that I have learned to deal with over the years. No one wants their kids to suffer, but the important thing is that you teach them how to deal with those types of situations. The world is full of jerks. Sooner or later, you’re going to run into one. It’s hard to tone down those mother lion instincts–it’s still something I deal with. I just try to tell myself that I am a role model for my kids (now THERE’S a scary thought) and I want to do the best I can for them. I have to teach them how to deal with people who might be mean to them. You have to handle the situation with maturity, and don’t let the things the jerks say hurt you. And if that doesn’t work, kick their ass.

Panic Attack!

     We love to panic. At least it seems that way, because we all certainly do it a lot.  Usually this thought crosses my mind around flu shot time, but it was brought up in conversation with my son more recently (of course.)

     My son has a tendency to watch the news. I don’t. But whenever he sees something panic-inducing, he comes and asks me about it. Now it’s the radiation thing. He was quite alarmed–which I’m sure was the point of the broadcast he saw in the first place. Now, before anyone gets their tail in a twist, I know that there are some major problems in Japan right now. It will take that country literally years to recover from this disaster. My issue is how we all feed, vulture-like, on the catastrophe.

     And who is it that feeds us the carnage that we so willingly swallow? Well, I hate to name names, but it’s the media.  How could anyone watch a news broadcast and NOT be scared to death? According to the news, we’re doomed. If the big C doesn’t get us, it will be the flu, AIDS, radiation, a terrorist attack, or a nuclear bomb. We may possibly be frying our brains talking on the cell phone. Our TV may be shooting invisible death rays into our eyeballs while we’re watching our favorite program (especially if you’re watching Nancy Grace.) I suspect my thighs are so flabby because the laptop computer I hold on my lap is sending some sort of radiation into them and vaporizing the muscles, leaving only the fat, which of course everyone knows is the most indestructible substance on the planet.

     So it’s no wonder that people have stress disorders and panic attacks and social anxiety. We live in fear, constantly bombarded by our own “trusted” source of accurate information, afraid in some cases to even go outside.

     It’s no way to live.

     I always try to explain this to my son, because though he tries to play it cool, I know that sometimes, he’s afraid too. How can you blame him? He’s just a kid–his brain hasn’t acquired a bullshit filter yet (and yes, this filter provides one the ability to both recognize bullshit, and also to coat outgoing information with it.) He sees a report on the news about how radiation is going to get us here in the US, and he believes that, and it makes him afraid. He doesn’t understand the terrorist alert system (who does?) and cancer weighs on his mind much too heavily for a child who is 11 years old.

     I think that may be my biggest problem with the whole thing. Our children cannot even be children. An eleven year old boy should not be worried that he is going to get cancer or blown up by a terrorists bomb. I live in the real world, and I know that these things are technically possible, but here’s a news flash–there isn’t a darn thing we can do about it. Those things were possible when we were kids, too. We are passing on these fears to our kids, and in a sense, robbing them of what it really means to be a child. Edna St. Vincent Millay said, “Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.” While that may certainly not be true, kids need to believe that it is.

     One last rant (for now, at least.) Every year I have the following conversation with at least five different people:

     “Do you all get a flu shot?”

     “No.”

     “Why? You should get one. What if you get the flu?”

     “No.”

     I watched a news report about the swine flu last year, and the reporters were tossing around words like pandemic, epidemic and–I swear I am not making this up–the plague. The plague? Really? It turned out to not be that big of a deal, just like most things, but people stood in mile long lines to get the shots, they ran out (naturally) and the panic began. I know people who get the flu shot religiously every year, some of whom live right here in the same house with me, and they get sick every winter, without fail.

   There are some things in this country that are epidemics, but they don’t have a thing to do with the flu. Here’s a list of what qualifies in my mind: greed, stupidity, selfishness, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, the government, infomercials, spiders, inflation, ugly clothes, rude people, and those galvanized plastic packages that toys come in, which require a torch and sometimes even explosive devices to open.

     So you see, we have plenty to worry about without even watching the news. So let’s all take a deep breath, calm down,  and let the kids go outside and play. I’ll be under the bed.

Good Ol’ Days

     Some people are pretty dubious about social media–Facebook, Twitter, MySpace–but I’m a fan. I usually have to listen to snarky little remarks from my husband about how the only way to find out anything about anyone is to read it on Facebook, but I don’t care. He puts up with quite a bit of snarky from me, too.

     One of the biggest benefits for me personally is that I get to talk to friends (and family!) that I otherwise wouldn’t. Just a few days ago, for example, the brother of one of my best friends in elementary school sent me a friend request, and long story short, I have now chatted with my two very best childhood friends.  It seems like a small thing, but it makes me very happy.

     To my kids, I’m a fossil. In their minds, I caught a ride to the one-room schoolhouse in the back of a covered wagon and did my homework at night by the light of a lantern.  The thought of me actually having friends and playing and having sleepovers is almost unimaginable to them.  However, though I’m much older now than I was then, I’m not so old that I can’t remember those times, and I remember them fondly. I’m sure everything wasn’t perfect, but through the lens of time, the bad stuff sort of fades away, and only the good things really matter.

     Were those the best times of my life? Great question. I don’t think they were. I think now is the best time–when my kids are still small and growing up around me. Seeing them laugh and grow and change and learn, that makes this the best time. I will make one concession, though. Those were by far the easiest times of my life. Now, when I was actually living those moments, I’m sure I thought they were anything but easy. All kids think their lives are incredibly difficult. I know my son is especially prone to this mentality. And I try very hard to be understanding and not make light of his problems, because I DO remember what it was like to be that young.

     For example, I moved away from my childhood home when I was very young. I left the only home I had known, and the kids I had literally grown up beside. I was devastated. I declared I would die, that I hated the new home, hated the new kids, all of the typical childhood angst. The truth is, I don’t know if I ever did have any friends as good as those I had when I was a little kid. It seems to me like friendship is something that isn’t as important as it used to be. Allow me an old person moment to say that kids these days just don’t make and keep friends the way we used to. I think being a good friend means being unselfish and loving someone more than yourself, and I think as a society in general, we suck at that.

     I have a couple of very good friends now that I love very much. I’m very thankful for them. But I do miss those days, and I miss my friends. Once I moved away, it was never the same. The area I moved to is a very rural area, and very different from the one I left. If you’re not from here, you are never from here. Even though I am slowly creeping up on the thirty year mark of living in not only the same area, but the same house, I am still an outsider. My views and beliefs are always just a little to the right or the left of most of the community. Another interesting point–my very best friends are not “from here” either, in the same sense that I am not “from here.”

     Where I grew up, I belonged. We were all coal camp kids, our dads all worked for the same company, we all lived right around each other, we all just fit together. All of that is gone now, even the school where we spent our earliest years. Those kids? They’re gone, too. They grew up, and got jobs, and had kids, and left behind the “easy” of childhood.  But the memories of those kids are there, and in my heart they’ll be little kids forever.

A Letter From Juliet

     I guess maybe it’s about time I expanded a little on the title of my blog. It has a very important meaning to me, rooted in part by a letter written to me by a dear friend of mine in Alabama.

     Obviously, her name is Juliet. She also has a daughter with special needs, along with two “regular” sons. I met her in Philadelphia several years ago at a very cool place called The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential. I won’t go into all of that here, except to say it is a wonderful place where miracles happen every day–for some people. They use alternatives to main stream therapy to help dramatically improve the condition of many brain injured kids. Parents can attend a seminar of sorts to learn this methodology and apply it to their own lives.   As usual, Evelyn didn’t feel compelled to cooperate with any of my attempts to cure her, and it didn’t work out for us. However, it is an excellent program and Juliet was at the seminar as well.

     Alow me a very brief aside to say that while we were at this seminar, we received a nice little narrative about how God and the angels were looking through a list of prospective parents and assigning them to the children which were soon to be on the way. It told how the parents of special needs children were extra special. What was it called? The Special Mother. 

     Back to the point. Juliet is a fantastic person. As with nearly all of the people I tend to gravitate towards, she is a very plain-spoken, honest person. She’s not obnoxious about it, but if you ask her a question, she will tell you the truth. Period. She is a caring mother, and she likes to laugh. All qualities that are way up on my list.

     She is also a person of great faith. In this area, I am particularly lacking, and she is a comfort to me. We have had some in-depth conversations about our kids, but there is one occasion (the point of this post, actually) that stood out then and now. Evelyn had her first seizure in May of 2006. I was still in my own head back then (well, even more than usual, if you can imagine) and was still trying to cope with life in general, and the seizure did not do much to help  my mental state. I wrote Juliet a letter that I suppose was basically just an exercise in self-pity. Poor me. Why now? Boo, hoo, hoo.

     Well, instead of writing me back and telling me to get over myself, which she would have been absolutely correct to do, she  wrote me back and provided me with what would eventually be the foundation of my life’s philosophy. I’ll give you a summary of what she said. These are MY words. I don’t want her to sue me or anything.

     Juliet told me that while neat little poems about special needs kids being given to special parents were very nice, they were essentially crap. (My words, folks, my words.) Special needs kids are given to horrible parents all the time. She said God never promised us everything would be easy for us, just that He would guide us if would ask Him. Also, she said that if you truly believed in an eternal God and therefore an eternal soul, then she felt that the eternal viewpoint would be VERY different from our viewpoint in this life–similar to the difference between an adult and a child. We, as adults, can look back on the things that we thought were truly horrible when we were children–things that we thought were literally the end of our worlds–and we can laugh about them. We can see how they really weren’t that big of a deal at all. Juliet told me that she believed it would be the same–in eternity, the struggles of this life would be insignificant.

     Now, I am not particularly religious, and my faith is somewhat watery. I am Thomas. I probably would have asked Jesus for two forms of I.D. as well. However, her answer to me meant more to me than any church service ever had. She believed what she said, and she said it in kindness and sympathy, and even with humor. I will never forget it.

     I had to do a lot of growing up and a lot of letting go to finally be able to accept the fact that our life is what it is. I am NOT a special mother. I am just a regular mother, better than some, maybe, but undoubtedly worse than others.  Doubt lingers, faith comes and goes, but still I plug along. Lots of people are not so fortunate as me, even though some days I feel anything but fortunate. Like I said, most days I feel (not so) special.

The Versatile Blogger Award

   Cool–I won an award. I never win anything. Really. I know this a way for us to connect with new blogs, but that’s ok. I’ll take it.

     Thanks to Kelli from The Unexpected Education for passing along this award. This is a wonderful blog about a homeschool mom who is learning as much (if not more!) than her little student. I homeschool my own son and know exactly what this is about!  It’s insightful and well-written. I highly recommend giving it a read whether you homeschool or not.

     Here are the rules for accepting the award:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

  • Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to their site in your original post.
  • Tell us seven things about yourself.
  • Pass along the award to fifteen newly discovered bloggers.
  • Contact these bloggers and let them know they got this award.

Seven things about me that you may not (want to) know.

  1. I have an irrational fear of spiders. Even the little ones.
  2. I am also afraid of the dark.
  3. If ever a religion is born which worships Stephen King, I WILL convert.
  4. My music taste is VERY eclectic. For example, I love Led Zeppelin, Lady Gaga, and Eminem, just to name a few.
  5. I love paranormal TV shows, like Ghost Hunters, Destination Truth, and MonsterQuest.
  6. I am a chronic insomniac.
  7. It would give me untold personal pleasure to hit Nancy Grace right on the nose. Really, really hard. Maybe I could pop her eyes back in.

And now I will pass along the award to 15 deserving blogs:

  1. Nouns and Violets. This is my beautiful cousin Melissa who inspired me to start a blog in the first place, and who always write with meaning and beauty. Also, she introduced me to e.e. cummings many, many years ago.
  2. Frantic Mommy. A hysterical blog about mommy-hood in the North.
  3. The Homespun Life. A very informative homeschool blog that I enjoy.
  4. Peanut Butter and Hopey. A great blog about life in general. I am a recent follower and I like it a lot so far.
  5. Are We There Yet? Another great blog about homeschooling and home life.
  6. dsgnmomonline. A great blog for busy parents.
  7. Our Banana Moments. A wonderful family blog that I think you will enjoy.
  8. Moms In Venting. A very funny blog that allows moms to admit that they are people too.
  9. The SAHM Confessions. Another funny blog about mommyhood. I love humorous blogs, and this does not disappoint.
  10. Unionvale Homeschool. Yes, I like homeschool blogs. Plus, she raises boys. What can I say? It’s a good blog.
  11. Do Sweat the Small Stuff. I love this blog. Very straight to the point and very funny.
  12. Barefoot Mommies. Giveaways, reviews, all kinds of great stuff! Check it out!
  13. Barefoot in Portland. A beautifully designed blog full of great information.
  14. The How To Mommy. Tons of great information for mommies!
  15. The Sleppery Mind. Funny, packed with info, giveaways and more!

Nap, Interrupted

     I am not a morning person. To say that is similar to saying something like Hitler was not a nice guy, or the sun is warm. However, to put into words how I actually feel about mornings seems a bit dramatic. For example, I could say, I hate mornings with the firey passion of ten thousand white hot suns. Like I said, dramatic, right? Still….

     This fact is not a secret. However, one thing that remains a mystery to me personally is how I ended up surrounded by morning people. Not only did I marry a morning person, I then proceeded to conceive and subsequently give birth to two more morning people. To be fair, they are aware of my particular hatred of the a.m. hours, and usually they do pretty well at avoiding unnecessary contact with me. They have a fairly comprehensive grasp of the appropriate morning etiquette here in Janiceland. They don’t ask questions that require more than a one-word answer (preferrably yes or no, or even a grunt if possible), they avoid making direct eye contact with me, and they can usually entertain themselves for an hour or so until my brain finally concedes and decides to join my body in the land of the living.

     This is not to say that I can’t be productive in the morning. Quite the opposite. I do lots of stuff in the mornings–I get my daughter up and running, I get Mindy up, I do whatever housework requires immediate attention–but these are all mundane things that my body can do without the aid of a fully functioning brain. I get up at 6:00 every morning. I wake up around 9:00.

     So anyway, here I am, surrounded by morning people, trying to figure out how I can work a nap into my day. I do this EVERY DAY. I think it may be a little sad that one of the first things I think when I hear the alarm go off is, “I wonder if I’ll be able to nap today?”  As it turns out, the answer is no. I’ll get everything done that I think needs to be done. Everyone fed, lessons done, lunch served, kitchen cleaned, etc., etc., and then I’ll mosey into the living room to sit in the recliner. I sit for say, five minutes, then whoops! I just thought of something else. Or the phone rings. Or someone needs me to do something. This pattern is so predictable, I’m not sure why I even bother. Maybe it’s to amuse myself, I don’t know, or maybe I’m a hopeless optimist. Yeah, that’s probably it (cue heavy sarcasm.)

     Maybe one day I will get to take a nap. I guess it boils down to hope. There’s nothing I can do about having to get up in the mornings, but maybe there is hope that one day I will get to take a nap. Just a short one, nothing too fancy. I’ll probably feel like crap when I wake up.

The White Horse Poops, Too

     There seems to be an awful lot of pressure on people nowadays to find the “perfect” relationship. I always get a kick out of those Match.com and Eharmony commercials. Don’t get me wrong–I’m sure some people find wonderful companions that way. My issue is that people spend an awful lot of energy looking for that “perfect” person.

     There are reams of books and articles about how to make a relationship work, how to find that special someone, how to put the spark back in your marriage, you name it. What I think everyone needs is a reality check. Listen up, teenage girls! That gorgeous, wonderful, super-hot guy that you’re screaming and crying for? He throws his clothes on the floor and pees on the toilet seat just like all the rest of them.

     I think that’s the problem (not peeing on the toilet seat, although that’s certainly a problem)–we don’t have any perspective. We think that our relationship should be perfect, but here’s the crux–no relationship is perfect, ever. We keep expecting perfection, and we keep getting let down.  Even the relationship between a mother and her child–the most natural, instinctive relationship there is–is often rife with stress and aggravation. So how can anyone expect a relationship with their partner to ever be anything other than challenging? A relationship is work, folks. Hard work. Something else–that person you think you’re attracted to that seems so much better than the person you’re with? They have a whole laundry list of their own little quirks, too.

     I’m not so old that I don’t remember what that first stage of infatuation was like. It’s always like that, for everyone, and it always fades into reality. The knight on the white horse from the fairy tale may come riding up to sweep you off your feet, but when you get home with him, you’ve got to fix his dinner and he’s got to go clean out the white horse’s stall in the barn.  Maybe that’s why the fairy tale always ended with “They lived happily ever after.” I guess “Cinderella changed into her work clothes and started a load of laundry while the Prince cleaned out the barn”  just doesn’t have the same ring.

     Instead of trying to make our partners perfect (they won’t ever be, by the way) maybe we should focus our energy on lowering our expectations. No, sorry, just kidding. Maybe we should focus our energy on making our relationships better. It’s mostly the little stuff I think, like NOT throwing our clothes on the floor or peeing on the toilet seat (I’m just generalizing, I’m not implying anyone actually does this!)  So give up on perfection (unless you’re me, of course) and go start that laundry. I’ll be in the barn.

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